The plight of civilians in armed conflict was an urgent matter that went to the core of the Security Council's mandate, the Foreign Minister of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy, told the Council this morning, as it held its first ever open briefing on the topic.
The promotion of human security was the bedrock on which all other objectives of the United Nations Charter must rest, he added. The Council was charged with safeguarding the security of the world's people, not just the States in which they lived. To do other than act resolutely and vigorously on the issue would diminish the Council's standing and lead to a more disorderly and far less secure world.
At the outset of this morning's meeting, the Council heard three reports on the plight of civilians in the world's conflict zones, hearing briefings by: Cornellio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); and Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict,
Mr. Sommaruga said that the ICRC was faced today with 20 open conflicts all around the world and civilians were the first and principal target in many of those. Women and children, the elderly, the sick and refugees had been attacked in large numbers and methodically driven from their homes. Every conceivable means, even the most abject, had been and was still being used against them.
He stressed the importance of ensuring access to humanitarian workers, who had also been the targets of violence. The presence of humanitarian organizations was sometimes refused so that there would be no witnesses to mass slaughter and those same workers more and more frequently faced serious assault. Such conduct was a serious violation of humanitarian law and was wholly unacceptable. Respect for humanitarian workers and the protective emblems of the red cross and red crescent must be respected at all costs.
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Ms. Bellamy said that, in four years, UNICEF's humanitarian activities had quadrupled, from 15 countries convulsed by conflict to some 55. The UNICEF had seen how the children it had helped nurture, immunize and educate were now being systematically targeted and brutalized, recruited as killers, pressed into service as porters and sexual slaves, or maimed and traumatized. The horrid abrogation of child rights was intolerable, and saying so was not enough.
The use of children as soldiers must end, she said. Preventing the recruitment of children was as important as demobilization. Peace-building must specifically include children. Peace agreements were an opportunity to ensure peace-building was in accord with human rights and humanitarian norms, yet children's rights were rarely mentioned in them.
Mr. Otunnu said that all civilians needed the protection of the international community, but children needed special protection because they were the most innocent and vulnerable. Destroying children meant destroying the future of a society. In the last decade, more than 2 million children had been killed in conflicts, 1 million had been orphaned and 6 million had been permanently or seriously injured.
To reverse that trend, he said, it was imperative that humanitarian workers had access to populations in distress. Access was needed if only to bear witness and make sure the rules concerning the conduct of war were being applied. Also, children must be looked at as a zone of peace. Schools, hospitals and playgrounds should be war-free zones. Even if war could not be brought to an end, ceasefires should be promoted to evacuate children from war zones.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Slovenia, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Brazil, France, Netherlands, Argentina, Namibia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Gabon, United States, Gambia and China.
The meeting was called to order at 10:29 a.m. and adjourned at 2:07 p.m.
Council Work Programme
The Security Council met this morning to consider the matter of protection of civilians in armed conflict.
CORNELIO SOMMARUGA, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that it was more crucial than ever that the international community reflect on today's theme in a year during which the fiftieth anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions would be commemorated. The ICRC was faced today with 20 open conflicts around the world and in many of those civilians were the first and principal target. Women and children, the elderly, the sick and refugees had been attacked in large numbers and methodically driven from their homes. Every conceivable means, even the most abject, had been and was still being used against them.
Continuing, he said that genocide, ethnic cleansing, attacks on humanitarian personnel and the repudiation of the principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality had become increasingly prevalent. At the same time, the politicization, instrumentalization and devaluation of humanitarian action were making it more difficult than ever for the ICRC to assist all victims. That insidious trend had been observable in the Great Lakes region, in West Africa, in the Balkans, in the Caucasus and in certain Asian countries. The unimaginable pain borne by the populations in those areas could leave none indifferent. It compelled the world to take action on their behalf.
There were conflicts where humanitarian action had recently become impossible, because government or other parties to the fighting saw humanitarian aid as interference in their internal affairs, he said. The presence of humanitarian organizations was sometimes refused so that there would be no witnesses to mass slaughter. The same workers more and more frequently faced serious assault. Such conduct was a serious violation of humanitarian law and was wholly unacceptable. That point could not be made often enough to all those concerned, just as they need to be reminded that the protective emblems of the red cross and red crescent must be respected at all costs.
