The protection of civilians in armed conflict [fr]

Although the protection of civilians is primarily the responsibility of States, all parties must ensure the protection of civilians and health personnel and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.

Civilians today account for the great majority of victims in armed conflicts, the vast majority of whom are women and children. France recognizes the serious humanitarian concerns related to the excessive and indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in areas where civilians are present in large numbers. Such use is likely to cause civilian casualties and the destruction of essential infrastructure, preventing the return of displaced populations and the restoration of normal living conditions in the long term. For France, it is essential to promote the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities.

In its first resolution 1265 (1999) devoted to this theme, the Security Council affirmed that certain situations characterized by serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law (in particular targeted attacks against civilians) could constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Although the protection of civilians is primarily the responsibility of States, all parties must ensure the protection of civilians and health personnel and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The protection of civilians must be considered from several angles:

Safe and unhindered humanitarian access

France attaches great importance to respect for international humanitarian law, which is essential to ensure access to populations in distress. Humanitarian aid must be able to be delivered safely and without hindrance.

In that spirit, France is actively involved in the negotiation of resolutions at the United Nations aiming to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access and to protect humanitarian and medical personnel.

In 1988, and at France’s initiative, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution proclaiming the principle of free access to victims of natural disasters and other emergency situations for intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (resolution 43-131 of 8 December 1988 and resolution 45-100).

Resolution 1502 adopted by the Security Council in 2003 (among others), as well as an annual resolution adopted by the General Assembly (the latest, resolution 74/116 adopted on 16 December 2019), condemn acts of violence against humanitarian personnel, United Nations and associated personnel, call for crimes against them not to go unpunished, reaffirm the duty of all parties to an armed conflict to protect such personnel and call for safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all persons in need of assistance.

Notably, France and Germany have made the protection of humanitarian and medical personnel and, more broadly, the strengthening of respect for international humanitarian law a priority of their successive presidencies of the Security Council in March and April 2019. In September 2019, they presented an Appeal for Humanitarian Action, endorsed to date by 45 States.

In peacekeeping operations

The protection of civilians is at the heart of the mandates of peacekeeping operations.

Resolution 1674, adopted in 2006, sets the overall normative framework for Security Council action on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The resolution stipulates that all relevant information and analysis on the protection of civilians be reported to the Council and includes provisions in the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions, such as:
–* protect civilians under imminent threat of physical harm ;

  • prevent and respond to sexual violence ;
  • facilitate humanitarian assistance ;
  • ensure security in and around refugee camps and the safety of those living there ;
  • create conditions conducive to their safe and voluntary repatriation.

A Security Council working group on the protection of civilians meets prior to any renewal of a mandate to hear a briefing from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on the situation of civilians in the country or region concerned. France and the UK initiated the establishment of this group in 2008.

Specific groups of civilians

Millions of civilians are victims of armed conflict. But particularly vulnerable populations, such as women and children, have become prime targets. Furthermore, sexual violence is used in many conflicts as a weapon of war against civilians, with women and girls particularly affected.

The Security Council has adopted several key resolutions in this regard, in particular :

Resolution 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict, reaffirmed by resolution 2427 (2018) : is today a landmark Security Council resolution, thanks to the monitoring mechanism for parties to conflict led by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ms. Virginia Gamba, and thanks to the Council’s Working Group.

Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, reaffirmed by resolution 2493 (2019) : its purpose is to ensure that women are not only better protected but also more involved in the resolution of conflicts, helping to make a different voice heard.

Resolution 1820 (2008) on sexual violence in armed conflict, adopted on 19 June 2008 and reaffirmed by resolution 2467 (2019), marks a new step in the fight against sexual violence, which has increased to intolerable proportions in recent years. Launched at the initiative of the United States, with the active support of France, this resolution :

  • calls for a strengthened fight against impunity for those responsible for sexual violence ;
  • links sexual violence as a tactic of war with the maintenance of international peace and security ;
  • provides for the possibility of targeted sanctions against those responsible for such crimes ;
  • gives a clear mandate to the Secretary-General and peacekeeping operations to address the various aspects of this issue.

The Security Council also adopted in 2006 resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel targeted in armed conflict and resolution 2475 (2019) on the disproportionate impact of armed conflict and related humanitarian crises on persons with disabilities.

Dernière modification : 28/05/2020

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