|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6066th Meeting (AM & PM)
Security Council, in presidential statement, reaffirms commitment to protection
Of civilians in armed conflict, adopts updated aide-memoire on issue
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes Briefs;
Many of 50 Speakers Say While Council Debates Issue, Gaza Continues to Suffer
The Security Council today affirmed its commitment to deal more effectively with the impact of conflict on civilians by adopting an updated version of its landmark 2002 aide‑memoire, which set out core objectives for providing protection and assistance to conflict‑affected civilians and other vulnerable populations.
Reading out an agreed statement, Council President Jean-Maurice Ripert ( France), said the 15‑member body expressed its deepest concern that civilians were still the most common victims of violent acts committed by parties to armed conflicts. It reaffirmed that such parties bore primary responsibility to “take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians and to meet their basic needs, including by giving special attention to the needs of women and children”.
The statement (document S/PRST/2009/1) was adopted at the end of a day-long thematic debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It expressed the Council’s deep concern at violence committed against civilian populations as a result of deliberate targeting, indiscriminate and excessive use of force, and sexual or gender‑based violence. It condemned all violations of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict, and demanded that “all relevant parties put an end to such practices”.
To facilitate consideration of issues pertaining to civilian protection, Council members adopted the revised aide‑memoire, originally annexed to its presidential statement of 15 March 2002 (document S/PRST/2002/6), and updated on 15 December 2003 (document S/PRST/2003/27). They reiterated the importance of the aide‑memoire as a practical tool that could improve the Council’s analysis and diagnosis of key protection issues, particularly during its deliberations on peacekeeping mandates. They also stressed the need to implement the approaches set out therein “on a more regular and consistent basis, taking into account the particular circumstances of each conflict situation”.
The objectives outlined in the aide‑memoire cover, among others, access to vulnerable populations; safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons; small arms and mine action; respect for the safety and security of humanitarian workers; accountability for persons suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of human rights law; and media and information.
Acknowledging that the debate was taking place in the shadow of the brutal 19‑day conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, John Holmes, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs said the Council’s focus must be on the conduct of hostilities and the need for strict compliance with international humanitarian law.
“The current situation in southern Israel and Gaza is still pressing and desperate,” he said, noting that civilians in southern Israel had long lived under the constant threat of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants. Considering the number of rockets and mortars fired, civilian casualties had been limited, but the frequent and indiscriminate nature of the attacks inflicted severe psychological suffering. While those attacks were contrary to international law and must cease, Israel’s response must itself comply with international humanitarian law, he added.
By the end of the day, Mr. Holmes, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, was able to give the latest figures regarding Palestinian casualties and injured in Gaza, as provided by the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Authority: 1,013 dead, including 322 children and 76 women. In his opening statement he said that the number of child casualties had reportedly tripled since the beginning of ground operations on 3 January. The Israel Defense Forces were no doubt trying, as they had said, to take steps to minimize civilian casualties, “but they are clearly not succeeding”.
He said that, in the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare civilian populations from the effects of hostilities. For those launching attacks, that included doing everything feasible to verify that the objectives were neither civilians, nor civilian objects. For those in defence, it meant removing civilians and civilian objects from the vicinity of military objectives and avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. “Can we look at what has been happening in Gaza […] and say that either Israel or Hamas has come close to respecting fully these rules? I think not,” he said, reiterating that violations of international humanitarian law by one party to a conflict offered no justification for non‑compliance by other parties. Allegations of such violations must be fully investigated and those responsible must be held to account.
As much as the world’s attention was focused on Gaza, he said that was sadly by no means the only situation raising profound concerns of the degree of respect for those rules of engagement and treatment of civilians. He emphasized the use of human shields and random fire in war‑wracked Somalia and the 40 per cent increase of civilians killed in hostilities in Afghanistan this year -- for a total of some 2,000. He was particularly concerned by the catastrophic situation that had unfolded in August in and around Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Congolese citizens had found themselves “in the worst of all worlds”: subject to attacks, displacement, sexual violence and forced recruitment perpetrated by advancing rebel forces; and to acts of violence, rape and looting carried out by members of the official Congolese Armed Forces and rebel militias.
He emphasized that, if the international community was serious about sparing civilian lives, obtaining access to those in need, and ensuring that humanitarian actors operated in safe conditions, “humanitarian actors must have consistent and sustained dialogue with all parties to conflict, be it the Taliban, Hamas or Al-Shabaab”. It was simply not enough to oppose such engagement for fear it would confer a degree of recognition on those groups.