There was also a need to remind all States and all parties to conflicts of their duty to protect civilians from the effects of war, he said. The Security Council also had a major responsibility in that area. If the principles of humanitarian action were to be fully respected, aid workers must have access to people affected by conflicts. Where those people were suffering from economic sanctions imposed on their country, caution must be exercised. Nothing could justify punishing an entire population for its government's misdeeds. It was not the ICRC's place to comment on the use of
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economic sanctions, per se. However, it was duty-bound to request exemptions to sanctions so that needy populations could receive humanitarian assistance.
It still happened too frequently that the principles of humanitarian law were flouted on the basis of their supposed interference with the pursuit of military goals, he said. Yet, the law was set in place by governments, who often exploited it to reassert their moral authority. It was, therefore, their duty to comply with it. What suffering civilians expected was some proof that declarations on the importance of existing law were translated into fact.
CAROL BELLAMY, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said UNICEF appreciated the significance of the Council's attention to the issue. In four years, UNICEF's humanitarian activities had quadrupled, from 15 countries convulsed by conflict to some 55. The UNICEF had seen how the children it had helped nurture, immunize and educate were now being systematically targeted and brutalized, recruited as killers, pressed into service as porters and sexual slaves, or maimed and traumatized. That horrid abrogation of child rights was intolerable, and saying so was not enough. The use of children as soldiers must end. Over 30,000 had participated in the 30 most recent conflicts. Establishing 18 as a minimum age for participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations set an important precedent. Children's participation was often prompted by the causes of conflict. Preventing the recruitment of children was as important as demobilization.
Humanitarian assistance and personnel must be protected, she said. The struggle of gaining access to endangered populations was made more difficult when access was politicized. Humanitarian staff must be given proper training in how to cope with lawlessness and violence. Repatriation, fundamental to peace, was not possible without mine clearance. In Cambodia, there were more mines than children. For that reason, UNICEF was committed to the widest implementation of the Ottawa Treaty. Children must be protected from the effects of sanctions. Sanctions should not be imposed without obligatory, immediate and enforceable humanitarian exemptions. Child impact assessments were essential.
Peace-building must specifically include children, she said. Peace agreements were an opportunity to ensure peace-building was in accord with human rights and humanitarian norms, yet children's rights were rarely mentioned in them. The impunity of war crimes, especially against children, must be challenged. Ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court was a priority for UNICEF. Early warning and preventive action for children, and deployment of human rights monitors and observers in preparatory missions and with field operations, should be considered fundamental to Security Council efforts to promote peace. The protection of children in armed conflict must be framed by the standards and norms embodied in international human rights and humanitarian law. Children must be identified
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as a priority in all efforts to build peace and resolve conflict and UNICEF stood ready to support the Council in that effort.
OLARA OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that all civilians needed the protection of the international community, but children needed special protection because they were the most innocent and vulnerable and because destroying children meant destroying the future of a society. In the last decade, more than 2 million children had been killed in conflicts, 1 million had been orphaned and 6 million had been permanently or seriously injured. Three-hundred thousand children were currently serving as child soldiers and more than half of displaced persons were children. For those reasons, the situation of children needed a special focus.
He said that, to reverse that trend, it was an absolute imperative to have access to populations in distress. Access was needed if only to bear witness and make sure the rules concerning the conduct of war were being applied. Also, children must be looked at as a zone of peace. Schools, hospitals and playgrounds should be war-free zones. Even if war could not be brought to an end, ceasefires should be promoted to evacuate children and keep them from war zones. Parties in conflicts must make commitments not to recruit children or target civilian populations and the world should make sure that those parties lived up to those commitments.
Cross-border activities were also an important problem, he said. The flow of displaced persons over borders often led to situations where children were abused and exploited. There was a need to identify certain neighbouring countries and seek from them commitments to provide for the protection of children. Every effort should be made to encourage parties in conflict to protect the needs of children in peace talks. The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict should be abolished. In that regard, the international community must create political pressure to discourage the use of children. There were also economic factors that led to the use and abuse of children. Those economic factors should be addressed.
International instruments had been elaborated, he added. Now, they must be applied to make a difference in the lives of people on the ground. The Council should also follow up on its own commitments made for the protection of civilians, especially children.
