27 May 2008
Security Council
SC/9340

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5898th Meeting (AM & PM)


SECURITY COUNCIL EXPRESSES DEEPEST CONCERN AT CONTINUED CIVILIAN SUFFERING DURING


CONFLICT, CONDEMNS ALL VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW THREATENING NON-COMBATANTS


Presidential Statement on Civilian Protection Follows Day-Long Debate;

Emergency Relief Coordinator Supports Creation of Informal Expert Group on Issue


Expressing its deepest concern that civilians continued to suffer the brunt of the violence during armed conflicts, the Security Council this afternoon condemned all violations of international law that threatened non-combatants and reaffirmed the responsibility of States and other parties of conflicts to protect them.


In a statement read by Council President John Sawers of the United Kingdom at the end of a day-long debate on protection of civilians, the Council also re‑emphasized the importance of prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law.  In addition, it underlined the importance of safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to provide assistance to civilians caught up in armed conflict.


The mural on the wall of the Security Council Chamber by Norwegian artist Per Krogh served as a vivid reminder that millions of ordinary people were still trapped in the horror of war and conflict, hoping desperately to rise from the chaos that still surrounded them, said John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who opened today’s debate by emphasizing that protection of civilians was central to the Council’s work.  He supported the forming of an informal expert group, attached to the Council, which would focus on the subject.


Vital progress had been made in the nine years since the Council first considered the item, he said.  There was an increased awareness among Member States of the issues involved, and four thematic resolutions on civilian protection had established an ambitious framework for action.  The challenge now was to realize that ambition and ensure the systematic consideration of protection issues in the Council’s work.


Addressing any Council members that might have reservations about the expert group, he said that the proposal was not for a subsidiary body with the bureaucratic and resource issues which that implied.  Rather, what was envisaged was an informal forum that would bring together all of the Council member States at the expert level for transparent, systematic and timely consultation on protection of civilians, particularly, but not only, in the context of the establishment or renewal of peacekeeping mandates.


Mr. Holmes also gave a brief survey of crisis situations in which civilians were at risk.  In Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Timor-Leste and, in a more fragile way, Uganda, violence had subsided.  At the same time, recent upsurges of violence in recovering areas like Burundi and Southern Sudan were of great concern.  The full deployment of peacekeepers in Chad, the Central African Republic and Darfur had the potential to significantly augment efforts to protect and assist those caught in the turmoil in the region, he said.  However, it was essential that those missions be given the requisite support and resources to fulfil their mandates.


There was also the potential for notable progress towards improved protection for civilians from the devastating impact of cluster munitions, he said, urging States to seize the historic opportunity posed by the 100 States currently gathered in Dublin to conclude a treaty that had the protection of civilians at its core.


He noted continued havoc in Darfur, Somalia, southern Israel, Gaza, Colombia and Sri Lanka.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, civilians remained victims of suicide attacks as well as aerial bombardments and search operations against anti-Government elements.  There were difficulties in conducting those operations, but, nonetheless, any military response to insurgent attacks must itself comply with international humanitarian law.


He called for concerted action against sexual violence, which continued to ravage the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire, among other places.  Finally, he said that humanitarian access was crucial for the protection of civilians, describing differing manifestations of the problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Somalia and the West Bank.  The aftermath of Cyclone Nargis showed that access could be an issue in natural disasters, as well, though it was outside the parameters of today’s debate.


In the discussion that followed Mr. Holmes’ briefing, all speakers expressed deep concern over the continuing violence to civilians, with many supporting the creation of an expert group of the Council, as long as it did not increase bureaucratic machinery.  Many also supported the development of the principle of the “responsibility to protect” in that regard, as supported by the 2005 World Summit.  China’s representative, however, stressed that, currently, many States had reservations over that principle and the Security Council should not take it upon itself to expand it.  Japan’s representative proposed that the concept of human security be applied instead, as that never involved military intervention.


A convention to limit or ban cluster munitions was called for by many speakers, while the representative of the United States maintained that harm to civilians from such munitions could be reduced under existing treaties and that those weapons were a necessary tool for its armed forces and those of its partners.


In addition, some speakers disagreed that the issue of humanitarian access was outside of today’s discussion, with the representative of France making an impassioned plea for action to get humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar in the urgent manner necessary, despite the obstacles that had kept his country, for example, from unloading the many tons of provisions that were waiting off shore.  The representative of Myanmar said he found it “highly objectionable” that some delegations had tried to use the debate to politicize a humanitarian issue caused by a natural disaster, and regretted that Mr. Holmes had mentioned it in passing.


Also speaking today were representatives of Italy, South Africa, Costa Rica, Viet Nam, Panama, Russian Federation, Burkina Faso, Libya, Belgium, Croatia, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Qatar, Switzerland, Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Argentina, Liechtenstein, Nigeria, Norway, Israel, Syria, Peru, Mexico, Austria, Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia and United Arab Emirates.


The Observer of Palestine also made a statement.


The meeting opened at 10:15 a.m., suspended at 1 p.m., resumed at 3:06 p.m. and closed at 5:02 p.m.


The full text of the presidential statement, to be issued as S/2008/PRST/18, reads as follows:


“The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the full and effective implementation of its resolutions on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and recalls previous statements on the issue made by its President.


“The Security Council remains committed to addressing the impact of armed conflict on civilians.  The Council expresses its deepest concern that civilians continue to account for the majority of victims of acts of violence committed by parties to armed conflicts, including as a result of deliberate targeting, indiscriminate and excessive use of force and of sexual and gender-based violence.  The Security Council condemns all violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict.  The Council demands that all relevant parties immediately put an end to such practices.  The Council reaffirms in this regard that parties to armed conflict bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians, in particular giving attention to the specific needs of women and children.


“The Security Council re-emphasizes the responsibility of States to comply with their relevant obligations to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law.


“The Security Council underlines the importance of safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to provide assistance to civilians in armed conflict in accordance with international law, and stresses the importance, within the framework of humanitarian assistance, of upholding and respecting the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.


“The Security Council recognizes the increasingly valuable role that regional organizations and other intergovernmental institutions play in the protection of civilians, and encourages the Secretary-General and the heads of regional and other intergovernmental organizations to continue their efforts to strengthen their partnership in this regard.


“The Security Council takes note of the Secretary-General’s report of 28 October 2007 (S/2007/643) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and requests the Secretary-General to submit his next report on this subject by May 2009.  The Security Council invites the Secretary-General to provide an update in that report on the implementation of protection mandates in United Nations missions as mandated by the Security Council.  The Council encourages the Secretary-General to continue to include such updates on the protection of civilians in his regular reporting on United Nations missions.”


