The protection of civilians mandate in UN peacekeeping operations: reconciling protection concepts and practices

The 'protection of civilians' mandate in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations fulfils a critical role in realising broader protection objectives, which have in recent years become an important focus of international relations and international law. The concepts of the 'protection of civilians' constructed by the humanitarian, human rights and peacekeeping communities have evolved somewhat separately, resulting in disparate understandings of the associated normative bases, substance and responsibilities. If UN peacekeepers are to effectively provide physical protection to civilians under threat of violence, it is necessary to untangle this conceptual and normative confusion. The practical expectations of the use of force to protect civilians must be clear, and an overarching framework is needed to facilitate the spectrum of actors working in a complementary way towards the common objectives of the broader protection agenda.

Keywords: protection of civilians, peacekeeping, United Nations, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, responsibility to protect.

About the authors

Haidi Willmot
Programme Officer at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

Haidi Willmot is a Programme Officer at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations – Department of Field Support. She holds an LLB (honours) from Australian National University and an MPhil in international relations from Cambridge University.

Scott Sheeran
Senior Lecturer

Scott Sheeran is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the LLM in international human rights and humanitarian law at the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex