IPI Launches Two-Year Project on Protection of Civilians

Event Video

Jake Sherman, director of IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations, opened a standing room only event December 7th marking the launch of a new two-year project that will examine the challenges related to the Protection of Civilians (POC) by UN peace operations.

Since the Security Council first established “protection of civilians” as an explicit mandated task for peacekeeping in 1999, POC has become a central responsibility of peace operations. The DPKO/DFS policy on the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping is scheduled to be updated in 2018 to reflect new operational challenges and recent innovations. In this context, IPI’s new publication on “Reframing the Protection of Civilians Paradigm” formed the backdrop for the event, which was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Italy and The Netherlands.

Mr. Sherman noted that the challenges facing the UN include finding a unified vision for how to reconcile POC, support to political processes and exit strategies. “The IPI project,” he said, “aims to support the Secretariat in defining a new vision for protection of civilians that embeds POC in political strategies, clearly defines POC roles across mission components, promotes tailored approaches, and draws on the comparative advantages of different tools.”

Namie Di Razza, Post-Doctoral Fellow at IPI and author of the issue paper, said that POC had become “consecrated” as a core value for UN peace operations, but still confronted three structural issues.

First, its implementation remains too technical, mechanistic, and bureaucratic. UN missions tend to focus more on outputs, including protection tools and activities, than on the impact of these activities for local populations. In addition, the complicated processes hinder the nimbleness required to respond to dynamic threats, she said. Even with systematization of POC, she recalled that there is a lack of accountability measures for POC and that “there is a certain dilution of responsibility for POC within the system. As a result, UN staff tend to approach POC too mechanistically and dispassionately.”Second, there is a disconnect between POC and political strategies. Citing the examples of Mali and South Sudan, she lamented, “There’s not much consideration for the way POC should support sustaining peace and political solutions.”

Finally, she said there was too much focus on the use of force by military components to protect civilians, to the detriment of unarmed strategies to protect civilians.

Outlining the key recommendations of the paper, Ms. Di Razza called for a shift to impact-driven implementation, a change in organizational culture to anchor POC in political strategies, and the development of a tailored and modular approach that uses the full range of tools. “Mission leadership should prioritize activities that would have the most added value in addressing specific threats from specific actors,” she emphasized.

Kevin S. Kennedy, a consultant on peace operations whose UN career spans 30 years, agreed that POC has become too technical, but suggested this may be the result of a divided Security Council, and differing approaches to POC by many actors, including host countries.

Mr. Kennedy raised the point that the institutionalization of POC and the establishment of dedicated structures enabled standard approaches to respond to protection crisis. However, he said, “impact is limited by a lack of political clout, resources, assets, and that missions have to deploy in very difficult circumstances,” he said.

While improvements in operational preparedness have “raised the bar,” a successful protection of civilians strategy must include a dedicated training program, Mr. Kennedy asserted. With the huge turnover in peacekeeping staff, personnel are deploying without the benefit of an overarching training structure. “Pre-deployment training is great, but it can’t stop there,” he said. “We need a sustained effort for scenario-based, context-based training that pushes an integrated approach.”

Naomi Miyashita shared her perspective from the Division of Policy, Evaluation and Training of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. She stated that the POC concept should encompass prevention and conflict resolution. However, POC should continue, even where the political process itself stalls, she said. In those situations, such as South Sudan, “I would argue there is a place for POC to be present because we are playing the unique function of protecting civilians,” she said.

Baptiste Martin, Former POC Advisor to the UN Missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), described how the challenges and crisis faced on the ground by peace operations led to the development and formalization of protection tools. He stressed that security operations should support the political approach. He also highlighted the gender dimension of the POC conversation. “The presence of women is key, and it is very low,” he said. He described this as a difficulty for those working on protection. “Is sexual violence an individual protection issue or collective?” he asked. “It’s about defining how you approach an issue.”

Ayaka Suzuki, Director of Strategic Planning and Monitoring in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, acknowledged the POC concept has gained credence within the UN, but there is still much work to be done on closing the gap between existing tools and their proper application for demonstrated results. “Ultimately, peacekeeping can never be substitute for a lack of political will,” she said, calling for increased engagement with member states.

Ms. Suzuki also singled out compiling good analysis as a weak point for the UN system as a whole. She said it could be corrected through improved data collection in partnership with member states.

Jonathan Allen, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, and whose country is the “pen-holder” on POC at the Security Council, closed the discussion with a sober reflection. He described a culture in which member states feel the need to put a positive cast on situations by reporting “the little positives.”

“You can look at embedded, ongoing conflicts, and reports will show that things are getting better when they aren’t,” he said. “It’s important to be honest instead of giving the Secretariat what it wants, and confront what we need to be doing.”

Inigo Lambertini, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the UN, and Lise Gregoire, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN, gave opening remarks. Ambassador Lambertini raised the the need to counter a certain “POC fatigue” and the growing suspicion towards the concept. Ambassador Gregoire stressed on the need for integrated and comprehensive approaches to POC.

Mr. Sherman, director of IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations, moderated the conversation.