Remarks by CIVIC’s Peacekeeping Director Alison Giffen, delivered during “Pledging to Protect Civilians in Peacekeeping Operations: Lessons from the Implementation of the Kigali Principles,” an event hosted by the Permanent Missions of Ireland, Rwanda, and Uruguay to the United Nations (UN) and the International Peace Institute on May 29, 2020 as part of Protection of Civilians Week 2020 and in recognition of International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

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Thank you to the Permanent Missions of Ireland, Rwanda, and Uruguay to the UN and the International Peace Institute for hosting this important event.

I am very pleased to be participating in this event on international peacekeepers day, which coincides this year with the 2020 Protection of Civilians Week. Five years ago today, I had the privilege to speak at the conference hosted by the Republic of Rwanda on the protection of civilians and UN peacekeeping, where the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians (the Principles) were launched. In the relatively short amount of time that has passed since then, many Member State and UN Secretariat efforts have helped to advance the goals of the Principles. Some of these efforts were directly tied to the Principles, while others were linked to related high-level peacekeeping conferences and reform initiatives.

For example, to implement the Principles that seek to improve peacekeeper training,[1] the governments of Rwanda, the Netherlands, and the United States held joint Protection of Civilians (POC) training workshops in Rwanda and Ghana for military officers from a diverse set of troop contributing countries (TCCs). In addition, Member States have continued to register and graduate new contributions to UN peacekeeping operations through the Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System, which requires more in-depth assessments of personnel and equipment to ensure they can perform in the field. Further, some Member States have partnered to hold regional workshops in Africa and Latin America to roll out new UN operational readiness policies and manuals on unit requirements. These types of workshops are essential to ensure UN policies are institutionalized by ministries of defense and peacekeeping training centers.

However, more needs to be done to realize the commitments outlined in the Principles. For more than two decades, civilians have looked to UN peacekeepers for protection – whether or not those peacekeepers were in uniform and whether or not the words “protection of civilians” were in a mission’s mandate. UN peacekeeping operations must protect civilians, not only to meet the expectations of populations – which is essential to an operation’s ability to implement other mandated tasks – but because the promotion and protection of human rights is a key purpose and guiding principle of the United Nations.

There is no reason to doubt that investing in more effective protection of civilians through UN peacekeeping is worthwhile. Mounting data analyzed by academics demonstrates that UN peacekeeping operations reduce violence against civilians. CIVIC’s ongoing research in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, and South Sudan support these findings. As a woman in Yei, South Sudan, relayed to CIVIC earlier this year, “There is good improvement now since [UNMISS] conducts routine patrols and advocated for re-opening of closed roads and also removal of illegal checkpoints on the road, which created confidence for free movement among the civilians.” This woman had lost seven family members who were burned alive in their home during an attack in the area. Another woman in Yei, whose brother was shot and killed by a government-supported militia, told CIVIC, “We appreciate the role of UNMISS in reducing fear and promoting peaceful co-existence in the communities…”[2] 

In terms of the Principles addressing the need to match peacekeeping mandates with resources, significant work remains to be done.[3] For example, CIVIC’s recent report, “Protecting Civilians in Mali: Why Air Assets Matter for MINUSMA,” details the negative impact that long-running gaps in critical capabilities has had on the Mission’s ability to undertake its mandated tasks to facilitate local-level dialogue to diffuse conflict, to investigate human rights abuses, and to proactively respond to physical violence against civilians. As one MINUSMA military official relayed to CIVIC, “When there are flare-ups between signatory armed groups, it can sometimes take us two to three days to get to there.”  

After the UN Security Council added a new strategic priority to MINUSMA’s 2019 mandate to address the significant increase in violence in Mali’s central region, a civilian official in MINUSMA told CIVIC, “And yet, even with these changes to the security environment [in the center of Mali], MINUSMA still has no military utility helicopters, no attack helicopters, and no [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platforms permanently based in the Mopti region.” Given these gaps, it is critically important that in the spirit of the 6th Kigali Principle, new assets pledged at the recent MINUSMA Force Generation Conference are deployed as soon as possible.[4]

By the end of June, the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee must conclude the negotiations of UN peacekeeping operation budgets for the 2020/2021 fiscal year. The responsibility to match mandates with resources – referred to primarily in Principle 17 – does not just fall to the UN Security Council or to the troop and police contributing countries, but to the Fifth Committee. CIVIC has identified capabilities that are critical to the protection of civilians, such as field-level joint operation centers, joint mission analysis centers, strategic planning units, protection – and gender – related advisors, human rights officers, and of course, air operations budgets. I urge not only the endorsees of the Principles, but also those that have endorsed the Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping, to support these capabilities in the budget negotiations and to always consider the impact that any downsizing, transition, or drawdown of a mission could have on the protection of civilians. 

The Kigali Principles, and similar initiatives such as the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers and the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, are unique. They are voluntary, public, high-level commitments by Member States to tackle some of the most important and difficult challenges that UN peacekeeping operations are deployed to address. They provide a very detailed set of solutions to well-known obstacles to effective peacekeeping and, as such, serve as an essential complement to the Action for Peacekeeping initiative that seeks to maintain momentum on UN peacekeeping reform.

I encourage Member States to lead to protect and carry these voluntary commitments forward:

  • through their public and private diplomacy exercised in UN forums and with key peacekeeping stakeholders, including host-state governments;
  • through their votes in the Fifth Committee and UN Security Council that touch on budgets and management reforms; and
  • through contributions of personnel, enablers, and capacity building initiatives pledged during the 2021 Peacekeeping Ministerials and preparatory conferences. 

In turn, as a representative of a civil society organization, CIVIC pledges to strengthen the protection of civilians through UN peacekeeping by continuing our research to capture good practices and lessons learned in CAR, DRC, Mali, and South Sudan and to advocate for those lessons to be institutionalized in policy and practice at the local, national, and international level.

Thank you. 


[1] Principles one and two of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians directly address commitments to improve training of personnel deployed to UN peacekeeping operations.

[2] This research will be further explored in a forthcoming Issue Brief authored by CIVIC’s Senior Global researcher, Lauren Spink, that will explore how UNMISS is implementing its protection mandate by linking local engagement and dialogue with national-level peacebuilding.

[3] Principles 5, 6, 17, and 18 of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians address the need to match mandates with resources, including personnel, logistics, and critical enablers such as air assets.

[4] Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, Principle 6, “To strive, within our capabilities, to contribute the enabling capabilities (e.g. helicopters) to peacekeeping operations that facilitate improved civilian protection.”

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