Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

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Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): On November 9, 2011, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, spoke at a Security Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In her remarks, Ambassador Rice identified five areas for improving efforts to protect civilians. Ambassador Rice's remarks, excerpted below, are available in full at (internet link) usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2011/176905.htm.

Mr. President, protection of civilians is at the heart of what we should be doing as a Council. In the past year, we have made significant progress in operationalizing norms on the protection of civilians. This Council played a critical role in protecting the people of Côte d'Ivoire in the aftermath of their election. When Muammar Qadhafi moved to make good on his promises to massacre civilians in his own country, this Council acted.

Overall, the United Nations and this Council face challenges both of will and capacity. To build the U.S. capacity to protect civilians, we believe the United Nations should advance on five fronts.

First, we must strengthen early-warning systems to detect and draw attention to threats against civilians, especially where the United Nations already has a significant presence on the ground. Humanitarian workers are often the first to sound the alarm bell. United Nations peacekeeping personnel have an obligation to do so as well. We have seen some recent promising examples of early-warning and prevention strategies in peacekeeping missions. For example, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, with the support of the United Nations Country Team, mobilized a response to escalating tensions in Jonglei state, including consultations with community leaders and government authorities. This early-warning system may well have helped prevent retaliatory intercommunal violence.

We encourage such early-warning activity in other missions, as part of an overall mission-wide strategy for the protection of civilians. Such strategies can only succeed if they rely on strengthening mission personnel's understanding of and communications with the host communities. A mission-wide strategy also needs to provide peacekeepers with the necessary equipment and training as well as their resolve to use all means at their disposal, including force where necessary and so mandated. My government welcomes the UN's development of training materials focused on sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other tools to help missions improve their protection strategies. The United States helps the United Nations to survey current practices and has initiated a workshop for missions with civilian-protection mandates.

Second, where prevention has failed, we must bring the evidence of atrocities to light. That is easier to do when human-rights investigators are already on the ground as part of a peace operation or human rights presence. But even where such missions are not present, there are several options available that we can rely upon, such as fact-finding missions, special rapporteurs and commissions of inquiry. And the membership must be ready to take action on such information in this chamber, at the Human Rights Council, and in the General Assembly.

Developments

Third, the Security Council can impose targeted sanctions—such as asset freezes and travel bans—on individuals responsible for ordering and committing violence against civilians. Full and effective sanctions implementation can be an extremely useful tool to limit the ability of these individuals to prey on vulnerable populations.

Fourth, we must support societies that have been ravaged by atrocities to strengthen their domestic accountability and, when necessary, to enable international courts to bring those leaders responsible for atrocities to justice, so that all people can live under the protection of law. We have seen firsthand the consequences when those who direct violence against civilians are not held to account—as in the case of Walikale in Congo, where over 350 civilians were raped, but the prosecution by Congolese authorities of alleged perpetrators is still pending 15 months later. Since then, soldiers have continued to commit mass rapes in North and South Kivu, and the number of rapes committed by civilians has increased as well.

Finally, in order to see justice through, from beginning to end, at the international and national levels, we must ensure protection for victims, witnesses, and judicial officers. For example, in the DRC, the U.S. is supporting MONUSCO's witness-protection project for high profile and sensitive cases against perpetrators of rape, as well as providing support for the Mission's Prosecution Support Cells.

The United Nations has learned valuable lessons in all of these areas in recent years and the United States is studying them carefully right now within the context of the Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities, which President Obama issued in August of this year.* In conclusion, Mr. President, I'd like to commend again the brave work of the United Nations and the tens of thousands of local and international United Nations staff—from peacekeepers to humanitarian workers to human rights monitors—who risk their lives daily to protect civilians in harm's way. We must never take them for granted or underestimate the challenges they face in defense of the U.S. shared values and international peace and security. We look forward to consulting with the U.S. fellow Council members and partners throughout the United Nations system as we continue the U.S. work on it.

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2013

United States views on international law [1] in relation to Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: On February 12, 2013, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan E. Rice delivered remarks at a Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Her remarks are excerpted below and available at (link resource) usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/204513.htm.

Some Aspects of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Protecting civilians in armed conflict is a fundamental responsibility of the international community and a core function the UN Security Council in carrying out its charge to safeguard international peace and security. The United States knows that its security is diminished when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flee across borders to escape brutal attacks, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. Regrettably, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not arrive without concerted and coordinated action.

Developments

And so, nearly a year ago, President Obama announced at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum new actions the United States is taking to implement his landmark policy directive on atrocity prevention. Under the President's leadership, my government has implemented unprecedented steps to enhance our capabilities and structures for preventing heinous crimes against civilians, from strengthening our early warning and preventive diplomacy to sanctioning perpetrators and pressing for accountability. Our new Atrocities Prevention Board, a committee of senior officials from across the U.S. government, is overseeing this critical work and ensuring that we are focused on emerging situations of concern. But while national action is necessary, it is not sufficient. International, collective action is required, and we look forward to strengthening our cooperation with the United Nations and member states to that end.