DANILO TURK (Slovenia), said the basic aim of humanitarian action should be physical human security. The Council's resolve to make progress in that should lead to improvements, and a variety of new efforts were needed both within the United Nations and elsewhere. Slovenia would continue to participate in the initiative of the group of like-minded States determined to give practical expression to human security.
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There were two implications of this discussion taking place in the Council, he said. The key responsibility of the Council must be preventing military conflicts and contributing to their resolution. When addressing humanitarian issues, it must avoid using humanitarian actions as substitutes for the necessary political or military action. And, there was a need to fully understand the importance of protecting civilians in conflicts the Council addressed. Action was often a matter of necessity, and that meant the Council must adequately use its powers.
Protection required cooperation among States, and with the Council and humanitarian organizations, he added. Where prevention was possible, a unified approach would make it more likely. Where humanitarian problems resulted from military conflict, "medium alternatives", such as providing police and securing refugee camps, might be necessary. Careful and timely use of the United Nations Charter instruments was the best way the Council could contribute to preventing and limiting conflicts and consequently protecting civilians.
The current situation of an "ethical vacuum" -- where humanitarian law was being deliberately violated -- must be of serious concern to the Council, he said. Current humanitarian law contained all the necessary principles and basic rules. He supported the call for a report from the Secretary-General on options within the Council's responsibility for protection of civilians.
He said that new norms were not required, although some needed to be strengthened, such as prohibiting recruitment of children and prohibition of military action against civilian safe areas. Measures to give effect to humanitarian law, on the other hand, required much elaboration and implementation, including holding combatants financially liable to their victims. That would involve long-term sustained action, and would involve the Council in the future. At the same time, the Council must ensure better implementation of its own basic function -- maintenance of international peace and security.
STEWART ELDON (United Kingdom) said the protection of civilians had become more difficult, because the dividing line between civilians and combatants was often blurred. Also, many of the perpetrators of the attacks on civilians were not under the control of a State or part of a chain of command. The fundamental problem was the collapse of the rule of law, both international and internal, in a number of conflicts with which the Council has had to deal. The main conclusion was the importance of conflict prevention. The best way to protect civilians was to try to prevent violent conflict by promoting economic and social development, good governance and respect for human rights. The world needed to recognize the vital importance of conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building in breaking the cycle of violence, which led to the disintegration of States.
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He said there was also a need to redouble efforts to curb illicit trafficking in weapons and support universal participation in and implementation of the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel landmines. The international community must also help vulnerable States to develop responsible and well-trained military and police forces under civilian control. That meant continuing to build conflict prevention into long-term development programmes and paying increased attention to the security sector.
To mitigate the effect of violent conflict on civilians, there must be more effort placed on education and training, he said. The world must lay the foundation of protecting civilians by disseminating knowledge of human rights obligations and international humanitarian law among security forces, so the individual soldier understood his responsibilities. Also, the root causes of the problem must be tackled. One of those was the recruitment of child soldiers. The international community must redouble its efforts to ensure that children were not used as soldiers in war.
SERGEY V. LAVROV (Russian Federation) said it was clear that providing for strict compliance with international humanitarian law was a priority. The briefing reaffirmed that Security Council members were convinced of the need to strengthen compliance with humanitarian law, and their preparedness to use the Council for that purpose. The Council was indeed obliged to take measures to support humanitarian organizations. At the same time, such support must be in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter and must first and foremost be political support.
Only when political efforts were exhausted could the question of the use of force to protect populations and humanitarian staff be considered, he said. When the Council decided to use force to protect civilians, it needed to consider how effective an intervention would be and whether it would have negative consequences. When not fully thought out with consequences considered, intervention could be unsuccessful and might aggravate suffering.
It was no secret that attempts to use humanitarian concerns to justify unilateral use of force, bypassing the Security Council, had been made recently, he said. That was contrary to the United Nations Charter and was unacceptable. The destruction of the international system was too high a price to resolve humanitarian problems, regardless of how important they were, as the consequences would be global and devastating. Humanitarian law must be complied with, but so must the Charter. Many suggestions made today, such as the need for a code of behaviour for business, were beyond the Council's competence.
He supported the need for a Secretary-General's report on protecting civilians in conflicts. It must be broad in nature, based on a range of sources, and contain recommendations not only to the Security Council, but also to all other participants. The report could be a catalyst to a
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comprehensive approach to translate theses into practical activities. The General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council also had mandates on humanitarian questions, as did regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the ICRC.
