Protection of civilians [fr]

Today civilians account for the vast majority of the casualties in armed conflict. France believes that promoting the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities is essential.

In its first resolution on the issue of the protection of civilians, resolution 1265 (1999), the Security Council affirmed that certain situations where grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights were taking place (in particular targeted attacks against civilians) could constitute a threat to peace and security, and hence be an issue to be dealt with by the Security Council.

Ten years later, on 11 November 2009, under the presidency of the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1894 on the protection of civilians. This resolution marks the determination of the Security Council to remain seized of the issue, and covers many issues at stake for the protection of civilians.

Main elements of resolution 1894

Resolution 1894 of 11 November 2009 reaffirms the Security Council’s determination to deal with situations in which serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights have been committed. It establishes a link between the international community’s obligations in the area of protection of civilians and its responsibility, including that of the Security Council, under the responsibility to protect, which is reaffirmed.

The resolution affirms the role of the Security Council in creating an environment that is conducive to the facilitation of humanitarian access.

It recognizes that the PKOs represent an important tool for the Security Council with respect to ensuring the protection of civilians and lists the concrete measures that must be taken in order to implement the protection mandates (development by the Secretary-General of operational guidelines, inclusion in the general planning of PKO activities of a protection strategy based on an analysis of the risks and threats and which clearly defines the priorities, actions, roles and responsibilities of all parties, under the leadership of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative; the need to take into account the protection of civilians in leadership training and in pre-deployment training, benchmarks). This progress falls within the framework of the joint initiative by France and the United Kingdom regarding the review of the PKOs.

The resolution reaffirms the need to put an end to impunity and to prosecute persons responsible for the most serious crimes, including through the use of international criminal justice mechanisms. It recalls that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide which are crimes committed against civilians.

The resolution strengthens the framework in which the Security Council must examine the issues relating to the protection of civilians by requesting more detailed and systematic information from the Secretary-General regarding the violations committed against civilians so that it can take this into consideration in its deliberations, and by recognizing the importance of the Aide Memoire on the protection of civilians prepared by the OCHA and adopted by the Security Council in January 2009.

The adoption of resolution 1973 in March 2011 regarding the situation in Libya represented a new step in the implementation of the protection of civilians by the Security Council. It was the first time that the Security Council gave a blanket authorisation for the use of force in order to protect civilians. Until then, such authorisation for humanitarian reasons was either limited in time (two months under resolution 929 for the Turquoise operation in Rwanda in 1994), or in scope (protection of humanitarian convoys under resolution 770(1992) in Bosnia).

The protection of civilians should be viewed from various angles:

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Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh - 7 September 2017
© UNICEF / Patrick Brown

Access to civilians - humanitarian access

France attaches particular importance to the respect of humanitarian space, which is vital for ensuring access to populations in distress. It must be possible to allow the unhindered distribution of humanitarian aid.

On France’s initiative, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution in 1988 declaring the principle of freedom of access for organizations to victims of natural disasters and other emergency situations. (Resolution 43-131 of 8 December 1988, and Resolution 45-100 of 10 December 1990)

Since then, the principle has been reaffirmed by the Security Council in more than three hundred texts relating to around twenty conflicts. With this in mind, France is actively involved in the negotiation of General Assembly resolutions aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and protecting humanitarian personnel. Aid effectiveness and the safety of personnel are dependent on timely, unrestricted and unhindered access.

The humanitarian challenge (excerpt from the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid)

"Humanitarian actors today face a number of major challenges. There has been an increasing tendency for International Law, including International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law and Refugee Law, to be ignored or blatantly violated. The ‘humanitarian space’ that is needed to ensure access to vulnerable populations and the safety and security of humanitarian workers must be preserved as essential preconditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for the European Union (EU) and its partners in the humanitarian field to be able to get assistance including protection to crisis-hit people, based on respect for the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence of humanitarian action, enshrined in International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law."

In peacekeeping operations

Resolution 1674, adopted in 2006, establishes the general normative framework for the Council’s action with regard to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It reaffirms the principle of responsability to protect as formulated in the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005. It stipulates that all relevant information and analysis on the protection of civilians be reported to the Council and in particular includes provisions for UN peacekeeping operation mandates where appropriate and on a case-by-case basis to:

— protect civilians under imminent threat of physical danger;
— prevent and respond to sexual violence;
— facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
— ensure security in and around camps for refugees and security for the persons living there;
— create conditions conducive to their voluntary and safe return.

Nine peacekeeping operations have been mandated by the Security Council to protect civilians (MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSMA in Mali, UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire, UNMIL in Liberia, UNAMID in Darfur, UNISFA in Abyei (Sudan), UNMISS in South Sudan, MINUSTAH in Haiti, UNIFIL in Lebanon).

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Young girls in an IDP camp in Somalia - 6 March 2017
© UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Specific groups of civilians: women and children

Millions of civilians are casualties of conflict. However, women and children are particularly vulnerable and have unfortunately become the most targeted victims. In addition, sexual violence is used in many armed conflicts as a weapon of war against civilians, and women are particularly affected.

Three key Security Council resolutions should be noted in this regard:

- Resolution 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict is currently the Security Council’s landmark resolution thanks to the monitoring mechanism of the parties to conflict managed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Mrs. Coomaraswamy, and thanks to the Council’s Working Group.

- Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women and Peace and Security ensures that women are not only better protected, but also more involved in resolving conflicts, helping to make a different voice heard.

- Resolution 1820 (2008) on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict adopted on 19 June 2008, eight years after resolution 1325, marks a new development in the fight against sexual violence which has increased to unacceptable levels in recent years. Started on the United States’ initiative, with France’s active support, this resolution calls for intensifying the fight against the impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence. It links sexual violence as a war tactic to peacekeeping and international security, stipulates possible punishments for perpetrators of such crimes, and gives a clear mandate to the Secretary-General and to peacekeeping operations to take charge of the different aspects of this issue.

Resolution 1738 (2006) focuses on another specific group, journalists. This resolution, submitted at the initiative of France and Greece, "condemns intentional attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, and calls on all parties to halt such practices."
The Security Council holds a six-monthly public debate on the issue of the protection of civilians.

During the last debate organized by the Chinese presidency of the Security Council on 25 June 2012, the member states of the Security Council commented the report of the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

They strongly condemned the attacks targeting the civilian populations, in violation of international humanitarian law. Having expressed their great concern regarding to increasing attacks against civilians in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Soudan and DRC, the members of the Council recalled that fighting against impunity was also essential to the protection of the civilians.

Dernière modification : 12/12/2019

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