Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2010

Enhancing Civilian Protection in Peace Operations: Insights from Africa

Paul D. Williams

September 2010

Africa Center for Strategic Studies


The protection of civilians is a critical issue in African security. Nearly 600,000 civilians in 27 African countries have been massacred in the past two decades. Tens of millions more have been killed in battles, displaced, or perished from indirect causes of such attacks and the continent’s armed conflicts. Not only are civilians the main victims of Africa’s wars, but also an increasing number of United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions have called upon peacekeepers to protect them. For many, civilian protection is the very essence of peacekeeping. This is a driving rationale behind the unanimously endorsed and UN-mandated “responsibility to protect” principle— the idea that governments have a responsibility to prevent and curtail genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. Civilian protection is also a crucial part of forging durable political settlements because any peace agreement that tolerates continued violence against civilians will not provide a solid foundation on which to build legitimate governance structures.