• Send page
  • Print page

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

26-10-2009 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 64th session, Fourth Committee, Item 33 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 26 Octobre 2009

Mr Chairman,

Civilians account for the vast majority of casualties in situations of armed conflict. Protecting civilians is one of the main objectives of international humanitarian law (IHL), which is universally accepted by States. Under IHL, States and other parties to an armed conflict are primarily responsible for protecting civilians under their control from the effects of armed conflicts.

In all the humanitarian activities undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ensuring protection for civilians is an abiding concern; this is in accordance with the mandate entrusted to our organization by all States. The ICRC's activities in the field of protection generally aim to reduce the risks to which civilians are exposed, and to remind the authorities of their primary duty to protect the population from the effects of armed conflict and other forms of violence.

The ICRC therefore welcomes the current debate on the role of peacekeeping missions in protecting civilians. In addition to maintaining peace and security, UN peacekeepers are, more than ever, entrusted with a wide range of tasks, including addressing civilian insecurity and providing protection for civilians. Increasingly multidisciplinary in their approach, peacekeeping operations have gained expertise and are more and more equipped with specific resources for implementing a variety of activities.

Political authorities, military forces, and humanitarian actors each have distinctive roles in enhancing protection for civilians. For example, humanitarian action is driven by the humanitarian imperative with the main aim of saving lives, alle viating human suffering and maintaining or restoring the dignity of people affected by armed violence. This is a distinctly different logic from other actions, including that of peacekeepers that is aimed at maintaining, restoring and consolidating peace.

The unique role played by peacekeepers in this broad and diverse range of actors should be clearly understood.

Mr Chairman,

The ICRC would like to briefly highlight some areas where, it believes, peacekeeping missions can contribute to enhanced protection for civilians.

- First, peacekeeping forces, because of their military capabilities, may be able to significantly influence behaviour of those involved in armed violence to spare civilian lives and respect the integrity and dignity of the civilian population.

- Second, in some cases they might have to intervene militarily to prevent grave violations of the law.

- Third, they can set a good example for other weapons bearers, and influence them, through their own respect for human rights law and, where applicable, IHL.

- Fourth, peacekeeping forces can actively contribute to establishing a secure environment in which humanitarian organizations can operate, and in which the rule of law can be re-established.

The UN and troop contributing countries furthermore share a responsibility to help ensure that when violations of IHL and human rights occur, all necessary measures are taken to investigate and punish those responsible and to prevent further violations.

Different activities carried out by peacekeepers may require different skills and resources. UN peacekeeping forces need to be well trained, including in IHL This is particularly true for troops e ngaged in military operations. For many years now, the ICRC has been sharing its expertise in IHL with countries contributing troops to UN peacekeeping operations. This includes cooperation in doctrine and curriculum development, as well as in training and pre-deployment briefings. Additionally, in those contexts where the ICRC has a presence and where peacekeeping forces are deployed, the organization has established a constructive dialogue, whenever the actions of peacekeeping forces are subject to IHL or to help address specific humanitarian or protection issues.

Mr Chairman,

Peacekeeping forces can contribute to the creation of a secure and safe environment, while strengthening the State's ability to provide security with full respect for the rule of law and human rights. Experience shows that this is a delicate task, especially for troops trained for combat operations. This is especially delicate when troops are to be involved in law-enforcement operations in unfamiliar environments. In those situations, lack of adequate preparation might result in excessive use of force.

Furthermore, when a peacekeeping mission undertakes operations in support of the State in the area of law enforcement, its approach should be holistic: every aspect of law enforcement – policing, the provision of support for the judiciary, the prison system – should be taken into consideration. Supporting the smooth functioning of the national judiciary and prison system is another crucial element. This will create conditions for peacekeeping forces to transfer to the national authorities the persons they arrest, in compliance with the principle of non-refoulement.

Mr Chairman, 

To conclude: the ICRC would like to underline its appreci ation for the ongoing efforts aiming to clarify the role and activities of peacekeepers regarding protection of civilians.

In particular, a clear distinction between the role of the military, and the role of humanitarian actors must be maintained and clearly explained to all stakeholders. This becomes especially pertinent when military actors are involved in activities other than combat, and when some form of effective cooperation between military and humanitarian actors exists, as for example, when the military secures the roads used by humanitarian convoys to channel assistance to populations in need.

For its part, the ICRC will continue to ensure its neutral, independent and strictly humanitarian approach, one that maintains a clear distinction between humanitarian action and political-military activities. Access to armed actors and to those most affected by violence is indispensable for the ICRC’s protection activities. This access is closely linked with the ICRC’s ability to maintain a neutral, independent and impartial approach and to be perceived by the parties to conflict as being neutral, independent and impartial. 

The ICRC renews its commitment to continue dialogue and share experience in the protection of civilians, in IHL and in training and capacity building, with all stakeholders: Member States, especially troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and peacekeeping missions in the field, and other UN entities to ensure better protection of civilians in full accordance with international humanitarian law.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.