Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict – Update

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

During yesterday’s day long open debate on the theme of the Protection of Civilians and Armed Conflict, State representatives were given the opportunity to respond to the recommendations contained in the UN Secretary-General’s May 2012 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Perhaps of most interest to readers of this blog, will be State delegates reactions to the UN Secretary-General’s suggestion that engagment with armed groups on the issue of compliance with international norms should be more systematic.

While many State delegates were silent on the issue of engagement with non State armed groups, the importance of engagement in these circumstances was emphasised by the represenatives from Germany and Jordan.

Colombia and Turkey urged caution on the subject of engagement and argued that such engagement should only be conducted with the consent of the State. Extracts from the official UN summary of the debate is pasted below:-

NÉSTOR OSORIO ( Colombia): 

…..Colombia had serious reservations about the report’s proposal that compliance by non-State armed groups depended on the existence of direct contacts between non-State armed groups and the United Nations. 

One-size-fits-all solutions could not be easily applied, he said.  On actions directed to non-State armed actors, the report’s suggestions collided with Colombia’s policies on the question of eventual peace negotiations.  Concern for enhancing compliance by non-State armed actors with international humanitarian law was valid, but this concern had been amply covered by the first core challenge:  enhancing compliance by parties to conflict with international law. Colombia could not agree with the report’s “sweeping” proposition of more systematic engagement with such groups.  Any dialogue between the United Nations and illegal armed groups categorized as “terrorist” organizations could be held only with Colombia’s explicit consent.  The Government was willing to initiate peace talks with armed groups at any moment, provided that they cease attacks against civilians, kidnapping and sexual violence.  On humanitarian access, Colombia agreed that the alternatives required to get to people in need — such as the temporary cessation of hostilities — must be tailored to the particular circumstance.


…..As regards the dialogue with non-State armed groups, he said Turkey understood the rationale for humanitarian access, but in doing so, States must be careful not to extend any sense of legitimacy to terrorist organizations.  When engagement with non-State armed groups was being contemplated, permission from the State in question was needed.  United Nations documents should not contain positive references to non-governmental organizations with known terrorist ties.  The protection of civilians was a cause the international community must pursue.  To ensure such protection, human rights, the rule of law, democracy and good governance must be strengthened.  Perpetrators must be held fully accountable for their actions.  Prevention would only work if there was no impunity.

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1 thought on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict – Update”

  1. Pingback: Geneva Call’s Annual Report 2011 « Armed Groups and International Law

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