Regional Workshop on the Protection of Civilians
Date: 15–16 July 2010
Venue: ParkRoyal Hotel, Singapore
Organised by: RSIS Centre for NTS Studies and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC)
Asia has suffered protracted intra-state conflicts and violence, with significant repercussions for civilians. Alongside these civilian protection challenges, there have been considerable regional institutional developments in recent years such as the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). It is against this backdrop that the Regional Workshop on the Protection of Civilians organised by the RSIS Centre for NTS Studies and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) was convened on 15–16 July 2010.
Participants from different backgrounds, including the fields of law, academia and civil society, came together with the aim of understanding the existing standards and frameworks, and the relevant policies; and to explore ways to build on existing mechanisms to advance the protection of civilians (POC) in Asia.
Three significant themes emerged from this Regional Workshop. They are: (1) the need for comprehensive and long-term protection; (2) the effectiveness and accessibility of existing mechanisms; and (3) the support strategies for states to exercise their responsibility to protect their citizens. Finally, participants identified potential ways forward to achieve a sustainable framework to ensure the protection of civilians.
• Comprehensive and Long-term Protection
Through the analytical lenses of legal, military, civil society and international organisations, participants concluded that the failure to utilise a rights-based approach allowed for the systematic violation of the freedom of expression and opinion, and that of thought, conscience and religion in Asia. Furthermore, participants noted that military intervention as a method of protection is unnecessarily coercive as it involves the use of force in situations which can be resolved through conflict management and resolution processes. This approach is problematic as it exposes civilians to significant levels of violence and potential physical harm. In addition, greater attention has to be given to violations of civilian protection during peace time as these translate into long-term and systematic social challenges for states and societies on a broader level.
• Effectiveness and Accessibility of Existing Mechanisms
Focus group discussions on the protection of women, children, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and migrants in Asia identified three main themes. The first is the inconsistency between international treaty obligations and the implementation of suitable domestic laws. The second is poor accessibility to national protection mechanisms such as access to an independent judiciary and a fair, affordable and efficient legal process. The third is the low level of participation and weak representation of vulnerable sections of society in decision-making processes.
• Support Strategies for States and Societies
There was recognition that the responsibility to protect civilians rests primarily with the state. In Asia, there is political will at the national level but states need to strengthen their abilities to address civilian protection concerns and needs. Participants endorsed the role of the state, and recognised that other organisations can complement and support the obligations of states. States need to recognise the various actors involved in ensuring the protection of civilians and engage them in dialogue. Furthermore, states should strengthen cooperation and collaboration with non-state actors and develop a comprehensive POC framework. This cooperation and collaboration will need to be secured at and between the local, national, regional and international levels.
• The Way Forward
The implementation of guiding and operational standards is a priority for POC in Asia. These standards will inform states of their individual and collective responsibility, while serving as a point of reference for coordination among relevant actors and providing an avenue to raise awareness among states and societies. It was also noted that regional mechanisms are well placed to identify and evaluate challenges to POC, encourage cooperation in the region to address those challenges, and provide assistance at the local and national levels to state and non-state actors. Early warning indicators for the region could result from this process of evaluation and cooperation.
Participants identified five important ways to advance the POC agenda: (1) non-governmental organisations and civil society actors should bridge the communication gap between vulnerable persons at the grassroots level and government authorities; (2) the nexus between POC and corporate social responsibility should be explored. It was noted that the business community can exercise significant influence on government policies; (3) greater collaboration between government agencies and international organisations such as the ICRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should be encouraged. It was noted that in addition to education and training, states ought to draw on the technical resourcefulness of personnel from such bodies; (4) the armed forces should be recognised as a significant resource in humanitarian operations. However, the military’s involvement hinges on their aligning with principles intrinsic to humanitarian operations, that of impartiality and neutrality, in their operational frameworks; and (5) there is a need to utilise regional mechanisms such as the AICHR and ACWC. Indeed it was noted that a regional push to link the doctrine of RtoP with POC and human security would be helpful, as such a link could attract broad-based support. This will assist in advancing sustainable protection for civilians over the longer term, through encouraging multi-actor collaboration and capacity building at the national level, and the development of early warning systems at the regional and international levels to fulfil positions of responsibility.
For more information on the workshop, kindly refer to the programme here.
A report on the proceedings as well as interviews of speakers conducted on the sidelines of this workshop are now available online.