What's In Blue

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Presidential Statement

This afternoon (21 September), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a presidential statement recognising the contribution of the updated Aide Memoire, a document designed to facilitate the Council’s consideration of issues pertaining to protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Aide Memoire is the result of consultations between the Council and OCHA, as well as between OCHA and other UN entities and humanitarian organisations. It underscores the principal objectives of Council action, provides issues for consideration in meeting those objectives, and compiles relevant agreed language from Council outcomes (i.e. resolutions and presidential statements).

In keeping with standard practice, the Aide Memoire will be attached to the presidential statement as an addendum. This marks the seventh edition of the Aide Memoire since it was first adopted by the Council in March 2002 (S/PRST/2002/6). The previous edition, released as an addendum to a presidential statement adopted by the Council on 25 November 2015 (S/PRST/2015/23), was 95 pages long. It appears that the Aide Memoire to be released today has nearly doubled in length, to roughly 185 pages. This largely reflects the addition of thematic issues that have been a new focus of the Council’s attention in conflict situations, including hunger and the protection of health care, and of relevant protection language from Council outcomes since the adoption of the November 2015 presidential statement.

The draft presidential statement reaffirms that conflict parties bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to protect civilians. It further recalls that states bear the primary responsibility to respect the human rights of individuals on their territory and subject to their jurisdiction in accordance with international law.

In the draft statement, the Council expresses outrage that civilians represent the large majority of casualties in conflict. It outlines the ways in which civilians suffer in conflict situations, including through forced displacement; the use of starvation as a tool of war; the unlawful denial of humanitarian access; attacks on medical personnel, humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, hospitals, and other medical facilities; and sexual and gender-based violence.

The Council also reaffirms its strong condemnation of violations of international humanitarian law by all conflict parties. In this regard, it recalls the importance of ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, ending impunity for violations and abuses, and ensuring accountability.

There is a paragraph on Secretariat reporting in the statement. It requests that the next report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians be submitted by 15 May 2019, and that this report summarise achievements and challenges to the UN’s protection of civilians work during the past 20 years, as 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of protection of civilians becoming a Council agenda item, as noted in the statement. The statement further requests the Secretary-General to address progress made with regard to the recommendations outlined in his 2017 and 2018 reports on this issue in the May 2019 report.

There were some disagreements that required compromises during the negotiations, which were led by the UK, the penholder on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Perhaps the most controversial issue was how to characterise the Council’s response to the updated Aide Memoire. A number of members had wanted the Council to “adopt” the revised Aide Memoire (as the Council had initially done in 2002). However, other members were uncomfortable with the Council “adopting” the Aide Memoire, as they disagreed with some of the language in the document. For example, some members disagreed with how the obligations of conflict parties to international humanitarian law are characterised in the Aide Memoire, and did not concur with its references to the ICC. In the final version of the draft presidential statement, the Council “recognises the contribution of the updated Aide Memoire.”

There were also differences of view over how to refer to the use of force in peacekeeping missions with a protection of civilians mandate. In the end, the text addresses this issue by affirming the need for peacekeeping missions with a protection of civilians mandate “to ensure full mandate implementation.”

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