The Australian Guidelines for the Protection of Civilians (the Guidelines) provide a whole-of-government perspective on the Protection of Civilians (POC) in international situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence. The Guidelines are the product of extensive consultation, facilitated by the Australian Civil-Military Centre, and includes broad representation of Australian government and non-government organisations.
In contemporary conflicts civilians are increasingly the targets of systematic and opportunistic violence, including indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, sexual and gender-based violence and other violations of international law. This situation continues despite the existing protections provided by international humanitarian and human rights law. Clearly, more needs to be done. These Guidelines help identify who has responsibility and what needs to be done when protection of civilians is an issue. They place support for the rule of law at the centre of Australian operational responses.
While focusing on operations involving the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), they also build a shared understanding of POC across the full range of government departments and agencies that will contribute to an offshore operation. The Guidelines provide guidance on how to implement Australia’s POC focus areas:
- Protection through dialogue and engagement
- Provision of physical protection
- Establishment of a protective environment.
The Guidelines also meet Australia’s commitment under the Australian National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security 2012–2018 to develop POC guidelines for the ADF and the AFP. The National Action Plan sets out what Australia will do, at home and overseas, to integrate a gender perspective into its peace and security efforts, protect women and girls’ human rights, and promote their participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution.
We commend these Guidelines to you. They support members of the ADF and AFP, and other Australian government agencies. Most importantly, they inform how the Australian government prepares for and responds to operations, in particular the increasing number of operations with an express mandate to provide protection to civilian populations.