HENRIQUE R. VALLE (Brazil) said today's discussion could be seen as part of an ongoing Council exercise aimed at articulating a coherent agenda for dealing with conflicts that would not only stem violence and minimize suffering, but also promote durable solutions to the conflicts themselves. Such discussions were necessary, but a balance must be maintained in both analysis and assessment of options for action. Increasingly, published material dealt with the links between humanitarian and security issues. While the figures of civilian deaths in war were high, it would be improper to gloss over the fact that there had been deadlier periods than today, and targeting civilians was not a 1990s invention.
Labelling conflicts "humanitarian disasters" ran the risk of steering the international community to humanitarian responses when political initiatives were required, he said. A strategic vision integrating humanitarian relief, politics and economic and social development was essential to provide durable solutions to crises. Additionally, collective responsibility should be distinguished from collective security. Ensuring humanitarian relief did not automatically imply military options or Council involvement. All peaceful options should be tried first, and consent and cooperation at the receiving end should be sought.
The Council should not hesitate to impose arms embargoes against States or parties whose actions threatened peace and security, he said. They did not provoke humanitarian or third party side-effects, as did more comprehensive sanctions. However, they only worked if effectively monitored, and more often than not they were defied. At the least, the Council must concur that arms exporting countries had a responsibility to exercise restraint. The importance of working for a consensus that would integrate the efforts of the Council, the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly and the agencies and other actors, to ensure greater respect for humanitarian law, and also to look beyond humanitarian relief to institutional, economic and social development must be stressed. The focused report by the Secretary-General on protection for humanitarian assistance and refugees in armed conflicts (document S/1998/883) addressed some of today's issues clearly. Any additional report should cover issues not previously covered.
ALAIN DEJAMMET (France) said the ICRC should be recognized for its tireless humanitarian efforts and it was timely to welcome its efforts to ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law. Everyone had seen that conflicts were no longer confined to clashes between States, which sometimes adhered to treaties and conventions. Today, parties to conflicts had proliferated, and many of them were not State parties. To address that
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problem, emphasis should be placed on preventive measures, which should include education on human rights and on the principles of humanitarian law. Those principles could not be suspended in times of conflict.
Weapons, and in particular small calibre, light weapons were of particular concern, he said. Such weapons continued to cause great harm to civilians and children. The Council should address the problem of proliferation of small calibre weapons, especially in Africa. On the topic of sanctions, they must be used in an appropriate way to target those responsible and not place a burden on innocent civilians. Efforts should be made to limit, as far as possible, collateral damage and see to it that the needs of civilians were addressed. The use of armed force could be used to create humanitarian space and create a corridor so humanitarian activities could be undertaken. It was necessary, however, to create very clear mandates for such armed force.
PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) said in order to address the problem of civilians in armed conflict, the Security Council should not try to add more documents to the already impressive list of available texts. It should aim at obtaining a wider acceptance of existing legal instruments, promoting a strategic application of their provisions and bringing about an early entry into force of the International Criminal Court. The Council should also keep drawing special attention to the problem of security for humanitarian workers. Attacks on them put the whole concept of humanitarian assistance in jeopardy. In Angola, two attacks on aircraft carrying humanitarian workers had almost succeeded in bringing the United Nations presence in that country to a halt.
The Council should see to it that for every United Nations-led intervention there was a clear mandate, he said. Whenever Chapter VI or VII operations were planned, the need for civilian protection should be given a prominent place in a specific mandate. While the Council should not interfere with other bodies of the United Nations, it should take the initiative in requesting the establishment of a strategic framework to guide the work of the various United Nations organs in complex emergencies. Although the peaceful resolution of any conflict would be the ultimate goal, protection of civilians should be one of the aims of such a framework.
Also, if the world wanted to salvage anything of the concept of "law of war" in an age where most wars were internal conflicts, there was a need to maintain contact with both warring parties, he said. There was no hope for promoting respect for humanitarian law if efforts were not made to establish contact with non-State actors in conflicts. The problem became even more intractable when the recognized, sovereign State was the terrorizing party. The opening words of the Charter did not refer to sovereign States, but to the peoples of the United Nations. It must be the peoples who were entitled to the protection being discussed today. Nothing in the Charter authorized a State to terrorize its own citizens.
