Protection of civilians, accountability and recording

First published 28th Aug 2013

On the 19th of August, the Security Council met for an Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians, with Argentina presiding over the Council. 

As it was World Humanitarian Day and the 10th anniversary of the attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, which killed Seirgo Vieira de Mello,  many of the statements from member states focused their statements on the protection of humanitarian aid workers and stressed the importance of this in relation to securing humanitarian access. In addition, member states highlighted the responsibility of individual states to implement IHL and pursue accountability for failure to protect civilians. However when national governments fail to do so, many states felt that it is the Council’s role to refer such cases to the ICC.

Casualty recording, monitoring and documenting violations was brought up by several participants in the debate in the context of ensuring accountability and respect for IHL. In particular the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, highlighted the demonstrable impact of “undertaking monitoring, casualty tracking, analysis and reporting of International Human Rights and Humanitarian law to inform appropriate responses.”

The Nordic statement, which includes Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, made an explicit and strong mention to casualty recording stating; 
   
   “In order to protect civilians and to promote accountability in post conflict situations securing documentation during and after a armed conflict is essential. Parties to a conflict should ensure proper documentation of the conduct of military operations, for example by mapping areas that maybe contaminated by unexploded ordinance and conducting systematic casualty recording.”

In the context of ensuring accountability and prosecution, the Netherlands also mentioned the importance of gathering information during the conflict and announced their support in setting up a civilian harm tracking mechanism in Mali with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Several member states including Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, the Human Security Network[1] and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, highlighted the positive role of commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions play in documenting and reporting on violations. They also recognised the role of the Council vis-a-vis setting-up such commissions when states fail to protect their own civilians.

[1]The Human Security Network includes Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Panama, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand