|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5577th Meeting (AM & PM)
UNITED ACTION NEEDED TO PROTECT CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT, SAYS
DEPARTING UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS
Tells Security Council that, Despite Better Humanitarian,
Peacekeeping, Mediation Capacities, Armed Groups Are More Ruthless than Ever
The good news was that overall progress was being made towards protecting civilians in armed conflict, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, told the Security Council today -- there were fewer armed conflicts, better humanitarian and peacekeeping work and better mediation than before -- but, the bad news was that the armed groups were more ruthless than ever, intent on making the situation as bad as possible for the defenceless civilian populations.
Addressing the Council today for the last time in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, before departing the Organization, Mr. Egeland warned that, in 2006, the abuse of civilian populations had regressed to the “darkest Middle Ages”. The violations were really crimes against humanity and war crimes, which, in some cases, amounted to genocide, he said.
After three and a half years of vigorous efforts to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of the world’s population, he said he would never forget the abused women of the eastern Congo, the refugee camps in Darfur and the relatives of civilians killed in Iraq. There was one big remedy, however, and that was united action by all internal actors – the Governments, civil society, all military and armed groups -- and united international action.
Asserting that the real measure of United Nations success would be the extent to which it had made a difference in protecting the rights and freedoms of civilians in armed conflict, he said that the Organization was still far away from translating that duty into predictable and adequate action to provide protection for all beleaguered communities, irrespective of time, place and circumstance.
He stressed that the responsibility to protect must be depoliticized and translated into joint action by all Council members and global organizations. It must transcend singular interests and become a core principle of humanity across all civilizations. When the lives and safety of civilians were at stake, regardless of where, neither strategic nor economic or other political interests should deter Council members from acting swiftly upon their united responsibility to protect. In that way, the Council would live up to the expectations of tens of millions of vulnerable men, women and children in a United Nations.
In the open debate that followed, speakers spotlighted progress since the introduction of the topic protection of civilians in armed conflict in the Council in 1999. The unanimous adoption in April of resolution 1674 (2006) was seen as a pivotal development, as it reinforced the legal framework established by previous resolutions on the subject in 1999 and 2000. Widespread agreement was evident that protection of civilians was a current and compelling concern. The speaker from the United Kingdom urged all parties to a conflict to prevent harm to civilians by complying with relevant international law requirements, especially those concerning the bans on physical attacks, sexual and gender-based violence, the use of child soldiers and forced displacement.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that, among the several hundreds of thousands of people who died each year due to the direct effects of war and low-intensity insurgency and to war-related famine and disease, almost 90 per cent were innocent non-combatants. Noting that the Council remained seized with the civilian tragedies in the Middle East and Darfur, he said the Council’s biggest challenge was when Governments not only failed to protect their citizens, but were themselves the cause of insecurity. He asked how it was possible in those circumstances to exercise the collective responsibility to protect. Governments must be held accountable for their actions, he stressed.
Also participating in the debate were the representatives of China, United States, Ghana, Slovakia, France, Greece, Japan, Argentina, Denmark, Peru, Congo, Russian Federation, Qatar, Israel, Finland (on behalf of the European Union), Colombia, Norway, Canada, Lebanon and Myanmar.
The meeting began at 11:36 a.m. and was suspended at 1:14 p.m. It was resumed at 3:25 p.m. and adjourned at 5:15 p.m.
The Security Council met this morning to hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, over the past three years, he had been encouraged to see that concern for civilians’ protection had steadily gained prominence. When fighting took place predominantly amid civilian populations, or was waged directly against them, when civilians sustained the main consequential losses, then it was imperative that the safety, security and well-being of civilians must be at the heart of the approach to international security and crisis management. The real measure of the United Nations’ success would be judged by the extent to which its actions had made a difference in securing the protection, rights and freedoms of civilians.
He said that the Organization was still “far away” from translating its responsibility in that regard into predictable and adequate action to provide protection for all beleaguered and threatened communities, irrespective of time, place and circumstance. The responsibility to protect must be depoliticized, become truly a shared interest and translate into joint action by all Council members and the global Organization. In that way, the Council would live up to the expectations of tens of millions of vulnerable men, women and children in a United Nations. He was seeing vast progress in Liberia, Sierra Leone, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in south Sudan.
The same unity of purpose or action, however, had not prevailed in Darfur or Gaza, he said. The readiness to act, to sanction and to fund must be the same in Uganda, Chad or Côte d’Ivoire as it was in Afghanistan, Kosovo or Iraq. The responsibility to protect must transcend singular interests and become a core principle of humanity across all civilizations -- and that was why a regular thematic debate on the protection of civilians still mattered. When the lives and safety of civilians were at stake, regardless of where, neither strategic nor economic or other political interests should deter Council members from acting swiftly upon their united responsibility to protect.
He said that, since his first briefing to the Council in December 2003, there had been a steady decline in the number of conflicts. Recent analysis indicated that the number had indeed declined by 40 per cent since 1989. Yet, far less success had been recorded in affecting the conduct of hostilities and in altering the impact of conflict. Parties to conflict had increasingly demonstrated a wilful disregard for the basic tenets of international humanitarian law. In fact, civilians had more frequently become the primary object of violence.
Evidence indicated that violent attacks against non-combatants had increased by 55 per cent between 1989 and 2005, with the most significant increase occurring in the past five years, he said. The reasons for that were many. The proliferation of non-State and informal armed groups and their supply of ever more sophisticated weaponry and equipment was one such reason. Another was the intentional, reckless and oftentimes disproportionate use of military weaponry and tactics with little or no regard for their impact on civilians.
For example, he continued, the Iraqi population woke up every morning to a “staggering” number of civilians executed, maimed and tortured by sectarian militias cleansing entire neighbourhoods and areas from men, women and children belonging to the “wrong” religious or ethnic group. More than 100 civilians a day, an estimated 30,000 since May alone, had been killed. Nowhere in the world were more civilians dying right now from violence directed against them.
In Gaza, since September, Israel had launched some 15,000 artillery shells into densely populated areas, killing civilians and children and destroying essential infrastructure, he went on. Palestinian militants had launched some 1,700 devices into Israel, with no attempt to distinguish between combatants and Israeli civilians. Suicide bombings aimed at causing maximum casualties and terror among civilians had become a “regular feature” of violence in too many conflicts. Then, there was the use of indiscriminate weapons.
He stressed that the use of cluster munitions by anyone, anywhere in the world was immoral. The victims were children at play or adults trying to rebuild their communities out of the rubble. In southern Lebanon alone, there were more than a million unexploded bomblets that lay hidden in fields, olive groves and gardens, causing one of the biggest impediments to a speedy return of the displaced and rapid reconstruction of homes and livelihoods. Pending their eventual prohibition, he urged Council members to support a moratorium on the use of cluster munitions, “a weapon that belonged in the garbage cans of history, along with landmines”, he said.