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FERNANDO ENRIQUE PETRELLA (Argentina) said the topic under discussion today represented the fundamental challenge to the international community and to the Council. It was obvious that, unfortunately, in present conflicts civilians had become targets. The enemy was identified with a different ethnic or religious group. Autonomous units were often involved, with no unified command and no respect for international law and human rights. Children were victims on many levels. Demobilization and social rehabilitation of child soldiers was the most difficult of peace-building problems. Today's discussion demonstrated that the 1945 concept of security had evolved to include governability, democracy, development and justice. The Council did not have to deal with all of those, but it could act, in some circumstances, within the broader meaning of the term.
International humanitarian law had steadily taken into account the need to emphasize protection of civilians, and those who had never been combatants, he said. That development had provided a range of norms to set limits on conduct. Many had been enshrined in universally recognized principles. They were important, but there was a structural flaw. They applied to conventional international conflicts -- a tiny percentage of current conflicts.
The growing acceptance that the legal protection of individuals transcended the domestic jurisdiction of States gave hope, he continued. The Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda criminalized violations of international humanitarian law in internal conflict for the first time and, with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, should be valuable deterrent forces. Despite limitations, existing norms were adequate. The focus should now be on implementation. The punishment of the guilty was essential and indispensable to building a stable peace.
Making individuals responsible for violations was effective, but should not alter the fact that States were responsible for effecting international law, he said. The ICRC deserved praise for its efforts to implement international humanitarian law. Each State must also make every effort to promote understanding of the norms applicable in conflict, not only to that State's soldiers, but to people at large. The need to prevent conflict was critically important. Many measure for that were exclusively the Council's responsibility and others were joint responsibilities -- for example the provision of development assistance. For the effectiveness of all, however, visible and dynamic action by the Council was necessary. It must focus on the creation and strengthening of mechanisms to stop arms flows into conflict areas and to destroy arsenals of small and conventional arms. Adequate measures must also ensure security and safety of humanitarian workers, and his Government was working to improve instruments aimed at protecting them.
MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said that, in the past civilians regarded the United Nations premises as safe havens, and those fleeing hostility knew they would be safe under the blue and white flag. Today, all that had changed.
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Shootings at United Nations premises and personnel would be considered fair play, unless decisive action were taken. Motivated by human considerations to protect the victims of armed conflict, humanitarian agencies were themselves victimized or faced accusations of giving aid to rebels. Their neutrality had become contentious. In the worst case scenario, they were refused access to victims of the conflict, expelled or their properties confiscated. Thus, all efforts should be made to encourage parties to a conflict to allow safe access by humanitarian agencies to the victims of conflict.
He said the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), addressed women and armed conflict. That platform recognized the horror women and girls went through in armed conflict. It also described the concrete action to be taken by governments in order to reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. The uncontrolled inflow of small arms and all types of sophisticated arms into areas of conflict needed to be addressed. Was it not ironic that in Africa there was shortage of food, but an abundance of sophisticated arms? he asked.
Therefore, he said, just as the world called upon belligerents to stop fighting, it must call upon for all weapons producing countries not to transfer anti-personnel landmines and other arms, whether by sale or grant, to regions where armed conflict was imminent. It was equally important that all Member States ensure that their citizens were not used as mercenaries. Protection of civilians was pertinent, but it was even more crucial that the world exercise sanity and stop armed conflict.
HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) said the question of protection of civilians in armed conflict was indeed one with which the Council should be seized. Civilians were increasingly affected by conflict and the use of highly sophisticated and highly accurate weapons had caused the loss of innocent civilian lives. The briefing today could provide the basis for serious consideration of what the Council, the United Nations, governments and others could do.
Conflicts had changed in character and up to 90 per cent of the casualties were now civilians, he said. They had become either deliberate or indiscriminate targets, which was a sad commentary on human civilization on the eve of the new millennium. He condemned acts of violence against civilians in the strongest terms. Perpetrators must account for their crimes, and appropriate punishments must be enacted. States had the primary responsibility for that through national jurisdiction. He supported making perpetrators financially liable to victims and the establishment of machinery to that end. International legal obligations must be met, and collective action to that end must be taken. The approach should be political, economic, social, legal and humanitarian, and a report from the Secretary-General should cover all those aspects.
