Speech — Australia and the Protection of Civilians: Policy and Practice

Min­is­ter for Defence Stephen Smith MP
Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Affairs Con­fer­ence
Aus­tralia and the Pro­tec­tion of Civil­ians: Pol­i­cy and Prac­tice
Aus­tralian War Memo­r­i­al
25 May 2011
Your Roy­al High­ness the Crown Prince of Ton­ga, Your Excel­len­cies, Dis­tin­guished Guests, Ladies and Gen­tle­men.
I am pleased to be here tonight at the Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Affairs Con­fer­ence, the flag­ship event for the Asia Pacif­ic Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Cen­tre of Excel­lence.
This Con­fer­ence brings togeth­er lead­ing inter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion experts – pol­i­cy mak­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers – to build a stronger frame­work for the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians, par­tic­u­lar­ly in peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions.

The Con­fer­ence is draw­ing on a depth of expe­ri­ence from experts from the Unit­ed Nations, the African Union, peace­keep­ing con­tribut­ing coun­tries, African Peace­keep­ing train­ing cen­tres, Non Gov­ern­ment Organ­i­sa­tions, acad­e­mia, the Aus­tralian Defence Force and the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment.

The estab­lish­ment of the Asia Pacif­ic Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Cen­tre of Excel­lence in 2008 was an impor­tant ele­ment of the Government’s com­mit­ment to enhanc­ing Australia’s civ­il-mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty to respond to con­flict, dis­as­ters and crises over­seas.

The Cen­tre has achieved a great deal since it was opened. Work­ing togeth­er with a range of agen­cies, the Cen­tre has con­tributed to a more inte­grat­ed approach to plan­ning for Aus­tralian oper­a­tions in increas­ing­ly com­plex secu­ri­ty and polit­i­cal envi­ron­ments.

The Cen­tre has sup­port­ed Aus­tralian civ­il-mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties to pre­vent, pre­pare for, and respond more effec­tive­ly to con­flicts and dis­as­ters over­seas.

The Cen­tre has con­duct­ed impor­tant research, train­ing for prac­ti­tion­ers, con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of pub­lic pol­i­cy and doc­trine, pro­vid­ed advice to Gov­ern­ment, and pro­mot­ed best prac­tice in civ­il, mil­i­tary and police engage­ment in con­flict and dis­as­ter man­age­ment.

The Cen­tre has devel­oped a Train­ing, Edu­ca­tion and Doc­trine Pro­gram to sup­port best prac­tice in Australia’s civ­il-mil­i­tary process­es, plans and capa­bil­i­ties. This will help Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment agen­cies to pre­vent and respond more effec­tive­ly to con­flicts and dis­as­ters in the region.

Last year, the Cen­tre pub­lished a Con­cep­tu­al Frame­work on “Strength­en­ing Australia’s Con­flict and Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Over­seas”. This doc­u­ment builds on lessons learned by Aus­tralia and iden­ti­fies prin­ci­ples and strate­gies to pro­mote a com­pre­hen­sive approach to con­flict and dis­as­ter man­age­ment.

This Con­fer­ence is one of the many events that the Cen­tre has con­vened to deliv­er on its impor­tant mis­sion.

Enhanc­ing the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians in peace oper­a­tions

The pro­tec­tion of civil­ians in con­flict and post-con­flict envi­ron­ments is an impor­tant top­ic for this event to con­sid­er, and a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple that Aus­tralia strong­ly sup­ports. The focus is time­ly, in the lead up to 29 May, the Inter­na­tion­al Day of Unit­ed Nations Peace­keep­ers.

Civil­ians are too often the vic­tims of con­flict. The death and dis­place­ment of inno­cent civil­ians, the recruit­ment of child sol­diers, and the use of sex­u­al vio­lence as a weapon of war are appalling and unac­cept­able aspects of con­flict.

Women and chil­dren are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble in such cir­cum­stances, so your focus on the secu­ri­ty and rights of women and chil­dren in con­flict zones is wel­come.

Inter­na­tion­al law and the Unit­ed Nations

The pro­tec­tion of civil­ians in armed con­flict is a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of inter­na­tion­al human­i­tar­i­an law. The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty needs to focus more on pro­tect­ing civil­ians in peace­keep­ing man­dates. We also need to ade­quate­ly man­age and resource those oper­a­tions to ensure that in a prac­ti­cal sense we pro­tect civil­ians on the ground.

Our mem­ber­ship of the Unit­ed Nations, and the inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions and respon­si­bil­i­ties that brings, is a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar of Australia’s approach.