From the perspective of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 2009 had had a dreadful beginning. “We need urgently to redouble our efforts to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in times of conflict,” he said, stressing that the convening of the Council’s expert working group later this week and the revision of the aide‑memoire were important steps in that direction.
He said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had worked closely with the Council on the updated aide‑memoire, which identified key protection-of-civilian concerns in contemporary conflicts and maintained a focus on the role of peacekeeping missions. It also included a range of additional measures that could be taken by the Council, such as imposing targeted sanctions against the perpetrators of serious violations against civilians and the referral of situations to the International Criminal Court.
As the nearly 50 delegations took the floor, it was clear that the situation in Gaza was their foremost concern. While most speakers stressed that Governments bore the primary responsibility of protecting their civilians, they also cited the special case of the civilians in the Occupied Territory, and called on the Security Council to press Israel to live up to its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and other international legal instruments to protect civilians. Several denounced the firing of rockets into southern Israel by Hamas, while others expressed frustration that, after six days, both sides were ignoring the resolution adopted by the Council calling for an immediate and durable ceasefire.
Delegations also directed their frustration at what they believed was the Council’s inability to act in a timely manner to end the fighting in Gaza. Libya’s representative said that resolution 1860 (2009), adopted after much delay, still had not accomplished anything. Israel continued to commit crimes and it had not hesitated to provide flimsy excuses for its actions. Pakistan’s representative said that, as Gaza burned, the world was watching the United Nations and the Security Council in particular. As the Council spent the day debating “high-sounding moral principles and respect for international law”, it had meanwhile failed to carry out its Charter mandated responsibility to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security.
Another recurring concern was the ongoing system‑wide effort among delegations to hammer out the parameters of the principle of the responsibility to protect. While some delegations called for speedy implementation of that principle as had been called for in the Outcome of the General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit, Turkey’s representative was among those who said many aspects of the principle required further elaboration, and he urged approaching the question from a much wider angle, notably through addressing such issues as the creation of conditions for stability, by strengthening the rule of law, human rights, democracy and good governance.
The representatives of China, Costa Rica, Viet Nam, Austria, Mexico, Japan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Russian Federation, United States, United Kingdom and France also spoke, as did the representatives of the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Italy, Canada, Brazil, Indonesia, Switzerland, Qatar, Uruguay, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Finland (on behalf of the Nordic countries) and Israel.
The representatives of Azerbaijan, Australia, Jordan, Argentina, New Zealand, United Republic of Tanzania, Morocco (on behalf of the Arab Group), Liechtenstein, Nicaragua, Syria, Colombia, Myanmar, Kenya, Egypt, Venezuela, Iran and the Sudan also addressed the Council.
Statements were also made by the Permanent Observers for Palestine and the Holy See.
The meeting started at 10:25 a.m. and was suspended at 1:15 p.m. It was resumed at 3:10 p.m. and adjourned at 7:05 p.m.
The full text of presidential statement S/PRST/2009/1 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, use of civilians as human shields and of sexual and gender‑based violence, as well as all other acts that violate applicable international law. 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 and to meet their basic needs, including by giving attention to the specific needs of women and children.
“The Security Council recalls the obligations of all States to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including the four Geneva Conventions, and once again emphasizes the responsibility of States to comply with their obligations to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
“The Security Council recognizes the needs of civilians under foreign occupation and stresses further, in this regard, the responsibilities of the occupying Power.
“The Security Council condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, however and by whomever committed.
“The Security Council underlines the importance of safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel, and of the timely, safe and unhindered passage of essential relief goods, to provide assistance to civilians in armed conflict in accordance with applicable international law. The Council stresses the importance of upholding and respecting the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
“Recalling that on 15 March 2002 the Security Council first adopted the aide‑memoire annexed in the statement by its President (S/PRST/2002/6) as a means to facilitate its consideration of issues pertaining to protection of civilians and recalling further that in the statements by its President of 20 December 2002 (S/PRST/2002/41) and 15 December 2003 (S/PRST/2003/27), the Security Council expressed its willingness to update the aide‑memoire regularly in order to reflect emerging trends in the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Security Council adopts the updated aide‑memoire contained in the annex to this presidential statement.
“The Security Council reiterates the importance of the aide‑memoire as a practical tool that provides a basis for improved analysis and diagnosis of key protection issues, particularly during deliberations on peacekeeping mandates, and stresses the need to implement the approaches set out therein on a more regular and consistent basis, taking into account the particular circumstances of each conflict situation, and undertakes to remain actively seized of the matter.”