Background


The Security Council met this morning to debate the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


Briefing


JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the mural on the wall of the Security Council Chamber by Norwegian artist Per Krogh served as a vivid reminder that millions of ordinary people were still trapped in the horror of war and conflict, hoping desperately to rise from the chaos that still surrounded them, into more peaceful times.  It was also a reminder to the Council, the Member States and the United Nations of their responsibility to prevent war, secure peace and, in its absence, to ensure the protection of civilians.


He said there were varying degrees of progress on all those fronts.  In Kenya, mediation in the wake of post-election unrests had reduced the prospects of intensified violence.  The consolidation of peace and relative stability continued in Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Timor-Leste and, in a more fragile way, Uganda, allowing for the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  At the same time, recent upsurges of violence in recovering areas like Burundi and Southern Sudan were of great concern.


The full deployment of peacekeepers in Chad, the Central African Republic and Darfur had the potential to significantly augment efforts to protect and assist those caught in the turmoil in the region, he said.  However, the risks of deterioration were currently very great.  It was essential that those missions be given the requisite support and resources to fulfil their mandates.  Last, but not least, there was the potential for notable progress towards improved protection for civilians from the devastating impact of cluster munitions.  He urged States to seize the historic opportunity posed by the 100 States currently gathered in Dublin to conclude a treaty that had the protection of civilians at its core.


Important though that progress was, he said, the stark reality remained that, in conflicts throughout the world, countless victims continued to see their hopes shattered by violence and displacement, their lives blown apart by suicide bombers or ground down by physical and sexual violence, deprivation and neglect.  In just the first five months of this year, more than half a million people had been displaced by conflict, both within and across borders.  Of course, displacement was not the only indicator of conflict or its impact on civilians.


Civilians continued to account for the majority of casualties in armed conflict, often in flagrant violation of the rules of international law governing the conduct of hostilities, he said.  In Darfur, for example, civilians remained the principal victims of attacks by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Janjaweed militia.  Last month, in Somalia, hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured and thousands more had been forced to flee their homes.  Israeli civilians remained subjected to physical and psychological suffering caused by indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks launched from the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In Gaza, Israeli air attacks and ground incursions continued to result in unacceptable Palestinian civilian casualties.  Non-State groups in Colombia continued to perpetrate killings, mass displacements, hostage-taking, sexual violence and forced recruitment of civilians.  In Sri Lanka, hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured this year.


In other examples, he said that, in Afghanistan, 300 civilians had been killed in the first four months of 2008 in attacks by so-called “anti-Government elements”, the majority in suicide attacks.  Similarly, in Iraq, suicide attacks continued to be used with chilling effect, while members of professional and religious groups, the media and Government officials were targeted for assassination and abduction.  In both those contexts, he also remained concerned by civilian casualties resulting from air strikes and search operations conducted by national and multinational forces, as well as the number of so-called “force protection incidents”, in which civilians were shot at after being considered a threat to military convoys or for not obeying instructions at checkpoints.


He said he did not for one second underestimate the challenge in Afghanistan, Iraq and other contexts, of engaging an enemy whose members were difficult, if not impossible, to identify, and who saw the surrounding civilian population as a shield from attack.  It was an enemy for whom the principles of distinction and proportionality appeared to have no practical meaning or application.  Nevertheless, any military response must itself comply with international humanitarian law and demonstrate respect for the dignity of those already exposed to insurgent attacks.


Against that background, he welcomed the inclusion in relevant Council resolutions of provisions calling for all parties to a conflict to comply with international humanitarian law, including in resolutions authorizing multinational forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He encouraged the continued and systematic inclusion of provisions to that effect in all relevant resolutions.  He also welcomed efforts made by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and other international forces in Afghanistan to minimize the risk of civilian casualties.  And he reiterated the Secretary-General’s recommendation that ISAF and the multinational force in Iraq provide information in their quarterly reports to the Council on steps taken to ensure the protection of civilians.


He stressed that further robust action was also needed to prevent and respond to sexual violence in armed conflict.  That problem must be approached with the same degree of concerted action, wherever it occurred.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo might stand apart in terms of intensity of sexual violence, but it was no less essential to take action to prevent the same horrific crimes against the displaced returning home to Southern Sudan, or that accountability was sought for those who “raped their way” across Côte d’Ivoire and that support was ensured for the victims.  It was precisely that need for consistency in approach that stood behind the proposed expert group of the Council.


Another crucial issue was humanitarian access, he continued.  Safe, timely and unhindered access was fundamental to the efforts to protect civilians and assist those in need.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was continuing to develop a mechanism to enhance its capacity for reporting and analysis on access constraints in conflict settings.  That analysis would be annexed to future reports of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians and included in the Under-Secretary-General’s briefings to the Council.  The intention was to provide a disaggregated and qualitative picture of access constraints and their humanitarian impact.  It should provide a clearer understanding of how constraints impacted different humanitarian actors, as well as identify emerging trends, such as the increased presence of commercial enterprises that were prepared to “pay for access”.


He said that one key factor in all of that was the degree of acceptance of humanitarian actors by local populations and parties to the conflict.  That was critical for reducing security risks and enhancing access.  Meanwhile, not all constraints on access constituted violations of international humanitarian law.  For example, some resulted from the absence, or poor condition, of roads and other infrastructure, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Other constraints clearly were violations of international humanitarian law.  Among the most alarming and direct threats to humanitarian operations today were deliberate attacks against humanitarian workers and other security-related incidents.  In Darfur, for example, seven humanitarian workers had had been killed and 109 abducted in the first four months of this year, 131 agency vehicles had been hijacked and humanitarian premises broken into by armed actors on 52 occasions.  Humanitarian workers had been forced to relocate from areas of operation on eight occasions, disrupting the provision of vital assistance.


Another major constraint stemmed from restrictions on the movement of staff and goods due to checkpoints and spontaneous roadblocks, such as in Somalia and the West Bank.  Interference in humanitarian activities, or the overt diversion of aid, was another significant constraint on humanitarian operations.  In Somalia, for example, there was an acute phenomenon of so-called gatekeepers, who sought to control access to communities in need.  Still another major constraint stemmed from bureaucratic requirements.  Ad hoc demands and requirements by officials at the local level also reduced or paralysed the passage of assistance.  While clearly outside the scope of today’s debate, he noted that access could, of course, be an issue not only in situations of conflict, but also in the aftermath of natural disasters, as had been seen most recently following Cyclone Nargis.  He hoped that issue was now resolved, but implementation would be key.


He said that vital progress had been made in the nine years since the Council had first discussed the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  There was an increased awareness among Member States of the issues involved, and four thematic resolutions on civilian protection had established a comprehensive and ambitious framework for action.  The challenge now was to realize that ambition and ensure the systematic consideration of protection of civilians issues in the Council’s work.