This includes a respon­si­bil­i­ty to con­tribute to Unit­ed Nations and mul­ti­lat­er­al peace and secu­ri­ty mis­sions. And Aus­tralia has a proud tra­di­tion of so doing.

Australia’s his­to­ry of con­tribut­ing to peace­keep­ing

Since 1947, in excess of 65,000 Aus­tralians have served in more than 50 Unit­ed Nations and oth­er mul­ti­lat­er­al peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions around the world. Aus­tralia has pro­vid­ed forces and lead­er­ship for peace obser­va­tion and enforce­ment, weapons destruc­tion, dem­i­ning, train­ing, and dis­as­ter relief all over the world.

Aus­tralia has also tak­en a lead­er­ship role in mul­ti­lat­er­al Unit­ed Nations-endorsed mis­sions.

Aus­tralian troops were among the first per­son­nel to be deployed to keep the peace under Unit­ed Nations aus­pices when they were sent to mon­i­tor the cease­fire between the Dutch and fledg­ling Indone­sian forces in 1947.

Through assist­ing in the delin­eation and super­vi­sion of the cease­fire between Indone­sian and Dutch forces, and mon­i­tor­ing the repa­tri­a­tion of Dutch forces, Aus­tralia helped lay the foun­da­tions for the prac­tices, norms and law relat­ing to inter­na­tion­al peace­keep­ing.

From 1956, Aus­tralian observers served with the Unit­ed Nations Truce Super­vi­sion Organ­i­sa­tion in Israel, Egypt, Jor­dan, Syr­ia, and Lebanon. Aus­tralian police peace­keep­ers have oper­at­ed in Cyprus since 1964.

In the 1980s and ear­ly 90s, Aus­tralia con­tributed to glob­al peace and secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions includ­ing in Bougainville, Namib­ia, Afghanistan, the Per­sian Gulf, Kuwait, and Iraq.

And in the 90s, Aus­tralians served in Cam­bo­dia, the for­mer Yugoslavia, Soma­lia, Mozam­bique, Rwan­da, and Haiti, as well as Eritrea, and Sier­ra Leone in the ear­ly 2000s.

Cur­rent Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tions

Aus­tralian per­son­nel are cur­rent­ly serv­ing in sev­er­al Unit­ed Nations mis­sions, includ­ing:
UN Assis­tance Mis­sion in Afghanistan
UN Assis­tance Mis­sion for Iraq
UN Truce Super­vi­sion Organ­i­sa­tion –Mid­dle East
UN Mis­sion in Sudan.

Aus­tralian per­son­nel are also serv­ing in The Multi­na­tion­al Force and Observers, which has peace­keep­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties in the Sinai, Egypt. The mis­sion mon­i­tors the 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel.

In Novem­ber 2006, at the invi­ta­tion of the Ton­gan Gov­ern­ment, Aus­tralia, sup­port­ed by New Zealand, deployed 52 Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel and 61 Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police to assist with the restora­tion of law and order fol­low­ing riots in the Ton­gan cap­i­tal, Nuku’alofa. The prompt restora­tion of sta­bil­i­ty arguably pre­vent­ed the fur­ther loss of civil­ian lives.

East Tim­or and the Solomon Islands

Aus­tralia leads the Inter­na­tion­al Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Force (ISF) in East Tim­or. The mis­sion has played a key role in restor­ing sta­bil­i­ty fol­low­ing the unrest expe­ri­enced in 2006. The ISF oper­ates sep­a­rate­ly, but in sup­port of, the Unit­ed Nations Inte­grat­ed Mis­sion in Tim­or-Leste (UNMIT) – a mis­sion to which Aus­tralia also con­tributes.

Cur­rent­ly, 400 Aus­tralian Defence Force (ADF) mem­bers are serv­ing in the ISF, along­side 75 New Zealand Defence Force troops.

Dur­ing my recent vis­it to East Tim­or, I was pleased to dis­cuss with East Tim­o­rese lead­ers the improve­ment to the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion there in recent years.

Since 2003, the Region­al Assis­tance Mis­sion to Solomon Islands – or RAMSI — has helped to restore secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty to the Solomon Islands. RAMSI was unan­i­mous­ly endorsed by the Solomon Islands Par­lia­ment, and com­mend­ed by the Unit­ed Nations.

The pro­tec­tion of civil­ians has been cen­tral to the RAMSI mis­sion.

Aus­tralian per­son­nel are deployed to RAMSI along­side per­son­nel from oth­er con­tribut­ing Pacif­ic Islands Forum nations.

RAMSI’s suc­cess shows that mil­i­tary, fed­er­al police and civil­ian coop­er­a­tion, put into prac­tice, can lead to the improved pro­tec­tion of civil­ians. RAMSI is play­ing a lead­ing role in the restora­tion of law and order.