The Security Council met this morning to hold a thematic debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, while he would cover a number of urgent issues in his briefing, the Council’s focus must be on the conduct of hostilities and the need for strict compliance with international humanitarian law. “The current situation in southern Israel and Gaza is still pressing and desperate,” he began, noting that civilians in southern Israel had long lived under the constant threat of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants. Considering the number of rockets and mortars fired, civilian casualties had been limited, but the frequent and indiscriminate nature of the attacks inflicted severe psychological suffering. Four Israeli civilians had been killed and dozens injured since the current hostilities began.
“These attacks are contrary to international law and must cease,” yet any Israeli response must itself comply with international humanitarian law, he said, adding that there was considerable and grave cause for concern. The population of Gaza had already been suffering after more than 18 months of closures. Since the current hostilities began, the Palestinian Ministry reported that, as of yesterday, the number of Palestinian casualties stood at 971, of whom 311 were children and 76 were women. Moreover, 4,418 Palestinians had been wounded, 1,549 of whom were children and 652 of whom were women. Many of the male casualties were no doubt civilians. The number of child casualties had reportedly tripled since the beginning of ground operations on 3 January. The Israel Defense Forces were no doubt trying, as they had said, to take steps to minimize civilian casualties, “but they are clearly not succeeding”.
He went on to say Israeli operations were also causing extensive damage to homes and public infrastructure, and seriously jeopardizing water, sanitation and medical services. United Nations schools sheltering displaced persons had been hit, humanitarian workers had been killed and ambulances hit, sick and wounded had been left trapped and unassisted, and up to 100,000 people had been displaced from their homes. “The civilian population of Gaza is terrified and its psychological impact felt particularly by children and their parents who feel helpless and unable to protect them,” he said, stressing that only a full and fully respected ceasefire would spare the civilian population from such horrors. And even then, their need for assistance would remain both urgent and overwhelming.
In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare civilian populations from the effects of hostilities, he said, stressing that that required strict compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality and the requirement to take all feasible precautions against the effects of attacks. For those launching attacks, that included doing everything feasible to verify that the objectives to be attacked were neither civilians nor civilian objects and refraining from any indiscriminate attack, including those which may be expected to cause civilian casualties and which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from that specific attack.
For those in defence, he continued, it meant removing civilians and civilian objects from the vicinity of military objectives and avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas. It also meant not ordering or using the presence or movement of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to shield military objectives from attack. “Can we look at what has been happening in Gaza the last three weeks and say that either Israel or Hamas has come close to respecting fully these rules? I think not,” he said, reiterating that violations of international humanitarian law by one party to a conflict offered no justification for non-compliance by other parties. Allegations of violations must be fully investigated and those responsible must be held to account.
He stressed that, as much as the world’s attention was focused on Gaza, it was sadly by no means the only situation to raise profound concerns of the degree of respect for those rules of engagement and treatment of civilians. Indeed, from the end of August, the eyes of the international community had been focused in the catastrophic situation that had begun to unfold in and around Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Congolese citizens had found themselves “in the worst of all worlds”: subject to attacks, displacement, sexual violence and forced recruitment perpetrated by advancing rebel forces; and to acts of violence, rape and looting carried out by members of the official Congolese armed forces and Mai Mai and other militias.
In one particularly horrific incident in early November, an estimated 150 people had been killed during two days of violence in the town of Kiwanja. He said reports indicated that most of those killed had been summarily executed by forces led by Laurent Nkunda. Others had died when they had been caught in the conflict between Nkunda’s forces and Mai Mai militia. The situation in the east was now somewhat more stable, but sporadic violence continued and humanitarian needs where great while access remained extremely limited.
“Meanwhile, we now have to face up to fresh atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the north-east of the country and parts of southern Sudan,” he said, adding that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, LRA attacks on villages in recent weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had displaced more than 500 people. Over 400 had been abducted and some 100,000 had been displaced. “For any who hoped that the threat of LRA brutality had gone, it has been a rude awakening indeed,” he said.
He went on to highlight the situation in Somalia, where for the past year, an increasingly high proportion of the civilian population was trapped in a vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks between armed groups and Ethiopian forces and Transitional Federal Government forces. He added that armed groups in Somalia also used homes and crowds of civilians as cover from which to ambush Government and Ethiopian forces, resulting in “wild fire-fights and further civilian casualties”. Turning to the situation in Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 civilians had been reportedly killed over the past year, he said that over half of those deaths had been a result of attacks by anti-Government elements, in particular suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices. “The calculated and callous nature of suicide attacks remains particularly horrifying, in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” he said.
