Peacekeeping operations: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2014
Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations, United Nations, General Assembly, 69th session, Fourth Committee, item 53 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 31 October 2014.
The mandates of peacekeeping missions have grown increasingly complex in recent years. Peacekeeping has moved beyond its traditional role of monitoring peace agreements to focus as well on the rule of law, security sector reforms, humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians, to name but a few dimensions.
Local authorities, arms carriers as well as the local population must be able to differentiate between the different roles of integrated UN missions and the distinct humanitarian actors on the ground. Recognition of such distinction is essential in order to preserve the neutral, independent, impartial and strictly humanitarian approach we pursue to protect and assist victims of armed conflict.
Peacekeepers are increasingly being deployed in volatile contexts and given complex mandates, in particular to ensure the protection of civilians. Such mandates may require their police and military components to resort to force more frequently, even at a level beyond that required for their self-defence. These changes raise timely questions concerning the legal framework (including international humanitarian law) governing such use of force and - more generally - the actions of UN mission entrusted with a “robust mandate.”
The applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) to UN forces, just as to any other forces, is determined by the circumstances on the ground and by specific legal conditions stemming from the relevant provisions of this body of law, irrespective of the international mandate assigned to UN forces by the Security Council. In the ICRC’s view, the mandate and legitimacy of a UN mission have no bearing on the applicability of IHL to the mission. In order to protect all persons affected by armed conflict, IHL applies without any distinction based on the nature or origin of the armed conflict or on the causes espoused by those involved.
Once the conditions for IHL applicability are objectively met, this body of law uninterruptedly governs the UN forces’ military operations against an adversary (carried out sometimes in support of the host State’s army) for as long as the UN mission is considered a party to the armed conflict. UN peacekeepers - troops and police alike - may also have to perform law enforcement tasks in the course of their mission. In this regard, 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.
The ICRC remains convinced that UN military and police forces must have adequate training, resources, and knowledge of the relevant legal norms in order to effectively perform the tasks assigned to them. 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 continues to offer its support and expertise for the training of UN peacekeepers during pre-deployment and on-site.
UN peacekeeping missions are increasingly mandated to take all necessary steps to protect the civilian population in their area of operations and ensure that the parties to the conflict comply with IHL. This is an immensely difficult task, especially when the resources allocated for that purpose are insufficient. Nevertheless, this work is essential in order to improve the plight of civilians. This collective aspiration to protect civilians is an encouraging development for making the obligation to respect and ensure respect for IHL contained in Common Article 1 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 more operational. Common Article 1’s content is recognized as binding upon the United Nations and the troop-contributing countries.
The ICRC also welcomes the implementation of existing strategies to improve the ability of UN peacekeeping missions to protect, assist and bring relief to civilians affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. The ICRC has followed with interest these developments, as they are an important step forward. These protection strategies ought to be devised and implemented in close consultation with other humanitarian organizations involved in similar work, in order to avoid confusion and to take advantage of synergies.
In this regard, the revised edition of the ICRC’s professional standards for protection work, published in 2013, bears mentioning. These standards, reflecting the consensus of most humanitarian and human rights protection agencies, address - inter alia - the relationship between UN missions and humanitarian organizations. They provide essential guidance regarding the division of responsibilities, and are an important benchmark for effective interaction among various agencies and organizations involved in protection work. The standards should inform the development and implementation of civilian protection strategies by UN peacekeeping missions in order to maximize their impact.
The multidimensional character of peacekeeping has made it necessary to establish “integrated” UN missions aimed at creating greater coherence and efficiency. Integrated missions, however, contain an inherent risk in terms of the blurring of roles and responsibilities. Local authorities, arms carriers as well as the local population must be able to differentiate between the different roles of integrated UN missions and the distinct humanitarian actors on the ground. Recognition of such distinction is essential in order to preserve the neutral, independent, impartial and strictly humanitarian approach we pursue to protect and assist victims of armed conflict.
The ICRC is committed to maintaining and developing our highly constructive dialogue on operational, protection, legal and training issues relating to peacekeeping with the United Nations both in New York and in the field. The ICRC also stands ready to engage member States, in particular troops and police contributing countries, members of the Security Council and the C-34 in a candid and open dialogue on these important issues.