Noting that several Council members attached importance to the Secretary-General’s recommendation for the creation of a Security Council expert group on the protection of civilians, he said that, for those that harboured reservations, he wished to be clear that the proposal was not for a subsidiary body of the Council with the bureaucratic and resource issues which that implied.  Rather, what was envisaged was an informal forum that would bring together all of the Council member States at the expert level for transparent, systematic and timely consultation on protection of civilians concerns, particularly, but not only, in the context of the establishment or renewal of peacekeeping mandates.


The Council had come far in addressing the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but it could go further, he said.  A more consistent approach to integrating the protection of civilians into all relevant aspects of the Council’s work could make a very real difference to the lives of millions trapped in the chaos and horror of war.  “An expert group of the kind I described would, I believe, be a useful vehicle to help take you there,” he said.


Statements


MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), associating himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the European Union, said the protection of civilians should be a priority of the Security Council, and called the establishment of the principle of the “responsibility to protect” a major accomplishment in that area.  He said a ground-centred approach in bringing relief to those who suffered was essential, and it was disturbing that Mr. Holmes had expressed worries over how much impact had been achieved there.  Strongly denouncing sexual violence, he said it was time action was taken to combat such crimes.


He said the informal group proposed by Mr. Holmes could keep the focus on the issue, and that United Nations operations must be clearly mandated to effect the protection of civilians.  A proactive system that would monitor and prevent obstacles to humanitarian access was also crucial.


LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said the Council had been discussing the issue for nearly a decade and had adopted many relevant statements and resolutions, but large numbers of civilians continued to be harmed by conflict.  He urged all parties to conflicts to protect the lives and property of civilians, and said the Security Council should redouble its efforts to prevent, resolve and reduce armed conflicts.  Civilian protection should be an integral part of all actions to accomplish that.


At the same time, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States must also be protected, he said.  He stressed that, currently, many States had reservations over the responsibility to protect and the Security Council should not take it upon itself to expand that concept.  In addition, while protection of humanitarian access was important, it must not be allowed to interfere with the political settlement of crises.  China was ready to join with the rest of the international community to achieve concrete results on the issue.


DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) said the issue of humanitarian access would require further attention, so a way could be found to ensure that those in need of life-saving assistance received it, and those who provided it did so in a secure environment.  The Council should look into the Secretary-General’s proposal for establishing mechanisms to enable humanitarian agencies to have some working-level dialogue with all parties to armed conflict.  That would enable the establishment of “de-conflicting” arrangements for agreement on routes and timing of humanitarian convoys and airlifts to avoid accidental strikes on humanitarian operations.  The dialogue would also promote humanitarian corridors and days of tranquillity.


Further, he said the blockade should be lifted in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, so that OCHA could establish contact and dialogue with all parties to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.  The protection of civilians in armed conflict had to remain a United Nations priority, with all States cooperating on finding a common solution for ensuring that protection.  The Council could best address the issue by establishing partnerships with regional mechanisms.  A strengthened dialogue between the Council and regional organizations would also contribute to tackling common security challenges and ensuring speedy action on the ground.


Finally, he said the deeply regrettable killing of two humanitarian aid workers earlier this month, one in Somalia and another in Chad, underlined the dangerous and volatile environment aid workers endured in giving assistance to civilians caught in armed conflict.


JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said that today bore witness to Governments’ disregard for the pressing needs of their populations.  In an unprecedented development, some were even the authors of those needs.  Some Governments, in disregard for the rulings of the international courts, made a mockery of international law and justice.  As Mr. Holmes had said, there were many and diverse obstacles to the protection of civilians.  He had highlighted the many limitations to humanitarian access, such as recently in Myanmar, as well as the prevention of the deployment of peacekeeping operations, such as in the Sudan, where the Government was the main impediment.  Other sources of concern included human shields by terrorists and the use of force by private security companies and multinational forces, such as in Iraq.  Also, children were the direct victims of the escalation of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.


He said sexual and gender-based violence were weapons of war, including in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The open-ended group, of which he was a member, last week had adopted a strategy of support to the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.  He had been dismayed to see the Save the Children report in the Daily Telegraph characterizing the problem by United Nations personnel as a permanent one.  That cast a shadow on the Organization, but the more important evil was the fate of the children and adult victims of those terrible acts.  Zero tolerance was not just a slogan; it should also stimulate Security Council efforts to ensure that the humanitarian staff of the United Nations was always seen as bringing well-being and hope to those they were obliged and committed to protect.  He also expressed concern about the continuing use of cluster bombs along the border between Lebanon and Israel.


The lack of political will caused the death or injury of hundreds of thousands of civilians daily, in the Sudan, Somalia, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said.  While providing physical protection and humanitarian assistance, and peacekeeping were important protection mechanisms, they were only temporary solutions and were unsustainable absent the appropriate political framework.  That had been evident in Somalia, where it was not even possible to deploy a peacekeeping operation and where hundreds of people died daily.  He understood that constrained resources were one of the greatest challenges for missions, such as those in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but those same resources could produce far greater dividends if they were invested in tackling the root causes of conflicts.  He also urged increased access to natural resources, such as water in the Sudan.


Although the majority of Council members agreed that protection of civilians was the main justification for the United Nations presence in the field, a single workable understanding of the dimension that comprised that protection, particularly in multi-agency operations, was lacking, he said.  The different political, humanitarian, military and development components of United Nations missions in the field lacked an integrated focus on the protection of civilians.  Indeed, that protection should be one of the main mandates of any United Nations mission in the field, whether a peacekeeping, political or peacebuilding mission.  Work should begin on crafting clear guidelines towards effective coordination, particularly between OCHA and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  He supported the creation of the working group.


ALEJANDRO WOLFF ( United States) said that, while the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lay with the parties to conflicts and the national Governments concerned, the United Nations should support and reinforce that role.  In regard to assuring humanitarian access, he supported the return of the United Nations Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) and planning for a United Nations peacekeeping operation there.  In Gaza, he said, the United States was contributing nearly $148 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, while Hamas attacks exacerbated the situation.  The Israeli Government, he stressed, must take all appropriate steps to protect civilians.


Condemning sexual violence, he urged all Member States to take concrete steps to end both the use of rape as an instrument of conflict and the impunity for perpetrators.  His country would pursue a resolution addressing the role of women in conflict during its Council presidency next month.  In the area of protracted refugee situations, comprehensive and innovative approaches to both resolution and livelihood problems were needed.  Meanwhile, his country was actively providing protection to those in need, and he called on other States to uphold the right to asylum and the need for durable solutions for refugees.


In the area of cluster munitions, he agreed that the harm such weapons could cause to civilians must be reduced.  However, rather than a treaty emerging through the Oslo process, he supported an agreement through the Convention on Conventional Weapons.  His Government believed such weapons could not be completely eliminated, as that would put the lives its soldiers and its partners at risk.  The most important principle in the area of protection of civilians was maintaining the distinction between combatants and civilians, and preventing the deliberate targeting of the latter.