Details

Few are more likely to be the victims of mass atrocities than civilians caught in armed conflict. Time and again—and all too often—the world bears witness to the horror of mass killings, sexual violence and gross human rights abuses of innocents in conflict. Therefore, protecting civilians in armed conflict must remain a top priority of this Council and the United Nations as a whole. Though we must never relent in this effort, we are encouraged that the United Nations has made strides in enhancing UN tools to protect civilians. We commend the Secretariat's efforts to help UN field missions develop operational guidance and mission-wide strategies to implement their civilian protection mandates. The recently-released UN study entitled Protection of Civilians: Coordination Mechanisms in UN Peacekeeping Missions highlights several mechanisms for executing protection of civilians mandates successfully. Simple but practical tools—many focused on internal procedures and mission structure—enable mission focal points to integrate mission activities in support of protection mandates. The UN Mission in South Sudan, for example, produced an integrated strategy that led to an innovative early warning system and County Support Bases that enable better protection of rural populations.

More

Mission-wide strategies depend on missions really understanding the threats and violence civilians face in their area of operation. When peacekeepers know their local environments well, they are better able to protect civilians. Such detailed knowledge requires active and sustained engagement with local populations. We encourage UN missions with protection mandates to assess in their reports and briefings to this Council the threats and vulnerabilities facing civilians in their area of operation. We also urge mission-wide strategies to anticipate and outline steps to counter any escalation in violence against civilians that could culminate in mass atrocities. UN missions should proactively explain their role in protecting civilians to local communities.

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Beyond a sophisticated understanding of their areas of operation, peacekeepers need strong training in civilian protection. The United States invests significantly in peacekeeper training, and we urge all peacekeeping training centers to adopt the UN's innovative training guidance on protection of civilians. Such training should be standardized and required for every peacekeeper.

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2013 (Continuation)

United States views on international law [1] in relation to Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: For all that UN peacekeepers and field missions can do, let us not forget that national governments always bear primary responsibility for protecting their own populations. In some countries, governments are manifestly failing in this responsibility, often because of insufficient capacity or will to address the problem. In some countries, moreover, governments condone and even perpetrate atrocities against their own people. Through our statements, resolutions and diplomacy, this Council must continue pressing governments to fulfill their obligations.

More about Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

In this regard, I want to highlight the horrific attacks by the Syrian regime on the Syrian people, including the widely reported targeting of hospitals and health centers and the use of ballistic missiles against civilian populations. The carnage unleashed by Asad merits universal indignation and strong action from this Council. When the people of Libya were on the verge of being slaughtered by a brutal dictator, this Council acted, prevented a massacre, and saved countless lives. This should remind us that for civilians in conflict, Security Council action can mean the difference between life and death.

Development

In the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document and in UN Security Council resolution 1674, all UN Member States accepted a shared responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. While we continue to elaborate application of this principle, when governments manifestly fail to protect their civilians, the international community must not dither but rather act decisively to assume its responsibility collectively to protect.

Details

Another fundamental but often overlooked principle of protecting civilians is ensuring humanitarian access. No UN Member State, nor any non-state actor, should ever prevent timely, full, and unimpeded humanitarian access to populations in need of assistance. Yet the Government of Sudan has refused for now a year and a half to permit the safe and unhindered provision of international humanitarian assistance to address the acute humanitarian emergency in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, particularly the SPLM-North controlled areas, which is largely of Khartoum's making. Since 2011, more than 214,000 refugees have crossed into Ethiopia and South Sudan and 695,000 have been displaced within the Two Areas. This is appalling and unacceptable. In this and other such situations, we commend the service and dedication of the humanitarian workers who help the world's most vulnerable at great risk to themselves. Attacks against humanitarian workers are deplorable and should be condemned wherever committed.

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Mr. President, we fully support the Secretary-General's call for this Council to be more active in addressing violations of international law and to strengthen accountability. The United States strongly rejects impunity and supports efforts to hold accountable violators of international humanitarian and human rights law. Our longstanding support of international tribunals and efforts to document ongoing atrocities in such places as Syria reflect this commitment. Recent events, including the conviction of Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court's judgment against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, show us that accountability for those who commit atrocities and justice for their victims is possible. Yet, too many perpetrators remain free. This Council needs the facts and strong reporting to help bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against civilians.

Resources

See Also

  • Use Of Force
  • Arms Control
  • Disarmament
  • Nonproliferation
  • International Humanitarian Law

Resources

Notes

  1. Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in the Digest of United States Practice in International Law

Resources

Notes

  1. Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in the Digest of United States Practice in International Law

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