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SR140 Protection of civilians in UN Peacekeeping - banner

Evolution of the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping

By Lisa Sharland

This year marks twenty years since the Security Council added the ‘protection of civilians in armed conflict’ to its agenda and authorised the first UN peacekeeping mission to explicitly protect civilians. Yet efforts to carry forward that mandate in the field over the last two decades have been mixed. While there is consensus among the member states within the UN that peacekeeping missions should protect, there remain different views among the various stakeholders on the limits and expectations of peacekeepers when it comes to implementing this mandate. And the consequences for the civilians on the ground—which expect protection from the UN—can be dire.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has called upon member states ‘to find consensus around the language and implications of peacekeeping tasks’ on the protection of civilians. This Special Report includes contributions from leading experts in the field examining some of the contemporary challenges facing UN peacekeeping missions and the actions that can be taken by member states to strengthen consensus on some issues of contention, including the role of the Security Council, managing host state consent, addressing performance and accountability, and identifying the potential limits of UN peacekeeping.

Additionally, the report explores the evolution in discussions taking place over the last decade, identifying some of the highlights and findings emerging from a series of ten workshops co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Australia and Uruguay to the United Nations as one example of member state engagement on the issue.

With contributions from Richard Gowan, Aditi Gorur, Victoria K Holt and Lisa Sharland, this new report by ASPI’s International Program draws together analysis on the challenges faced by UN peacekeeping missions in their efforts to protect civilians over the last two decades, while offering some reflections on a way forward.