Women and children, innocent bystanders – civilians – who are caught up in armed conflict too often lack the effective protection they are entitled to according to humanitarian law.
We can and must restore the respect for and adherence to international humanitarian law. While the core principles of IHL are as valid as ever, the complexity of modern armed conflicts demands renewed reflection on the application of these principles in order to ensure adequate protection for civilians. Important lessons should be learned from relevant UN experience in the field and from states that have made their rules of engagement available to the public.
The resolution just adopted by the Council makes clear that peacekeeping constitutes one of the most important means at the UN’s disposal to protect civilians in armed conflict. Indeed, we would add that protecting civilians is the core objective of peacekeeping.
In order to achieve this objective, the newly published DPKO/OCHA study on “Protecting civilians in the context of UN peacekeeping operations” points to the way ahead. It uncovers many of the existing gaps and provides clear recommendations as to what needs to be done to achieve results on the ground. Overall, it is evident that protection of civilians mandates have yet to be matched by political resolve and resources, doctrine and clear operational guidance for peacekeeping personnel. Troop and police contributing countries must internalise this issue in their national policies.
I would like to focus on three specific areas of concern:
- the lack of operational guidance and tailored training
- the need for political will and leadership
- ensuring accountability and fighting impunity
Clear guidance to peacekeeping personnel is needed on how to operationalise protection of civilians mandates. One area of particular concern is the protection of women and children from sexual violence. To our knowledge, not one national army has developed operational guidance to combat sexual violence in conflict. DPKO, as well as national governments, need to put in place such operational tools as a matter of urgency.
The overall lack of tailored training for troops required to address sexual violence is worrisome. It is a mistake to assume that women’s and children’s protection against sexual violence will come intuitively to soldiers trained in war fighting. When peacekeepers confront a highly-sensitive security problem they have never encountered in training, they are likely to make mistakes.
The international community also needs to deploy more uniformed female personnel. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the efforts of the all-women Indian police contingent working in Liberia. They should be an inspiration to us all. Police plays a leading role in a state’s ability to protect its citizens. That is why Norway funds the development of a strategic doctrinal framework for international police peacekeeping. The purpose of this framework is to provide a consistent model for policing. This will help UN police as they seek to protect civilians and assist in the building of local police capacity.
We need to see stronger political will and leadership in order to demand response to sexual violence in conflict – from the field commander to the SRSG and from the Secretary-General to the Security Council. This must be manifested in strong and specific mandates with timely delivery and deployment of resources. Some progress has been made: The comprehensive strategy on combating sexual violence in the DRC is a case in point. But such strategies will remain futile unless there is a mission-wide and indeed a society-wide commitment to implement them. Fostering greater political will is one of the tasks of the soon to be appointed SRSG on sexual violence in armed conflict. Norway calls on the Secretary-General to expedite the appointment of the SRSG and urges all member states to give strong political support to the new representative’s work.
Where criminals in uniform are free to rape and murder, civilian criminals are often free to do the same. Impunity serves as an incentive for continued violence for soldier and citizen alike. Members of parties to conflict, from the lowest ranks to the commanding officer, are accountable and must be held accountable for their actions. Certainty of investigation, prosecution and punishment is vital to prevent and protect civilians from abuse. Justice alone can show would-be perpetrators that civilian lives matter.
In concluding, let me echo the DPKO/OCHA commissioned report in adding a word of caution: Peacekeeping operations cannot protect everyone from everything. Protection of civilians requires not only a mission-wide or a UN-wide strategy. It requires a partnership between all those present in the field – including the host government. Ultimately it requires a culture of respect for human rights and the principles of international humanitarian law.