UN Peace Operations : Protection of Civilians – 22 Oct 2021
Report – Summary
The United Services Institution of India (USI) in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) is conducting a series of theme-based webinars/ seminars on UN Peacekeeping Operations. Conceptualization of the themes and sub-themes were planned and executed by USI with support from ICWA. In this series, the theme of the forth webinar, scheduled on 22 Oct 2021, was UN Peace Operations: Protection of Civilians. The following sub-themes were deliberated in the webinar:
- Protection of Civilians: Concept and the Core Obligation of the UN
- Protection of Civilians: Challenges of divergent foci of the stakeholders
- Protection of Civilians: Perspective from the field
The following speakers participated in the webinar:
- Colonel (Dr) KK Sharma (Retd), a Visiting Fellow USI and a former military observer in Cambodia (UNTAC). He was an active member in planning and writing of UN Capstone Doctrine on peacekeeping, trained by UNHCR in Tokyo and preparing manuals for trainers in the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights, Geneva. He also participated in Challenges Series of Seminars in Ankara and Delhi, and was a member delegate for CSCAP in Vancouver.
- David Haeri, Director of the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division, in the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO).
- Dr Ali Ahmed, former academic and UN official. His peacekeeping stints as military observer and political affairs officer were in MONUC, UNMISS, UNMIK and UNISFA.
- Dr Cedric de Coning, Research Professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI),
- Brig Dhananjay Joshi, a serving Indian Army officer. Presently, a Sector Commander, commanding a composite sector (with troops from Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nepal), UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS),
Webinar proceedings were initiated by Major General PK Goswami, Deputy Director and Head UN Cell, USI and former UN Military Observer in the United Nations Verification Mission in Angola (UNAVEM). He highlighted that need to spare civilians in armed conflict have been acknowledged for millennia, but it is only in the second half of the 20th century that the protection of civilians (PoC) was firmly universalized and codified following the landmark 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the PoC in the Time of War. The need for PoC is now widely acknowledged and has since developed in law, but not much in practice. Thus, now most UN peacekeeping operations have been given PoC as one of the mandates. Consequently, the operational capacity and preparedness to accomplish it has also expanded.
It was followed by Keynote Address by Mr. David Haeri, Director of the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division, in the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO).
Mr. David Haeri stressed that PoC is primarily the responsibility of the host government. The protection has to be at the political and operational levels. The lessons learnt for future mandates are that there must be a clear focus, a sequential approach to the tasks, well-articulated priorities and a mandate must be clear in its approach. There is a need to place the capability tailored to fulfil the mandate on the ground. There is also an urgent requirement to enable intelligence gathering as regards the threats to civilians and sharing it with the field teams. Since most of the African missions are in Francophone countries, TCCs/PCCs and other staff should be conversant with the language. An increasing need is felt in ensuring accountability for all actions of the peacekeepers in a mission area.
Colonel (Dr) KK Sharma chaired the session and he deliberated on the overview of the PoC, its implications and set the stage for other speakers. He highlighted that despite the mandate of PoC with field missions, the local politics, and rebels target civilians with impunity. A number if killings have been reported in the past 3 to 4 months in Mali, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Cong. One of the common factors in all these three countries is that these have ongoing UN missions with the protection of civilians, as one of their primary mandates.
