In working for change at the UN, one is either a masochist or an incrementalist or both. Just ask those working on Security Council reform.
Yet every once in a while there are rivulets of progress that seep through a crack in the process. Last Tuesday (12 February) the Security Council held an open-ended debate on the Protection of Civilians.
The Secretary General’s Report on the Protection of Civilians (S/2012/376) served as a foundation for this debate. Paragraph 52 of this report specifically relates to unarmed civilian peacekeeping:
52. United Nations peacekeeping missions are not the only protection actor on the ground. Moreover, they are not always deployed in contexts where civilians face serious risks. United Nations and other humanitarian organizations, including ICRC and various non-governmental organizations, play a long-established and critical role in seeking to enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including in places that do not have a peacekeeping presence.
This is significant language, not only because it recognizes that non-governmental organizations play a critical role in protecting civilians but also acknowledges that we are in places where UN peacekeepers are not but where civilian still need protection.
Providing an opening for the application of UCP, Paragraph 20 of the Annex of the Secretary General’s report describes the problem of humanitarian organizations use of armed guards and escorts conflicting with the ability of humanitarian workers to interact with the local community and reinforcing misperceptions that the workers are carrying out Western agendas. Unarmed civilian peacekeepers have provided protection for humanitarian workers in a number of settings and could do more of this with proper resources.