Protection of Civilians Symposium: An Overview of Legal and Practical Challenges of Protecting Civilians in Peacekeeping
[Ralph Mamiya is team leader for the Protection of Civilians Team in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations but writes here in a purely personal capacity, and the views expressed do not represent official positions of his Department or the United Nations.]
The protection of civilians is both a well-established topic in international law and also a relatively new and controversial phenomenon in practice. It incorporates aspects of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international refugee law, as well as the law of jus in bello and the use of force.
Protection of Civilians, a new volume from Oxford University Press co-edited by Haidi Willmot, Scott Sheeran, Marc Weller and me, examines the range of law of practice that impact this topic. The book brings together a number of respected scholars and practitioners, including Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Andrew Clapham, Patrick Cammaert and Hugo Slim, to discuss the protection of civilians from a variety of perspectives. An important aim of this volume is to provide a comprehensive set of views on civilian protection, gathering together views from the often-disparate worlds of international law, humanitarian practice, diplomacy and peacekeeping, and to forge greater coherence.
The full spectrum of civilian protection, however, may be too much to cover in a brief symposium, and we chose to focus discussion on a highly topical but rarely discussed (from a legal perspective) issue: the protection of civilians by peacekeepers. This is topic particularly important to me in work on peacekeeping, though everything in this symposium is written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.
The Security Council first provided a mandate “to protect civilians from the imminent threat of physical violence” in 1999 for the UN Mission in Sierra Leone. Since that time, the Council has provided nearly every UN peacekeeping mission with a protection mandate and today more than 95 per cent of the approximately 100,000 blue helmets around the world work in missions with this mandate. The UN, the United States and NATO have all recently adopted protection of civilians doctrine.
Recent years have highlighted the challenges posed by the protection of civilians mandate, however. Incidents in South Sudan have highlighted the potentially devastating consequences for civilians when peacekeepers are unable to protect them. A 2014 evaluation of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services found challenges in command and control and confusion over roles and responsibilities. Many of these challenges are practical and operational, as detailed in a recent report from the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations; they challenges are inherent to assembling an expansive and diverse set of military and civilian actors from different countries, often working in hugely difficult situations.
Legal aspects of the protection of civilians mandate are rarely discussed, however. Does the Security Council’s language, which is often emphatic, create legal obligations for peacekeepers? If so, of what kind? Recent cases in European courts (see here) have begun to address failures by peacekeepers, including the Mothers of Srebrenica decision that held Dutch peacekeepers responsible under national jurisdiction. Notably, however, these cases did not involve the modern protection of civilians mandate.
Our panelists will address these issues in the coming week. We will begin with posts from two contributors to the book, Siobhan Wills, Professor of Law at the University of Ulster, and Mona Khalil, Legal Advisor to the diplomatic advisory firm Independent Diplomat and a former UN Senior Legal Officer. We will also hear from Professor Ray Murphy of NUI Galway, Marten Zwanenburg, Legal Counsel for the government of the Netherlands, and Professor Kjetil Mujezinović Larsen of the University of Oslo.
On behalf of the other editors, let me express my gratitude to Opinio Juris for what I have no doubt will be an interesting symposium, and many thanks to the esteemed panelists we will have with us for the next few days.