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Peacekeeping operations: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2012

08-11-2012 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 67th session, Fourth Committee, Item 54, of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 8 November 2012.

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


The mandates of peacekeeping missions have grown more complex in recent years: more complex and, one should add, more ambitious. Peacekeeping has moved beyond its traditional role of monitoring peace agreements. Now, it also concerns itself with such matters as the rule of law, humanitarian assistance, and the protection of civilians; and that has created a number of fresh challenges. In addition, peacekeeping personnel operate in environments that are becoming more difficult and more violent.

The facts on the ground remind us that protecting individuals and communities during armed conflict and other complex emergencies must be a key priority and a challenge for all parties concerned. We would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians rests with States and with the parties to an armed conflict.

Peacekeepers are not present in all armed conflict situations, but their role as mandated protection personnel is growing. They can be vitally important in protecting civilians: for instance, when civilians face immediate physical threats during armed conflict, peacekeepers can make an invaluable contribution to ensuring their physical safety.

The multifaceted nature of contemporary peacekeeping operations is such that UN personnel with political, military and human rights components, as well as UN agencies with protection or humanitarian mandates – may sometimes be found operating under the aegis of a single UN mission. While this can create positive synergies and ease decision making when it comes to enhancing protection for civilians, integrated missions also present an inherent risk of roles and responsibilities becoming blurred: especially between humanitarian work, judicial investigation, and the provision of security through an
armed presence.

Local authorities, armed actors, and the communities affected must be able to distinguish between the roles of components of integrated UN missions, and between the various organizations and groups working in the area of protection. This must be addressed, while drafting protection of civilian strategies at field level; as it can have an adverse impact, not only on the components of a particular mission, but also on the entire humanitarian sector. We would like to emphasize that this is vital for independent humanitarian actors, such as the ICRC.

In this regard, the ICRC has followed with interest the recent elaboration – by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) together with countries contributing troops and police personnel – of a conceptual framework for clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the different components of a mission, with regard to protecting civilians. UN peacekeeping missions with protection-of-civilians mandates are now required to establish protection strategies, which ought to be formulated in consultation with humanitarian and human rights organizations involved in protection work.

The ICRC welcomes this positive development. It looks forward to intensifying its dialogue with UN peacekeeping missions in the field on issues related to protection.

This year, at both headquarters and field levels, the ICRC and DPKO held structured discussions on the design and delivery of uniform pre-deployment and in-mission training for peacekeepers in such areas as international humanitarian law (IHL), the use of force and the protection of civilians. The ICRC and DPKO agreed on the necessity of investing in training at various levels, from the troops to the leaders of missions.

DPKO and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) have both developed training materials for troops and other personnel leaving for missions with protection-of-civilians mandates. These materials include various hypothetical scenarios involving plausible protection challenges. It is critical that peacekeepers deployed in the field receive adequate training and equipment; this is crucial for the success of their missions.

DPKO deserves praise for its efforts in developing these training packages in a relatively short period. The ICRC was consulted on certain issues related to IHL and to the role of humanitarian actors in enhancing protection for civilians.

Protecting civilians during armed conflict is at the core of IHL; the idea pervades many of its provisions. The principle that civilians must be spared the consequences of hostilities, in particular, is set out and developed in various IHL provisions.

IHL is of particular relevance to peacekeeping personnel. UN peacekeeping personnel in situations of armed conflict are considered civilians for the purposes of IHL, and benefit from the extensive protection afforded by that body of law. Moreover, when UN forces are drawn into an armed conflict, IHL becomes the body of law governing their military operations. Strict adherence to IHL by parties to an armed conflict, including UN forces, will contribute greatly to the protection of civilians.

In conclusion, we would like to stress that as troop and police contributing countries, and as members of the United Nations, States must make certain that enough resources of the right kind, including human resources with the right training and skills are available to peacekeepers, so that they can discharge their mandates and carry out their tasks, both of which are growing more complex by the day.

The ICRC remains committed to maintaining and further developing its already very constructive dialogue – in the areas of respect of IHL and protecting civilians – with DKPO, in New York and at mission level, as well as with those member States that are actively involved in peacekeeping operations and in framing policy.

The ICRC is also committed to continued collaboration with police and troop contributing countries on pre-deployment training.