Today’s discussions have been extremely informative and detailed. I would like to thank Mr. David Haeri for his keynote address and all participants for their insightful remarks. ICWA and USI are collaborating on a series of webinars related to UN Peace Keeping Operations. This was the 4th webinar in the series.
India has been contributing towards peacekeeping efforts of UN since 1956 and is a leading voice on the functioning of UNPKOs. UN peacekeeping operations are an essential tool, at the hands of the international community, for maintaining global peace and security. A few decades ago, most UN peacekeeping operations were engaged in the post inter-state conflicts, once a ceasefire was agreed. Today, in contrast, more than two thirds of the UN’s peacekeepers are involved in more complex intra-state conflicts. These new circumstances have brought peacekeepers into close contact with civilian populations without any ceasefires agreements in place.
Today’s discussion showed how violence as a result of intra-state conflicts between different warring groups has increased the complexities of UN peacekeeping operations. It tests the capability of UN Peace Keeping Operations (UNPKOs) to not only bring back peace in conflict zones but also to deal with the issue of millions of innocent civilians caught in conflicts. This is a challenge for the UN.
At the UN Security Council Open Debate on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” held on 27 April, 2021, India made three points (i) it strongly condemned the use of oppressive violence against innocent civilians and targeting of civilian objects in armed conflicts; (ii) raised concern that armed conflicts today seem to consider civilian population and civilian infrastructure almost as legitimate targets, resulting in maiming and killing of thousands and rendering millions homeless; (iii) and, in this context, India called for the protection of civilians and civilian objects in armed conflicts to be sought within the framework of applicable international law and in strict adherence to the principle of respect for sovereignty of States.
The first resolution on the Protection of Civilians (POC) was adopted by the UN Security Council in 1999.
Later, with the “Responsibility to Protect Doctrine” passed by the UN General Assembly in 2005, the international community accepted greater responsibility for protecting civilians from atrocities.
Given the changing nature of emerging security challenges, UN peacekeeping practice on Protection of Civilians has continued to develop, to reflect evolving operational methods and approaches to effectively implement POC mandate. The 2015 POC guidelines provides for a three-tiered approach to protect civilians. Tier I — protection through dialogue and engagement; Tier II — provision of physical protection; and Tier III — establishment of a protective environment. This concept has been generally endorsed by the Member States.
The discussions today have reflected on some issues regarding Protection of Civilians arising due to some ambiguity in the UN norms of POC, leading to doctrinal confusion. While constructive ambiguity which offers vagueness and flexibility is valued at the political and diplomatic levels, it seems to become a constraint at the operational level and a dangerous liability at the tactical level, causing loss of lives. India has long held that both the civilian and military components need to deliver for the mission to succeed.
Policymakers need to take continuous steps towards closing gaps that exist between situations of the plight of civilians in armed conflicts and the necessary action of bringing appropriate responses.
For these issues, we need to look at the following :
(1) Addressing Critical Gaps. UN currently lacks critical enabling capabilities such as intelligence acquisition, force sustaining capabilities, rapid reaction capabilities, among others. These gaps need to be addressed.
(2) Training of Peacekeepers. Complex missions require peace keepers from various backgrounds and experiences to be trained to achieve common standards and capabilities. This is important for Protection of Civilians.
(3) Technology and Innovation. Technology can be harnessed to assist mission accomplishment. Technology that is proven, cost effective, reliable under field conditions and enables early warning and early response, is required.
In conclusion, the UN system as a whole, working closely with Member States should look at these issues to achieve the goal of protection of civilians in conflict situations.