Realizing the importance of protection mandate, the UN Security Council, added protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflict, to its agenda in 1999, thus formally recognizing PoC as a matter of peace and security. HIPPO Report in 2015, had listed out top two priorities for the UN – Political Settlement and Protection of Civilians. All agree that effective implementation of the protection mandate requires a comprehensive, integrated, and well-planned approach, to address the challenges that the missions with this mandate face. This was also the foundation of the 2019 protection of civilians Policy, which provided a conceptual framework, guiding principles and key considerations for the implementation of the policy. But for the ‘formed military units’, challenges lie in translating vague concepts of ‘protection of civilians’ into realistic strategies and operational practices for their implementation
Dr Ali Ahmed spoke on the Concept and the Core Obligation of the UN for PoC. He said that the threat to the civilians, both in the long and short term is influenced by various factors. PoC has three-tier approaches – Tier I: Protection through dialogue and engagement; Tier II: Provision of physical protection; and Tier III: Establishment of a protective environment. Three elements to address the entire gamut of PoC are – managing conflict or contradiction through peace-making, management of the behaviour of violence through peace operations, and attitudinal change through engagement of communities or peace-building efforts. Dr Ali however expressed his reservations on the words ‘Core Obligation.” According to him, if the PoC is considered as a Core Obligations of the UN, the host nations will absolve their responsibility to protect their own civilians. UN may have PoC as its central concept but cannot make it its core obligation, since the protection of civilians is the main responsibility of the host government. Working of PoC mandate cannot be divorced from the global political economy, where divergent forces and stakeholders constantly put pressure and there is always a possibility of blowback.
Dr Cedric De Coning spoke on the Challenges of divergent foci of the stakeholders. He said that PoC needs an integrated approach where the political, physical, and enabling environment for the communities needs to work in tandem. Host government, local communities and humanitarian elements all play an important part in the PoC. To succeed in the POC mandate, not only short-term measures on conflict prevention are important but also long-term development of institutions and civil society through peacebuilding efforts. In the mission areas coordination among various stakeholders requires the incorporation of joint and shared strategies on assessment, planning, execution and sharing of information are most important.
Brig Dhananjay Joshi shared his perspective from the field giving out challenges faced in implementing POC mandates. He narrated that there is a complex scenario in South Sudan, with its present state of fragile peace. Political violence has been replaced by communal clashes, armed militias and proxy wars. With many factions, often engaged in clashes, the civil population rushes near to the UN compounds or humanitarian shelters for protection. The staggering number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees in neighbouring countries. Humanitarian crisis. Primary responsibility to protect always rests with the govt of a host country, but many times a host country may be unable to protect or unwilling to protect. This is one of the biggest challenges to any peace operation. The importance of trust requires adhering to the principle of peacekeeping of maintaining neutrality. Five dimensions of the UN operations were very well brought out. As was often said, there has to be some peace to keep. Any success in PoC will directly correlate to the support from the host nation, whose resistance can undermine all UN efforts. In view of the vulnerability of women and girls due to violence in a conflict area, the UN needs to increase the ratio of female peacekeepers.
It was followed by comments from Col Edward Carpenter a former USMC and political officer in South Sudan, who observed that not including DDR in the UNMISS mandate undermines all efforts of PoC in the mission. Maj Gen S Asthana deliberated on the mandate formulation difficulties and how the interests of various stakeholders are compromised. It was followed with special remarks by Maj Gen B K Sharma, Director USI. He highlighted that in war torn country, most of the time the government of the day which is supposed to be the mainstay of civilian protection, are either lackadaisical or they are not in a position to or they don’t have the capacity to render it; and the whole load of PoC comes on to the UN peacekeepers but peacekeepers also have their own limitations. He proposed that with reduction in size and number of UNPKO, there is a need to focus on responsibility to protect as part of preventive diplomacy.
In the end Colonel (Dr) KK Sharma chaired the Q & A session followed it by summing up. It was followed by closing remarks by Amb Vijay Thakur Singh, Director General, ICWA. In closing remarks she stressed the need for three-tiered approach to protect civilians by protection through dialogue and engagement, the provision of physical protection and the establishment of a protective environment. As a take away from today’s webinar, she highlighted four critical issues in UNPKO – gaps in critical enabling capacities, training of peacekeepers, need for harnessing technology and innovation and importance of women peacekeepers.
UN Peace Operations: Protection of Civilians
Over the past few decades, inter-state conflicts waned but there has been an increase in intra- state
conflicts. In any conflict, the innocent civilians are the ones who suffer the most. But the sufferings and
effects of intra-state conflicts are more devastating. Millions of civilians get caught up in the conflicts and
become victims of the collateral damage.
