TRAINING SPOTLIGHT: Protection of Civilians


In modern intra- and inter-state conflicts civilian casualties are overcoming those of soldiers or armed fighters. Civilians are directly targeted by state and non-state armed groups or suffer the indirect consequences of the conflicts, such as loss of life, livelihood, or gross violations of fundamental human rights. The responsibility to protect civilian life lies primarily with the host state, which is consistent with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights.

In the past, however, it has happened that host states have (un)willingly failed to protect their citizens from various threats and atrocities. In these situations, other groups or non-state actors should assume the “responsibility to protect” and deploy peacekeepers to protect civilians. Brutalities in Rwanda and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s combined with the international community’s inability to protect the civilian lives resulted in a shift in understanding what the protection of civilians means. From a narrow understanding of it as humanitarian assistance the concept evolved into a broader concept of responsibility, more in line with the multidimensional nature of contemporary missions and operations. At the turn of the century, in 1999, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) became the first mission with a specific mandate to protect civilians from physical violence.

The conflicts of the twenty-first century continue to involve targeting of civilians, whether due to the efforts of armed actors to spread fear and increase political or economic leverage, as in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), or due to means and methods of warfare that disregard protected people and infrastructure, as in Yemen. New security trends and developments like grey-zone and hybrid conflict, complex humanitarian emergencies, social unrest, deteriorating state-society relations, terrorism, riots, migration, environmental catastrophes, and the increased influence of new technologies all pose additional threats to civilians that already bear the horrible consequences of armed conflicts like physical threats to life, loss of homes, loss of social services and loss of means to earn income.

EU Approach to Protection of Civilians

For the EU member states, the events in BiH along with the increasing integration of the EU have led to the emergence of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), later known as the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) that laid the legal ground for European missions and operations. Key policies on Protection of Civilians (PoC) followed soon after and the European Council published guidelines on PoC in EU crisis management in 2003, revised in 2010. A broad range of activities falling under PoC is found within many CSDP missions, ranging from physical protection, the relations between women, peace and security, children and armed conflicts, to creating the PoC-enabling human rights and rule of law environment. The term ‘PoC-related tasks’ is hence used in the CSDP context when addressing these actions.

The first EU military ESDP mission with an explicit PoC mandate was launched in 2008 in Chad and the Central African Republic. Even though the CSDP calls on missions to adopt an integrated approach to PoC and despite the efforts to enhance the PoC agenda, EU’s PoC efforts on the ground remain relatively modest. The military missions are more focused on the capacity building and training approaches and the civilian CSDP mission mandates do not ordinarily include a specific PoC mandate, even though certain mission actions can be placed within a comprehensive PoC framework as was the case in Chad.

EUCTI’s PoC Course

The development of the PoC concept by the UN was closely followed by the EU as well. Nevertheless, to help distinguish the “European” from the “UN” approach, a more defined and developed general EU CSDP approach to PoC is needed. Stemming from it, a general approach course on PoC is necessary for all CSDP mission staff.

Our basic specialization course on Protection of Civilians for Police and Civilian Personnel is an adaptation of an existing UN training on protection of civilians, but with the focus on EU policies and EU priorities in the field. This makes it the only such active course appropriate for CSDP missions targeting all personnel. It aims to equip participants without any prior knowledge of PoC-related topics with the skills and know-how on subject topics that together form a comprehensive PoC training approach, such as historical development of the approach and its legal regulation, new developments and trends around PoC, operational concept for PoC and key challenges and best practices in the field.