Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
By: Patrick Liu and Lizzie Mcgowan
A. Briefing by Secretary-General representative, Antonio Guterres
The SG briefed the UNSC on the current situation of civilians in conflict, noting the endless “displacement, disappearances, and destruction of civilian infrastructure.” He urged states to enforce respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law. He further outlined an implementation plan for national policy frameworks to protect civilians in conflict. The SG also mentioned “codes of conduct for state and non-state actors” and other mechanisms to end impunity on violations to civilians in conflict. In closing, the SG connected the protection of civilians to the prospect of lasting profound peace.
B. Briefing from Director General of ICRC, Yves Daccord
Yves Daccord briefed the council on the issue from a lens of international humanitarian law. He expressed his concern for the lack of protection of civilians despite the “rhetoric” on the issue. Furthermore, the respect for the principle of humanity falls on the “shoulders of states.” Daccord advised a banning of certain heavily destructive and “indiscriminately affecting” weapons and a review of military doctrines to ensure that medical facilities and workers are protected in conflict zones. Daccord addressed the situation in detention centers, and the persistence of missing persons in conflict. Daccord concluded his brief by providing a view of optimism with respect to international humanitarian law. With a positive focus on IHL, Daccord emphasized the responsibility for states to uphold IHL and ensure “partners and proxies” do so as well.
C. Briefing from Civil Society Representative, Hanaa Edwar
Hanaa Edwar, an Iraqi women’s advocate, noted the need for early warning mechanisms for violations of international humanitarian law. In addition to urging the protection of the “fellow human beings”, Edwar contended that “women’s rights to full participation must also be respected.”
D. Briefing by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Jacek Czaputowicz
The FM of Poland cited “a global protection crisis” as addressed in the SG’s report. In addressing this issue, the FM stressed an “inclusive peace process” focusing on prevention, protection, and accountability. Specifically, the FM focused on the legal frameworks for landmines and chemical weapons that must achieve universal support by states. In regards to accountability, the FM urged “more frequent” use of the ICC to investigate violations of international humanitarian law and put an end to impunity on the issue.
2. Statements from the P-5 members
A. United States
The US cited the UNSC’s responsibility and obligation to insist on respect for international humanitarian law. The UNSC should also be honest and clear and apply “meaningful pressure” against states that violate IHL standards. Moreover,The US urged the development of “credible national accountability mechanisms” to promote prosecutions of crimes against humanity at the national level.
B. United Kingdom
The UK addressed the “core mandate” of the UNSC in protecting civilians globally, referencing the “indiscriminate shelling” in and around Donetsk in Ukraine and the civilian threats in Syria and South Sudan. Focusing on peacekeeping operations, the UK supported the strengthening of its human rights components. Lastly, the UK emphasized the need to end the climate of impunity.
France reiterated the UNSC’s commitment to protect civilians against harm and danger. France especially emphasized the “operational aspects” of civilian protection. However in the face of eminent danger, France cited that if peacekeepers can’t protect themselves, then “they won’t likely be able to protect others.” France further urged states to protect medical staff, humanitarian personnel, journalists, and detainees.
Russia cited “traditional spiritual and moral values” that should allow the UNSC to avoid difference of opinion on protection. However, Russia lambasted the UNSC for “politicizing” core humanitarian obligations. Russia continued its argument by identifying the mis-steps taken by the UNSC through the “primitive judgments” that had assigned blame based on flawed information. Russia specifically underscored that the use of any means to protect civilians, “especially the use of force can only be possible with support of the UNSC.”
China centered its statement on the “root causes” of conflict as the best preventative strategy in protecting civilians. “Political solutions will spare civilians from harm” expressed China.
China further maintained that international protection efforts must not supersede the primary protection responsibilities and prerogatives of states. Turning to UN peace operations, China commended the work of humanitarian workers, but it insisted that they must “remain neutral” and respect the sovereignty of the affected state.
3. Statements from the Non P-5 members
A. European States (Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Switzerland, Ireland and the Holy See)
In regards to the protection of civilians, the Netherlands focused its discussion focused on how food insecurity is an act of war. This association between food insecurity and acts of war is being incorporated into the Netherland’s International Crimes Act.
The Netherlands explained 5.4 million people were without food in South Sudan. Food insecurity is a major source of conflict due to starvation being used as a war tactic. Consequently, this has created a legacy of starvation and malnutrition that has affected generations of people, which has in turn stifled development.
Since the Netherlands considers food insecurity to be an act of war, the Netherlands underscored that it is of utmost importance for the UNSC to find a solution to this problem and must prosecute the actors who have committed these atrocities.