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Access to civilian populations was important, he said. Humanitarian assistance should take place with the consent of the parties concerned. However, international law clearly created an obligation to provide protection and assistance. Allowing assistance to be used as a tool to prolong conflict must be prevented. Landmines posed a serious threat to civilians and he welcomed efforts to ban them. Child victims of conflicts must not be ignored and so he supported the appointment of, and the work of, a Special Representative on the issue. He was also pleased targeting schools and hospitals had recently been made a war crime. The Council must act in accord with its Charter responsibilities, but also work to give substance to the creative and commendable ideas presented to it today.
JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (Bahrain) said that over the past decade there had been a deterioration of respect for humanitarian norms. Civilians had been increasingly targeted in armed conflict, which had become even more cruel and barbarous. Children were subject to sexual abuse and were kidnapped by armed forces to become soldiers. To address that problem, his delegation would like to see the age of recruitment raised to 18. The problem of refugees had also increased due to armed conflict. That was an important issue for the countries receiving the refugees, as well as the country in conflict. All efforts must be taken to aid refugees and displaced persons. The proliferation of small arms also had a serious impact on civilians. Such weapons provoked armed conflicts and made them last even longer.
Fifty years had elapsed since the adoption of the primary international humanitarian instruments, he said. It was time to see how those instruments were truly implemented in the field. It was necessary to have machinery that ensured respect for international instruments. The hazards facing humanitarian workers should also be addressed, as they ran the risks and faced the same fate as the other civilians in armed conflicts. To address that problem, it was necessary to have a degree of cooperation between humanitarian organizations and the United Nations bodies working in the field. Those civilians should not become the victims of a lack of coordination between the United Nations and humanitarian agencies.
DENIS DANGUE REWAKA (Gabon) said it was intolerable that wherever armed conflicts erupted, children, women, the elderly and humanitarian personnel were targeted. The Council must ensure the international rules relevant to their protection were respected. It could, therefore, request United Nations agencies to elaborate programmes to promote respect for international law. The ICRC work on that was to be praised. The Council should, first and foremost, work to prevent conflicts. An ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. It must now translate the ideas of the Secretary-General's report on the cause of conflicts in Africa into action.
The pressure of the international community should be brought to bear on parties to conflicts, so that disputes were resolved by peaceful means, he
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said. Action to prevent illicit arms transfers should be taken, with special importance given to small arms transfers. The Council must insist on the observance of arms embargoes, as indicated in its previous resolutions. It was not ideas that were lacking, but political will.
A. PETER BURLEIGH (United States) said the United States shared the desire to bring to international attention the new character of armed conflict, in which civilians -- including humanitarian workers -- were often not simply random victims of conflict, but were its very targets. The international community must work together to find ways to halt that trend. It must strive to strengthen international protection of civilians, recognizing that the Council's task of maintaining peace and security could extend to the protection of individuals as well.
He said his delegation also welcomed the Council's reaffirmation today of: the need for the international community to assist and protect civilian populations affected by armed conflict; and the need for all parties concerned to ensure the safety of civilians and to guarantee the unimpeded and safe access of the United Nations and other humanitarian personnel to those in need. The Council was also reaffirming the obligation of all States to comply strictly with their obligations under international law, as well as the need to bring to justice individuals who targeted civilians in armed conflict or committed offenses under international law.
BABOUCCAR-BLAISE JAGNE (Gambia) said that, at a time when conflicts in Africa were targeting civilians more than combatants, the Council meeting was especially important. It was clear that poverty was one of the most important causes of conflicts and the world needed to address that problem before it could bring conflicts to an end. The problem of children and armed conflict was especially disturbing and the Council should consider the actions suggested by UNICEF. Most atrocities in armed conflicts were done outside the reach of the international community. Access to those in need was essential in humanitarian endeavours.
He added that the affects of sanctions on children was a great cause of concern. It was unacceptable that infant mortality rates had increased in some places where sanctions were imposed. The most important protection of civilians would be the prevention of armed conflict itself. In that regard, the need for the establishment of an early warning system to prevent conflict was obvious. It was also important to establish international norms to bring war criminals to justice. The establishment of the International Criminal Court would be a fitting tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. As for the Council's work, it should consider the problem of a lack of respect for humanitarian law and take actions to address the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons.
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QIN HUASUN (China) said protecting civilians had always been of concern to the United Nations. Today the most vulnerable groups were affected by conflict and the best way to protect them was to prevent such conflict. Regardless of where conflicts occurred, parties should be requested to stop them as quickly as possible, to abide by international law and to avoid impeding humanitarian assistance to civilians.
