One of the catastrophic consequences of armed conflicts is the devasting humanitarian situation of the civilians in the affected region. There are multiple sources of civilian casualty including ground engagements, Improvised Explosive Devices, suicide and complex attacks, targeted killings, explosive remnants of war, aerial operations, summary executions and cross-border shelling.
The protection of civilians is currently mandated in a number of the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. International Humanitarian Law defines “civilians” as those persons who are not members of military or paramilitary forces or fighters of organized armed groups of a party to a conflict. Civilians may lose protection against attacks for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. This group encompasses public servants and government workers, teachers, health clinic workers, election workers and others involved in public service delivery, political figures and office-holders, and employees of NGOs, as well as civilian police personnel who are not directly participating in hostilities and are not involved in counter-insurgency operations. Non-Aligned Movement has reaffirmed its commitment to the protection of civilians in conflict zones and has emphasised that peacekeeping missions should conduct their tasks without prejudice to the primary responsibility of the host Government to protect civilians. NAM reiterated its principled stand on this issue during a meeting of the UN Security Council held on May 23, 2019.
The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that it was the responsibility of the peacekeeping missions to protect the civilian population.
It was the duty of the UNSC to guarantee compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, encompassing the principles of precaution, proportionality and distinction, while also prohibiting the targeting of civilian property in conflict.
NAM also believes that humanitarian agencies must respect the laws of countries in which they operate, observing the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. NAM firmly believes that peacekeepers should be trained as per the highest standards. The Movement has also stressed the role of the local communities in guaranteeing civilian protection.
During the UNSC meeting, many prominent NAM Member States supported this position. Thailand, associating itself with NAM, stressed the need for an integrated approach among military, police and civilian components in coordination with national authorities, local communities and relevant humanitarian organizations. Thailand mentioned that the country’s peacekeepers are trained as a standard procedure to assist the local population in preventing the relapse of armed conflict and ensure sustainable development.
Algeria, also aligning itself with NAM statement, called for the establishment of a comprehensive, coherent and concrete approach to the issue of protecting the civilians in armed conflict. Strengthening international and domestic legal frameworks in post-conflict settings, including by improving access to education and building sustainable socioeconomic reintegration programmes, remains essential.
Malaysia stressed the need for the protection of innocent civilians in conflict zones and highlighted the importance of the link between the protection of civilians and the peacekeeping mandates. Malaysia expressed support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve performance and agreed that peacekeepers should receive pre-deployment training in line with the United Nations standards.
Nepal, associating itself with NAM, mentioned that while States bear the primary responsibility to protect their civilians, it is also a shared duty for the international community. National capacities to develop policy frameworks on the issue must be strengthened and sharing good practices in this regard will prove helpful. Moreover, children, women, the wounded and other vulnerable groups should receive special attention because they suffer disproportionately during armed conflict. Nepal takes every possible measure to train its peacekeepers in this regard, having put in place a thorough vetting process, pre-deployment and in-theatre awareness training, and robust punitive measures for those convicted in sexual exploitation and abuse cases.
Thus, NAM has taken cognizance of the link between armed conflict and has reiterated the commitment to protect the civilians. NAM has also called upon the United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions to assist in creating conditions conducive to safe, timely and unimpeded humanitarian assistance.