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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