On Wednesday, January 26, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) convened a high-level virtual roundtable to share good practices in and discuss challenges to implementing protection of civilians (POC) policies and mechanisms at the national level.

The event followed the January 25th UN Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians during armed conflict in urban settings. The conversations during the virtual event echoed observations made during the Council debate regarding the lack of respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) by parties to armed conflict and the devastating consequences inflicted upon civilians, critical civilian infrastructure, and essential services as a result of conflicts, especially when fought in urban environments with explosive weapons.

Attendees heard practical examples of implementing POC at the national level. For example, Switzerland developed a national strategy on civilian protection (2007) and published its voluntary report on national implementation of IHL (2020). Cote d’Ivoire created a National Inter-ministerial Commission to ensure compliance with IHL, and Uruguay prioritizes training peacekeepers on protection of civilians, including with a focus on child protection and gender.

Panelists shared effective approaches in strengthening POC at the national level. For example, protection of civilians should be communicated in ways that draw on the voices of civilians and communities who live under threat and are best placed to identify challenges facing them. To strengthen national ownership and adherence to obligations, actions should be tailored to relevant professional and cultural contexts. These measures should aim to bring about systemic changes, from the institutional to the societal level. This includes working with the different branches of government and state military forces, as well as non-state armed groups and other actors that may have an influence over them, in a constant effort to foster respect for the rules of war. It also involves embedding the basic principles of IHL into the DNA of all members of armed forces and armed groups through an integration model.

Speakers highlighted the critical requirement of political courage and leadership as a key factor in elevating POC at the national level and discussed some innovative approaches and practical mechanisms that can make protection of civilians a reality. They also raised the importance of partnerships and the role of UN and civil society in supporting Member States to uphold their primary responsibilities for protecting civilians, including by partnering to develop, implement, and monitor national POC policies, and cultivating the required political will to prioritize POC within all branches and levels of national governments.

The event is part of an ongoing dialogue on POC, meant to catalyze thinking and action on effective, practical, and inclusive approaches to the protection of civilians at the national level. The discussions will continue, including during the 2022 POC Week, due to be held in May.