INTERNATIONAL AND EUROPEAN LAW
Protection of Civilians: A NATO Perspective
Steven Hill* and Andreea Manea†
On the occasion of the 2016 Warsaw Summit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Allied Nations endorsed the NATO Policy on the Protection of Civilians, which was developed
with NATO Partners and in consultation with the United Nations and other international organi-
sations. This Policy is further bolstered by Allies’ pledge to implement a concrete Action Plan,
which will be reviewed regularly by the Council. The added value of the Policy does not lie
in the novelty of any particular aspect of its content as such, rather, in its overarching and
comprehensive character. Its guiding principles include that all NATO and NATO-led operations,
missions and activities are conducted in accordance with applicable international law, which
may include international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). The
Policy is not limited to either the law of armed conict or times of peace alone: this promises
to facilitate its application to peace-time activities as well, and leaves sucient room for a
context-sensitive approach. More so, it recognises that long-term, self-sustained peace, secu-
rity and stability is best achieved in cooperation with, among other actors, civil society, such as
relevant human rights organisations. This article seeks to describe this landmark achievement
from a number of perspectives, focusing primarily on legal aspects relating to the Policy. It
will review (i) its scope and extent in terms of operational aspects, (ii) possible measures, (iii)
beneciaries and context and, nally, (iv) several aspects pertaining to its human rights dimen-
sion that will continue to be integrated in NATO’s current and future operations, missions and
activities, including the on-going Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
Keywords: Protection of Civilians; Human Rights; NATO; Afghanistan; Resolute Support
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s mandate is anchored in collective self-defence, as first set
forth in the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 and as evolved over the years in response to different challenges.
NATO’s fundamental and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by
political and military means. As an organisation committed to peace and security through collective self-
defence and the rule of law, NATO and its 29 Allies are fundamentally concerned with the application of
international law, including rules pertaining to IHL and IHRL. This holds true for both the planning and
conduct of all missions, operations and activities. The protection of civilians has been the subject of much
recent attention within the Organisation.
With this in mind, NATO has affirmed on numerous occasions that good-faith compliance with inter-
national law, including IHL and IHRL, is at the heart of all NATO activities. NATO has also strived through
consistent efforts to promote the protection of human rights, when possible and applicable. Children and
armed conflict, women, peace and security and conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence have been
areas where, for the last decade, NATO has developed a diverse body of policies and guidelines concerning
the planning and conduct of operations and missions.
In 2016, these policies were brought together under one single overarching aegis: ‘The Policy on Protection
of Civilians’ (PoC). Its guiding principles include that all NATO and NATO-led operations, missions and other
Council-mandated activities are conducted in accordance with applicable international law, which may
* Legal Adviser and Director of the Office of Legal Affairs at NATO Headquarters, BE. Contact: email@example.com.
† LLM, Teaching Assistant, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, NL. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.