There had been definite improvements, most notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, he said. Concerted effort by States, peacekeepers and humanitarian organizations could deliver positive change and sustained access. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the country with the largest war-affected population, humanitarian organizations and peacekeepers had established a common access and protection strategy based on their distinct and complementary roles.
Despite improvements, however, he said that serious obstacles to access persisted. Arbitrary arrest and detention, verbal and physical abuse, and bureaucratic impediments were used by authorities worldwide to restrict access to populations in need. The most brutal means of denying access was the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers. Individual incidents were shocking, and the overall trends were even more alarming. In 1997, 39 humanitarian workers had been killed. By 2005, that figure had risen to an annual toll of 61. Members of the media, acting as the world’s witnesses to atrocities and humanitarian needs, alerting all to their responsibilities, had also been increasingly subjected to attack. In Iraq alone, 26 journalists had been killed this year.
He urged the Security Council to more systematically address the deliberate targeting of humanitarian and associated staff. The Council must unanimously condemn those acts, which had a terrible impact on the ability to sustain humanitarian operations, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.
His second long-term concern was protection and assistance for internally displaced persons, he said. While the global refugee population had dropped by 20 per cent in the past three yeas, the number of internally displaced persons had declined by only a modest 6 per cent in 2005, despite the resolution of long-standing conflicts and significant return movements. In recent months, new waves of displacement had occurred in many countries.
He stressed that States bore the direct responsibility for the protection of all civilians, including internally displaced persons, and must be held to their obligations. In at least 12 countries, 6 million internally displaced people received no assistance or protection from their Governments.
His third concern was sexual violence, he continued. Rape and sexual violence were “not simply an unfortunate consequence” of conflict. They were increasingly a deliberate and devastating weapon against individuals and targeted communities. Despite recent groundbreaking indictments by the International Criminal Court for the use of rape as a war crime, sexual violence continued unchecked and unchallenged. He was outraged at the almost complete inability to address that scourge, and deeply disturbed that the international community had not taken more decisive action to prevent, as well as respond, through its political and humanitarian means.
In Darfur, the International Rescue Committee had reported an “explosive increase” in sexual assaults this summer, he noted. Over a five-week period, more than 200 women had been attacked around Kalma camp. Senior Government officials in the Sudan continued to deny that such acts occurred and had yet to take any serious action. While that persisted, those who raped would continue to enjoy more freedom of movement than those living in camps. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 25,000 cases of rape had been reported last year, with thousands more occurring this year, and countless others unknown. Targeted violence of that scale required much more effective and concerned action from the Council.
Specifically, he asked the Council to consider the pervasive nature of sexual violence when reviewing peacekeeping mandates, as well as to ensure that force composition included dedicated female policing units and that adequate support was provided for response and prosecution, where required.
Turning to child soldiers, he said that at last modest progress was being made on that issue. The numbers had declined some 20 per cent to an estimated 250,000 children being exploited as soldiers, cooks, spies and for sexual purposes. Progress had been largely due to the large-scale demobilization of children in West Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, although he continued to see active recruitment in many countries. Long-term support for reintegration was critical to protecting children from recruitment or re-recruitment. After his mission to Uganda, he remained very concerned about the conditions of children held with the Lord’s Resistance Army. The situation in Sri Lanka was also particularly disturbing, with repeated reports of continuing recruitment.
He also addressed the protection of civilians under three distinct categories: those countries emerging from conflict; those where conflict was deeply entrenched; and those where the effect of conflict and violence against civilians must be addressed before it took root. In countries emerging from conflict, the Council must recognize that protection should relate more specifically to issues of reconciliation, transitional justice and land or property rights. The inequalities and the perceived injustices that stemmed from violations of human rights, if left to fester, would challenge sustainable peace and security. Missions should also be properly resourced in their final phases and protection of civilian indicators used to better refine those resources.
As for countries facing widespread and chronic protection crises resulting from repeated cycles of violence, he said that the conflict in the Middle East had become so deeply entrenched that it had created one of the world’s most serious protection crises. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there were at least 1.2 million refugees from Iraq living in neighbouring countries, with unconfirmed figures indicated that 40,000 to 60,000 people a month were crossing into Syria seeking refuge, with totally inadequate support. The worst aspects of the protection crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were reflected in the deaths of more than 110 children under the age of 17 this year, more than twice the number in 2005.
Spotlighting a number of other tense situations, he noted that more than 400,000 Somalis lived in deplorable conditions after being displaced multiple times, owing to years of drought and now massive flooding. The rising tension between the Islamic Courts and neighbouring forces might lead to even more catastrophic conflict. He was concerned that the United Nations policy of non-engagement with the Islamic Courts would “bind the hands and feet” of the United Nations humanitarian agencies, thereby preventing them from meeting their mandates to provide assistance to those most in need.
In Darfur, he said he deeply regretted that, despite one of the largest humanitarian operations in the world and massive, sustained advocacy, civilians continued to be subjected to rape, murder and repeated forced displacement. The number of displaced had doubled, and an unprecedented two thirds of the population were now in need of emergency assistance. The fact was that, in Darfur, the United Nations had not so far managed to draw on the African Union as effectively as it should. Better ways must be found, not only of addressing the resource constraints facing regional peacekeepers, but also engaging more systematically and over the longer terms, to develop the capacity within the African Union to better meet the protection needs of civilians populations.
“The opportunities to strengthen protection of civilians lie in your hands,” he told the Council, urging it to “firmly exploit these opportunities and use the tools at your disposal”. He urged it to remain committed to regular thematic briefings and debriefings following missions of his successors to the field, so as to equip Council members with the best available information and facilitate their decisions. Second, the Council must make more effective use of the mechanisms at its disposal to prevent violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Targeted sanctions could be used more effectively to support the creation of more secure environments for civilian populations by sending a clear message that such violations were unacceptable.
Third, he said, conflict mediation and the timely and effective use of good offices was a critical tool that the Council must engage at its earliest opportunity. International protection, whether by peacekeepers or humanitarians, could only be an interim response; civilians would continue to suffer until protection was complemented by conflict prevention, conflict resolution and political solutions. Fourth, he highlighted the need for comprehensive, predictable funding, for which the Central Emergency Response Fund establishment had been a significant advance. However, the impact of more predictable funding would be limited if there was insufficient funding for peace mediation, peacebuilding or for peacekeeping operations to address their mandated protection responsibilities.
