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Peacekeeping operations: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2013

31-10-2013 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 68th session, Fourth Committee, Item 53, of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 31 October 2013.

Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations  in all their aspects

Over the years, the responsibilities and tasks assigned to United Nations peacekeeping missions have transcended the traditional monitoring of ceasefires and observation of fragile peace settlements. The spectrum of these operations has grown increasingly broad and come to include various – and sometimes simultaneous – dimensions, such as conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace enforcement and peace building.

Today, the multidimensional nature of these operations and the ever more complex and violent environments in which UN personnel operate highlight the importance of developing a coherent framework – including a legal dimension – that encompasses the complexity of peacekeeping operations. As the UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali show, the so-called “robust mandate” given to peacekeeping missions increases the likelihood that UN peacekeepers will become involved in the use of force. As a result, the question of when and how international humanitarian law (hereafter IHL) will apply to their action has become all the more relevant.

The applicability of IHL to UN forces, just as to any other forces, is determined solely by the circumstances prevailing on the ground and by specific legal conditions stemming from the relevant provisions of IHL, irrespective of the international mandate assigned to UN forces by the Security Council. The mandate and legitimacy of a UN mission are issues which fall within the scope of the Charter of the United Nations, and have no bearing on the applicability of IHL to  peacekeeping operations.

UN peacekeepers – troops and police alike – may well have to perform law enforcement tasks in the course of their mission. The ICRC considers it important that UN personnel involved in law enforcement operations are fully aware of and adhere scrupulously to the rules and standards applicable to these situations, in particular human rights law.

Increasingly, UN peacekeeping missions are given a mandate to take all necessary steps to protect civilians in their area of operations. This is a vitally important but immensely difficult task. The ICRC is aware of the challenges faced by UN forces, especially when the resources allocated to attaining this objective are insufficient.  

The measures taken by UN peacekeeping missions to ensure that the parties to a conflict comply with IHL may also play an essential role in improving the plight of the civilian population. These measures are rooted in the obligation to respect and ensure respect for IHL, as stipulated in Article 1 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, whose content is binding upon the United Nations and the troop-contributing countries. In this regard, the development and implementation of policies, such as the 2013 human rights due diligence policy on UN support to non-UN security forces, constitute an important contribution to enhancing the protection of civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the implementation of existing strategies to protect civilians that have improved and will continue to improve the capacity of UN peacekeeping missions to assist and bring relief to civilians affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. These strategies are an important step forward. Their implementation requires in-depth dialogue between humanitarian organizations involved in protection work. In this regard, the ICRC would like to point out that it recently produced a revised edition of professional standards for protection work. These standards are an important benchmark for the interaction among various agencies and organizations involved in protection work in order to maximize outcomes. The standards could also inform the development and implementation of civilian protection strategies by UN peacekeeping missions.

The ICRC remains convinced that UN military and police forces must have adequate training, resources, and a grasp of the relevant legal norms if they are to cope with the challenges encountered in the course of their duties. IHL and other applicable bodies of law – such as human rights law – must be properly integrated into their doctrine, education, training and practices. In its capacity as promoter and guardian of IHL, the ICRC stands ready to continue to lend its support and expertise for the training of UN peacekeepers both during pre-deployment and on-site.   

The ICRC is committed to maintaining and further developing our highly constructive dialogue on operational and legal issues relating to peacekeeping. This will be pursued with the United Nations both in New York and at the field level, as well as with the member States, which have an important role to play in shaping peacekeeping operations and policy.