New report: Compliance rhetoric and the group of friends of the protection of civilians
By Elizabeth Minor
In a new research report, Alexander Holder examines the shortcomings of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in the context of its conservatism on two core protection issues. It links these to the rhetorical strategy of militarised states that proposes compliance with International Humanitarian Law as a wholly sufficient means of protecting civilians in armed conflict. The report explores why this, and the Group’s positions, should be scrutinised.
The key messages from this research are:
- If the title ‘Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians’ is to have any meaning at the United Nations Security Council, then some level of scrutiny is required regarding the stances that such a group maintains on key protection of civilians (PoC) issues.
- The title ‘Group of Friends’ could be taken to imply that the Group’s contributions to Security Council PoC open debates reflect a progressive consensus on PoC. In reality, the Group of Friends’ (GoF) contributions appear to be significantly limited by the influence of conservative members who have interests or orientations against action on a number of contemporary PoC issues. The Group’s resultant lacklustre engagement with key PoC issues, as identified by the UN Secretary-Gen- eral in his reports, falls far short of what we might expect from a collective of states with a goal of “contributing to advocacy at the global level to enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict”.1
- In line with the rhetorical strategies of militarised states, the GoF’s contributions to Security Council PoC open debates often harmfully conflate International Humani- tarian Law (IHL) compliance with the protection of civilians. An overwhelming preoccupation with straightforward violations of IHL ultimately works to the detriment of responding to PoC issues which are characterised by longer term harms, more complex chains of causality, and less straightforward adjudications of legality.
- This stance is seen in the GoF’s prolonged reluctance to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) and arms transfers, in the contributions to Security Council open debates analysed for this paper. In both cases, the GoF has tacitly denied that such matters belong on the PoC agenda. Notwithstanding the GoF’s recent change of stance on EWIPA, the Group’s collective activities have not generally served to facilitate progress in these key areas.