As experiences in Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Rwanda, South Sudan, Syria and Timor-Leste have all too clearly demonstrated, contemporary situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence can have a devastating impact on civilians. Today, armed conflict is more often taking place within states rather than between them, and civilians continue to account for the vast majority of casualties. Despite being protected under international humanitarian and human rights law, 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.
The Australian Guidelines on the Protection of Civilians (the Guidelines) represent Australia’s commitment to enhancing the protection of civilians (POC) across all international operations and engagements in which Australia is involved, whether they be mandated by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or other multinational, regional or national operations. They reflect, build on and strengthen Australia’s contribution globally towards international peace and security.
The Guidelines also fulfil Australia’s commitment under the Australian National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security 2012–2018 (NAP) to develop POC guidelines for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and for the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Central to this commitment is reducing the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and men and boys, by integrating a gender perspective into peace and security efforts.
While centred on ADF and AFP operations, these Guidelines represent a whole-of-government position on POC and build a shared understanding of POC across government. This is critical for providing effective protection for civilians and ensuring a common and consistent approach to government efforts.