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Protection of civilians


1. Latest developments at the United Nations Retour à la table des matières



- On 30 May 2014, the Australian and Chilean delegations jointly organized an informal meeting of the Security Council, (“Arria” format), on the protection of the internally displaced people (IDPs).

The Permanent Representative of Australia recognized that the arbitrary displacement of populations was forbidden by international law and assimilated by the Rome status of the International Criminal Court to a crime against humanity.

The Permanent Representative of France stated that the question of the internally displaced people was an issue that the Security Council had to face regularly. UN Peacekeeping missions were trying to take this issue into account protection of civilians in the framework of their mandate.

- On 8 May 2014, the members of the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2154 creating “Captain Mbaye Diagne” medal to decorate United Nations staff showing exceptional courage. Captain Mbaye Diagne was a United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeeper who saved hundreds of Rwandans at the peril of his life during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The Permanent Representatives of Jordan, of Rwanda and of Senegal commended Captain Diagne’s action.

- On 12 February 2014, the Security Council held a public debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Mrs Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Mr Yves Daccord Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) briefed the Council.

Mrs Pillay stressed the importance of facilitating access to those who protect human rights as well as the importance of conducting investigations on unpunished violations of human rights. She reminded how important it was to benefit from the support of the Council on these matters.

Mrs Amos reported the deterioration of the level of protection of civilians on a global scale. She mentioned as an example the recent crises in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in South Sudan. On peacekeeping missions, Mrs Amos wished to guarantee coordination between humanitarian action and the political objective of a mission. She reminded the importance for peacekeepers to remain neutral and impartial during their mission.

Mr Ladsous noted the fact that the UN and the international community had learned from the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago. However, since 1994, new threats against civilians had appeared. M. Ladsous encouraged the UN to adapt to those mutations in order to enable a quick response to protect civilians from these threats. Mr Daccord called on the states and the parties of a conflict to be held responsible for their actions during armed conflicts.

The Permanent Representative of France reminded that Peacekeeping missions were at the heart of the process of protecting civilians. He mentioned as an example the action of the Security Council in Mali which had permitted the stabilization of the country. A peacekeeping force with police functions should now be deployed in the CAR.

At the end of this debate, a presidential statement on the United Kingdom’s initiative was adopted.

- 19 August 2013 – The protection of civilians in armed conflict on the agenda of the Security Council.

On the occasion of the World Humanitarian Day, the Security Council met to discuss the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict. While indiscriminate attacks against civilians and deliberate attacks against humanitarian personnel are increasing, the issue is paramount.

The members of the Council expressed their concern over the violence perpetrated by states or armed groups against civilians, especially towards women and children. Some members of the Security Council for example raised serious concerns about the abuses and Human Right violations currently committed in Central African Republic.

By paying tribute to the humanitarian personnel, the Council also recalled the importance of “humanitarian space”. Some states for instance denounced the growing threat to humanitarian and medical aid in Syria. The Council also expressed its serious preoccupation over the deliberate hindrances to humanitarian access, which directly affect civilians. Sudan and Syria were both mentioned in this context.

Protecting civilians also means fighting against impunity for the perpetrators of violence against civilians. In this context, a great number of Council members recalled the importance of the International Criminal Court, responsible for providing efficient and impartial justice. Several members of the Security Council called for a referral to this jurisdiction to investigate war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime.

The proliferation and free circulation of arms was also mentioned. Many welcomed the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), allowing the regulation of legal and small arms trade and the fight against arms trafficking. Some members also raised the question of the use of armed drones and its impact on civilians.

Finally, several members of the Council called for the reinforcement of International Humanitarian Law implementation on the ground through specific measures. Initiatives such as International Humanitarian Law training for United Nations peacekeepers were welcomed.

France, as a candidate to the Human Right Council, attaches particular importance to the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


Civilians Fleeing Fighting Seek Refuge at UNMISS Compound, Bor, South Sudan - 18 December 2013 - UN Photo/Hailemichael Gebrekrstos


2. Overview Retour à la table des matières

Today civilians account for the vast majority of the casualties in armed conflict. France believes that promoting the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities is essential.

In its first resolution on the issue of the protection of civilians, resolution 1265 (1999), the Security Council affirmed that certain situations where grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights were taking place (in particular targeted attacks against civilians) could constitute a threat to peace and security, and hence be an issue to be dealt with by the Security Council.

