Book ReviewsRecensions comparatives

Siobhán Wills, Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp xxi, 296. ISBN 978-0-19-953387-9[Record]

  • Hilmi M. Zawati

Hilmi M. Zawati, DCL (McGill), MA in international comparative law (McGill), PhD (CPU), MA (Punjab), Post-Graduate Diploma in law (Khartoum), LLB (BAU), is currently president of the International Legal Advocacy Forum (ILAF), and an international criminal law jurist and human rights advocate. Zawati’s most recent work is his book Symbolic Judgments or Judging Symbols: Fair Labelling and the Dilemma of Prosecuting Gender-Based Crimes under the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals, Forthcoming, 2012. I would like to thank Ibtisam M Mahmoud, librarian, McGill University Health Centre, Ma’n H Zawati, DCL Candidate, McGill Law School, for research material, and Steve Millier for reading the early draft of this review.

Citation: (2011) 57:2 McGill LJ 383

Référence : (2011) 57 : 2 RD McGill 383

The last two decades have witnessed the highest ever involvement of United Nations’ blue helmets in peacekeeping missions throughout the world. These international missions, as Siobhán Wills observes, consist of different types of peace and enforcement operations, including conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace enforcement, peace building, and humanitarian operations. The engagement of UN troops in civilian protection operations in the world’s war-torn areas has resulted in several complications concerning their mandates to protect civilians from harm on the one hand, and their entanglement in human rights violations on the other. In light of these developments, a fresh look into the norms of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law is necessary to remind troops of their obligation to protect civilians from human rights abuses and, at the same time, hold members of these missions accountable for alleged crimes and violations. Thus, the purpose of Protecting Civilians, The Obligations of Peacekeepers is to examine in depth international humanitarian and human rights law instruments and demonstrate how these laws impose obligations on UN peacekeepers and other multinational forces to protect civilians in war-torn areas of the world, including intervention to prevent or stop human rights violations and restore law in UN-occupied areas. Focusing on the challenges faced by peacekeeping missions in implementing their mandates, the author devotes the first chapter of her book to providing a historical review of peacekeepers’ successes and failures in protecting civilians. She explores how these troops, on different occasions, did less than nothing when civilians were at risk of becoming victims of serious violations, such as the collective blood baths and mass rape campaigns in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and other ravaged areas of the world. In spite of the fact that UN troops were authorized to take “all appropriate measures” to protect civilians and to use force in case of “self-defence”, these troops repeatedly failed either to implement these mandates or to protect themselves, as when they were attacked in Kigali and lost ten of their members. Moreover, it was reported that the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda and the UN Protection Force abandoned thousands of civilians in the Kigali École Technique Officielle and in Srebrenica to be slaughtered by Hutu and Serb forces, respectively. Chapter 2 of this analysis examines the extent to which international humanitarian law obliges peacekeeping forces to protect civilians from human rights abuses. Relying on her extensive research, Wills explains that the ambiguity of obligations imposed on UN peacekeeping missions to protect civilians during armed conflict under IHL—particularly common article 1 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions—has resulted in many incompatibilities in peacekeepers’ mandates. This vagueness has encouraged the UN to treat the above laws as mere political perspective rather than as binding law. Finally, the author concludes by claiming that treating the norms of IHL—as they relate to UN troops—as moral standards rather than laws compelling obedience has undermined many peacekeeping missions and caused the failure of these operations in different regions of the world. By the same token, Wills tries, in chapter 3, to ascertain the applicability of international human rights law to UN peacekeeping missions and to determine whether these laws impose obligations on UN troops and multinational forces to protect civilians during armed conflict. The author relies on different perspectives—particularly that of IHL—to examine the applicability of human rights law to armed conflicts, and then reviews historical developments in IHL and international human rights law since the 1960s. Moreover, in examining different cases, she explores the relationship between international human rights law and other regimes, namely occupation law and IHL. Wills concludes by asserting that, despite the fact that …