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The UN and the Protection of Civilians: Sustaining the Momentum

Abstract: The protection of civilians (PoC) concept remains contested twenty-three years after the first PoC mandate. Current PoC frameworks used by the United Nations (UN) do not assist with determining applicable legal standards. They lead the UN down an unsustainable path that risks diminishing political support for PoC, especially within intense conflicts and following well-documented protection failures. With ever-rising expectations from communities under protection, the UN’s ‘Three Tiers of PoC Action’, and the complexity and dilution of PoC mandates under a whole-of-mission approach, it becomes challenging to determine what missions must do to protect individuals. Undertaking a major re-evaluation of PoC, this article charts the progression of PoC mandates drawing on examples from several missions drawing out the diverse nature of PoC and subsequent activities. The article then argues that current definitions and practical applications of PoC have cast the net too wide, presented uncertainties, and leave PoC open to attack from Member States amidst a political climate of weakened support for collective security action. Instead, the discussion must shift towards a concise and shared understanding of what protection mandates entail for UN peace operations. The article suggests how PoC can be reconceptualised to distinguish a narrow and easily communicated minimum obligation to be placed on UN peacekeepers.
Keywords: diverse / political / PoC mandates / Protection of Civilians / communicated

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