He said his final concern was to ensure that sufficient guidance and support was provided to peacekeeping operations. It was important to expand the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ notions of the protection role that peacekeeping operations could play, not only through the provision of physical protection, but through supporting civil order and the restoration of judicial systems and strengthening the rule of law. It must also be ensured that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, along with its peacekeeping and political affairs colleagues, was able to develop and draw on the skills of regional organizations. “Together, we can make a continued positive difference -- we cannot afford to fail,” he concluded his last briefing to the Security Council in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict was an old topic. While the provisions of international humanitarian law had been widely accepted, there were still many challenges in their implementation. He urged the relevant parties to abide by international humanitarian law, render adequate protection to civilians and avoid damaging their lives and properties. Council resolution 1674 (2006) adopted last April, which set out comprehensive provisions pertaining to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, as well as other relevant resolutions, had established a legal framework for the Council’s work on the issue. What was needed now was effective implementation of the documents’ provisions, in order to improve the situations on the ground. In accordance with the Charter and international humanitarian law, the responsibility to protect civilians lay primarily with Governments. While the international community could provide support and assistance, they should not infringe upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned, nor should they enforce intervention by circumventing the Governments of the countries concerned.
It was imperative to make clear differentiation between protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance, he said. While efforts by humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to civilians affected by armed conflicts were commendable, they should also at all times abide by the principles of impartiality, neutrality, objectivity and independence, in order to maintain the humanitarian nature of their operations. Greater emphasis should be placed on prevention, as well as addressing both symptoms and root causes of a conflict. Should the Council manage to effectively prevent and resolve various conflicts, it would successfully provide the best protection of the civilians. A number of incidents in the past year had demonstrated that failure to effectively respond to the outbreak of conflicts would render any ex-post facto protective measures, however ingenious, virtually ineffectual vis-à-vis the sudden onslaught of violence and conflict.
While discussing the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict, the concept of “responsibility to protect” should continue to be approached with caution by the Council, he said. Last year’s World Summit Outcome had given an extensive and cautious representation of the “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. Many Member States had expressed their concern and misgivings in that regard. It was, therefore, not appropriate to expand, wilfully interpret or abuse that concept. All sides should continue to stick to the relevant agreed elements of the Summit Outcome while interpreting or applying the concept. In that context, the Council could not and should not replace the Assembly’s role to make any prejudgement.
JACKIE WOLCOTT SANDERS ( United States) said the resolution adopted by the Council last April had, among other things, condemned all acts of violence against unarmed populations. Many of the peacekeeping operations mandated by the Council had as a part of their mandate the protection of civilians under imminent threat of violence. Unfortunately, the world continued to be plagued by violent conflicts, and civilians often bore the brunt of such crises. Civilians were now the major category of casualties in the conflicts worldwide. Violence against civilians included rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced conscription, forced labour and displacement. While the primary responsibility lay with parties to conflicts, the Council must do everything appropriate to protect innocent civilians from the impact of armed conflict in situations were a State was unable or unwilling to protect its civilians.
She noted that, to help prevent conflict, the Council had to focus on the critical signs that an unrepresentative and corrupt Government was in place. Those included a demonstrated disregard for the rule of law, human rights and basic democratic values such as freedom, equality, transparency and free and fair elections. When those conditions existed, political unrest might be festering. All were aware of countries exhibiting those traits. What the Council chose to do about situations in their earliest stages could make the difference between life and death for countless innocent civilians.
She said the United States continued to be gravely concerned about specific situations, including the ongoing crisis in Darfur and its impact on civilians in the region. Civilians continued to be directly targeted; more than 2 million remained displaced from their homes; and most had been victims of severe abuse, including sexual violence. Mr. Egeland’s recent briefing to the Council following his mission to the Sudan had painted a stark picture of a humanitarian and human rights situation that had not improved and could be on the brink of even larger-scale catastrophe. In addition, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers had increasingly faced harassment and intimidation in the Sudan. The continuing insecurity had a direct impact on the international community’s ability to deliver assistance and provide basic services.
The situation in Darfur was one where the international community had a role to play in safeguarding civilians in armed conflict, including those who were internally displaced, since traditional means of protection had broken down, she said. Internally displaced civilians living in camps were not always protected from serious human rights violations. Several other countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, faced delicate transition periods with protection challenges. United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian missions helped ensure that civilians in those regions were not denied the dividends of peace. She encouraged the Council to be more consistent in addressing the regional dimensions of protection. She reaffirmed the United States commitment to strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflict, stressing the need to translate words into action.
NANA EFFAH-APENTENG ( Ghana) said the Council had made laudable strides to rein in impunity for acts against unarmed civilians, as demonstrated in actions by domestic and international bodies and judicial entities to specifically address the menace. While applauding those measures, he noted that recent events in some conflict areas, such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were indicative of pertinent gaps that needed to be examined with a view to adopting necessary remedial measures. That required States’ total commitment to the Secretary-General’s call for a “culture of protection” through the scrupulous adherence to the provisions of all multilateral agreements dealing with the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
The changing nature of warfare had widened the scope of protection, although its basic elements of physical protection and humanitarian assistance remained unchanged, he added. In the new warfare, the impact of armed conflict on civilians went beyond the notion of collateral damage. The physical protection of unarmed civilians in conflict was paramount, if an already traumatized populace was to be spared from such further agonies as rape, forced conscription, abduction, maiming and forced displacement. In that connection, the rapid deployment of United Nations peacekeepers into conflict areas was imperative. The Council had a moral duty to save civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and other grave violations of human rights.
Apart from bringing succour to a traumatized population, the presence of peacekeepers also facilitated the provision of humanitarian assistance to inaccessible areas, he said. He welcomed the Council’s resolve to provide peacekeepers with robust mandates to enable them to discharge their onerous obligation, and expressed support for extending the role of peacekeepers to include the protection of civilians and other humanitarian assistance, as well as the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. The efforts of the United Nations system, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, had saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Those efforts were often deliberately obstructed by parties to conflicts, which were obliged to guarantee unfettered access to civilian victims. The international community must, therefore, ensure that those obligations were fully respected, by applying realistic and punitive sanctions against identified persons violating the tenets of those instruments, especially the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
He noted that the role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other United Nations agencies could only be sustained through the availability of appropriate resources. He, therefore, urged donor countries to concretize their commitment through the provision of adequate funding. The goal of providing protection to civilian victims in conflicts would be bolstered by the arrest and trial of perpetrators of acts of impunity and gross human rights abuses. While saluting those engaged in humanitarian activities, the most effective means of protecting civilians was by preventing the eruption of conflicts, as peace and stability was the sine qua non for the pursuit of development and the promotion of human rights.
