Challenges of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians who suffer

Challenges faced by vulnerable section of society

Vulnerable section of the society may
refer to certain groups of population who can be at risk and influenced by the
negative effects of conflicts or disasters and need special attention to
prevent from a harmful environment or exploitation. Their vulnerability depends
on their social, political, economic, ethnic and cultural position. The
humanitarian action in all post-conflict settings ought to pay particular
attention especially to the women, older persons, persons with disabilities,
children, minorities, indigenous peoples and lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.1

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Protecting the vulnerable civilian groups has
come to the light as the main purpose of various contemporary peace operations.
The military peacekeepers have progressively recognized the importance of
operational and the moral duty in order to protect the threatened civilian
groups during peacekeeping operations. Besides, UN has also performed
increasingly strenuous efforts to put civilian protection as the main of these
operations as the peacekeeping missions have grown in size, frequency, number
and mandate. How well the peacekeeping missions protect civilians
is usually a significant benchmark to evaluate a mission’s effectiveness. There
are political, legal and operational aspects of protecting civilians as well as
accompanying challenges.

Protecting civilians is recognized as a complicated
process which comprised of many different factors such as local, regional and
international stakeholders over time, from planning into execution. It could be
said as a big challenge in protecting the civilian, ranging from the scale of
essential needs on the ground and the challenging security environment, to the
lack of infrastructure. Frequently, lack of operational clarity hinders the
ability of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians who suffer the effects of armed
conflict. Peacekeepers are often being obliged to protect large populations
spread over vast territories. However, they usually lack personnel and material
resources to do so effectively, for example a deficiency of resources like
helicopters which permit them to access remote areas relatively quickly.2

The main challenge faced by these
vulnerable sections of society is getting human rights protection. The
civilians engulfed by conflict suffer in various ways. They are exposed to
injuries, destruction of their properties and livelihoods, physical suffering
and also serious impairment of access to basic and life-sustaining services.
Civilians are usually at the heart of the conflict and control over the
civilian population is the primary goals during armed conflict. Nevertheless,
the deliberate and indiscriminate always targeting of the civilians,
the use of them as the shields or restricting the access to humanitarian access
are violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and it may amount to war
crimes or crimes against humanity.

In the rush of providing the humanitarian
aid and save lives during time of conflict, the human rights protection that
should be provided to people affected by the disasters or conflicts have been
neglected and not much attention is paid to the rights of the vulnerable
section of society. A human-right based approach is very
important due to it insists on right-holders and duty-bearers. By centralizing
the needs of vulnerable person, international humanitarian law is not less
important. It strengthens the protection and assistance afforded to the
affected populations. They ought to frame with other related branches of
international law, all humanitarian work which relating the conflicts and
disasters. Moreover, both international human rights law and international
humanitarian law support the recognition and prosecution of grave human rights
violations or serious violations of international humanitarian law in the
context of armed conflict. There will be a risk that this approach will become
too limited and not combine the basic needs of affected people in wider
planning process if the humanitarian assistance is not according to such a
framework. Besides, there will also be a risk where some important issues will
be delayed to recovery and reconstruction and hence not be involved in the
State’s development strategy. However, the neglect of reconstruction efforts is
also often a challenge. Therefore, the humanitarian
responses and actions by the States and global and national initiatives that
fully take into consideration the protective legal framework which granted by
international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other
related branches of international law should be developed.3

Moreover, in some States, the
constitutional rights may be limited, for example when a state of emergency has
been declared. The State ought to respect the core of human rights and make
sure that specific legislations respects its own Constitution,  the rules that contained in international
declarations on humanitarian assistance and international human rights treaties
even in states of emergency which resulting from conflict or disaster. Local
mechanisms to denounce violations of human rights and also international
humanitarian law in time of conflict ought to be put in place in order to
ensure the security, safety and freedom of persons affected.

Besides the challenge of getting human
rights, access to water was recognized as a significant challenge faced by the
civilians and was described as the fundamental to avoid rape. Women are said to
be the most vulnerable when they need to walk for a long distance in order to reach
water.  It is always difficult to provide
the water supply according to international standards of hygiene and clean
water. Sometimes, the women are asked to carry loads such as foods, arms and
other war materials from one place to another. During the process of reaching
to water, the women may exposed to the risk of being killed, raped, sexually
abused, kidnapped and enslaved. Women’s certain requirements ought to be
considered in the case of emergency response.

In addition, the challenge faced by the
civilian may be domestic violence in post-conflict and post-disaster circumstances.
Unarmed civilians in violent conflicts zones are not only account for a large
number of casualties, but also succumb to the unlawful detention, sexual
violence, abductions, displacement and lack of access to essential supply. They
are usually forcefully involved as child soldiers and fighters. Some of them
even act as the messengers and porters to carry explosive materials. The
vulnerable groups are also sometimes used to sing songs and dance in the
cultural programs.  The armed conflict
influences all sections of the population and damages their socio-economic
backbones. It also seriously changes life of young children and women
disproportionately during and even after the violent conflict. Complete and
comprehensive assistance and information are required to support women and
children survivors of violence both in and out of the emergency areas, for
instance in host communities. It is important to provide special attention
which integrates a cultural approach to persons with disabilities, displaced
persons, indigenous peoples, older persons and also LGBTI persons. 4