Aus­tralian, New Zealand and Pacif­ic part­ner agen­cies are work­ing togeth­er under RAMSI to strength­en gov­er­nance and secu­ri­ty. RAMSI is work­ing with the Solomon Islands Gov­ern­ment to boost the capac­i­ty of impor­tant insti­tu­tions, such as the Roy­al Solomon Islands Police Force and the Min­istry of Finance & Trea­sury.

Our mis­sions to East Tim­or and the Solomon Islands are exam­ples where Aus­tralia has been at the fore­front of pro­tect­ing civil­ians, while also con­tribut­ing to region­al secu­ri­ty. Aus­tralia is build­ing the capac­i­ty of local law enforce­ment agen­cies to improve law and order – cru­cial for the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians.


Just as we sup­port the strength­en­ing of inter­na­tion­al law and inter­na­tion­al norms to enhance sta­bil­i­ty, peace and the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians, so inter­na­tion­al law gov­erns our actions when use of force becomes nec­es­sary.

In Afghanistan, law anchors the inter­na­tion­al community’s effort to counter ter­ror­ism and build Afghanistan’s capac­i­ty so that inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ists are unable to re-estab­lish their pres­ence.

The force of inter­na­tion­al law, and the pro­tec­tion it offers the Afghan peo­ple, clear­ly dis­tin­guish­es the inter­na­tion­al effort in Afghanistan from the actions of the Tal­iban and its asso­ciates. Inter­na­tion­al human­i­tar­i­an law – includ­ing the prin­ci­ples of mil­i­tary neces­si­ty, pro­por­tion­al­i­ty, dis­tinc­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion – pro­vides the frame­work for Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and Aus­tralian Defence Force rules of engage­ment.

The Aus­tralian Defence Force has built a rep­u­ta­tion over the years for pro­fes­sion­al­ism and com­pli­ance with such rules of engage­ment. Aus­tralian forces take all pos­si­ble steps to ensure their oper­a­tions do not endan­ger the lives of civil­ians.

We are well-regard­ed inter­na­tion­al­ly because of the high stan­dards we pride our­selves in main­tain­ing our oper­a­tions.

Aus­tralia is also play­ing an impor­tant role to sup­port devel­op­ment in Afghanistan. The Asia Pacif­ic Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Cen­tre of Excel­lence has helped inform Aus­tralian pol­i­cy in this area.

Aus­tralia plays a lead­ing role in the multi­na­tion­al Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team in Uruz­gan province, which is led by an Aus­tralian civil­ian. Australia’s civil­ian com­po­nent in Uruz­gan province was sub­stan­tial­ly increased in 2010, includ­ing AusAID devel­op­ment spe­cial­ists who sup­port the Afghanistan Gov­ern­ment in build­ing capac­i­ty to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment.

Strength­en­ing region­al capac­i­ty

Aus­tralia is trans­lat­ing its exten­sive expe­ri­ence with peace­keep­ing mis­sions into prac­ti­cal ideas for the future. We are work­ing close­ly with part­ners in the Asia-Pacif­ic, NGOs and the Unit­ed Nations to enhance region­al coop­er­a­tion and pre­pared­ness for any future peace­keep­ing mis­sions. One exam­ple is the Joint Malaysia-Aus­tralia Peace­keep­ing Train­ing Ini­tia­tive — a joint peace­keep­ing work­shop that brings region­al part­ners togeth­er.

The Ini­tia­tive brings togeth­er Aus­tralian and Malaysian experts to devel­op and deliv­er train­ing pro­grams for region­al part­ners. Train­ing has been deliv­ered to the East Tim­o­rese and Papua New Guinea Defence Forces.

Aus­tralia is also work­ing with Thai­land to pro­vide a forum for region­al part­ners, NGOs and Unit­ed Nations experts to dis­cuss com­plex Unit­ed Nations peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions.

The ADF Peace Oper­a­tions Train­ing Cen­tre is deliv­er­ing train­ing to region­al part­ners to boost the capac­i­ty of med­ical and engi­neer­ing teams and mil­i­tary observers in prepa­ra­tion for pos­si­ble deploy­ments to peace­keep­ing mis­sions.

Civil­ians also have a role to play in peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions. The cre­ation of an Aus­tralian Civil­ian Corps is a fur­ther demon­stra­tion of the Government’s com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing peace­keep­ing, and civil­ian pro­tec­tion. Aus­tralia already con­tributes over 100 civil­ian advis­ers to RAMSI, whose work focus­es on improv­ing eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance, law and jus­tice.

