Statement: Ambitious Vision for Protecting Civilians Must Be Met With Action
UNITED NATIONS—The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General released his annual report on the protection of civilians today. The report highlights the dire state of protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the globe and outlines his vision for better civilian protection.
In a statement, Federico Borello, Executive Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), said:
“Secretary-General Guterres has set out an ambitious vision for the protection of civilians. This vision needs to be backed up by action from all UN member states to strengthen compliance for international law and better protect civilians in conflict.”
“Right now, in far too many conflicts, like Syria and Yemen, some members of the Security Council are blocking action to protect civilians, or even enabling threats against them. As the primary body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the Council needs to get past its dysfunction and stop these proxy fights. Human lives are on the line.
“The Secretary-General also rightly calls for accountability when peacekeepers fail to protect civilians. Addressing shortcomings, like those we saw in South Sudan in 2016, cannot take a backseat to other reform efforts. The UN has taken some positive steps since then, but much more needs to be done in the coming months, not years. The Secretary-General and Member States need to step up their efforts to ensure the UN can better deliver on mandates to protect.”
The Secretary-General’s report is the thirteenth on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and the first under the tenure of António Guterres. These annual reports typically inform UN Security Council open debates the month they are published. The debate this year will be convened on May 25. The Secretary-General’s report highlights a number of issues that Center for Civilians in Conflict has been engaged on. These include:
Civilian Harm Mitigation
Secretary-General Guterres makes an important call in the report by urging members and regional and other intergovernmental organizations to “develop and implement holistic policies or strategies on the protection of civilians and civilian harm mitigation, including training, doctrine, and the development of capacities to track and analyze civilian harm in military operations.”
CIVIC has been at the forefront of efforts to advance policies and practices that seek to mitigate civilian harm. We define civilian harm mitigation as all measures taken by security forces to avoid or minimize civilian harm resulting from their own operations and reduce the negative impacts of any harm that does occur.
The report highlights the “important progress” made by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in standing up its Civilian Casualty Tracking, Analysis and Response Cell, as well as a Standard Operating Procedure on amends following harm to civilians during AMISOM operations. CIVIC has been engaged closely in both these efforts, including, most recently, facilitating a meeting with the African Union in Nairobi in 2016.
The Secretary-General’s report also notes developments in Afghanistan and Nigeria. In Afghanistan, CIVIC has provided inputs into the draft national policy on civilian casualty mitigation referenced in the Secretary-General’s report, as well as technical assistance in the development of the Afghan government’s Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team. CIVIC has been engaged in Afghanistan since the organization’s founding in 2003.
CIVIC has a partnership with the Nigerian Defence Headquarters as it seeks to improve protection for civilians in the Northeast. This partnership included convening the multi-stakeholder dialogue on the protection of civilians referenced in the Secretary-General’s report.
CIVIC had long advocated for the United States’ Executive Order on the protection of civilians, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s policy on the protection of civilians, both of which were adopted in 2016 and are referenced in the Secretary-General’s report.
- Minimizing civilian harm in populated areas: lessons from examining ISAF and AMISOM policies (International Review of the Red Cross, April 2017)
- AMISOM set to begin the process of making amends for civilian harm in Somalia (African Union, November 2016)
- Defence Headquarters partners with Center for Civilians in Conflict to Enhance Civil-Military Relations (Nigeria Defence Headquarters, November 2016)
- Saving Ourselves: Security Transition and Impact on Civilian Protection in Afghanistan (CIVIC, November 2016)
Peacekeeping and the Protection of Civilians
The Secretary-General’s report stresses the importance of UN peacekeepers preventing and responding to threats to civilians. It also states that peacekeepers should be held accountable for shortcomings in performance. CIVIC investigated and reported on the response of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to the outbreak of violence in Malakal in February 2016 and in Juba in July that year. CIVIC further conducted an assessment of the protection of civilians mandate of the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) following challenges to protect civilians in 2016. CIVIC also monitors the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and has advocated that the mission adopt policies and practices to track and mitigate civilian harm resulting from their operations.
Accountability and reform following failures will be critical for the future of peacekeeping. CIVIC welcomes the Secretary-General’s intention to maintain momentum on the implementation of recommendations of the Independent Special Investigation into the Violence which occurred in Juba in July 2016 and UNMISS Response and the 2015 report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.
- The Primacy of Protection: Delivering on the MINUSCA Mandate in the Central African Republic (CIVIC, April 2017)
- From Mandate to Mission: Mitigating Civilian Harm in UN Peacekeeping Operations in the DRC (CIVIC, December 2016)
- Under Fire: The July 2016 Violence and UN Response (CIVIC, October 2016)
- A Refuge in Flames: The February 17-18 Violence in Malakal POC (CIVIC, April 2016)
Notes to editors:
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)'s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.
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