E. Protection of civilians

The protection of civilians in armed conflicts is a cross-sectional task in peace operations. Civilian, police and military mission components should guarantee civilian protection, which is to be supported by political measures and coordinated through the activities of humanitarian and development actors.

In troubled or fragile states, civilians are often victims of targeted violence, including killing, sexual abuse, expulsion or recruitment as child soldiers. The governments of affected states often do not meet their responsibilities towards the population because they are either weakened or it is state representatives themselves who are involved in serious human rights violations. In such cases and according to the principle of protecting human rights, the international community is called upon to become active. However, the international community has failed to live up to this standard in the past, as with the massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s. Nowadays, the protection of the civilian population is one of the priorities of UN-mandated peace missions. The security of the civilian population is a prerequisite for socio-political reconstruction in troubled or fragile states.

In 1999, the UN Secretary-General was charged with developing recommendations for the protection of civilians. On this basis, the Security Council passed resolutions 1265 and 1296 in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Moreover, in 1999, the Security Council explicitly allowed the use of force for the protection of threatened civilians in two missions (UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone and INTERFET in East Timor). Nowadays, the protection of the civilian population is part of nearly all UN mission mandates. The EU has welcomed the UN’s operational concept on the protection of civilians in various policy documents and draws from its experience and lessons learned. The EU aims to develop the concept along a three-tiered approach:

Tier 1 – protection through political processes.

Tier 2 – providing protection from physical violence.

Tier 3 – establishing a protective environment.

However, there is a big gap between mandates and their implementation, as the high numbers of civilian casualties in conflicts such as those in the Congo or Darfur demonstrate. Prerequisites for protecting civilians are suitable prevention, reaction, defence and deterrence capacities, as well as sufficient civilian, military and police personnel with corresponding qualifications. The prevention portfolio should include political and diplomatic measures of the UN and Member States, such as conflict resolution and early warning as well as analysis capacities. At the same time, the UN and its Member States must warn against excessive and unrealistic expectations. The protection of each and every individual is impossible. One frequent problem is the coordination between peace operations and humanitarian actors that also commit to the protection of civilians. A report1 initiated by DPKO and OCHA and co-financed by Germany demands complementary strategies when implementing protection measures.

1^ Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations: Successes, Setbacks and Remaining Challenges.