BUI THE GIANG ( Viet Nam) welcomed all recent efforts to protect civilians in armed conflict, but expressed deep concern over the worsening situation in many countries and areas around the world, including in Darfur.  Strong warnings were not enough.  Humanitarian access should be protected, as well, but it should be independent of politics.


The best way to protect to civilians, he said, was to resolve armed conflicts themselves through all appropriate organs of the United Nations and the efforts of regional organizations.  Protection of civilians must be examined on a case-by-case basis by the Council, since States had the primary responsibility in that area.  The Council could support their efforts through training and other assistance, in accordance with international law.


RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS (Panama) said that protecting civilians caught in the middle of hostilities faced countless obstacles, among them restrictions on access for humanitarian assistance, the lack of clear mandates for such activities and the lack of monitoring and investigative mechanisms for those accused of systematic violations of international humanitarian law, sexual violence and acts of piracy.  To confront those challenges, the Council must implement a strategic vision that involved the proper allocation of resources and the build-up of effective capacities.  It should adopt a supervisory role to identify and charge the perpetrators and help to strengthen State institutions that protected human rights and ensured the rule of law and the provision of basic services.


He said the Council should reinforce the civilian protection component in peacekeeping missions already deployed.  The establishment of a working group on the protection of civilians in armed conflict was a positive move.  In the domain of international justice, the International Criminal Court was a key instrument, and he encouraged all Member States to cooperate with the Court by supplying the necessary means and proof with which to punish the perpetrators of crime in conflict areas.  There was an intimate connection between international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the responsibility to protect.  The latter principle made States and their institutions responsible for providing protection for civilians against genocide, crimes of war and crimes against humanity.  If States did not do so, the international community was compelled to assist them.  Failure to do so would risk turning that concept into a mere historical footnote.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the protection of civilians was the highest priority for the Council, and he condemned the harm done to civilians through targeting them or through the excessive use of force.  Terrorists and private security organizations, such as those that had caused the deaths of many civilians in Iraq, were also of deep concern.  In addition, the holding of civilians as terrorists on little evidence must be avoided.


In regard to the responsibility to protect, he said he interpreted it to be a responsibility held by States, with support from the Security Council.  Stress must be placed on restoring systems of justice in conflict-threatened countries.  In addition, the United Nations must swiftly respond to threats against civilians and insist on the compliance of the parties with existing international law.


MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said that to meet the demands of civilians in armed conflict, the international community had established a legal and institutional framework, which included the United Nations Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and its two Additional Protocols, as well as the International Criminal Court and Security Council resolution 1674 (2006).  The responsibility to protect civilians, however, devolved first and foremost on States, owing to their territorial and personal competences.  When necessary, however, the Council and the United Nations must see to that they brought all the necessary assistance to populations in distress, with the cooperation of the Governments concerned.


He said civilians continued to be wounded, mutilated and killed because they were deliberately targeted.  The result was an ever growing number of displaced persons and refugees crammed into camps with unacceptable conditions, where they often endured multiple sufferings.  Those were major concerns for which appropriate answers must be found.  The parties to conflict must fully respect their obligations, within the framework of international humanitarian and human rights law.  Burkina Faso also condemned the generalized and systematic use of sexual violence as an instrument of war, and advocated zero tolerance.  It was also concerned about the use of cluster bombs, which hampered the access of humanitarian workers and had disastrous consequences, during and after conflict.  The best guarantee for respect of the rights of civilians was strengthened rule of law, democracy and good governance.


JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (France) said the protection of civilians in armed conflict could not be separated from the victims of natural disasters whose Governments had put obstacles in the path of humanitarian assistance, such as in the case of the millions threatened in Burma right now.  There was much uncertainty in that case, but it was certain that the people of the delta region had been deprived of the 1,500 metric tons of relief waiting on a French ship.  “Must we really wait to reach the threshold of a mass crime before our Council agrees to consider a situation?” he asked.  France could not sit idly by in the Council on that issue.


In addition, he said, his country was ready to initiate meetings at an expert level to consider ways of protecting civilians more systematically when a peacekeeping mission was set up.  He commended OCHA on its humanitarian efforts and expressed hope that all the Council’s resolutions on the protection of civilians were the object of systematic follow-up.  He also announced that France, although it had not used cluster weapons in the past 17 years, had decided to withdraw its M-26 rocket that accounted for 90 per cent of its stockpiles of such munitions, in order to contribute momentum for the related treaty.


GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) said the protection of civilians was one of the highest commitments, both legal and moral.  Council discussions had advanced the issue -- several working groups had been established and resolutions and presidential statements had been adopted.  Most of those texts underscored the Council’s commitment to protect civilians, condemned all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and stressed the need to combat impunity, safeguard access for humanitarian assistance and protect the safety of humanitarian aid workers.  The Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit had endorsed the principle of the responsibility to protect.


He noted that the Council’s role had grown in several areas, including in combating sexual exploitation, protecting women and children, and controlling small arms and light weapons.  Additionally, measures had been taken to build national and judicial capacities and mandates to protect civilians had been given to peacekeeping operations, which he highly valued.  Despite those gains, in several areas in Africa, particularly in Somalia, as well as in Asia and Palestine, action was long awaited.  Then there was the tragic situation in the Gaza Strip, where deliberate military attacks persisted against vulnerable civilian populations.  The impact of mines and cluster bombs spread in civilian areas continued unabated, as did detentions, compulsory migrations, displacements, collective punishment, measures to eradicate cultural identity and demolitions, including of refugee camps.  All those actions were criminal according to the provisions of international law.  Despite that, there was a general attitude, an “old position” in the Council, which prevented it from acting.  That only led to more human tragedy. 


JOHAN VERBEKE ( Belgium) said that protection of civilians involved the most vital principles of the United Nations Charter.  He, therefore, supported more systematic follow-up on the issue.  His country had already emphasized its views in many related areas, such as its opposition to cluster munitions, and had already supported new initiatives to combat sexual violence and connected impunity.


The Security Council must act together with all international actors to protect civilians, he said.  In addition, humanitarian access was closely linked to protection of civilians.  The Security Council should provide any added value it could in that area.


NEVEN JURICA ( Croatia) said there had been reports of children under the age of 5 being raped and of child soldiers being maimed and killed.  That went against the commitment in the World Summit Outcome and resolution 1674.  The international community must help States exercise their responsibility to protect their populations.  It had already stated its preparedness to take collective action through the Security Council when States failed to protect their populations; it should not fail in its commitments.  Even in cases of natural disasters, civilians deserved protection, and he supported the efforts of the wider international community in attempts to protect the victims of Cyclone Nargis.  If humanitarian access was denied in conflict areas, civilians suffered the most, and the majority of victims were women and children, the elderly and disabled.