PETER BURIAN ( Slovakia) said the existing legal provisions regulating the protection of civilians in armed conflicts provided a comprehensive framework that must be addressed to ensure respect for civilian status. All parties to the conflicts must comply strictly with the obligations applicable to them under international law. It was, therefore, alarming that many countries involved in present-day armed conflicts were not parties to the Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. Serious gaps also remained in the practical implementation of legal instruments, and there was a need for further enhancement of the legal framework concerning the protection of civilians in armed conflicts in their domestic legal systems.
He noted that, despite the international community’s growing commitment to better address the tragic plight of civilians trapped in situations of armed conflict, it had witnessed continuous killing of civilians, sexual violence and attacks motivated by ethnic or religious hatred or political confrontation. The constantly deteriorating situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan continued to be the source of deepest concern, with the violence increasingly spilling over to neighbouring regions of the Central African Republic and Chad. The outbreak of violence in the southern Sudanese town of Malakal just a few days ago represented another serious violation of last year’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement that had ended a 21-year civil war. The international community was also saddened by the number of civilian lives claimed by the renewed conflict in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.
Impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity was unacceptable and the national judicial authorities had the primary responsibility to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice, he added. In situations when the national judicial authorities were not fully capable of addressing violations of international humanitarian law, Slovakia fully supported engagement of the international and “mixed” tribunals, including the International Criminal Court. He also drew attention to the need for integration of basic legal and gender training into the training of all armed forces. Efforts to prevent deliberate attacks against civilians, sexual violence and use of child soldiers required mainstreaming the issues into security sector and other governance reforms with the active participation of all stakeholders.
JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) said that the Under-Secretary-General had raised the awareness of the international community of the terrible situation in Darfur. Last year, the Council had noted that its resolutions, and their implementation, on the question, adopted in 1999 and 2000, had not gone far enough. Thus, last April, the Council had adopted a new and ambitious text -– resolution 1674 (2006), which should now be fully implemented. The resolution must be taken into account in actions taken by the Council, including in defining the mandates of peacekeeping operations. Indeed, the Council must ensure that the text of 1674 was adhered to, for the Council’s credibility was at stake.
He said that protection of civilians, first and foremost, was the responsibility of Governments concerned, and they must face up to that responsibility. The international community must ensure that Governments did not shirk those responsibilities, and regional organizations and the United Nations must encourage them to assume their responsibilities. In several situations, such as in Darfur, it was essential that the United Nations and regional organizations worked well together. Access was essential when discussing prevention; it was unacceptable that millions of people were deprived of access to protection.
The Organization should also be particularly attentive to the protection of humanitarian workers of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, he said. The systematic violations of humanitarian law, particularly indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations as workers attempted to protect those populations, meant that sanctuaries were no longer sanctuaries. That had been a terrible development, which he found very worrying. It must be ensured that international humanitarian law also protected journalists. A number of delegations in the Council planned to submit proposals in that regard, for which speedy and unanimous support was sought. Protection of the most vulnerable among civilians, namely women and young girls, was a particular area of attention for the Council.
EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom) said that the protection of civilians remained a current and compelling concern. All parties to armed conflict must strive to prevent harm to civilians. Parties must comply fully with relevant international law requirements, especially those concerning the bans on physical attacks, sexual and gender-based violence, the use of child soldiers and forced displacement. They must ensure that specific measures for the protection of civilians were included in peace agreements, and new peacekeeping missions should be given the necessary mandates and resources. Peacekeepers must be trained to understand the issues involved.
Like the Under-Secretary-General, he said he was deeply concerned about the high number of internally displaced persons. A stronger framework was needed to ensure that international humanitarian responses met their needs. Human suffering did not recognize national boundaries. He commended those United Nations agencies, peacekeeping troops and non-governmental organizations that provided vital humanitarian assistance, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances; and he condemned, in the strongest terms, attacks that targeted them. Impunity could not be tolerated -- not for attacks on humanitarian and United Nations workers, and not for attacks on civilians. Such acts should be properly investigated, and guilty parties must be held to account. Where States were unable or unwilling to do that, the international community should be prepared to take action.
When disasters occurred, the world looked to the United Nations to lead the international response, he said. But, if that response were to remain effective, the United Nations must continue to identify and embrace new ways of meeting humanitarian challenges. He commended Mr. Egeland’s groundbreaking work in that respect. The Central Emergency Response Fund was an example of a new initiative, which had successfully provided an easy way to quickly getting the right aid to the right place in a crisis. Successful initiatives like that should be built upon to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the vulnerable were met in times of crisis.
Deeply concerned about the impact of armed conflicts on civilians worldwide, he called on the Burmese Government and other actors to work towards a peaceful resolution to those conflicts, and on the Burmese Government to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations agencies. In the Middle East, the conflict in Gaza had caused unacceptable suffering to civilians. He welcomed the recent ceasefire agreement and called on both sides to do all they could to preserve the truce and extend it to the West Bank. In recognition of the threat posed to vulnerable civilians by the uncontrolled spread and accumulation of small arms and light weapons, he was committed to taking work forward on a legally binding treaty on trade in all conventional arms.
ADAMANTIOS VASSILAKIS ( Greece) said that, given the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in many conflict situations, resolution 1674 (2006) remained as timely as ever. Mr. Egeland had painted a disturbing picture of protection crises around the world, where violence had become deeply entrenched, despite the many efforts of the international community to ensure sustained and coordinated international attention in the post-peacekeeping phase. He was gravely concerned about that development. Deliberate, violent attacks against civilians; unchallenged use of sexual violence against women and girls; recruitment, trafficking and other forms of exploitation against children; violence and abuse against displaced persons; and blatant attacks against humanitarian staff could not be tolerated and must cease.
He also called for a halt to deliberate attacks against journalists. The number of those casualties had considerably increased in recent years, interfering with the free flow of information that was crucial to the protection of civilians and important in every democratic society. Journalists were entitled to the protection afforded to them by the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law, and States and non-State actors should respect that law. With that in mind, his country, along with France, Denmark, Slovakia and the United Kingdom would submit to the Council a proposal on journalists’ protection.
Prompt and early action was required to prevent protection crises, he said. Systematic reporting to the Council was important to facilitate and strengthen decision-making and effective responses. He encouraged briefings by the Special Adviser on Genocide and the High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning on-the-ground monitoring of serious international humanitarian and human rights violations. Combating impunity was also essential for civilian protection, and violators must be brought to justice. In that respect, the role of the International Criminal Court and its impact on those committing such atrocities could be crucial, and the international community and the States concerned must support its difficult task. It was also important to ensure that peace operations were in a position to protect innocent civilians and vulnerable populations against physical violence.
KENZO OSHIMA (Japan), noting that there had been some debate on the question of how much the Council should concern itself with humanitarian-related issues, said that the manner and extent of the Council’s consideration of those issues for the past two years had been appropriate, particularly as they related to the protection of civilians. Bearing in mind the reaffirmation contained in resolution 1674 (2006), the Council should further discuss the role it should play in protecting civilians in armed conflict more energetically and in depth. The aide-memoire it had adopted in 2002 could be a useful tool in assisting the Council in formulating a peacekeeping mandate and it should be updated. The Council might also consider developing some kind of model matrix.
