The deliberate targeting of civilians in violent intra-state conflicts since the end of the Cold War violated the norms of warfare and contravened all international legal instruments governing warfare. This ominous development generated a compelling need to revisit two basic principles, namely: sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of states, which regulated international relations following the adoption of the UN Charter at the end of the Second World War. The fact that civilians are deliberately targeted by various warring factions, often also involving state security forces, underscores the need to reconceptualise peacekeeping from its traditional approach based on consent, among others, to a more multidimensional approach involving peace enforcement, especially in cases of gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
As civilians were the major victims of Liberia's 14-year violent civil war, this paper investigates the role of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in the protection of civilians. It starts by examining the role of the regional organisation, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in resolving the conflict that gripped Liberia in the 1990s. ECOWAS invoked a strong humanitarian rationale for the unprecedented deployment of its military force, the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The paper further looks at the role of the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), which was deployed following the upsurge of fighting in 2003 and the massive humanitarian crisis that followed. The rest of the paper then focuses on UNMIL, particularly its broad mandate, deployment and the implementation of mission critical peacekeeping and peace-building tasks, notably DDRR, reform of the security sector, issues of human rights and rule of law, and transitional justice. The analysis covers a broad range of programmes instituted by UNMIL as part of its wider peace-building mandate, and highlights the role of UNMIL in protecting the civilian population through its operations.