Evaluation of the implementation and results of protection of civilians mandates in United Nations peacekeeping operations - Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (A/68/787)


“Peacekeeping missions with protection of civilians mandates focus on prevention and mitigation activities and force is almost never used to protect civilians under attack”


Protection of civilians is one of the most important and visible areas of United Nations peacekeeping activity. The Security Council has issued mandates incorporating the requirement to protect civilians to 13 peacekeeping operations to date, including nine current missions. This evaluation considered the implementation and results of protection of civilians mandates in current missions.

In 2009, a comprehensive review concluded that the chain of events to support protection of civilians was broken. Since then, considerable progress has been made. Guidance and structures have been developed to support protection of civilians activities in the field, under the umbrella of a three-tier operational concept covering prevention, physical protection and the creation of a protective environment. The positive results of many of these activities are clear.

Nevertheless, the evaluation noted a persistent pattern of peacekeeping operations not intervening with force when civilians are under attack. The use of force is legally authorized and consistent with the intent of the Security Council and the expectations of civilians, but appears to have been routinely avoided as an option by peacekeeping operations. The reasons include different views in the Security Council and among troop-contributing countries and, importantly, a de facto dual line of command involving mission leadership and troop-contributing countries that regulates the use of force by missions. In addition, the obligation of missions to act when host Governments are unable or unwilling to discharge their primary responsibility to protect civilians is not well understood; missions perceive themselves as having insufficient resources to respond to force with force; and contingent members themselves are concerned about possible penalties if their use of force is judged inappropriate. Partly as a result, and despite major commitments by the United Nations and troop- and police-contributing countries, civilians continue to suffer violence and displacement in many countries where United Nations missions hold protection of civilians mandates.

Although peacekeeping missions have successfully prevented and mitigated harm to civilians while deployed over huge territories and facing asymmetrical threats with limited resources, the chain linking the intent of the Security Council to the actions of the Secretariat, troop- and police-contributing countries and peacekeeping missions themselves remains broken in relation to the use of force. As no part of the peacekeeping architecture is uniquely responsible for that situation, what is required is a frank dialogue on the issue within the peacekeeping partnership of troop-, police- and finance-contributing countries, host Governments, the Security Council, the Secretariat and other parties. Solutions also require the involvement of the General Assembly as the main deliberative organ of the United Nations.

Leadership, information systems and partnerships in missions, and the expectations of civilians for protection by peacekeepers are also addressed in the report.

Three recommendations were made. They included: enhancing operational control over contingents; improving clarity of peacekeepers’ tasks at the tactical level, and improving the working-level relationship between peacekeeping operations and humanitarian entities. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations/Department of Field Support accepted the recommendations, while providing a comment on recommendation 1. The full text of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations/ Department of Field Support response to the draft report is contained in annex I to the present report.