As a result of past events and increasing expectations worldwide, UN peacekeepers have been increasingly asked to use force to protect civilians. In the mid-1990s, mass atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica resulted in the death of thousands of civilians partly because UN missions on the ground lacked adequate mandates, military equipment, training, and guidance.
In 1999, the Security Council began authorizing missions to use force, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Previous missions operated under a Chapter VI mandate which did not allow the use of force other than in self-defense.
Today, the majority of UN peacekeeping missions, including those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Darfur, and South Sudan, carry the explicit mandates to use robust action to protect civilians under imminent threat.
However, protecting civilians continues to be a challenge. To address this, the New Horizon report and the independent study, Protecting Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations, suggest implementing:
• Analysis and assessment. In order to ensure that peacekeepers are able to protect civilians, the UN should, for each mission, analyze threats to civilian populations and provide the training and resources necessary to address them.
• An operational concept on civilian protection. In concert with member states, countries that provide troops, humanitarians, and human rights advocates, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations should define the concept of civilian protection.
• Collaborative protection strategies. Each peacekeeping operation should create a mission-wide strategy supplemented by crisis contingency plan for protecting civilians in its area of operation.