He was gravely concerned with the situation in and around refugee camps, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan, where the populations were falling victim to rape and other grave violations.  Peacekeeping operations should have clear mandates to protect civilians.  That was just one of the many lessons from past armed conflicts.  The Council should use its mandate to help enact real change on the ground -- a tool to help foster lasting change for the betterment of civilian populations.  Like previous speakers, he expressed concern about the impact of cluster munitions and voiced support for efforts to negotiate this year a legally binding instrument banning their production and use. 


MARTY NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that the intensity of violence directed at civilians was frequently shocking.  However, the most tragic situations occurred when the world became immune to the suffering of civilians, or consciously decided to ignore it.  The lives and sanctity of civilians must be prioritized during conflicts, and the parties must respect the letter and spirit of international humanitarian law.  A comprehensive focus on gender and cultural diversity was also needed, as well as an approach that was sensitive to the needs of local populations.


He said that ending the cycle of violence on the ground was key to protecting civilians, and he expressed particular concern over the continued civilian casualties among Palestinians caused by the indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.  In addition, he called for a total ban on cluster munitions.  With the growing complexity of conflicts, regional organizations and private donors had an important role to play in the protection of civilians.  Violence against humanitarian workers was also a crime and must be prevented through the application of international law.


Council President JOHN SAWERS (United Kingdom), speaking in his national capacity, said the protection of civilians was vital to the Security Council’s work, and expressed hope that more consistent and systematic consideration of the item by the Council would lead to progress in the ability to protect those whose lives had been torn apart by conflict.  To assist States that were under stress before crises broke out, he affirmed support for the principle of the responsibility to protect, which should result in earlier and more decisive action to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


In regard to the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence, he said impunity must be ended and he looked forward to discussing the Secretary-General’s related ideas on impunity next month.  Finally, it was incumbent upon Council members to ensure that obstacles to humanitarian aid, when man-made, were challenged and removed.  Only by putting in place mechanisms to reduce the suffering of civilians in conflict and ensuring their protection could attempts to establish sustainable peace succeed.


DAVID WINDSOR ( Australia) said the plight of civilians must be addressed effectively as part of any comprehensive response to conflict, to bridge the gap between words and deeds.  Peacekeeping operations should be adequately funded to accomplish that goal.  While it was the responsibility of States to protect their civilians, the international community had a responsibility to assist States and, in appropriate circumstances, to take collective action to prevent mass atrocities.


For those reasons, he said, more must be done to develop a practical approach for implementation of the responsibility to protect principle, as endorsed by world leaders in 2005 and reaffirmed by the Security Council in 2006.  He welcomed the appointment of Edward Luck, who would focus on the conceptual development of the principle.  In addition, he called for a renewal of the commitment to end impunity for mass atrocity crimes and to increase accountability for crimes against civilians.


JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said that in places like the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Burundi and Somalia, civilians were part of the calculus of conflict.  In Afghanistan, indiscriminate acts of violence, such as suicide bombings, were a potent reminder of why support for the Afghan Government was so important.  Without a continued commitment to long-term peace and security, civilian protection could not be guaranteed.  Despite the significant gains of the past decade, a great deal of work remained.  The Secretary-General’s 2007 report on the protection of civilians was an important road map.


Increasingly, the question of humanitarian access was the critical challenge for the Council and Member States, he continued.  Ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access was not simply an aspiration, but a fundamental principle of international humanitarian action, which should not be open to interpretation or debate.  However, full and unhindered access -- so critical to providing life-saving relief and support to vulnerable populations -- remained an elusive goal.  Canada strongly supported the commitment made by the Emergency Relief Coordinator to develop a monitoring and reporting mechanism to better understand and address access constraints.   However, the Council must be prepared to act, drawing on the full range of tools at its disposal, when access was systematically delayed or denied.  Those who refused access could not be allowed to act with impunity.  He called on States to cooperate in the four conflicts and post-conflict situations in which the International Criminal Court was active:  Sudan; Central African Republic; Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Uganda.  He also underscored Canada’s continuing support for the Secretary-General’s 2007 proposal to establish a working group on the protection of civilians. 


NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said that protection of civilians should be strengthened, but with strict compliance with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  It was easy to call for a mechanism to protect civilians in peacekeeping missions, but it was the Palestinians, Somalis, Iraqis and the Afghans who were in dire need of protection and assistance.  It was an area that required sincere intentions and political will.


The occupiers who had been putting obstacles in front of humanitarian assistance and who had been bombarding civilians must be condemned, he said.  Women, children and vulnerable groups required special protection.  His country had done much work to develop instruments to protect civilians, for which purpose it was important to prevent conflict when possible.  An example of such prevention, through genuine dialogue and impartial mediators, had taken place recently in his capital and had included the Lebanese political parties.


PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) invited the Council to “demand” in its resolutions that all parties to a conflict, as well as peacekeeping forces, abide by their international law obligations.  Respect for and implementation of international humanitarian law was “indissociable” from the fight against impunity.  Although that task was primarily the responsibility of national jurisdictions, the International Criminal Court played a vital role when national jurisdictions were unable to prosecute persons suspected of committing international crimes.  It was essential, therefore, that the Council ensure that States cooperate fully with the Court.  He endorsed the recommendations of the Secretary-General, particularly the idea of establishing a group of experts on the protection of civilians, which should be implemented immediately. 


He also voiced support for the systematization of reports to the Council on situations where there were serious difficulties of access.  Indeed, humanitarian access should be the subject of systematic follow-up and analysis, using clear indicators that had been established in advance to ensure that the Council was duly informed of the main problems and challenges.  A meeting of experts on the question of humanitarian access in situations of armed conflict would be held from 30 June to 1 July in Montreux, Switzerland, at his Government’s invitation.  Further, in situations of increased vulnerability, internally displaced persons had specific needs for protection and assistance.   The “Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons” had proved their effectiveness in the past 10 years.  He also drew attention to the interdependence between peacebuilding and the needs of internally displaced persons, since the non-resolution of the displacement issue could jeopardize efforts towards peace.  In that context, the recommendations of the Representative of the Secretary-General for the human rights of internally displaced persons should be taken into account during the negotiation and peacebuilding process by all the parties concerned, including the Security Council.


SANJA ŠTIGLIC (Slovenia), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the steps taken to strengthen the normative framework for the protection of civilians were commendable, particularly the 2005 endorsement at the World Summit by Heads of State of their responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  That endorsement recognized the primary responsibility of States for protecting their own populations and also underscored the shared responsibility of the international community to help in that regard.  That historic decision, however, had not yet led to a watershed in protecting civilians worldwide.  Both the Security Council and the General Assembly needed to give more consideration to the responsibility to protect, so as to find a practical approach for its implementation.


She said an important aspect of protecting civilians in armed conflicts was a safe, timely and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to civilians in need.  The imposition of obstacles on humanitarian access was completely unacceptable, whether on a physical or administrative level.  Also, all parties in armed conflict must comply with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law and, in particular, stop attacking humanitarian workers.  Special consideration should be given to vulnerable groups and to those with disabilities.  The zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations personnel should be enforced.  The Council should send a clear message of deterrence by treating serious acts of sexual violence as the war crime and crime against humanity they were by referring such actions to the International Criminal Court.