He said that those would be useful first steps, but they were not enough. The Council should further discuss how it could ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict in both general and specific situations. In Darfur, for example, there remained a serious gap between what the Government was able or willing to provide in terms of humanitarian access and safety of humanitarian personnel and the real needs on the ground. Because of that “crying gap”, a countless number of people perished or suffered daily, and the crisis intensified, despite the best efforts of the African Union, for which urgent additional support was essential. The efforts to improve the humanitarian situation could not be separated from efforts on the political front, namely securing a durable cessation of hostilities, fully developing the political process and engaging in effective peacekeeping activity. Here, the Council’s ability and credibility was truly tested.
The issue of internally displaced persons was another high priority, he said, expressing full support for the recommendation of the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence that the humanitarian agencies should clarify their mandates and enhance their cooperation with internally displaced persons. Another related high-priority issue was the widespread availability of small arms, which caused large numbers of civilian casualties and gave rise to associated problems, such as child soldiers and community insecurity. This year, Japan, South Africa and Colombia had co-sponsored a draft resolution in the General Assembly on the illicit small arms trade, to raise awareness on the subject, and Japan, along with other Member States, would continue to work on that priority through the provision of assistance to affected countries, such as Afghanistan. He urged all Member States to ratify the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), also expressing concern about the humanitarian toll arising from unexploded cluster bombs.
GUSTAVO AINCHIL (Argentina), strongly condemning attacks against civilians, stressed that national security considerations could not prevail over the primary obligation of all States and parties to a conflict to fulfil the rules of international humanitarian law. The Council had substantially contributed to the international regime of protection of civilians through its resolutions 1265 (1999), 1296 (2000) and 1674 (2006). The Council had also been given a clear mandate by the Assembly to take collective action in a timely and decisive fashion to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. That framework placed at the Council’s disposal a set of tools for the protection of civilians. It was the Council’s task to make full use of them, he added, underlining the importance of ensuring that the mandates of peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions include provisions regarding the protection of civilians. Such provisions should also address matters related to ensuring full and unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to civilians affected by armed conflict.
An improvement to the reporting mechanism on the protection of civilians would allow for an appropriate follow-up in each of the situations on the Council’s agenda, he said. The improvement of the reporting mechanism was also important in the initial moments of a crisis, when civilians were affected and where early warning might allow the Council to deploy preventive measures to protect civilians. There was also room to advance in the Council’s normative work on the protection of civilians, in particular where current crises showed that there was a clear need for further development. Commending the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ work to provide assistance and protection to internally displaced persons, he noted that broader mandates were needed to address the issue in its complexity.
ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ ( Denmark) said the Council’s efforts to maintain peace and security continued to come up short in the global perspective. The need to protect civilians was an ongoing imperative for the Council, with no immediate end in sight. For that reason, the Council could not approach the question on an ad hoc basis. Populations in need must be able to depend on the Council to come to their assistance, and the perpetrators must be assured that their crimes would not be left unpunished. The Council’s efforts to protect civilians in situations of conflict must be more predictable, timely and systematic. She said that a comprehensive framework for the protection of civilians already existed; therefore, the Council’s immediate attention should be given to the implementation of the protection framework to produce real improvements on the ground. Emphasis should be on providing more comprehensive peacekeeping, among other ways by incorporating the protection of civilians as a central element in the mandates for United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The protection of civilians was a multi-faceted challenge, and “so must be our response”, she said. The relatively limited number of tools available to the Council must be put to the best use, including not only increasing the capacity to monitor and report on violations against civilians, but also referral of violators to international courts and the use of targeted sanctions to deter attacks on civilians, including humanitarian workers, non-governmental organization staff and journalists. The Council must overcome its reluctance to fully use those tools if it seriously wished to further the protection agenda.
Each State had the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, she added. In situations where States embarked on waging war against their own populations, the responsibility to protect the civilians affected became that of the international community. “We have a moral and political obligation not to turn our backs to the many civilians which suffer under the attacks by or with the consent of their own Governments,” she said.
The basic political commitment not to allow another “ Rwanda” or “Srebrenica” was the responsibility of all, including the Council and other United Nations bodies. In that regard, she said, Denmark welcomed the Human Rights Council’s decision to convene a special session on the “Human Rights situation in Darfur”. A constructive dialogue on that unacceptable situation must lead to decisive action to alleviate the suffering of the people of Darfur.
The reporting and distribution of news from areas entangled in conflict was often the only hope that the affected populations had of influencing national, regional and international actors to step in and address the situation. The targeting of journalists, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, was unacceptable, and had now reached a level where the Council must express its clear condemnation of the situation. She hoped the initiative on that issue presented by France, Greece, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Denmark would find general support in the Council.
JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said that the Council should continue to guarantee protection of those civilians who found themselves in various armed conflicts around the world. The Council’s tasks in that regard included ensuring full implementation of resolution 1674 (2006), which included clear guidelines and rules for protecting civilians in countries where there were peacekeeping operations. Also, the Secretary-General must regularly inform the Council of new and renewed mission mandates and where new humanitarian crises had led civilians to become victims of violence and insecurity. Finally, in the framework of the United Nations system, greater cooperation should be sought between the specialized agencies on the ground to improve civilians’ protection, including that of displaced persons.
He stressed that effective sanction of those responsible for serious human rights violations was an obligation of the international community. That sent a strong signal that the rule of law applied. He was gravely concerned at the persistence of spiralling situations, such as in Darfur, Gaza, Chad, Uganda and Kosovo. Strengthening cooperation with civil society, including non-governmental organizations, was another area that merited greater attention, he said.
PASCAL GAYAMA ( Congo) noted that current data put the number of people affected by war or similar disasters at 27 million in 29 countries around the world. That represented the scope of that growing phenomenon, from which no continent had been spared, and that had made women and children gravely vulnerable. International humanitarian law had made protection of civilians one of its core principles, and civilians who did not participate in hostilities should, under no circumstances, be attacked. More than ever, compliance with the relevant measures should be ensured. He, meanwhile, thanked the Secretary-General for the consolidated appeal for $3.9 million in humanitarian assistance for 2007. He also thanked Sweden, the only country to devote 0.05 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for humanitarian assistance.
He paid tribute to the men and women working for non-governmental organizations, often in life-threatening situations, and called for a growing awareness of the need to provide them with the best possible working conditions, in order to enable them to carry out their noble tasks. Governments must do all in their power to provide the most effective protection to all those under their authority.
