Protection of Civilians in 2010

Facts, Figures, and the UN Security Council’s response

Published: 9 May 2011

In 2010, millions of men, women, and children were killed, raped, displaced, injured, or recruited by force in armed conflicts throughout the world. Whether caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted, civilians too often suffer disproportionately as a result of conflict.

The primary obligation to protect civilians affected by conflict lies with national governments and parties to conflict. However, when these actors are unable or unwilling to fulfill this obligation, the international community, in particular the UN Security Council (UNSC) has a responsibility to recognize the plight of civilians caught in conflict and to take action to protect them. This paper reviews the impact of armed conflicts on civilians in 2010, and aims to stimulate discussion on making the UNSC more informed and comprehensive in its approach to protecting civilians in armed conflict.

The report comes as the UNSC holds its annual discussion on protection of civilians in armed conflict on 10th May in New York, focusing on its activities in the world’s most troubled areas, as well as looking at its own successes and failures regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The Oxfam 'Rights in Crisis' UN Peacekeeping and Protection group has been working since the end 2009 on influencing key UN bodies and UN peacekeeping missions on the need of engaging with conflict-affected communities in order to improve the effectiveness of the protection mandate of these missions.

Key recommendations:

  • Individual member states should actively work to protect civilians, making this a cornerstone of domestic and foreign policies, and should use mediation and diplomatic tools to prevent violence and intervene at the earliest stage of a foreseeable crisis;
  • The UNSC should ensure that mechanisms exist, whether formal or informal, to inform them of grave protection of civilian violations and challenges in countries not on the UNSC agenda;
  • The UN Secretary-General should provide systematic and timely overall thematic information about the threats faced by civilians and should put these considerations at the center of UNSC debates, including through expanding the agenda. The UN Secretary-General should include in their reports on country-specific situations more comprehensive and detailed information relating to the protection of civilians;
  • All peacekeeping and political missions should systematically collect, aggregate, and analyze data relevant to the protection of civilians.
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