Continuing, she said the issue of cluster munitions should be addressed and the protection of civilians could not be addressed without integrating small arms control policies into the framework.  In addition, the high degree of impunity allowed to continue was appalling.  It sent the message that the international community was not prepared to take action even when fundamental human rights were breached.  The role of the International Criminal Court in fighting impunity was clearly central.  While the primary responsibility for peacebuilding and conflict prevention rested with States and regional actors, a more systematic assessment of lessons learned should be conducted.  The Council should gather data through its monitoring and reporting mechanisms towards that end, so as to develop targeted and effective strategies for civilian protection.


JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said the fight against impunity was a priority, both for protecting civilians in armed conflict and for promoting a more efficient collective security system.  The best incentive for dissuading potential perpetrators of war crimes and related atrocities was to create a credible international legal framework for bringing such perpetrators to justice.  Even from the perspective of maintaining international peace and security, the best way for sustainable peacebuilding and national reconciliation was for countries to avoid impunity.


He recalled that his country had voted in favour of the resolution whereby the situation in Darfur had been referred to the International Criminal Court and he said that the Council had also demanded that all parties to the conflict cooperate fully with the Court and its Prosecutor, including by providing any assistance requested.  It was time for the Council to show its commitment to a credible international regime for protecting civilians.  Whenever it was impossible to prevent atrocities, the Council should ensure that the perpetrators of war crimes and those bearing political responsibility for violence against civilians were all held accountable for their actions.  All States should cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court and other international mechanisms addressing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The Council should take the appropriate steps to encourage and facilitate that cooperation when it was not otherwise forthcoming.


CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) said the Council’s decisions and actions had a strong and immediate impact on the situation of civilians in armed conflicts, and that special responsibility should be expressed through a more consistent and more permanent engagement.  He, therefore, supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish an expert-level working group among Council members.  Further, there had been an erosion in the respect for international law relevant to the protection of civilians, and the law of armed conflict, usually referred to as international humanitarian law, was among the core achievements in the history of international law.  The Council had a particular responsibility to promote its observance.  A central element in that respect was the Council’s clear commitment to fight impunity, and the establishment of several ad hoc and hybrid tribunals had been an expression of such a commitment.


The key role in the fight against impunity, however, fell on the International Criminal Court, he said.  While that Court was seized with several specific cases, including situations on the Council’s agenda, its activities and mere existence had a preventative effect in conflict situations beyond those under investigation.  The Rome Statute attributed certain functions to the Council, including the possibility to refer situations to the Court.  In March 2005, the Council had exercised that function in connection with Darfur.  More than two years after that historic decision, it was time for the Council to follow up with action to ensure cooperation with the arrest of the persons indicted by the Court, and the Council’s upcoming visit to Africa offered a unique opportunity for doing so.  In the interest of the greater goal of protecting civilians, all United Nations organs, as well as individual States, should extend cooperation for implementing the arrest warrants.


U. JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) said her country remained concerned that brutality towards civilians still existed, in spite of much international legislation.  She unequivocally condemned all acts of violence either targeted at or perpetrated against non-combatants, in particular violence against women, recruitment of child soldiers and the culture of impunity.  The responsibility to protect such civilians was a shared one, although it lay primarily with national Governments.


The ratification and implementation of existing conventions were essential in that regard, along with the strengthening of such international mechanisms as the International Criminal Court.  Conflict prevention, especially through increased support for regional organizations, was also important.  She also called on the international community to intensify its post-conflict peacebuilding efforts.  She invited Governments, the private sector, civil society and the international community to fully commit to their obligations in those areas.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that protecting civilians in armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation, must be a priority mission of the United Nations, and the Council had clear responsibilities in that regard.  The basis and guiding principles for such efforts were the rules of international law, particularly humanitarian and human rights law.  The need to protect civilians, promote their welfare and safeguard their human dignity was at the core of the spirit and purpose of those laws.  Despite such legal safeguards, however, armed conflicts continued to claim the lives of innocent civilians.  The reasons why lay primarily in the lack of respect for international law and the international community’s failure in many circumstances to ensure respect for law and to hold violators accountable for their crimes, with a view to ending those crimes and ensuring protection of civilians and promotion of their human rights.


Regrettably, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Palestinian people had been denied the protection to which they were entitled as a civilian population under occupation, he said.  There, civilians remained highly vulnerable and exposed to the occupying Power’s lethal military force and massive, systematic and grave human rights violations.  Palestinian civilians, including children, continued to be killed, wounded and maimed in Israeli military assaults, which were indiscriminately launched in civilian areas, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and which, in addition to the widespread casualties and destruction it caused, had terrorized and traumatized the population.  The international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for its violations and crimes had regrettably reinforced its lawlessness, permitting it to continue using military force and collective punishment against the defenceless Palestinian people under occupation.  As Israel continued breaching its legal obligations, the Council -- if it could not compel Israel to abide by the law -- had a duty to determine and undertake appropriate measures to protect the civilian population.  To continue doing nothing in the face of such crimes was unacceptable and, as had been witnessed over the years, the consequences “are more than tragic”.


MONA JUUL ( Norway) said resolution 1674 had been a watershed in the Council’s work in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  The Council must systematically address the issue in United Nations peacekeeping mandates, and the issue must be mainstreamed into the work of the United Nations, including in reporting to the Council.  A major challenge in protecting civilians was combating sexual and gender-based violence.  Norway was deeply concerned about the continued use of sexual violence as a weapon of warfare.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sexual and gender-based violence seemed to have taken on epidemic proportions.  It was unacceptable that impunity for those extremely severe crimes seemed to be the rule and not the exception.  Norway supported the referral of such crimes to the International Criminal Court and would consider sanctions against Member States, as well as non-State actors that perpetrated those criminal acts.


Further, she urged the United Nations, Member States and non-governmental organizations to join forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, by expanding the health services for survivors, focusing on transitional justice systems to build capacity to prosecute perpetrators and finding the means to prevent sexual violence, by ensuring that peacekeeping operations made life safer for women and girls.  She supported the Secretary-General’s recommendations to establish ad hoc judicial arrangements to address sexual violence in that country, and in other situations where impunity prevailed.  The response from the Council to sexual and gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict must be intensified; it was totally unacceptable that United Nations officials should be an inactive witness to such atrocities, or even worse, be part of such acts. 


TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan) affirmed the need for timely, appropriate briefings on the subject of protection of civilians, while agreeing, however, that it was also necessary to avoid the creation of an additional bureaucratic mechanism.  In addition, he requested that the Council brief all stakeholders on the topic, and regarded the “aide memoire on issues pertaining to the protection of civilians” as a useful tool to the Council in its consultations on mission mandates.  He also hoped that the next report of the Secretary-General would include analysis on humanitarian access.


