UNICEF’s Role in Protecting Civilians during Armed Conflict

UNICEF’s Role in Protecting Civilians during Armed Conflict

Author: Kaanchi Ahuja
Content Contributor | Leagle Samiksha


The protection of civilians during armed conflict is the backbone of International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights, Refugee and International Criminal Law. The United Nations was established on the idea of maintenance of International Peace and Security so as to prevent armed conflict and also to stop the atrocities that occurred during World War II from recurring.

The Protection of Civilians from grave human rights violations during WWII’s armed conflict had gained paramount global attention and concern throughout the 1990s where innumerable atrocities against men, women and children were committed, while the International Community failed to act.

The massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica and the widespread abuse of civilians during numerous wars in the African Great Lake region, West Africa and Somalia are important examples which showcase the failure of International Entities towards Protection of Civilians.

Moving Towards Protection Regime:

A major part of international Humanitarian Law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. The Conventions have been expanded and supplemented by two Additional Protocols, out of which, the Additional Protocol of 1977 relates to the protection of victims of armed conflict.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the Protection of Civilians, Prevention of Genocide, Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) and Women Peace and Security (WPS) were constituted as a step forward to initiate a successful roadmap for Protection of Civilians.

Impact on Children:

Abuses nevertheless have continued in major as well as low-intensity conflict areas. The 1966 Graca Machel Study represented the first comprehensive report on the impact of conflict on children, which was submitted to the General assembly and Security Council[1]. The study called for enhanced attention for conflict-affected children.

In 1997, following one of the recommendations of the Machel report, the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict[2]. In 1999, the Security Council adopted its first resolution known as SCR 1261[3] for recognising the impact of conflict on children.

Since then the Security Council has made significant progress in operationalising Its Children and Armed Conflict (CAC) agenda. In response to a specific request made by the UN Secretary-General, UNICEF has assumed a reading role in the implementation of such agenda in SCR 1612 (2005)and then in SCR 1882(2009), SCR 1998 (2011) and SCR 2068 (2012)[4].

UNICEF’s Aid to Promote Child Rights in Armed Conflict:

As per its mission statement, “UNICEF is committed to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children i.e. victims of war, disaster, extreme poverty and all forms of violence and exploitation.” UNICEF’s approach to child protection in emergencies is set out in the Child Protection Strategy 2008 which applies to UNICEF’s work globally. UNICEF engages with the protection of civilians agenda in several ways[5]. Some of these are:

  • Annual Report Of The Secretary-General On Protection Of Civilians[6]:

UNICEF is a member of the headquarters at the inter-agency working group on Protection of Civilians (POC).  UNICEF is able to propose principal issues as well as influence the text of the country sections of laws and recommend changes, alteration and amendments for that report.

  • Secretary-General Country Reports[7]:

Reports of the Secretary-General on country situations, particularly during mandate renewal, have offered an important opportunity for documenting protection of civilian concerns. UNICEF has an opportunity, as part of the Integrated Task Force, to input text on child protection issues and recommendations in the Secretary-General report.

  • Security Council Informal Expert Group On Protection Of Civilians[8]:

 The informal expert group is a platform of opportunity for the UN system to brief the Security Council prior to the renewal of the mission mandate. The process for submitting information to the briefing is often done in the country, frequently through the protection cluster, and through the inter-agency working group. UNICEF also attends the protection of civilian’s briefings to answer questions raised by member states. The Informal Expert Group of Security Council is not the same as Security Council in itself.

  • Security Council Resolutions[9]:

 UNICEF is able to advocate directly with member states for the addition of certain child protection provisions within Security Council resolutions. It is important to note that the resolutions are also informed by the Secretary-General reports, the recommendations and the briefing for the informal Export Group on Protection of Civilians.

  • Protection Risk Assessment[10]:

UNICEF can advocate the child rights issues included within protection risk assessment. In some cases it has been advocated that human conduct on assessment is used to develop different protection strategies (one for the protection cluster and protection of civilians and one for the mission) could also potentially include a strategy for human right section of the mission.


It can be inferred that children have no role or any fault in conflict and war crisis but unfortunately get to live in situations and circumstances where fighting, worsening hostilities and soaring grave violations against them are a menace for their very existence.

Furthermore, attacks on hospitals and schools deny children education, healthcare, life-saving emergency assistance and also force families to migrate. Children in war zones are threatened by horrific abuses where sexual exploitation, abduction, enlistment as child soldier and exploitation as messengers have become normal day-to-day examples. 

Such violations undoubtedly have an everlasting impact and damage on the mental, physical, psychological and emotional well-being of children, and to the communities and societies to which they belong. Since these issues can feed the grievances and frustrations in children, it could further lead to extremism and thereby create a vicious circle of tension and violence.

Therefore the inclusion of child rights and protection issues in peace processes with UNICEF is instrumental for building the foundation of sustainable peace, which is the only possible solution to ensure that all-round protection and development of children and the rights take place.

[1] Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Graça Machel and the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, United Nations Organisation (July 16, 2020, 8:00 PM),  https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/about-us/mandate/the-machel-reports/

[2]The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, United Nations Organisation and the Rule of Law (July 16, 2020, 7:30 PM), https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/un-and-the-rule-of-law/the-special-representative-of-the-secretary-general-for-children-and-armed-conflict/

[3] Security Council, RESOLUTION 1261 (1999), United Nations Organisation (July 17, 2020, 5:30 PM), http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/1261

[4] United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Guidelines – Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Violations against Children in Situations of Armed Conflict, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (July 17, 2020, 4:45 PM), https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MRM_Guidelines_-_5_June_20141.pdf )

[5]Office of Emergency Programmes, 2018 Annual report, UNICEF, United Nations Organisation (July 17, 2020, 7:45 PM), https://www.unicef.org/about/annualreport/files/EMOPS_2018_HQAR.pdf

[6] Simon Bagshaw, UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: An Unequivocal Call for Respect for the Law, Just Security (July 18, 2020, 8 AM) https://www.justsecurity.org/63934/un-secretary-generals-annual-report-on-protection-of-civilians-in-armed-conflict-an-unequivocal-call-for-respect-for-the-law/ )

[7] Protection of civilians in armed conflict – SecGen report, Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, United Nations Organisation (16 July, 2020, 11 AM) https://www.un.org/unispal/document/auto-insert-177959/

[8] Security Council Report, In Hindsight: The Informal Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians, Security Council Report (July 18, 2020, 6:00 PM) https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/monthly-forecast/2016-08/in_hindsight_the_informal_expert_group_on_the_protection_of_civilians.php

[9] Humanitarian Policy Section, Office of Emergency Programmes, Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action, UNICEF (July 17 11:00 AM), https://www.unicef.org/cholera/Chapter_1_intro/05_UNICEF_Core%20Commitments_for_Children_in_Humanitarian_Action.pdf

[10] The Danish Institute for Human Rights, Children’s Rights In Impact Assessments, UNICEF (18 July, 2020, 3:30 PM), https://www.unicef.org/csr/css/Children_s_Rights_in_Impact_Assessments_Web_161213.pdf

Editor: Samiksha Gupta
Founder, Editor, Writer | Leagle Samiksha

Khap Panchayats – Promoting Child Marriages? Adoption – Impact on Nation Building

No Comments

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.