Protection during Military Operations

Protecting vulnerable populations, and especially children, should be paramount during military operations. New tactics of war, the absence of clear battlefields and increasingly numerous and diverse parties to conflict in terms of their composition, motivations and character have complicated matters. Moreover, the rise of terrorism has been met with counter-terrorism action which sometimes blurs the line between what is legitimate and what is not in addressing security threats. Raids against predominately civilians targets including night raids, and use of heavy artillery in civilian-populated areas, make children more vulnerable to being killed or maimed and often serve to fuel resentment and conflict.

Rules of engagement of armed forces stipulate that the protection of civilians should remain the foremost consideration in the course of military operations. However, increasingly the record indicates that these strictures are inadequate to ensure the safety of children. There also seems to be a growing practice of putting children in the direct line of danger through, for instance, their use for intelligence for military operations. This includes the interrogation of children separated from armed groups during military actions in contravention of standards which require the immediate transfer of such children to protection actors.

In this regard, the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by armed forces is critical in order to institute additional protection measures for children during military operations.

Member States seem increasingly resolved to better protect vulnerable populations, including through more explicit civilian protection provisions in peacekeeping mandates. In UN peacekeeping it has led to development of new operational arrangements such as MONUSCO’s Joint Protection Teams (JPT) and the Rapid Reaction and Early Warning Cell. The objective of these initiatives is to deepen information as a basis for more effective action; to better coordinate action across civilian, police and military components of peacekeeping operations; and, leverage more effectively peacekeeping resources particularly the advantage of physical presence in remote areas where access of humanitarian actors may be limited.