He said that human security was an important concept that was consistent with the Charter of the United Nations.  It did not suggest military intervention, even as a last resort, and thus differed from the notion of the responsibility to protect.  It concerned the protection of the right of individuals to live their lives with dignity and emphasized a culture of prevention as well as peacebuilding.  In order to mainstream the concept into United Nations activities, Japan and Mexico, along with OCHA, had organized a fourth meeting of the Friends of Human Security on 15 May.  Japan was very interested in other initiatives in that regard, as well, such as the current panel on safety and security of United Nations personnel.


DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said his country assigned vital importance to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and believed that all individuals should live without fear of physical, sexual, psychological and other forms of abuse that could be aggravated by conflict.  The fundamental objective of sparing civilians from the horrors of war was reflected in the principle of making a distinction between combatants and civilians.  Regrettably, that principle was often ignored, with civilians increasingly targeted or used as human shields. 


Terrorism, in its essence, was the international targeting of civilians, he said.  The abhorrent celebrations of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza after the murder of eight Israeli students in Jerusalem, just recently, were a dreadful reminder of that.  The abuses of terrorists also extended to their own populations, through manipulation and endangerment, for example in Lebanon, where Hizbullah conducted military activity from within civilian sites near places of worship and hospitals.   Only last week, munitions were found hidden in a school yard in Gaza.  Hamas had also been targeting crossings vital to humanitarian assistance in Gaza, something that had not been mentioned in Mr. Holmes’ briefing.   Israel had a responsibility to protect its own civilians, as well as other civilians, and failure to hold accountable terrorist groups that endangered civilian lives would only encourage their reprehensible tactics.  The international community must respond firmly.


BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that, despite the legal developments, civilians still paid the highest price during armed conflicts and a gap existed between the texts and their implementation.  Mr. Holmes, addressing the Council last November, had referred to the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Gaza, describing it as having reached an intolerable level.  The situation had worsened.  The continued siege and closure of the crossing points had transformed the Gaza Strip into the largest prison in the world, depriving the Palestinian people of the most basic needs and impeded access to assistance.  Further, there had been a huge imbalance in the responses of the United Nations and the Security Council with regard to the prevailing tragic situation in Gaza and other situations.  No one could deny that the occupying Power persisted in its attacks against civilians without any deterrent because of the hesitancy of the international community to condemn the siege and call for an immediate halt to those policies and practices.


The Charter had not granted States the right to use the pretext of self-defence to violate the rights of civilians, including those under occupation, he said.  Instead, the Charter had imposed clear commitments.  The Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan was not much different from that of the Palestinians, and he detailed the parallels, calling on the United Nations and Security Council to pressure Israel to, among other things, immediately release prisoners of war.  He called on the Council to deal with the Palestinian occupation and the Syrian Golan with the same seriousness and objectivity, free from double standards and with an in-depth study of the reasons for the suffering of those civilians, namely the Israeli occupation.


JORGE VOTO BERNALES ( Peru) said he was deeply concerned by the increase in violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  In many conflicts, civilian populations were still largely defenceless, and the Security Council should continue to work for their protection.  Access for humanitarian assistance must also be protected, and the Security Council should continue to be informed about the blockage of such access.  The protection of women and girls from sexual violence must receive particular attention.  Those who commit such crimes must be punished in a manner consistent with international law.


United Nations peacekeeping missions must also help protect refugees, including their right to retain their properties.  Among other issues, he pointed to cluster munitions as a particular danger to civilians and called for a binding instrument to ban them.  In addition, the strengthening of resolution 1674 should be pursued, and the creation of an expert group on protection of civilians should be studied.


CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said the challenges facing the United Nations regarding protection of civilians in armed conflict were quite diverse and highly serious.  Access to humanitarian assistance, protection of civilians within the mandates of peacekeeping operations, sexual and gender-based violence and the use of cluster munitions were some of the challenges demanding concrete action.  The main responsibility for civilian protection lay with States.  Mexico was increasingly concerned about piracy along the coasts of Somalia, which endangered the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilians there -- 80 per cent of the World Food Programme’s humanitarian assistance for that country travelled by sea.  He also underlined the importance of strengthening protection to civilians within the mandates of peacekeeping operations, and of establishing post-conflict schemes to reform the security sector, protect human rights and disarm, demobilize and reintegrate former combatants.


He said gender-based violence, including sexual violence, was another challenge, and he recognized the General Assembly’s adoption of resolutions to strengthen the Organization’s image, credibility and efficiency in that regard.  He also called on all States to prevent the use of cluster munitions.  Given their indiscriminate nature and lack of reliability, they left behind many explosive remnants of war that affected all civilians after the end of conflict.  Mexico participated in the conference of Dublin, in order to reach a legally binding instrument to ban that category of arms.  He also emphasized the importance of cooperation with the International Criminal Court, in order to end the impunity for the gravest crimes of humankind.  A fundamental component of the Security Council’s role regarding protection of civilians in armed conflict was its submission of cases to that Court.  He also considered the creation of the relevant working group to be an important proposal.


GERHARD PFANZELTER ( Austria) said he firmly believed that Council debates like today’s could increase recognition for the development of a “culture of protection” within and beyond the United Nations.  Too often, the main victims of armed conflict were women and children, on whose shoulders lay the future of society.  He fully supported Council resolution 1612 (2005) and its monitoring and reporting mechanism as an important instrument for protecting children in armed conflict, and efforts should be intensified towards implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  On the basis of its national action plan, Austria was working with its partners to put the commitments of resolution 1325 into practice.  He was deeply shocked by the appalling level of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations worldwide.  Those responsible for such horrendous crimes must be brought to justice.  They had far-reaching implications for the development of affected societies and, for that reason, his country had increased its support to campaigns against sexual violence and assistance programmes for victims of sexual violence, particularly in eastern Congo.


He also called on the Council to mainstream the fight against gender-based violence throughout its work and to make full use of the range of available measures and tools, including the imposition of targeted measures and the referral of serious violations against women and children to the International Criminal Court.  He also called on Member States to strengthen the rule of law and fully utilize accountability mechanisms to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Cluster munitions killed and maimed civilians, particularly children, deprived communities of their livelihoods and prevented the return of refugees and displaced persons.  Austria was striving for a ban on such munitions.


ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) said that the protection of civilians was a very important issue to Afghanistan, as the Taliban and Al-Qaida continued carrying out heinous acts to disrupt the efforts of the Government and international forces to establish a stable, prosperous and democratic country.  Roadside bombings, suicide attacks and other heartless acts were designed to weaken the determination of the international community to support Afghanistan and the trust the Government was trying to build with its citizens.