The international community could not afford to turn away from crises, but the current use of humanitarian problems to justify breaches of national sovereignty was also of concern, he continued. The use of force against sovereign States without reference to the Security Council would only intensify conflict. Countries must abide by intentional law, but must also abide by the United Nations Charter and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all States.
The situation in Africa was troubling, he said. New crises were building and old ones rekindling. The international community should support African countries in their efforts to solve their problems and to help keep civilians out of harm's way.
In light of the nature and range of the problems connected with protecting civilians in conflict, he said the issue would more appropriately be considered by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. He supported an information exchange between other United Nations organs and agencies and the Security Council, once the responsibilities were clearly delineated. He favoured the presidential statement that had previously been discussed, to demonstrate the Council's attention to the matter.
LLOYD AXWORTHY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said the presence of Mr. Sommaruga, Ms. Bellamy and Mr. Otunna was an important milestone in the Council's deliberations. They had conveyed honestly and clearly the precarious plight and enormity of the problems faced by civilians trapped in armed conflict.
While victimization of civilians in war was old as time, and had never been acceptable, the increasing "civilianization" of conflict provided a compelling reason for the international community's engagement today, he said. It was a fact of the times that threats to human security outweighed the risk caused by cross-border conflicts. The promotion of human security was the bedrock on which all other objectives of the United Nations Charter must rest and the Council had a vital role to play in confronting threats.
He said that protecting civilians was not a sideshow for the Council, since it was charged with safeguarding the security of the world's people, not just the States in which they lived. The Council did not have to do it all, as other parts of the United Nations also had their responsibilities, but in the absence of Council leadership, civilians would be left in a security void.
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Council action to defend civilians in armed conflict would also, in some circumstances, diminish the threat to States.
The Council was more aware of the problem than ever and its decisions had begun to reflect that awareness, he said. It was a promising start, but civilians continued to be brutalized, and more vigourous Council action was needed. It must take more action to prevent conflict. That idea was not new, but the United Nations record on the issue was not what it might be, and Council leadership was required.
International standards were flagrantly violated and often left unanswered, he said. The Council must support the pursuit of those who violated humanitarian norms and standards. It must also take aim at the purveyors of instruments of war. Those who illicitly trafficked in the means of war must not be left unaccountable. The when, why and how of Council- mandated peace missions and good offices might be re-examined to enable the Council to act rapidly when civilians were threatened. The plight of civilians was an urgent matter and went to the core of the Council's mandate. To do other than act resolutely and vigorously would diminish the Council's standing and lead to a more disorderly and far less secure world.
Response to Statements
In response to statements made by Council members, Mr. SOMMARUGA, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said a key issue was to examine what the Security Council, and Member States in general, could do to address protecting civilians in armed conflicts. No effort must be spared in preventing human suffering and those efforts should include the dissemination of international humanitarian law and ensuring the universality of humanitarian law. Key factors in conflicts were also the proliferation of small arms, and the provision of humanitarian space, so that organizations had access to those in need. Humanitarian workers should be independent, neutral and impartial. The international community should adhere to the articles of the Geneva Conventions. All actors must be encouraged to have a fundamental respect for international law.
Ms. BELLAMY, Executive Director of UNICEF, said the increasingly changing nature of conflict was a challenge and traditional responses to such conflicts needed to be questioned. There was a need for very concrete, practical suggestions and actions. Such action was a collective responsibility to the people of the world. The UNICEF was committed to aiding United Nations and non-United Nations bodies in their humanitarian work.
Mr. OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said he presented a broad menu of issues and initiatives, with the hope that the Council would provide the course of action. His suggestions, however, were meant to be consistent with United Nations
Security Council - 15 - Press Release SC/6642 3977th Meeting (AM) 12 February 1999
principles and respect for the United Nations Charter. On a voluntary code of conduct of businesses, he said there was no intention to regulate or impose conduct on businesses. However, there might be particular actions by businesses, which were particularly damaging, that could be discouraged. It was important that humanitarian action not be politicized, since that would give humanitarian action a bad name and destroy the protection humanitarian workers needed. On non-State actors, he said it was important to make contact with non-governmental groups, in order to ensure access and encourage respect for humanitarian law.
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