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Peacekeeping operations: ICRC statement to the United Nations, 2011

27-10-2011 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 66th session, Fourth Committee, Item 54, of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 27 October 2011.

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

Mr Chairman,

Over the years, peace-keeping operations have grown increasingly complex. The duties and responsibilities of peace operations have moved beyond the traditional monitoring of ceasefires and fragile peace settlements and now cover aspects such as the protection of civilians, rule of law, security sector reform, humanitarian assistance and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of fighters, to name but a few.

This ambitious approach to peacekeeping has raised the expectations of the populations in states hosting peacekeeping missions in terms of both immediate physical security and capacity-building of the local authorities. It has also brought with it major challenges and shown how important it is for the international community to develop a coherent approach that embraces the complexity of peacekeeping operations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would like to offer some observations from its perspective as a neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian organization that is not part of the UN system, but that is mandated by the same community of states to act in situations of armed conflict in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols.

Mr Chairman,

Interaction between the United Nations and the ICRC has grown considerably, both at the headquarters level and in the field, in particular with regard to operational issues related to assistance, protection and international humanitarian law (IHL). In our view, interaction is all the more essential since UN peacekeepers are frequently deployed in countries affected by armed conflict, in which the ICRC also operates.

In such situations, IHL provides a protective legal framework and thus seems to be increasingly relevant to peacekeeping personnel. Moreover, when peacekeepers are drawn into hostilities, IHL is also a body of law governing the UN forces' operations.

The protection of civilians in armed conflict lies at the heart of IHL and features prominently in many of its provisions. Consequently, strict adherence to IHL by anyone involved in hostilities, including UN peacekeepers, will make an effective contribution to the protection of civilians in conflict zones.

Actions undertaken by UN peacekeepers in accordance with their mandate to protect civilians, in particular measures aimed at inducing the parties to an armed conflict to comply with IHL, can also play an essential role in improving the fate of civilian populations affected by armed conflict. These actions reflect the obligation to respect, and ensure respect for, IHL, as stipulated in Article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which is binding on the United Nations and troop-contributing countries and thus helps to ensure that effect is given to this important international obligation.

Respecting and ensuring respect for IHL must therefore be a key element in the implementation of protection of civilian mandates by UN peacekeeping missions.

Mr Chairman,

There can be no doubt that protecting individuals and communities during armed conflict and other situations of violence has become a key priority of peacekeeping operations.

The ICRC follows with interest the recent efforts of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to clarify the notion of protection of civilian and its implementation by peacekeeping missions.  

The concept note on protection presented in 2010 and the recent framework for a protection strategy at mission level, both developed by DPKO, are important steps towards reaching a better definition of the kind of protection populations can realistically expect from peacekeeping operations.

A risk inherent in integrated missions is the blurring of roles and responsibilities; this can have a negative impact not only on the different components of a mission but also on the entire humanitarian sector. The ICRC was therefore especially pleased to see that both of the above DPKO guidance documents emphasized the fact that different components of a mission have different roles to play. The military, the police forces and the civilian component of a mission can and should all contribute to fulfilling the protection objectives of a mission. Nevertheless, they have very different roles.

Clarifying the different roles of the components of a mission would enable DPKO, in close cooperation with troop and police contributing countries, to ensure that resources and training are sufficient to meet the demands of the increasingly complex tasks of peacekeeping. This is, for example, crucial when the objective of a mission is to help the host state ensure that judicial and correctional services function efficiently over a vast territory.  

Making it clear to the host country and to the population what can be expected from peacekeepers, within existing capacities, is essential and will improve understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of the various humanitarian organizations, such as the ICRC, and the peacekeeping mission.

We would like to stress that, in our view, complementarity between different actors means that each organization, with its specific mandate, modus operandi and capacities, can make a unique contribution to better protection of the civilian population.

In the area of protection work, for example, the ICRC values the establishment of a bilateral and confidential dialogue with all those involved in armed violence in order to ensure that they are familiar with and respect their obligations under IHL and other relevant provisions. In parallel, the ICRC also works directly with the communities affected so as to reduce their vulnerability and exposure to risks.

Mr Chairman,

While maintaining its neutral and independent approach, the ICRC is committed to continuing the constructive dialogue with peacekeeping missions on the ground. Whenever possible, the ICRC will continue to cooperate closely on specific projects such as mine action or DDR programmes for child soldiers. It will also continue to address issues related to the applicability of, and respect for, IHL norms by peacekeepers.

In New York, the ICRC is committed to maintaining the highly constructive dialogue it has developed over the past few years with DPKO and Member States that are active stakeholders in peacekeeping operations and policy.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.