Strength­en­ing pol­i­cy frame­works

As active as Aus­tralia is on the ground, we are also con­tin­u­ing to help build and strength­en the legal and pol­i­cy frame­work for peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions.

Oper­a­tional guid­ance, train­ing and sup­port need to be pro­vid­ed to mis­sion lead­er­ship and peace­keep­ers, so that they are pre­pared to take action in response to threats against civil­ians.

The Asia Pacif­ic Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Cen­tre of Excel­lence is work­ing to this end. The Cen­tre is sup­port­ing the Aus­tralian Defence Force and Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police devel­op doc­trine for the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians.

This is an impor­tant step in strength­en­ing the trans­la­tion of pol­i­cy on the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians into prac­tice. The work of the Cen­tre and your delib­er­a­tions at this Con­fer­ence will help to strength­en the pol­i­cy frame­work that shapes the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians in the com­mu­ni­ties where it mat­ters and is need­ed most.

Aus­tralia is com­mit­ted to work­ing close­ly with the UN, region­al part­ners and the African Union, in sup­port­ing civil­ian pro­tec­tion pol­i­cy frame­works and oper­a­tions.

Last year, the Asia Pacif­ic Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Cen­tre of Excel­lence co-host­ed with the African Union the third Inter­na­tion­al Forum for the Chal­lenges of Peace Oper­a­tions.

The Cen­tre also worked close­ly with the Africa Union on draft pro­tec­tion of civil­ian guide­lines for its Peace Sup­port Oper­a­tions.

The draft Africa Union guide­lines are world lead­ing, devel­oped in close con­sul­ta­tion with the UN. They are designed to assist the Africa Union pre­pare for peace sup­port oper­a­tions and devel­op pro­tec­tion of civil­ians man­dates.

The guide­lines have an oper­a­tional focus – pro­vid­ing a frame­work for the Africa Stand­by Force and Heads of Africa Union peace sup­port mis­sions in imple­ment­ing effec­tive pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms. The Guide­lines empha­sise the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the host State, and encour­age con­sis­tent and effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion of pro­tec­tion objec­tives.

Sep­a­rate­ly, Aus­tralia has sup­port­ed the Unit­ed Nations Peace Build­ing Com­mis­sion on its pri­or­i­ty coun­tries Burun­di, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Guinea Bis­sau and Sier­ra Leone.


Australia’s advo­ca­cy for the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians is not lim­it­ed to peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions, or con­flict and post-con­flict sit­u­a­tions.

Aus­tralia strong­ly sup­ports the prin­ci­ple of the “Respon­si­bil­i­ty to Pro­tect”, or “R2P” as it has become known. It holds that States are pri­mar­i­ly respon­si­ble for the pro­tec­tion of their own civil­ians from four spe­cif­ic mass atroc­i­ty crimes; name­ly geno­cide, war crimes, eth­nic cleans­ing and crimes against human­i­ty.

Fur­ther, the R2P prin­ci­ple enun­ci­ates the inter­na­tion­al community’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to use diplo­mat­ic, human­i­tar­i­an and oth­er peace­ful means to help pro­tect pop­u­la­tions from these crimes. It also allows for col­lec­tive action through the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, includ­ing use of force, in excep­tion­al cir­cum­stances when peace­ful means are inad­e­quate and nation­al author­i­ties are man­i­fest­ly fail­ing to pro­tect their pop­u­la­tions. Final­ly, it express­es the inten­tion of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, in appro­pri­ate cir­cum­stances, to assist states, through capac­i­ty build­ing, to car­ry out their respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­tect.

This is hap­pen­ing with Libya. The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment sup­port­ed the adop­tion of UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973, which demand­ed the imme­di­ate estab­lish­ment of a cease­fire and a com­plete end to vio­lence and all attacks against civil­ians in Libya, and autho­rised the use of force, includ­ing the impo­si­tion of a no fly zone, to pro­tect civil­ians in Libya.

Aus­tralia strong­ly sup­ports the ongo­ing NATO Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor to enforce UNSCR1973 and pro­tect civil­ians in Libya. The impor­tance of this action is rein­forced by the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court Prosecutor’s deci­sion to seek arrest war­rants for Colonel Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Intel­li­gence Chief Abdul­lah al-Senus­si for crimes against human­i­ty.


In con­clu­sion, the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians must be cen­tral to the plan­ning, man­dat­ing and resourc­ing of peace­keep­ing mis­sions.

Aus­tralia has a proud tra­di­tion to build on. The Cen­tre is adding to that through its work.

I wish you well for your dis­cus­sions at this Con­fer­ence. I look for­ward to your rec­om­men­da­tions on trans­lat­ing pol­i­cy frame­work on the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians into more effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion on the ground.

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia

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