On 28 November, when the Council had discussed the plight of children and armed conflict, he said he had highlighted the need to extend the rule of law. At the present time of so-called conventional wars, the boundary concerning collateral damage had faded -- the world saw that in Darfur, with the sad and bloody escalation of hostilities there. Indeed, the conflict in Darfur was becoming the very prototype of “denial of law” and cynicism. He also pointed to the suffering populations in the Middle East, who were the victims of terrorist acts, emphasizing the international community’s obligation to prevent and act.
AUGUSTINE P. MAHIGA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that the protection of civilians in armed conflict was a fundamental responsibility of States and the international community. It was estimated that, among the several hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives each year due to the direct effects of war and low-intensity insurgency and war-related famine and disease, almost 90 per cent were innocent non-combatants. Other violent acts included reprisals, forced recruitment, kidnapping, rape, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. The protection of civilians should also include humanitarian workers involved with refugees and internally displaced persons.
He said that children, in particular, had become the most affected victims of armed conflicts. In some conflicts, the ratio of child soldiers was said to be as high as 60 per cent. No doubt, the realities on the ground portrayed a far crueller picture than what the statisticians could actually glean. He, therefore, joined others in calling on an enhanced United Nations’ effort to protect civilians, including children, in armed conflicts. The most important strategic objective was to prevent armed conflict and its recurrence in the first place. Also crucial was for today’s debate to go beyond a “naming and shaming” exercise.
Noting that the Council remained seized with the human tragedies of civilians in the recent events in the Middle East and Darfur, he said that the Council’s biggest challenge was when Governments not only failed to protect their citizens but also were themselves the cause of insecurity. He asked how it was possible in those circumstances to exercise the collective responsibility to protect, adding that such Governments should be held accountable for their actions. Equally challenging was identifying existing gaps in the normative standards in international law and their implementation, for which a regional approach to addressing security and development problems could be quite useful.
He also expressed his great concern at the emerging precedence of some State and non-State actors openly compromising the neutrality and questioning the impartiality of the United Nations to deploy peacekeeping troops or observers in areas they controlled. The United Nations, by definition, was an indispensable partner of Member States in the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. The United Nations core duty was, not only to maintain peace and security among Member States, but also for their citizens. The two concerns should be addressed concurrently, he urged.
IGOR SHCERBAK ( Russian Federation) noted that, unfortunately, not a day went by without learning about new cases of murder and other violence against civilians in armed conflict. Despite the myriad instruments in the area of humanitarian law, civilian casualties were not simply the costs of waging war, but were the outcome of premeditated actions. The past year had been no exception, underlining the importance of a prompt response by the United Nations during armed conflicts. That theme had occupied a paramount place in the United Nations humanitarian agenda and called for systematic measures at all levels. Streamlined coordination and a clear division of labour were needed.
He called for the greatest possible prudence when dealing with documents without general discussion in the United Nations, which must not be promoted as recognized international standards. The concept of the responsibility to protect had not been realized because it had not found broad enough support from Member States. A more acceptable outcome was that of the 2005 World Summit concerning the responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The primary responsibility lay with national Governments, whose efforts must be supported by the international community.
He said his delegation expected from the Peacebuilding Commission specific steps to assist in the stabilization of post-conflict situations. At the current point, it was necessary to focus on the implementation of existing decisions, including those on children and women, and not to dilute efforts by generating new documents in that area. The main thing was to ensure the practical implementation of decisions already taken. It was also important to ensure the security of humanitarian personnel, whose work was crucial for assistance to civilians. Stressing the importance of humanitarian workers for the protection of civilians, he also emphasized the importance of their complying with the principles of impartiality, independence and neutrality. He called for eradicating the root causes of conflict.
Council President NASSIR BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar), speaking in his national capacity, noted that, despite efforts to protect civilians, recent years had regrettably seen an increase in the number of armed conflicts across the world. There had also been a noticeable change in the nature of those conflicts. Urban and residential areas had been increasingly transformed into battlefields in internal conflicts and civil strife, which had contributed to the surge in the number of victims among civilian populations. The international community had only recently begun to realize the fact that the impact of armed conflicts was more heavily felt by women and children. It was, therefore, important to focus on the suffering of women and children caught in armed conflicts. On the other hand, the continued recruitment of child and youth soldiers had doubled their exposure to armed conflicts.
Many of the conflicts raging today were fought among non-State actors, many of whom failed to uphold international humanitarian law and to protect human rights, he said. That problem must be addressed differently from the way in which violations by States and Governments were addressed. The international community must commit to protect journalists, as they too were civilians. It was despicable that civilians found themselves in harm’s way during armed conflicts. Even more despicable was the deliberate targeting of civilians. Qatar belonged to a region in which civilians were still suffering from the repercussions of violence. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, most of the victims of continued acts of violence were civilians. More than 4,000 civilians had been killed since 2000 as a result of the continued Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Endangering the lives of civilians was not only a violation of international law but also a violation of the Council’s numerous resolutions and presidential statements.
Prevention was always better than cure, he said. While it was important to treat the symptoms, it was more important to address the root causes of problems. The United Nations role in the protection of civilians was indispensable. The presence of advisors on the protection of civilians was one of the priorities of United Nations peacekeeping operations. He called on the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to include consultants on child protection in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said that, in recent months, the world had been reminded of the vulnerability and danger posed to civilians in his region by forces of extremism and instability, as evidenced by the conflict with Hizbollah in Lebanon and the ongoing Palestinian terror war against Israel. The world was again reminded that no side had a monopoly on victim-hood or human suffering, and that the jagged shards of armed conflict could cut deep and wide, affecting all civilians -– Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian.
He said that, this summer, Hizbollah terrorists operating in southern Lebanon had fired some 4,000 Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, explicitly targeting civilians in their homes and offices. Hizbollah’s parade of raining rockets had forced nearly 1 million Israeli civilians to flee their homes, causing insufferable damage to civilian life and infrastructure. Similarly, the Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip at Israeli communities in the south within the past year -– more than 1,000 rockets to date -– were direct and targeted attempts on civilians, attacks against schools and synagogues, kindergartens and classrooms, shopping malls and playgrounds.
Terrorists’ blatant disregard for human life was a brutal maliciousness that had been seen even among their own populations, he said. Hizbollah stored its rockets inside homes and launched attacks from positions nestled within the fabric of civilian life. In using civilians as human shields, Hizbollah sought to evade responsibility and accountability for its crimes. Palestinian terrorists had also employed civilians as shields. Recently, Palestinian civilians in Gaza had been called to surround the home of a known terrorist; Human Rights Watch had recorded that incident, calling it “at worst, human shielding; at best, failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attacks. Both are violations of international humanitarian law”, he said.
