Monday, 23 March 2009

Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers

Micheál Martin, TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, will today launch Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers by Dr Siobhán Wills (UCC Law Faculty), published by Oxford University Press. The launch will take place today, Monday 23rd March, at 7 pm in THE STAFF COMMON ROOM, Quad, North Wing, UCC. It follows the CCJHR Annual Lecture by Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill which is being held in Aras na Mac Leinn at 6pm.
Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers examines the scope and nature of peacekeepers’ obligations to protect civilians from serious abuses of their human rights, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Peacekeeping and peace support operations have expanded considerably in scope and purpose, particularly over the last decade and a half. Professor Goodwin-Gill comments in his Foreward to the book that:

"the complexity and, indeed, the contradictions attaching to these initiatives are often all too apparent, as Dr Wills shows in her timely study. Alive to the issues and concerns and solidly grounded in the experience of fifty or so years of missions throughout the globe, the analysis here reveals clearly the problems and the tension that can arise between national interests, humanitarian concerns, and international law, when mandates are ill thought-out, or lacking in political commitment….

Dr Wills identifies and analyses closely the still worrying problems of the applicable law: Whether and to what extent UN operations are bound by international humanitarian law; how, if at all, rights and duties are transmitted through the legal responsibilities of troop contributing nations; how relevant or important is the consent of the State where operations take place; and what impact does human rights law have on the conduct and accountability of States and troops….

Drawing on the rich history of the present and the recent past, this study pinpoints numerous inadequacies in the mandate, objectives, and implementation of various peace support operations – inadequacies, often compounded by lack of political will and purpose, which failed to stop or to do anything to prevent, not only the atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica, but also the daily violence, abuse and humiliation suffered by civilians at the hands of armed forces, militias, even peacekeepers themselves.

Too often, peacekeepers have not protected the vulnerable, but have been required to look the other way, or have done so for want of clear direction. Of course, as Dr Wills explains, the nature of conflict and the type and location of combatants are forever changing, and many parties, not just non-State actors, will manoeuvre in the spaces left by ambiguity. But if the principles of the UN Charter and the underlying spirit of the law are to mean anything, then the moral and political imperative to protect civilians ought indeed to have crossed the line to legal duty. The present and continuing challenge is implementation – finding effective ways to ensure that international peacekeepers and UN operations, in all their variety, do not become abusers of those entrusted to their protection; and that any immunity from process is legitimated by openness and accountability.

This important work lays down solid foundations for that programme of action. It is essential reading for students of these critical times, it gives legal content to the rhetoric of the responsibility to protection, and it will make a substantial and positive contribution to the doctrine of peace support operations in the years to come."

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