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Does humanitarian law apply to peace-keeping and peace-enforcement operations carried out by or under the auspices of the united nations?

01-01-2004

Extract from ICRC publication "International humanitarian law: answers to your questions"

In situations of international and noninternational armed conflict, members of military units taking part in a peace operation must respect international humanitarian law when they are actively engaged in armed confrontations against a party to the conflict. When they are not, they are considered as civilians, as long as this situation remains unchanged.

For each contingent, humanitarian law applies according to the international obligations of each troop-contributing country. States that provide troops for such operations must ensure that their units are familiar with the humanitarian rules.
 
The applicability of humanitarian law to forces conducting operations under United Nations command and control was reaffirmed in the Bulletin of the UN Secretary- General issued on 6 August 1999 to mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
 
Under the title Observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law, the Bulletin sets out a list of fundamental principles and rules of humanitarian law. These principles are applicable, as a minimum, to UN forces whenever they are engaged as combatants an enforcement action or when acting in self-defence during a peace-keeping operation, to the extent and for the duration of armed engagements.
 
The obligation for UN forces to respect these fundamental principles and rules has also been included in the most recent agreements concluded between the United Nations and the countries in whose territory UN troops are deployed. 

Distinction and definition 

The purpose of peace-keeping operations is to ensure respect for cease-fires and demarcation lines and to conclude troopwithdrawal agreements. In the past few years, the scope of operations has been extended to cover other tasks such as the supervision of elections, the forwarding of humanitarian relief, and assistance in the national reconciliation process. The use of force is authorized only in cases of legitimate defence. Such operations take place with the consent of the parties on the ground.
 
Peace-enforcement operations, which come under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, are carried out by UN forces or by States, groups of States or regional organizations, either at the invitation of the State concerned or with the authorization of the UN Security Council. These forces are given a combat mission and are authorized to use coercive measures for carrying out their mandate. The consent of the parties is not necessarily required. The distinction between these two types of operation has become less clear in recent years. The term peace support operations has also started to emerge.