Protection of civilians - a concept of the future?

Ursula Hann


Modern armed conflicts have disproportionately negative effects on the civilian population. Although the existing public international law framework has laid down clear limits of warfare for the protection of the civilian population, it is difficult to enforce these obligations. In connection with the presence of peace-keeping operations in such situations, in the late 1990ies the concept of „Protection of Civilians“ (PoC) was developed by the UN Security Council in order to pro-actively protect civilians from physical violence. Although the PoC concept was developed in the UN framework, it is also implemented in other regional organisations. So, for instance, the entire third dimension of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) serves fostering human rights and complying with them. The numerous OSCE observer missions and delegations for election observation serve this purpose as well. In 2003 the European Union (EU), as one of the first organisations, adopted guidelines for the protection of civilians in the framework of missions and operations of CSDP, and upgraded them in 2010. These guidelines are supplemented by the concept for the protection of civilians in EU-led military operations, which was adopted in March 2015. Altogether, the EU follows the concept developed by the UN, and implements PoC in direct relationship to the compliance with the humanitarian law of nations, the international human rights, and with the protection of women and children. For a long time NATO, on the other hand, did not take concrete measures for implementing PoC in the sense of an independent concept. Instead, NATO institutionalized the women, peace and security agenda as well as the protection of children by establishing proper advisors in strategic and operational headquarters. Furthermore, NATO has developed comprehensive concepts, doctrines and procedures for the compliance with the humanitarian law of nations, with its so-called “targeting” process for selecting objectives, and with its regulations concerning the reduction of civil losses and of collateral damages including comprehensive experience values from theAfghanistanmission, has become a vanguard in this field. Finally, in 2015, NATO founded a proper division in the international staff, dealing with all cross-sectional matter, including PoC, and tasked this division with elaborating a framework for its implementation within NATO.Austria’s involvement concerning PoC is naturally based, among other things, upon the consideration that the 1984-Resolution was brought in the UN Security Council under Austrian presidency and was accepted. Besides,Austria, together withNorway, is active in the framework of NATO, having formed a PoC “tiger team” supposed to foster respecting and implementing PoC within the organisation. Furthermore, due to a suggestion made byAustria, a proper PoC partnership goal was adopted in the framework of the Partnership for Peace program in 2014. Lastly,Austriais actively promoting the development of a comprehensive framework for PoC in NATO-led missions and operations.