The next challenge faced by vulnerable
persons is lack of health facilities which lead to death. 5For
instance, in the country like Nepal, the armed conflict has hampered the access
to health care, food and social services for families, especially the children
and women. This has brought impact on women’s health, especially for women who
just give birth. In addition, women are likely to suffer from malnourished when
food has become the scarce owing to the shortage of agricultural production.
This is due to culturally, they are typically the last ones to eat and hence,
hardly to get food after feeding others. Lack of access to aid supplies,
communication and service are required to be addressed so that the risk of
involvement of persons with disabilities could be reduced.  Besides, the transportation of food supplies
are always interrupted by the security checks, blockades and looting. At one
point of time, the security forces did not even permit ordinary people to store
food supplies beyond the basic minimum needs to avoid access of food by the
Maoists.6

 During the conflict period, the children do
not have much access to the food, immunization and medicine. They have only
rice water and salt for their meals.7 The
governmental services and also facilities like health posts and clinics are
either disrupted or lack medicines, medical officials and medical equipment
which makes women and children’s conditions vulnerable and increases the
probability of maternal and infant mortality. Some of the district health
offices have been partially destroyed. Besides, many people include the
orphans, widows, disabled, internally displaced people and former combatants
have traumatic experiences. Stress, fear and worries become constant factors of
their daily life and the traumatic experiences had brought along some health
impacts such as headaches, heart diseases and hypertension. However, due to the
medical supplies stop to be provided in certain areas and lack of medical
officers and medicines, the villagers have to reach another place for medical
treatment. During night, the ambulance facility has been stopped too due to
insurgency. Thus, it increased the death of vulnerable persons which died due
to diarrhoea, complications during childbirth and other reasons.

On the other hand, the limitation of government’s
capacity (resources) to tackle the situation or its willingness to protect the civilians
is questionable. Delay in international community response to the violent
conflicts usually lead to displacement, massive human causalities and increases
the opportunities of emergence of self-protection mechanism whereby the
civilians devise ways and means to escape threats and protect their own lives
which lead to chaos and further causalities. The relief should always be
guaranteed for all concerned and not just the political supporters due to
political favouritism. The Government ought not to use humanitarian attention
for political purposes and the political parties should also not use emergency
circumstances to position themselves better among the population.8

Another challenge faced by civilians during time of
conflict is the damage that being done to the natural environment, which
increases the vulnerabilities of the affected people. It not only influences
them, yet, has a deep impact on their future generations. The law concerning to
protection of the environment during armed conflict lacks clarity, as it is not
sufficiently developed. The treaty law does not consist of specific
requirements that served to protect and preserve the environment during NIACs.
Customary international law further dictates the obligation not to attack the
environment unless it is a military objective and prohibits attacks that may
cause disproportionate incidental damage to the environment. 9However, some argued that
these provisions are generic and in order to effectively protect the
environment during armed conflicts, the precise scope and application of these
rules are required to be defined. Thus, laws under IHL, which satisfy the
protection of environment during conflict period needs to be laid out, addressing
NIACs as well. These laws ought to provide for measures to establish protection
mechanisms for immediate and long-term consequences of damage to the
environment. International cooperation is also obliged to play a main role in
fixing environmental contamination, as areas that are affected may require being
isolated and effectively cleaned. Therefore, international cooperation
mechanisms also need to be developed.10

Poor decentralization of policies applied to disaster
or conflict prevention and disaster risk reduction is also one of the
challenges faced by the civilians. Speech should be given to the civilians to
increase their awareness on these issues.

In conclusion, laws should be in place for conflict or
disaster prevention and mitigation. The States ought to be responsible in
allocating the resources that needed to improve the living conditions of
persons which affected by conflict or disaster. 
The procedures and mechanisms should be developed in order to include
the vulnerable section of society in protection, prevention, relief and
recovery stages. The States are required to establish framework and mechanism
to protect women, girls and children from violence, involving sexual violence
in circumstances of armed conflict pursuant to the Council resolution 1820
(2008). Implementation of the law and the compliance with its provisions must
be enforced and strengthened in order to provide the requisite protection to
civilians.

 

 

 

1
Dr.T.S.N.Sastry, Human Rights of
Vulnerable and Disadvantages Groups ( 1st edn,University of Pune
2012)

2Citizens
for Global Solutions, ‘Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflict’ (2014)
accessed 20 January 2018

3 ‘Human
Rights and Armed Conflict’
accessed 20 January 2018

4 United Nations General Assembly, ‘Final Research- Based
Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on Best Practices and Main
Challenges in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Post-Disaster and
Post-Conflict Situations’ (2015)
accessed 21 January 2018

5
David P.Fidler, ‘The Challenge of Protecting Civilian Health in War’ (World Politics Review, 29 July 2014)

accessed 19 January 2018

6
Anjana Shakya, ‘Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Children in Nepal’ (2008)

accessed 20 January 2018

7 ‘Caught
in the Middle’ Mounting Violations Against Children in Nepal’s Armed Conflict’
(Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict,
31 Jan 2005)
accessed 20 January 2018

8
Jitendra Panda, ‘Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts :More Challenges
than Opportunities’ (Linkedin, 22
February 2016)
accessed 21 January 2018

9
ICRC, Customary IHL database, Rule 43

10
Zainab Mustafa, ‘Protecting Civilians during Violent Conflict : Challenges
faced by International Humanitarian Law'(2017) 1(1) RSIL
accessed 19 January 2018