BACKGROUND PAPER Peace Operations and Humanitarian Space: How Can the Military and Civilians Cooperate in Protecting Civilians?

The subject of this paper – peace operations, humanitarian space and the protection of civilians – has been a long standing, and contentious, topic of debate among military and humanitarian actors. This debate has not been confined to United Nations (UN) peace operations alone. Military forces from NATO, the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU) and the economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all faced, at one time or another, protection challenges and been ctiticized for protection shortcomings.

The campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now again in Somalia and Libya, have kept these issues at the forefront of the humanitarian agenda. The debate continues, and indeed the discussion in the Challenges Forum, this year and last, reflects the sense that this is unfinished business. This paper, written from the perspective of a former head of a UN peacekeeping mission, focuses on three points of contention that have characterized and conditioned that debate in UN peace operations: civil-military relations, and the perceived clash between UN military goals and humanitarian objectives in conflict situations; the structural integration of humanitarian coordination in UN peace missions, which has created, in the view of some humanitarian actors, a conflict of interest between political ends and humanitarian principles; and the seeming intrusion of UN peacekeepers into humanitarian space in the context of civil-military cooperation activities (CIMIC), blurring the lines between armed peacekeeping and humanitarian action.

The paper looks at how these issues have interacted, influences and impacted UN peace operations. It will draw some conclusions on non-military ways to protect civilians and how they can be articulated within peacekeeping activities and conclude with some recommendations on how to improve civil-military cooperation to better protect civilians.