The Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel: Time to Dust 'Er Off, Fix 'Er Up, and Protect Some UN Forces

Gowel, Katherine S., The Judge Advocate General's School, United States Army

The international community has exposed UN forces to unnecessary risk over the last fifteen years because it has neglected to enforce the provisions of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel (the Safety Convention). In 1994, the United Nations and member states created the Safety Convention because they realized a dangerous and widening gap in protections for UN peacekeepers abroad. In establishing the Safety Convention, they filled a gap in the LOAC that had allowed UN forces to flounder under the minimal protections of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The Safety Convention is an international instrument that criminalizes attacks on UN forces and prohibits their detention. The Convention establishes individual criminal liability for those who attack UN forces during UN peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. The Convention applies during all such UN operations, except those in which UN forces are party combatants to international armed conflict. The Convention is particularly beneficial for UN forces involved in non-international armed conflict: it criminalizes attacks on and capture of UN forces by non-state actors and unprivileged enemy belligerents, even if the UN forces are engaged in hostilities.

However, although the Safety Convention has been in force since 1999 and the United States participated heavily in negotiations for the Convention, the United States has not ratified the treaty and the international community does not depend upon it to protect UN forces. Most likely, the United Nations and member states have been disinterested in the Convention because the prosecution forums established within the Convention have proven ineffective. Under the Convention, offenders can be prosecuted in host nations, victims' states, or offenders' states. However, host nations rarely have the resources or judicial capacity to prosecute their own criminals, let alone those who attack UN forces. Victims' states, such as the United States, have too much bureaucratic uncertainty and inefficiency to prosecute numerous low-level attackers. Finally, offenders' states simply do not have sufficient interest in the crimes to prosecute attackers. Thus, in order to become a critical part of the "regime against impunity" for those who attack UN forces, the Safety Convention requires a more effective prosecution forum.

The best prosecution forum for the Safety Convention would be a multilateral or international tribunal. Such a tribunal should be modeled off of the UN's recently-proposed options for prosecuting piracy off the coast of Somalia. The UN Secretary-General has suggested several multilateral and international tribunal models that would translate well from piracy prosecutions to Safety Convention prosecutions. Establishing a prosecution tribunal under the Safety Convention would ensure standardized enforcement of its criminal provisions throughout the world, and would alleviate the burden on force-sending states to prosecute those non-state actors who attack their forces.

The United States should urge other states and the United Nations to establish a tribunal for prosecutions under the Safety Convention. Furthermore, the Department of Defense must champion the cause of this treaty; it is a tool to protect U.S. forces abroad. Overall, while the Safety Convention is not a perfect international instrument for protecting UN forces, it is far better than any other protections for UN forces involved in non-international armed conflict. Indeed, it is time to fix up this tool and send UN forces into battle with proper armor.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

LLM (Master of Laws)
United Nations -- Armed Forces, United Nations -- Peacekeeping Forces, International Crimes, Peacekeeping Forces

TJAGSA Thesis 2011 Gowel, K.;


- Introduction
- What is the Safety Convention?;
- Protections for UN Forces under Customary International Law and Other International Instruments: Necessary, but not Sufficient;
- History of the Safety Convention;
- Scope of the Convention;
- Why Has the United States Not Ratified the Convention;
- Critical Changes to the Safety Convention: Fixin' It Up to Make it an Effective Prosecution Tool;
- Conclusion.

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