Part 1 of our analysis discussed how MINUSMA’s new mandate affords greater priority to the protection of civilians. The piece also stressed that Member States must ensure the Mission has the necessary resources to achieve its expanded list of tasks. But prioritizing the protection of civilians (POC) and adding a second strategic priority are not the only key changes.

In Part 2, we examine how the new mandate outlined in Resolution 2480 (2019) offers a clearer and more comprehensive idea of what MINUSMA’s POC efforts should entail. Furthermore, we highlight how MINUSMA now has the most advanced guidance of any UN peacekeeping operation on minimizing the risk of causing unintentional harm to civilians.

A Refined Approach to POC

In addition to elevating the prominence of POC in numerous ways, the revised mandate makes crucial adjustments to the Mission’s protection activities. For instance, the new Resolution separates stabilization tasks from protection of civilians tasks.1See Resolution 2423 (2018) Paragraph: 38 (d) “Protection of civilians and stabilization, including against asymmetric threats” compared to Resolution 2480 (2019) Paragraph 28(c).

POC is a well-defined concept in the context of UN peacekeeping that mission personnel are meant to implement in an impartial manner irrespective of whether perpetrators are associated with the State. By contrast, the term “stabilization” has not yet been defined in the context of UN peacekeeping, resulting in diverse interpretations, many of which emphasize the use of force.2Robert Muggah has suggested, “In the absence of a clear [UN] definition, stabilization is being (re)conceived and (re)interpreted on the basis of parochial bilateral and national or host government interests.” Meanwhile, Arthur Boutellis has argued the UN needs to develop its own stabilization doctrine to prevent missions becoming too heavily allied with state governments.

Several analysts have asserted that the inclusion of stabilization in mission mandates suggests peacekeepers should conduct robust military operations in support of the host state against identified spoilers.3Cedric de Coening has asserted that this lack of definition could lead stakeholders to interpret “stabilization” as a task “to protect a government against an insurgency or identified aggressors,” and to “undertake robust operations, including offensive operations.” John Karlsrud shares this view, arguing that “stabilisation is about using military means to stabilise a country, often with all necessary means to neutralise potential ‘spoilers’ to a conflict.” See also Mateja Peter. One can easily see how such an approach to stabilization would very likely undermine the established principle of impartiality at the core of POC.

By disentangling the two distinct concepts in the new mandate, the UN Security Council reinforces the message that the Mission has a responsibility to protect civilians regardless of who is posing a threat. But just as importantly, the modification helps to promote understanding – within the Mission, at the Secretariat, among Member States, and among the Malian authorities – that POC is not just about using military force.

Indeed, there needs to be a greater focus on promoting mediation and dialogue between rival communities to resolve or at least temper the underlying drivers of conflict and thus prevent future attacks against civilians. This is especially true since there is scant prospect of either MINUSMA or the Malian forces being able to deter attacks in every conflict-afflicted part of the country. Eliminating any potential confusion over the fact that protection activities should be implemented in an impartial manner should also bolster the Mission’s ability to serve as an effective mediator.

Detailed Guidance on Mitigating Civilian Harm Marks an Important Advance

Another welcome development is that the revised POC section affords more detail and prominence to the task of ensuring that MINUSMA’s own operations do not cause harm to civilians – directly or indirectly. The concept of civilian harm mitigation (CHM) is not well understood in the context of peacekeeping, so the elaboration is particularly helpful.

Previously, the mandate only referenced the Mission’s obligation to “mitigating the risk to civilians before, during and after any military operation” as an add-on at the end of a sub-paragraph concerning patrols to protect civilians.4Paragraph 38 (d) (ii), UN Security Council Resolution 2423 (2018). It provided no further details as to how MINUSMA should minimize this risk. The mandates of the peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic similarly direct the missions to mitigate risks to civilians, but also lack detailed guidance on how to do so.

By contrast, in MINUSMA’s latest mandate, the Security Council has identified discrete and tangible tasks to help achieve this objective and extended the requirement to the Mission’s police component:

“to mitigate the risk to civilians before, during and after any military or police operation, including by tracking, preventing, minimizing, and addressing civilian harm resulting from the mission’s operations.”5Paragraph 28 (c) (iii), UN Security Council Resolution 2480 (2019).

This explicit directive sets an encouraging precedent for UN peacekeeping. By systematically tracking unintentional harm that results from the Mission’s own operations, peacekeepers can examine the data and identify ways in which they can mitigate and prevent harm in the future. This is true not only for the more robust operations that UN peacekeepers undertake either alone or in support of other security forces, but also relates to a Mission’s presence and non-kinetic activities.

Since MINUSMA is so heavily targeted by violent extremist groups – much more so than any other peacekeeping mission – it is especially important that the Mission understands how its mere presence in a populated area can pose an unintentional risk to civilians.

For example, some violent extremist groups plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on roads commonly used by MINUSMA convoys or in areas where peacekeepers have been recently patrolling. Unfortunately, there have been several incidents of these devices exploding when a civilian vehicle passes over them.

The good news is that the Mission is already tracking civilian casualties resulting from IEDs. But the revised mandate requires MINUSMA to go one step further and address civilian harm resulting from its operations. This means that the Mission unquestionably has the most advanced CHM language of any UN peacekeeping mandate. Taken in conjunction with the elevation and elaboration of the Mission’s POC tasks, MINUSMA is now poised to strengthen its efforts to protect civilians. However, whether the Mission can succeed in helping the Malian authorities to reduce the number of casualties resulting from the country’s multi-faceted conflict remains to be seen. Until that occurs, it will be difficult to speak of meaningful progress.

This article was authored by Seán Smith


[1] See Resolution 2423 (2018) Paragraph: 38 (d) “Protection of civilians and stabilization, including against asymmetric threats” compared to Resolution 2480 (2019) Paragraph 28(c).

[2] Robert Muggah has suggested, “In the absence of a clear [UN] definition, stabilization is being (re)conceived and (re)interpreted on the basis of parochial bilateral and national or host government interests.” Meanwhile, Arthur Boutellis has argued the UN needs to develop its own stabilization doctrine to prevent missions becoming too heavily allied with state governments.

[3] Cedric de Coening has asserted  that this lack of definition could lead stakeholders to interpret “stabilization” as a task “to protect a government against an insurgency or identified aggressors,” and to “undertake robust operations, including offensive operations.” John Karlsrud shares this view, arguing that “stabilisation is about using military means to stabilise a country, often with all necessary means to neutralise potential ‘spoilers’ to a conflict.” See also Mateja Peter.

[4] Paragraph 38 (d) (ii), UN Security Council Resolution 2423 (2018). 

[5] Paragraph 28 (c) (iii), UN Security Council Resolution 2480 (2019)


Image courtesy of MINUSMA/Gena Cortes
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