He said that the deliberate blurring of the distinction between terrorist and civilian was a terrorist tactic. It was a gross injustice that endangered civilians and betrayed the principles of human dignity and life. It was the obligation of all nations, first and foremost, to protect their people from all harm. But, it was also the obligation of all nations to ensure that they and their citizens did not endanger others. No doubt strategic and ethnical complexities regarding counter-terrorism existed, but, in the quest to secure the world and protect all peoples, the proper balance must be struck. Failure to hold terrorist groups accountable gravely endangered the vitality of the “human project”.
KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland), on behalf of the European Union, said the protection of civilians in armed conflict was a complex challenge. Civilians, including women and children, continued to bear the brunt of armed conflicts. The Union welcomed, therefore, the Council’s sustained attention to the issue. She reiterated the Union’s support for the historic Summit Outcome conclusion that each individual State had the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The best way to protect civilians in armed conflicts was to prevent conflicts. The Union was pleased to note the strengthening of a culture of prevention across the United Nations organization. The Council played an important role in that regard. Timely briefings to the Council would help it to act sufficiently early on in conflict situations to effectively protect civilians at risk.
Humanitarian access was a crucial part of protecting civilians in armed conflict, she said. The Union was troubled by the denial of full and unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to civilians in need of help, especially when it was used as a political tool and a weapon of war. Attacks on humanitarian personnel could not be tolerated. She urged all parties to provide unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance and to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel.
She said the Union was alarmed by the fact that 63 journalists and media staff had been killed in armed conflicts in 2005 and 75 in 2006. The Council should take note of such a dramatic development. Journalists were civilians and, as such, were entitled to full protection. The investigation of crimes under international law committed against civilians and bringing their perpetrators to justice was vital. The restoration of law and order to prevent future violence and abuses and tackling impunity should be a priority. It was for concerned States to bring justice to perpetrators of the most serious crimes and for the international community to support their efforts. Where States failed to bring perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice, the international community should be able to act.
Protection from physical and sexual violence remained one of the major challenges of civilian protection, he said. Peacekeeping operations should be mandated to employ all feasible measures to prevent sexual violence and address their effects where they took place. United Nations peacekeeping operations and associated personnel had a particular responsibility in their own conduct in that regard. The Union reiterated its full support to the zero-tolerance of sexual abuse and exploitation policy by such personnel introduced by the United Nations. Millions of children continued to have their human rights violated and to suffer in situations of armed conflict. The Union was fully committed to protecting children from the grave violations that occurred in armed conflicts. The special protection needs of refugees and displaced persons needed to be adequately addressed.
The easy availability and destabilizing accumulations of small arms and light weapons continued to pose a grave danger for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, she said. Another issue was that of explosive remnants of war. The protection of civilians in armed conflict was a multi-faceted challenge. The Union was fully committed and worked actively to protect civilians in armed conflict.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said that efforts by the Government to face the complex problems affecting the civilian population had not been properly reflected in the reports on humanitarian issues distributed by the United Nations. Colombia had had to face the actions of violent groups against civilians. Those groups, financed by the transnational drug-trafficking business, had caused internal displacement, kidnappings, recruiting of children and other forms of violence against civilians. Her Government had been acting decisively to face those violent actions, recover security and effectively protect Colombians. The population had responded to violence from the criminal organizations with solid civic support from the Government’s democratic security policy.
She said that, as a result of that policy, the country’s security situation had noticeably improved. Today, the national policy and civilian authorities were permanently present in all municipalities, which had not been guaranteed in as many as 157 communities as recently as four years ago. Also, the State had a greater capacity for action by the Armed Forces in facing up to criminal groups. Coca crops had been nearly halved since 2000, and the demobilization of violent groups was being implemented. To date, 43,000 former members of guerrilla and self-defence groups had surrendered their weapons. As a consequence of those realities, crime indicators had been substantially reduced, including homicides, kidnappings and diverse attacks against civilians.
The challenge ahead was still great, she said. Only with a realistic vision of the situation, free from prejudice, would it be possible to concentrate efforts in an effective manner for the benefit of affected groups. The protection of civilians also included specific measures for indigenous communities, and the Defence Ministry had implemented a policy for the protection of ethnic minorities. The Government, together with indigenous organizers, had elaborated a comprehensive plan of support for vulnerable communities affected by poverty, violence or drug trafficking. Those groups had been the object of displacement or threats by violent groups, and they deserved special priority from the State.
MONA JUUL ( Norway) said a major threat to civilians during and after armed conflicts was the use of cluster munitions. A number of countries in different parts of the world were affected by the use of cluster munitions, the humanitarian consequences of which were enormous and the setbacks to development massive. Cluster munitions must be prevented from becoming a new humanitarian disaster the way landmines had been before the Ottawa Convention. The international community must act now to establish an international ban on cluster munitions. Norway supported the Secretary-General’s call to make the use of such cluster munitions history.
Forced displacement was another major obstacle to protection of civilians in armed conflict, she said. Internally displaced persons often found themselves trapped by the fact that the Governments primarily responsible for their protection were the very same ones creating conditions leading to the displacement. Despite their vulnerability and urgent needs for protection, they often fell between the mandates of various humanitarian bodies. Situations of armed conflict posed particular risks for women and girls. Violence against women, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, often became a weapon of war. Unfortunately, there was often reluctance to deal with gender-based and sexual violence. It was necessary to end impunity for those criminal acts and provide adequate protection for women and girls.
Regarding humanitarian assistance, she noted that recent evaluations indicated that the humanitarian community still failed to integrate a gender perspective in a systematic manner in their programming and implementation practices. Norway supported the initiative by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to develop a five-point action plan to rectify that dysfunction on the part of the humanitarian community. A very specific concern was sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations and associated personnel. Norway strongly regretted the fact that that abhorrent practice continued to require attention. Norway remained strongly convinced to contribute actively to prevent such behaviour by all categories of personnel. Armed conflicts were generally characterized by grave and systematic human rights abuses, impunity and the absence of accountability. Whether the international community was able to end impunity would strongly influence how it was able to prevent future conflict.
JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said the Council must demonstrate courageous leadership and unwavering political will to ensure that populations at risk had access to the greatest protection possible. Continued emphasis must be placed on ending impunity -– perpetrators of attacks against civilians in violation of international law must be held accountable for their actions. All shared in the responsibility to advance a culture of protection. The Council, the United Nations Secretariat and Member States must make advocacy, monitoring and capacity-building watchwords for their efforts. Important and practical progress had been made. New sanctions regimes had been more attentive to targeting their impact, so as to mitigate unintended humanitarian consequences. International community action on the agenda, however, remained uneven and the necessity of convening regular debates had not diminished.
