COMING UP – The 20th anniversary of the protection of civilians agenda

Posted by: on May 17, 2019 | No Comments

In 1999, the protection of civilians in armed conflict became a specific item on the agenda of the UN Security Council. Today, civilians are still bearing the brunt of the conflicts in Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen… Civil Society Organisations, including HI, will be in New York next week to call States for concrete action.

The protection of civilians, a core issue in the UN Security Council’s mandate

The concept of “protection of civilians” (POC) encompasses the rules of international humanitarian law to protect all those – men, women, children – who do not take part in fighting. They must not be attacked, they must be protected.

Twenty years ago, the United Nations Security Council noted that civilians had become the main victims of armed conflict and adopted its first resolution on the protection of civilians (Resolution 1265): “Civilians constitute the vast majority of victims of armed conflict and […] combatants and other armed elements are increasingly targeting them”. The same year, the Security Council decided on the first peace keeping mission dedicated to the protection of civilians (Sierra Leone).

Since then, every year, the UN Secretary General issues a report on the Protection of civilians in armed conflict. The content of the report is then discussed in the annual Open Debate on POC organised in the Security Council. The debate is a key opportunity for States to express their concerns and commitments on protection of civilians at the highest level. 

2019 Protection of civilians Open Debate, a key moment for influence

The 20th anniversary of the resolution on protection of civilians in armed conflicts represents a crucial opportunity to advocate for States to recognize the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) during the Open Debate. HI will also call on States to support the process towards an international political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas,  and Austria is expected to share information about the timeline for the development  of the political declaration.

Indeed, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres released his annual report a few days ago, acknowledging once more the humanitarian impact of the use of EWIPA on civilians. The reporthighlights  the importance of the Santiago Communiqué on EWIPA, adopted by 23 Latin American & Caribbean States. This year, the report also makes explicit reference and expresses support to the political discussions initiated by a group of States towards a political declaration on the matter. HI encourages all countries to acknowledge the humanitarian pattern of harm caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, support the development of an international political declaration to ultimately protect civilians and assure assistance to victims.

The debate also occurs few weeks after HI CEO, Manuel Patrouillard, addressed the UN Security Council (April 1st) to share his concerns about the persistent and targeted violence against humanitarian actors in their areas of intervention (see article here). It is therefore also an opportunity to convey HI messages on this topic and reiterate the need for better monitoring and protection mechanisms to allow humanitarian aid workers to work safely and access population in needs. It will also allow HI to encourage states and the UN to systematically condemn attacks on humanitarian facilities. Humanitarian aid workers are being targeted in many contexts (CAR, Syria, Yemen). Attacking humanitarian workers is a massive breach to the Protection of Civilian legal framework and is having dramatic consequences on the delivery of vital humanitarian aid.

Last but not least, this year annual report by the Secretary General also recognizes for the first time that armed conflicts impact everyone but persons with disabilities are more at risks than other. Lack of access to humanitarian services, including health services, may lead people with conflict-related injuries to die or develop long term impairments, new or secondary disabilities. In December 2018, the UN Security Council heard from HI and others for the first time about this issue during an informal meeting on persons with disabilities in armed conflict. The Security Council must fully integrate persons with disabilities protection and participation in its work, thus contributing to building cohesive societies, peace and security.

HI actions during the Protection of civilians’ week

HI delegation will be present this year at the UN Security Council Protection of Civilians week, from 22-24 May. The delegation will include Bahia Zrikem, Humanitarian Policy Coordinator from HI Syria Mission, Alma TaslidžanAl Osta, Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager, and Elena Bertozzi, Humanitarian Advocacy Officer.

They will report on what HI observes on the field: the suffering of civilians cause by bombings in populated areas: disabling injuries, psychological trauma, destruction of vital civilian infrastructure including hospitals and schools, displacement of population, contamination by explosive remnants and deliberate attacks on humanitarian workers and humanitarian facilities… Among the planned actions:

  • Bilateral meetings and influence with UNSC Member States representatives and other actors,
  • Dissemination of a joint iNGO statement “Call for Action to Strengthen the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” available on our here ,
  • Panellist at a side event on EWIPA, organized by INEW and the Austrian mission,
  • Interventions in a number of side events.

To know more, you can follow their action all week on twitter @HI_Advocacy and on our blog here.