Violence could be the result of various reasons including that of social and economic grievances. In intrastate conflicts, the displaced civilians are often targeted. In 1999, the UN Security Council, by adding protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflict to its agenda, formally recognized PoC as a matter of peace and security.1 Thereafter, the subject of PoC has found importance in international peace and security. The HIPPO report found that the protection of civilians is a core obligation of the UN as a whole and not
only the peacekeepers.2 But in his report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General of the UN mentioned that “Empirical research consistently demonstrates that, where there are UN peacekeepers, conflict is constrained and there is less violence against civilians.”3
Consequently, PoC has become the core objective and the primary task of the peacekeeping mandate with
the vast majority of peacekeepers getting deployed in protecting the civilians. Peacekeepers however are
faced with challenges and constraints such as large area of operation and inadequate strength of
peacekeepers, adherence to the most controversial principle of peacekeeping – use of minimum force, and
rule of law etc.
While there are several tools available to the peacekeepers for PoC, these are at the conceptual level and
there are challenges in transmitting the concept of PoC into strategies and practices for their
implementation in the field.4
In absence of a suitable mechanism, planning, and protection of civilian in the
conflict zone becomes complicated because of the varying operating principles of the humanitarian actors
Besides, since there is no common ‘defined problem’ and there are divergent foci of the stakeholders, the
relationship between different stakeholders is only that of coexistence rather than that of a meaningful
Despite the available literature on the subject, several reports and discussions recommending how best to
protect the civilians, these challenges are a hindrance to the peacekeepers trying to save the innocent
civilians from the scourge of vicious conflicts. In this webinar, the following themes will be discussed:
- Theme I. Protection of Civilians: Concept and the Core Obligation of the UN
- Theme II. Protection of Civilians: Challenges of divergent foci of the stakeholders (examples from
UNMISS and MONUSCO).
- Theme III. Protection of Civilians: Perspective from the field.
About the USI
The United Service Institution of India (USI) (https://usiofindia.org) is an autonomous body, established in
1870 and the oldest Military Think Tank of India. It was founded with aim of “furtherance of interest and
knowledge in the art, science and literature of National Security in general and of the Defence Services in
particular”. USI has played a stellar role in the furtherance of India’s UNPKO endeavours by nurturing
Indian Centre for UN Peace Keeping (CUNPK) to become a regional Centre for excellence in the UNPK
capacity building and practicing UN diplomacy. Today CUNPK has grown to become a full-fledged unit of
the IA. For last few years, the USI is focusing on the operational, strategic and policy issues related to UN
Peacekeeping. USI is a founding member of the Challenges Forum and collaborates with NUPI (Norwegian
Institute of International Affairs) and EPON (Effectiveness of Peacekeeping Network) on various projects.
Besides this, USI also organises lectures, discussions, seminars, conferences relating to the Armed Forces
and National Security, and conducts courses of instruction, including correspondence courses for officers of
the Armed Forces. It also conducts strategic studies and simulation on issues of national and international
security, armed forces historical research and publishes number of books/monographs/occasional papers
besides quarterly Journal. The USI partner with world’s leading research institutions, think tanks and
universities in India.
About the ICWA
Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) (https://www.icwa.in), the premium think tank of India’s Ministry of
External Affairs, Government of India, was established in 1943 by a group of eminent intellectuals led by Sir
Tej Bahadur Sapru and Dr. H.N. Kunzru. Its principal objective was to create an Indian perspective on
international relations and act as a repository of knowledge and thinking on foreign policy issues. The
Council today conducts policy research and regularly organizes an array of intellectual activities including
conferences, seminars, roundtable discussions, lectures and brings out a range of publications.
About the Participants
Major General BK Sharma, AVSM, SM** (Retd) is the Director of the United Service Institute of India
(USI). He has tenanted prestigious assignments in India including command of a mountain division on the
China border and Senior Faculty Member at the National Defence College, New Delhi. He has represented
his country at the UN as Military Observer in Central America and has been India’s Defence Attaché in
Central Asia. He specialises in Strategic Net Assessment methodology, Scenario Building and Strategic
Mrs. Vijay Thakur Singh is the Director General, Indian Council of World Affairs. She is a carrier diplomat
and had multilateral experience, during her service with the Ministry of External Affairs, GOI. She was High
Commissioner of India to Singapore and Ireland and prior to that Joint Secretary to the President of India
and Joint Secretary at the National Security Council Secretariat. She also handled Afghanistan and
Pakistan desk in the Ministry of External Affairs and was Counselor in the Embassy of India in Kabul. She
was also a Counselor in the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York. She retired in
Sept 2020, as Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs.