“We need look no further than the grave humanitarian situation in Darfur to understand that our vigilance must not wane,” he added. Deeply concerned by the continuing violence and persistent culture of impunity in Darfur, he condemned persistent incidences of violence and, in particular, sexual and gender-based violence by all parties, including in internally displaced persons camps, where rape continued to be used as a weapon of war. He urged the Sudan to prevent further violations, to ensure perpetrators were brought to justice in accordance with international law and to facilitate humanitarian action. Similarly, the recent shelling of an internally displaced person’s camp near Vakarai, Sri Lanka, highlighted the heavy price paid by civilians in that long-standing conflict, particularly where perceptions of civilians had grown ambiguous. Canada urged the parties to the conflict to exercise the utmost restraint and to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The linkage between civilian protection and the maintenance of international peace and security was well established, he said. The Council had a direct role to play in encouraging and promoting the protection of civilians. Looking ahead, the Council must be more proactive in responding in situations where civilians were at risk. Greater focus should be given to timely and credible preventive measures, in addition to restorative actions. Strong and consistent resolutions were a critical cornerstone to ensuring that human rights and humanitarian agencies could be effective in pursuing protection concerns in the field. Effective action also required consistent follow-up. The Council must be proactive in monitoring the implementation of the protection-related commitments under its consideration.
A culture of protection also demanded that attacks against civilians were recognized for the crimes that they were, he said. States must prosecute those who committed genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious human rights violations. No amnesty should be granted for international crimes. The Council and the broader United Nations membership had a particular responsibility to ensure that those who committed serious violations of international law were brought to justice, including attacks against those working in United Nations missions. The security of journalists, particularly in armed conflicts, required ongoing attention. It was also important that the United Nations appropriately address hate media in its mission planning and operations.
CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon) said that, between 12 July and 14 August 2006, Lebanon had been the target of ferocious Israeli aggression, considered disproportionate by international legal standards, as well as by the international community. The scope and the scale of the destruction had been massive, with 1,191 civilians killed. About 900,000 people, or a quarter of the Lebanese population, had been displaced, many of whom were still homeless. Buildings and homes had been flattened to the ground. In 34 days, the Israeli forces had carried out a massive military campaign, flying more than 12,000 combat missions and pursuing an indiscriminate and deliberate policy of targeting civilians, whether they were hiding in shelters, fleeing in convoys or lying wounded in ambulances and medical facilities.
As if all the massacres had not been enough and the state of panic and fear was insufficient, the Israeli forces had prevented humanitarian assistance from reaching large parts of south Lebanon, she said. In some rare instances when they had allowed the assistance, the forces had attacked the aid convoys either directly or indirectly. The Israeli forces had even attacked United Nations positions and bases. All remembered how a naval blockade and a land blockade had been imposed on Lebanon, and how the Israeli air force had managed to impose a curfew on the country with countless raids that endangered the humanitarian situation of all Lebanese.
At present, Lebanon was still confronting the lethal effect of cluster munitions, of which 90 per cent had been fired by Israel in the last 72 hours of the aggression, she said. In its presidential statement of December 2002, the Council had recognized that, to secure humanitarian access, a clear separation of civilians and combatants should be ensured in armed conflicts. The High-Level Commission of Inquiry, created by the Human Rights Council in August 2006, had established Israel’s responsibility for the gross violations of international humanitarian law committed during its military attacks on Lebanon. To avoid similar future events, the upcoming report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict should include a clear and extensive depiction of the suffering endured by the Lebanese people due to the Israeli attacks this past summer. She called on the Council to exert greater efforts in the future to ensure a durable and sustainable solution to all armed conflicts in the world.
U KYAW TINT SWE ( Myanmar) said that armed conflicts bred a cycle of violence and brought untold suffering to innocent civilians. Since the adoption of Council resolution 1296 (2000), the international community had faced numerous challenges in providing security to civilians. Success, as Mr. Egeland had indicated, depended on united action by all members. Armed conflicts were also exacerbated by the easy availability of illicit small arms and light weapons. In addition, terrorism caused great suffering to civilians, and Myanmar joined the international community in condemning such acts. His country fully sympathized with the victims of armed conflicts, as it had undergone the bitter experience of insurgent groups committing atrocities against the civilian population.
He said he also fully agreed that protection of civilians must be depoliticized and must transcend singular interest to become a core principle of humanity across all civilizations. The most efficient way to protect civilians in armed conflict was to resolve the root causes and bring the hostilities to an end. Soon after regaining independence in 1948, Myanmar had had to face insurgency, which had lasted for more than 40 years. Because of the national reconciliation efforts of the Government, 17 of 18 insurgent groups had returned to the legal fold and were now working with the Government for the development of their respective regions.
There now remained a faction of one insurgent group -– the Karen National Union -– and remnants of armed narco-traffickers confined to small enclaves in the border areas, he said. Although their ranks had greatly diminished and currently controlled little or no territory, they still targeted civilians and committed terrorist acts. Only through a comprehensive approach that promoted economic growth, poverty eradication, sustainable development and national reconciliation was it possible to put an end to armed conflicts -– which was the best way to protect civilians. To date, his Government had spent more than 81 billion kyats and some $550 million to develop the border areas where most of its ethnic nationalities resided. It would fulfil its national duty to protect its citizens.
In closing remarks, Mr. EGELAND said the good news was that there were fewer conflicts and better humanitarian, peacekeeping and good offices mediation work than ever before. Overall, progress was being made. The bad news was the armed men in the remaining armed conflicts were more ruthless than ever, better armed and had the purpose of making the situation as bad as possible for defenceless civilian populations. In 2006, the situation had gone back to the darkest Middle Ages in terms of not protecting civilian populations. It was really a question of crimes against humanity, war crimes and, in some cases, a situation that amounted to genocide. He would never forget the abused women of eastern Congo, the camp population in Darfur and the relatives of killed civilians in Iraq. There was one big remedy; namely united action by all internal actors -- the Governments, civil society, military and armed groups -- and united international action.
When he had started his work, the worst cases of abuses had been found in pockets of Southern Sudan, eastern Congo, Liberia and northern Uganda, he said. In all those cases, progress had been made. But, it had become worse in other areas, including Darfur, Gaza and Iraq, where there had not been united action, either nationally or internationally. It was only through achieving unity of purpose and action that progress could be made. He was heartened to see a growth in support for the protection of civilians’ agenda. Hundreds of thousands of non-governmental organizations were following that agenda. There was also an overwhelming majority of Member States who thought it was the core of what the United Nations was all about.
Concluding, he said that, as it was his “swan song”, he wished to thank Council members and Secretariat staff, as well as his staff, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and partners for developing the agenda for the protection of civilians and for their efforts to make humanitarian work more effective in the last few tough, but rewarding, years.
* *** *For information media • not an official record