Ten years later, on 11 November 2009, under the presidency of the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1894 on the protection of civilians. This resolution marks the determination of the Security Council to remain seized of the issue, and covers many issues at stake for the protection of civilians.

Main elements of resolution 1894

Resolution 1894 of 11 November 2009 reaffirms the Security Council’s determination to deal with situations in which serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights have been committed. It establishes a link between the international community’s obligations in the area of protection of civilians and its responsibility, including that of the Security Council, under the responsibility to protect, which is reaffirmed.

The resolution affirms the role of the Security Council in creating an environment that is conducive to the facilitation of humanitarian access.

It recognizes that the PKOs represent an important tool for the Security Council with respect to ensuring the protection of civilians and lists the concrete measures that must be taken in order to implement the protection mandates (development by the Secretary-General of operational guidelines, inclusion in the general planning of PKO activities of a protection strategy based on an analysis of the risks and threats and which clearly defines the priorities, actions, roles and responsibilities of all parties, under the leadership of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative; the need to take into account the protection of civilians in leadership training and in pre-deployment training, benchmarks). This progress falls within the framework of the joint initiative by France and the United Kingdom regarding the review of the PKOs.

The resolution reaffirms the need to put an end to impunity and to prosecute persons responsible for the most serious crimes, including through the use of international criminal justice mechanisms. It recalls that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide which are crimes committed against civilians.

The resolution strengthens the framework in which the Security Council must examine the issues relating to the protection of civilians by requesting more detailed and systematic information from the Secretary-General regarding the violations committed against civilians so that it can take this into consideration in its deliberations, and by recognizing the importance of the Aide Memoire on the protection of civilians prepared by the OCHA and adopted by the Security Council in January 2009.


The adoption of resolution 1973 in March 2011 regarding the situation in Libya represented a new step in the implementation of the protection of civilians by the Security Council. It was the first time that the Security Council gave a blanket authorisation for the use of force in order to protect civilians. Until then, such authorisation for humanitarian reasons was either limited in time (two months under resolution 929 for the Turquoise operation in Rwanda in 1994), or in scope (protection of humanitarian convoys under resolution 770 (1992) in Bosnia).


The protection of civilians should be viewed from various angles:


Access to civilians - humanitarian access


France attaches particular importance to the respect of humanitarian space, which is vital for ensuring access to populations in distress. It must be possible to allow the unhindered distribution of humanitarian aid.

On France’s initiative, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution in 1988 declaring the principle of freedom of access for organizations to victims of natural disasters and other emergency situations. (Resolution 43-131 of 8 December 1988, and Resolution 45-100 of 10 December 1990)

Since then, the principle has been reaffirmed by the Security Council in more than three hundred texts relating to around twenty conflicts. With this in mind, France is actively involved in the negotiation of General Assembly resolutions aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and protecting humanitarian personnel. Aid effectiveness and the safety of personnel are dependent on timely, unrestricted and unhindered access.


The humanitarian challenge (excerpt from the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid)

"Humanitarian actors today face a number of major challenges. There has been an increasing tendency for International Law, including International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Law and Refugee Law, to be ignored or blatantly violated. The ‘humanitarian space’ that is needed to ensure access to vulnerable populations and the safety and security of humanitarian workers must be preserved as essential preconditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for the European Union (EU) and its partners in the humanitarian field to be able to get assistance including protection to crisis-hit people, based on respect for the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence of humanitarian action, enshrined in International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law."



In peacekeeping operations:


Resolution 1674, adopted in 2006, establishes the general normative framework for the Council’s action with regard to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It reaffirms the principle of responsability to protect as formulated in the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005 (see file on R2P). It stipulates that all relevant information and analysis on the protection of civilians be reported to the Council and in particular includes provisions for UN peacekeeping operation mandates where appropriate and on a case-by-case basis to:

— protect civilians under imminent threat of physical danger;
— prevent and respond to sexual violence;
— facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
— ensure security in and around camps for refugees and security for the persons living there;
— create conditions conducive to their voluntary and safe return.

Nine peacekeeping operations have been mandated by the Security Council to protect civilians (MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSMA in Mali, UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire, UNMIL in Liberia, UNAMID in Darfur, UNISFA in Abyei (Sudan), UNMISS in South Sudan, MINUSTAH in Haiti, UNIFIL in Lebanon).


Escorted by Peacekeepers, Sudanese Women IDPs Collect Firewood - 4 August 2010 - UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


Specific groups of civilians: women and children


Millions of civilians are casualties of conflict. However, women and children are particularly vulnerable and have unfortunately become the most targeted victims. In addition, sexual violence is used in many armed conflicts as a weapon of war against civilians, and women are particularly affected.

