The mandates of contemporary United Nations Peacekeeping missions are increasingly robust, often authorizing a range of activities far beyond those historically envisioned as within the remit of UN peacekeepers. For instance, the mandate for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) includes the authorization to “carry out targeted offensive operations through the Intervention Brigade [...] [to] prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them.” This expansion has resulted in a number of legal and operational challenges, including the core question of the application of international humanitarian law to UN peacekeeping contingents. The involvement of UN peacekeepers in hostilities raises a host of issues, including:

  • What legal framework involves the use of force on the part of the peacekeepers?
  • What protection, if any, are the peacekeepers afforded under international law?
  • What is the threshold for the application of international humanitarian law?
  • What is the temporal and geographic scope of the application of international humanitarian law?

This session addressed the fundamental issue of under what circumstances international humanitarian law regulates UN peacekeepers, including a discussion when and for how long international humanitarian law applies in a specific context.

Guest expert

Katarina Grenfell is a Legal Officer in the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Event host

Elizabeth Holland Elizabeth Holland Consulting Expert on International Humanitarian Law, International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)


Recording (YouTube - faster loading time)

Recording (Adobe Connect - higher quality)

Session recording (downloadable audio podcast)

Recommended reading

For those who wish to prepare for the session, we recommend the following reading:


PHAP members will have the possibility to undergo a two-part assessment after the session as part of the PHAP Continuous Learning Credits framework.

Part 1: Comprehension check

Part 2: Written reflection

To encourage peer learning among members, selected essay responses will also be published on the website, if approved by the writer. As a member, you can comment on the responses and read other members' comments.

Read the written reflections

Learning objectives

  • Familiarity with the legal bases for the application of international humanitarian law to peacekeeping operations.
  • Understanding of when a peacekeeping contingent becomes a “party to the conflict,” including in the context of Force Intervention Brigades.
  • Appreciation of the various factors to consider when determining whether international humanitarian law applies, particularly in the context of a non-international armed conflict.
  • Awareness of the various challenges raised by circumstances triggering the application of international humanitarian law (i.e. temporary loss of legal protection under, inter alia, the Rome Statute).

PHAP Credentialing Program

PHAP Credentialing Program

International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action

This event will help you prepare for the PHAP Credentialing Program certification in International Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Action.

The event will address some aspects of segments 1.5, 3.4, and 5.2 of the certification assessment outline.

Read more about the PHAP Credentialing Program