The report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO), released in June 2015, observes a growing gap between what is expected of peace operations and what they have delivered. The HIPPO report particularly recognized this gap in its comments on the protection of civilians (POC), which it describes as a “core obligation” of the UN. The report offers a number of targeted suggestions to improve the implementation of protection mandates in its section on POC. However, recommendations that could improve POC were not limited only to that section of the HIPPO report. The report also recommended several other reforms – primarily at the strategic level, in the areas of mandating, planning, and analysis – that are also needed to lay the groundwork for effective protection of civilians. While these strategic level recommendations are not listed under the heading of POC in the HIPPO report, this Stimson Center report argues that they are critical to create conducive conditions for missions not only to implement POC, but to prioritize it.
The HIPPO report’s recommendation to produce phased and sequenced mandates could allow missions to focus their efforts and resources on POC when protection threats are highest, and to avoid undertaking activities that could undermine protection objectives. However, phased and sequenced mandates are only likely to succeed if they provide strategic objectives for missions to achieve, rather than detailed lists of tasks for missions to implement. Moreover, the adoption of phased and sequenced mandates can only lead to effective prioritization of POC on the ground if it is tied to reform in three additional areas highlighted by the HIPPO report.
First, effective prioritization of POC depends on a political strategy that identifies whether and how POC is envisioned to contribute toward the mission’s political goals. In addition, the political strategy should anticipate tensions that might arise between the two core mission objectives of protecting civilians and supporting political solutions. Mission activities to support political solutions aim ultimately to create a more secure environment for the population, but can undermine protection objectives in the short-term. Where tensions arise, missions should treat POC as their highest priority in order to minimize harm and maintain legitimacy.
Second, effective prioritization of POC depends on how POC is approached in mission planning and analysis. Changes are needed to both the process and the content of conflict analysis tools that guide mission planning. The new analysis and planning capacity in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General may help to address some of the problems with process. A new conflict analysis framework should be created that includes atrocity indicators, broader conflict indicators, and an assessment of how mission capabilities could influence threats against civilians, in order to ensure that protection concerns are considered comprehensively.
Third, effective prioritization of POC depends on timely deployment in response to protection crises, since delays in the deployment of protection capacities can force the mission into a reactive posture, allow cycles of violence to become entrenched, and undermine the mission’s capacity to protect. Recent initiatives to improve the rapid deployment of uniformed personnel are promising and should be supported. But the rapid deployment of civilian personnel who play important protection functions is just as important, and will require significant reform to the civilian recruitment and hiring system.