Mr. David Haeri is the Director of the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division in the UN Department of
Peace Operations (DPO). He has extensive field and UN Headquarters experience related to political
affairs, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and inter-agency policy development. Previously, he served as the
UN-wide Senior Planning Coordinator for Syria, and was the Director of the US$100m multi-donor Joint
Peace Fund for peacebuilding support in Myanmar. His field experience includes extended deployments to
Cambodia, Liberia, South Africa, East Timor, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Major General PK Goswami, VSM (Retd) is the Deputy Director at the USI and Head of USI UN Cell. He
is also chief coordinator for series of USI – ICWA UNPKO theme based Webinar. He was Military Observer
with United Nations Verification Mission at Angola (UNAVEM) in 1991-92 and Senior Faculty at National
Defence College, New Delhi. He represented National Defence College, India at the 16th ASEAN Regional
Forum for Heads of Defence Universities, Colleges and Institutions in Beijing, China in Nov 2012.
Colonel (Dr) KK Sharma (Retd) is a Visiting Fellow USI and an Indian Army Veteran. He was a military
observer in UNTAC, Cambodia. He was an active member in planning and writing of UN Capstone Doctrine
on peacekeeping and manuals for trainers in the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights, Geneva.
He has been associated with the planning cell of peacekeeping operations in Indian Army HQ and was a
founding member of the Centre for UN Peacekeeping under the USI of India. He is PhD in Management
from Zurich, Switzerland, and presently a Professor and Dean, Global Education Programs in Chitkara
University, responsible to mentor and administer UG courses in academic collaboration with the University
of Windsor and Trent University, Canada.
Dr Ali Ahmed is an Indian Army veteran, former academic and UN official. His peacekeeping stints as
military observer and political affairs officer were in MONUC, UNMISS, UNMIK and UNISFA. He is PhD in
International Politics from JNU, India and under Special Regulations from Cambridge University. He taught
for two years at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution. He was a research fellow at
the IDSA and an MEA fellow at USI, India. He is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South
Dr Cedric de Coning is a Research Professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI),
where he also co-convenes the NUPI Centre on UN and Global Governance and coordinates the
Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON). He is also a Senior Advisor for the African Centre for
the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). He holds a PhD in Applied Ethics from the Department
of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. His research covers African and United
Nations peace and security issues. He has served in a number of advisory capacities for the African Union
and United Nations, including on the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board for the Peacebuilding Fund
and co-edited several books.
Brig Dhananjay Joshi is a serving Indian Army officer. He commanded a Company as part of the UN
Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon, a Battalion in Counter Insurgency operations in the North East and a
Brigade in high altitude area in India. Apart from attending the Staff Course at Wellington and Higher
Command Course at Mhow, in India, he is a graduate of the US National Defence University, Washington
DC. Presently he is posted as a Sector Commander, UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), commanding
a composite sector with troops from Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nepal.
Maj Gen S B Asthana (Retd) is presently the Chief Instructor, USI. He is a Former Additional Director
General Infantry of Indian Army and was CLO in UNMEE. Currently, he is on the Governing/Security
Council CEE, IOED, IPC, and other UN Organisations. He is in the Advisory Board of SWEDINT, member
EPON and expert group Challenges Forum. He is a regular speaker at CUNPK and various UN
Organisations and IOED representative in UN Headquarters, Vienna, Austria. He regularly participates in
1 UN Security Council Resolution, The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, S/RES/1265 (1999) 17
2 UN General Assembly Security Council, High Level Independent Panel Report, A/70/95–S/2015/446 (June 17,
3 UN Security Council Report, The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, S/2021/423, May, 21, 2021
4 UN, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/protecting-civilians