The Afghan Government and international forces spared no effort to avoid civilian casualties, while terrorists both killed civilians directly and used them as human shields, he said.  An integral part of the Government’s military planning was to avoid harming civilians, which was lower than often reported.  Thanks to improved methods, the number of civilian casualties from air strikes during counter-terrorism operations had decreased considerably since 2007.  Much more needed to be done, both in Afghanistan and beyond, however.


SHALVA TSISKARASHVILI ( Georgia) drew the Council’s attention to the intolerable situation of the civilians forcibly displaced due to the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia.   For the past 15 years, the people and Government had been dealing with the consequences of the protracted conflict on Georgia’s territory.  Hundreds of thousands of his compatriots still remained outside Abkhazia and, since their displacement, they had been willing to return to their homes of origin.  The expelled population was forced to live in crowded temporary shelters or other similar accommodations.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was involved in negotiations to secure their prompt and safe return, but those efforts had not succeeded, owing to the de facto regime.  The spontaneous return of internally displaced persons and refugees had occurred only in the Gali district of Abkhazia, but those who had returned had put themselves at great risk; their fundamental rights were constantly violated. The international community must condemn those unlawful actions accordingly.


He said that the Georgian Government had recently launched a State programme to collect data on the properties of internally displaced persons and refugees left in Abkhazia.  The young generation of returnees was deprived of the fundamental right to study their mother tongue and, in past years, there had been frequent violations of the Georgian population’s constitutional right to vote.  Just recently, the persecution of religious freedom had been observed when the de facto local authorities expelled a Georgian orthodox priest from the Gali district after he was banned from holding a service.  For more than a decade, the fundamental rights of civilians in the conflict zone had been targeted and challenged.  It was distressing to see how the spontaneously returned population was becoming victim of physical and psychological violence on a daily basis.  He stressed the Council’s leading role in addressing the outstanding issues related to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, underlining the importance of Council resolution 1808 (2008) and General Assembly resolution 249, which comprehensively addressed the issues related to the internally displaced persons and refugees.


THAN SWE ( Myanmar) said one of the most effective ways to protect civilians in armed conflict was to have a legally binding instrument prohibiting the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons to non-State actors.  In addition, his country joined in condemning all terrorist acts and lent full sympathy to victims of armed conflict in various parts of the world, because it had gone through the bitter experience of having insurgent groups that committed atrocities on the civilian populations.  The best way to prevent harm to civilians was to resolve the root causes of such conflicts and, for that reason, his Government had embarked on a national reconciliation process and had brought most insurgents back into the legal fold.


He said he found it highly objectionable that some delegations had tried to use the debate to politicize the humanitarian issues caused by a natural disaster.  He also expressed regret that Mr. Holmes had mentioned, in passing, access in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  As he himself had said, that was clearly outside the scope of today’s debate.


CLAUDIA BLUM (Colombia) said that, although violence indicators in Colombia had continued to decline, threats continued and his Government gave priority to the protection of civilians and the strict compliance with international humanitarian law in that context.  It rejected any action against civilian populations, which violated those norms.  His Government was guided by its democratic security policy that aimed to protect all its citizens and guarantee the enjoyment of their rights.  That policy had also significantly decreased homicides since 2002 and had accomplished the demobilization of more than 46,000 people from illegal armed groups.


The primary responsibility for protecting civilians rested with the State, he said, although States might resort to international support when necessary.  Such support must be carried out predictably and consistently, in conformity with the United Nations Charter.  In regard to the creation of a working group on protection of civilians, work should focus on supporting efforts related to the protection of civilians in specific situations, rather than on the creation of new entities.  It was equally necessary to maintain an adequate level of cooperation between the Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations.


AHMED AL-JARMAN ( United Arab Emirates) said that, in the face of the nearly integrated humanitarian and legal framework established by the United Nations for protecting civilians, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity persisted as a result of non-compliance by the belligerent parties to those instruments and their selective implementation in some conflict zones.  The international community, and especially the Security Council should, therefore, reconsider implementing protection measures, in line with resolution 1674, which not only recognized States’ primary responsibility to protect their civilians, but also the common responsibility of the international community to help States shoulder that responsibility.


He, therefore, affirmed the importance of the coordinating role played by the Council, in collaboration with the other United Nations bodies, particularly in taking effective, prompt and decisive action to prevent civilian suffering.  He also stressed the importance of developing mechanisms for controlling and monitoring the practices committed against civilians during armed conflicts, as well as the procedures taken to ensure the compliance with the relevant commitments not to target civilians.  He also advocated setting up an integrated, humane and unconditional international strategy for relief and assistance, to be supported by adequate resources and political support.  There was also a need to enhance the system set up for exchanging information on crimes committed against humanity during armed conflicts and for strengthening and implementing the system for investigating and punishing the perpetrators.


Mr. HOLMES welcomed the clear commitment from the speakers to today’s important agenda and their recognition of the need to do more to ensure that words were followed up by actions that had an impact where it mattered most -- on the ground.  Civilians were more than ever the main victims of modern conflict, which was within States, rather than outright war between States.  On the question of humanitarian access, he welcomed the support of many speakers for efforts to improve that and to keep the Council informed in a systematic way.  On the question of provisions of protection in peacekeeping mandates and how those were being implemented, clearly there was concern that the success of those provisions to date had been mixed.  The reasons for that were variable.  Ten years since the establishment of the first expressed protection of civilians in such a mandate, an independent study was under way to review each stage of that process to see where the fault lines were and to identify areas where action was required.  That 12-month study should be finalized by this time next year and it would contain recommendations for all, including the Council, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, OCHA, the Special Representative on the ground, and so forth.


Noting that many speakers had mentioned the Save the Children report, he said there was continued evidence of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers.  The Secretary-General had issued a statement on that today, which had made clear his concern about that report.  Training and monitoring would continue; he was working with his staff.  There was still more to do to put a stop to that shameful practice, which he took extremely seriously.  His department was in no way complacent about it.  On the question of accountability, there had been a lot of progress in extending the reach of accountability mechanisms, but States were also obliged to take steps nationally to prevent and halt acts in contravention of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.  On establishing an expert group of the Council, he had been heartened by the support.  The suggestion was not for a formal subsidiary body, but an informal forum for timely and systematic consultation among all Council members, OCHA and other relevant departments of the Secretariat.


As for problems in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he still believed that the situation in Gaza was tragic and he still appealed to Israel to relax restrictions there, which constituted collective punishment that should be brought to an end.  At the same time, it was clear that indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza should stop.  The particularly cynical and unacceptable attacks against the crossing points by Hamas from and within Gaza should be prevented, because they simply could not be seen as helping the local Gaza population.


Noting that the representative of Myanmar had questioned the reference to access issues in the natural disaster context in his briefing, he said it seemed to him to be “slightly perverse” not to mention the problems of access in Myanmar, which he had said were outside the scope of today’s debate, but which merited further consideration in due course.


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