Protecting civilians in armed conflict: International framework and challenges

13-01-2016

In today's armed conflicts, whether international or intra-state, the vast majority of casualties are now civilians. Increasingly, civilians are victims of deliberate attacks and other serious violations by parties to a conflict – both states and non-state armed groups, despite the existence of strict legal rules intended to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities: the principles of international humanitarian law, of international human rights law and refugee law. The lack of compliance with these norms, as well as the United Nations Security Council's inability to take action to protect civilians in some specific cases, reflects the key concerns regarding the protection of civilians affected by armed conflicts worldwide. Moreover, specific protection concerns relate to the situation of women, children and displaced persons. Besides this international legal framework, another related concept has garnered significant support internationally in the past decade: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), meant to apply only in cases of atrocity crimes. However, R2P remains controversial, given the challenge of adequate implementation, particularly with regard to its military intervention aspects. Notwithstanding the many challenges with regard to protecting civilians in armed conflict, the European Union is a strong promoter of international humanitarian principles and of R2P, and other protection-related issues are consistently among its priorities.

In today's armed conflicts, whether international or intra-state, the vast majority of casualties are now civilians. Increasingly, civilians are victims of deliberate attacks and other serious violations by parties to a conflict – both states and non-state armed groups, despite the existence of strict legal rules intended to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities: the principles of international humanitarian law, of international human rights law and refugee law. The lack of compliance with these norms, as well as the United Nations Security Council's inability to take action to protect civilians in some specific cases, reflects the key concerns regarding the protection of civilians affected by armed conflicts worldwide. Moreover, specific protection concerns relate to the situation of women, children and displaced persons. Besides this international legal framework, another related concept has garnered significant support internationally in the past decade: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), meant to apply only in cases of atrocity crimes. However, R2P remains controversial, given the challenge of adequate implementation, particularly with regard to its military intervention aspects. Notwithstanding the many challenges with regard to protecting civilians in armed conflict, the European Union is a strong promoter of international humanitarian principles and of R2P, and other protection-related issues are consistently among its priorities.