Three key Security Council resolutions should be noted in this regard:

- Resolution 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict is currently the Security Council’s landmark resolution thanks to the monitoring mechanism of the parties to conflict managed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Mrs. Coomaraswamy, and thanks to the Council’s Working Group. (See file on children and armed conflict)

- Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women and Peace and Security ensures that women are not only better protected, but also more involved in resolving conflicts, helping to make a different voice heard. (See file on women’s rights)

- Resolution 1820 (2008) on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict adopted on 19 June 2008, eight years after resolution 1325, marks a new development in the fight against sexual violence which has increased to unacceptable levels in recent years. Started on the United States’ initiative, with France’s active support, this resolution calls for intensifying the fight against the impunity of perpetrators of sexual violence. It links sexual violence as a war tactic to peacekeeping and international security, stipulates possible punishments for perpetrators of such crimes, and gives a clear mandate to the Secretary-General and to peacekeeping operations to take charge of the different aspects of this issue.


Resolution 1738 (2006) focuses on another specific group, journalists. This resolution, submitted at the initiative of France and Greece, "condemns intentional attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, and calls on all parties to halt such practices. "


The protection of civilians is also:


- The fight against impunity. See section on “International Criminal Jurisdictions"

- The Responsibility to Protect. See section on “Responsibility to Protect”

- The protection of children in armed conflict. See section on “children and armed conflict”

- The protection of women. See section on “Women’s rights ”

- The protection of journalists in armed conflict. See section on “Protection of journalists in armed conflict ”


The Security Council holds a six-monthly public debate on the issue of the protection of civilians.


During the last debate organized by the Chinese presidency of the Security Council on 25 June 2012, the member states of the Security Council commented the report of the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

They strongly condemned the attacks targeting the civilian populations, in violation of international humanitarian law. Having expressed their great concern regarding to increasing attacks against civilians in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Soudan and DRC, the members of the Council recalled that fighting against impunity was also essential to the protection of the civilians.

(May 2014)

2. French statements Retour à la table des matières

12 February 2014 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Statement by Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 19 August 2013 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Statement by Mr Alexis Lamek, Chargé d’Affaires a.i of France to the United Nations

- 12 February 2013 – Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict – Statement by Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 25 June 2012 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Statement by Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 9 November 2011 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Statement by Mr Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 22 November 2010 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflicts - Statement by Mr. Martin Briens, Permanent representative of France to the United Nations

- 7 July 2010 - Security Council - Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Statement by Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 11 November 2009 - Security Council: Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Statement by Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 12 August 2009 - 60th Anniversary of the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 – Communiqué issued by the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations

- 26 June 2009 - Security Council : Protection of civilians in armed conflict – Statement by Jean-Maurice Ripert, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 14 January 2009 - Debate on the Protection of Civilians at the Security Council – Speech by Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, France’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations

- 10 November 2008 - Item 65 - Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance – Statement delivered on behalf of the European Union by H. E. Jean-Maurice Ripert

- 27 May 2008 – Security Council: Protection of civilians in armed conflict – Statement by Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

- 20 November 2007 – Security Council: Protection of civilians in armed conflict – Statement by Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

3. Reference documents Retour à la table des matières

- 8 May 2014 - Security Council resolution 2154 creating “Captain Mbaye Diagne” medal to decorate United Nations staff showing exceptional courage

- 12 February 2014 - Security Council - Presidential statement

- 12 February 2013 - Security Council Presidential Statement

- 22 November 2010 - Statement by the President of the Security Council

- 11 November 2009 - Security Council resolution 1894

- 29 January 2009 - The savaging of humanitarian law – Article by M. Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

- 19 June 2008 – Security Council resolution 1820

- December 2007 – The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid

- 23 December 2006 - Security Council resolution 1738 - On the protection of journalists, media personnel and associated personnel

- 28 April 2006 – Security Council resolution 1674

- 26 July 2005 – Security Council resolution 1612

- 31 October 2000 – Security Council resolution 1325

- 17 September 1999 - Security Council resolution 1265 - First Security Council thematic resolution on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

- 14 December 1990 – General Assembly resolution 45/100

- 8 December 1988 – General Assembly resolution 43/131

4. Useful links Retour à la table des matières

- See section on humanitarian action on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

- See section on humanitarian affairs on the website of the United Nations



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