Switzerland contended that protection of civilians is a key aspect of security. The frequency in attacks on medical facilities and schools was appalling and it is up to the UNSC to utilize its resources to stop it. There should also be more attention paid to the continuing trend of urbanization of conflicts and the utilization of starvation as a war tactic. To end starvation as a war tactic, Switzerland presented five key priorities: 1.enhance respect for international humanitarian law, 2.accountability for violation of international humanitarian law, 3. implementation of 2286 on the protection of healthcare workers, and 4. dedicate special attention to protecting civilians, 5. Support peacekeeping missions by the UN and NGOs.
Sweden said that international human rights law is sufficient to aid civilians in armed conflict if implemented. There should also be more attention paid to women and children in relation to how to best serve their needs during conflicts. This can be done if the UNSC resolution 2286 is applied. In the same fashion, Ukraine called for more accountability and protection of innocent civilians in conflict. They noted they were still reeling from the effects of Russian aggression on civilians populations. If some member states, especially one on the permanent council, continued to “turn a blind eye” to the mandates of the ICJ, there would be no hope in reducing civilian casualties. Ireland said that the use of explosive weapons in civilian areas indiscriminately was a serious cause for concern. To end the use of explosives, there should be calls for more accountability and reverence for international humanitarian law. The Holy See said that attacks against health facilities and aid works were serious destabilizing factors affecting war torn regions. Since these are serious violations of International and humanitarian law, there should be more done to prevent war and find peaceful solutions to political disputes.
B. Latin America
Bolivia began their statements by highlighting the death toll of the “March of Return” and how it just one of many examples of civilians being slaughtered in war. They cited that over 50 million civilians have been targeted by armed conflict in urban areas. It is imperative the international community do everything within its power to protect civilians and health care workers on the front lines of these battles. Peru shared similar sentiments and asserted that rampant impunity was a major source of inaction in protecting civilians and aid workers. Since all states are supposed to uphold international law, there should be more accountability and preventative measures taken.
Panama, spoke on behalf of the Human security network and expressed similar sentiments with their Latin American counterparts. Their most important priority is the protection of civilians, in addition to working with the UNSC. In order to improve security for them in the line of fire, traditional security measures must be complimented with a comprehensive approach based on the needs of the people to prevent conflict. Enforcing the rule of law in conjunction with the UNSC’s support of NGOs and IGOs, can result in better protecting civilians.
C. Central Asia
Kazakhstan noted that 75% of all war victims were civilians. Therefore, the UNSC should have three protection priorities, compliance with the IHL, protection of civilians, and provide technical and financial support for NGO and IGOs on the ground. The role of peacekeeping operations is an important component in supporting protection priorities and Kazakhstan is willing to support these efforts politically. Member states must do more to address the needs of vulnerable groups is most important, capacity build, and encourage respecting the rule of law.
D.Middle East (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Qatar)
Kuwait called upon the international community to improve its efforts in protecting civilians during conflict and noted a connection between conflict and displaced persons. For sustainable peace to thrive, the root causes of the conflict must be addressed. Highlighting the importance of of protecting humanitarian aid works, he mentioned the violence affecting civilians in Syria. Saudi Arabia expressed similar views and pointed to the humanitarian disaster on the Gaza strip as an example of innocent civilians being massacred. They also addressed the situation in Yemen and noted they, in conjunction with other partners, were planning on saving the Yemeni people.
Iraq cited their compliance with humanitarian law and its countries successful military efforts in regaining territories. Further, Iraq has made significant gains to efforts to protect their civilians and provide rehabilitation services to former child ISIS recruits. Qatar stressed that value of accountability and judicial instruments to improve prospects of justice in regards to the most serious crimes of war and against civilian infrastructure. They also reiterated the need to keep journalists safe because they an important role in accountability and investigating the events on the ground.
E. African States (Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Ghana)
Equatorial Guinea mentioned the “growing vulnerability of civilians” as a factor in reducing positive benefits of resilience building efforts. Further, they called for an end to the strategic use of hunger as a war tactic. Attribution for these atrocities are the fiscal and climate crisis that are heightened by the chronic vulnerabilities of civilian various populations. With this in mind, there should never be politicization the protection of civilians. Cote d’Ivoire expressed similar views by reflected the the horrors of their post election conflict. From these experiences, they understand the importance of maintaining peace and the high value of protecting civilians. Therefore, it is important that all stakeholders emphasize international standards of protection.
Ethiopia harped on how the protection of civilians continues to be a problem for the global community and the UNSC. Since asymmetric warfare continues to be a problem the need for the implementation of internal law must become a priority. Comparatively, Rwanda noted that peacekeeping and protection of civilians should remain a top priority for the UNSC. Unarmed peacekeepers have played an important role in keeping civilians safe. She then cited Rwanda’s tragic history as a reminder that the UN is charged with responsibility to protect the innocent and make effective contributions to peacekeeping efforts. Ghana made light of limited UN success in preventing mass casualties within civilian populations. To remedy these kinds of atrocities, there must be full compliance with international law and comprehensive investigations of abuse.