In Sri Lanka, strict compliance with international humanitarian law was all the more critical with the intensification of fighting in the Vanni region and reports of intermittent artillery fire in civilian populated areas in recent weeks. He said the scale of humanitarian needs was difficult to gauge, given restricted humanitarian access due to the intensified fighting and the relocation of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations from rebel-held areas in mid-September. He was, however, concerned that some 350,000 civilians were trapped in an increasingly confined space and effectively prevented from leaving by Tamil Tiger rebels. That raised serious concerns about the use of civilians to render areas immune from military operations, he added.
He said that, in environments such as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, it was particularly worrying that humanitarian organizations and their staff continued to be subject to threats, intimidation and deadly attacks. By example, he noted that, in Afghanistan, 112 humanitarian workers had been kidnapped in 2008, five of whom had been killed by their captors. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in North Kivu, 104 security incidents involving humanitarian workers had been reported this past September alone.
Such actions inevitably resulted in increased security measures, further restrictions on access and a scaling down of humanitarian operations, he said, adding that, the main losers from all that, were, of course, the most vulnerable. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was continuing to monitor and analyze the trends of violence against humanitarian workers and access constraints more generally, and would provide a comprehensive overview of those issues in the Secretary-General’s next report on the protection of civilians.
He emphasized that, if the international community was serious about sparing civilian lives, obtaining access to those in need, and ensuring that humanitarian actors operated in safe conditions, “humanitarian actors must have consistent and sustained dialogue with all parties to conflict, be it the Taliban, Hamas or Al-Shabaab.” It was simply not enough to oppose such engagement for fear it would confer a degree of recognition on those groups.
“We need those groups to understand what international humanitarian laws say and why. We need to be able to speak out for their victims and for the communities they endanger through their mere presence and by storing weapons in their homes, schools and places of worship,” he declared, adding that stakeholders needed to speak to those groups to gain safe and sustained access to populations in need and to point out consistently their misperceptions of humanitarian motives, the lack of a political agenda of the United Nations and its firm commitment to impartiality, neutrality and independence. “And we need to be able to call them to account when they violate the law,” he added.
He recognized that, for some militia, guerrilla and rebel groups, civilian casualties and restraints on access were, in many cases, the intended consequences of their actions. Still, the simple truth remained that, unless protection and access concerns were consistently raised with those groups, unless they were made aware of the “deep irresponsibility” of some of their actions, such groups would continue to kill, maim and threaten the lives of more civilians.
He said that there were some “bright spots amid all this darkness”, not least the opening for signature last month of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which had civilian protection at its core and banned the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of such munitions.
Returning to challenges, he noted the “massive and increasing problem of internal displacement due to conflict”, a comprehensive and consistent response to which continued to elude the international community; and the lack of a comprehensive approach to combat sexual violence. On that specific issue, he was pleased to note that, after eight months, the United Nations and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had made significant progress in developing a comprehensive draft strategy to combat the horrific sexual violence there. While that strategy was crucial and deserving of support, however, he wondered where such initiatives were for the Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and other contexts where rape and other forms of sexual violence were widespread. Urgent action was required to that end and he hoped the Council would insist on it.
He went on to note that the Council’s 2002 aide-memoire identified the key protection-of-civilian concerns in contemporary conflicts and, based on its past practice, specific actions which the Council could take to respond to those concerns. In close consultation with the Council, OCHA had produced a revised and updated version, which he trusted would be adopted at the end of the meeting. The aide-memoire identified key protection-of-civilian concerns in contemporary conflicts and maintained a focus on the role of peacekeeping missions. It also included a range of additional measures that could be taken by the Council, such as imposing targeted sanctions against the perpetrators of serious violations against civilians and the referral of situations to the International Criminal Court.
From the perspective of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 2009 had had a dreadful beginning. “We need urgently to redouble our efforts to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in times of conflict,” he said, stressing that the convening of the Council’s Expert Working Group later this week and the revision of the aide-memoire were important steps in that direction. Additional proposals would be outlined in the seventh report of the Secretary-General on the issue due in May. In the meantime, he hoped that this year, the tenth anniversary of the Council’s first resolution on the protection of civilians, would be the year in which sustained effort to approach the issues in a comprehensive manner began to produce results.
LIU ZEHNMIN ( China) said the Council had been seized with the question of protection of civilians in armed conflict for nearly a decade and had adopted many decisions on the topic. However, because of the changing character and increasing complexity of conflicts, civilians the world over were suffering from the harm inflicted upon them by armed conflict. The recent resurgence of conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip had caused grave casualties among innocent civilians and had sparked a severe humanitarian crisis, which had become a matter of serious concern for the international community. “The grim reality tells us that the international community has a long way to go in fulfilling its duty of civilian protection,” he said.
With that in mind, he said that the Security Council must fulfil its primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security and take prompt action within its sphere of competence to reduce tensions and address the root causes of conflict to mitigate the harm that could be caused. To that end, he called on the parties in Gaza to adhere to the Council’s resolution 1860 of last week and agree to an immediate ceasefire to avoid further civilian casualties.
He went on to urge the Security Council not to view the protection of civilians in isolation, but to consider the matter a part of an integrated approach to political solutions to conflict and crafting of lasting peace processes. He said that the roles of Governments in the protection of civilians should be respected and supported. Indeed, Governments bore the primary responsibility of protecting their civilians and they must respect the Charter and refrain from undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned. Finally, he said that China expected the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to play a greater role, along with organs like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and regional bodies to do their part to enhance the overall strategy to ensure the protection of civilians.
JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said that the protection of civilians encompassed a set of principles and measures that aimed to lessen and minimize the impact of conflicts on those that did not participate in them. Indeed, those principles were based on international humanitarian and human rights law. Costa Rica condemned all actions that did not minimize the impact of conflict on civilians, including reprisals and the use of excessive force against defenceless populations, among others. It also believed that, when such principles were violated, the incidents should be investigated with a view towards ensuring accountability for actions that certainly ran counter to international law.
At the same time, he called for more cooperation between the Security Council and the United Nations humanitarian agencies and bodies. The Council must also bolster its efforts in the area of conflict prevention, early warning systems and rapid response to situations that threatened civilian populations. Further, the Council and the wider international community must also work harder to address the root causes of conflict and tension to prevent the recurrence of fighting. The international community, in that regard, must bolster instruments such as the Peacebuilding Commission.
He said that the Security Council must continue to ensure that peacekeeping mandates addressed civilian protection. Those missions must be provided with the proper tools and equipment to carry out their expanded civilian protection mandates. The wider United Nations must do more to address the fragmentation of its on-the-ground operations to ensure proper civilian protection, as well as rapid response to the needs of threatened civilian populations. At all times, it must call for the cooperation of parties to conflict to establish “neutral zones” or humanitarian corridors to provide quick humanitarian and medical assistance to threatened civilian populations, as well as to allow medical evacuations when necessary. Costa Rica called for the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian aid workers. Costa Rica also believed that it was time for the Secretariat, the Security Council and the General Assembly to develop clear guidelines pertaining to the protection of civilians.
GIADALLA ETTALHI ( Libya) said he had prepared to read a statement on the protection of civilians, but he found it extremely difficult and was embarrassed to speak about that issue, after it had become clear to everyone that there was a great disconnect between the Security Council’s words and its actions to implement them on the ground. The suffering in Gaza clearly illustrated that. Its civilian population had suffered for many months and were suffering from a lack of food, fuel and all other basic necessities of life. They had been subjected to an attempt at genocide by the occupying Power that had flouted all international law, including international humanitarian law, and all moral and ethical responsibility. The tragedy of Gaza had raised serious doubt about the Council’s willingness and ability to protect civilians. The aggressor was continuing with its aggression despite calls to end it, depriving people of their very existence.
Israel had attacked and was starving, depriving and weakening the civilian population in Gaza with a war machine that had indiscriminately bombed places of worship, schools, United Nations facilities, aid workers and others, he continued. Everyone was hearing that the number of dead and wounded was increasing by the minute. Children had been victims of phosphorous bombs. The aggressors were even preventing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from reaching the victims. There were credible eye witness declarations from ICRC, including its President, and from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) officials about brutal Israeli practices. Still, the Council had been unwilling and unable to do anything. Resolution 1860, adopted after much delay, still had not accomplished anything. Israel continued to receive technical assistance to continue committing crimes and it had not hesitated to provide flimsy excuses for its actions.
In the past three weeks, the atrocities and brutality in Gaza had surpassed anything seen before and they were putting the Council’s humanity to the test, he said. The Council’s failure to bear its moral and legal responsibilities to Gaza and the conspiracy of some had made it extremely difficult to speak of legitimacy, ethics and justice, especially for someone raised by Islamic teachings that called for preventing violence against civilians. He concluded by asking the Council President to distribute his full statement to members.
LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) said the updated aide-memoire would be useful to States and United Nations bodies in the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Indeed, with the spread of conflicts throughout the world, enhancing civilian protection had become more urgent than ever, and he was deeply concerned that, in many places, civilians continued to be the main victims of violence, and excessive use of force. As his delegation had emphasized, Viet Nam was firm in its position that all indiscriminate attacks against civilians were unjustifiable under any pretext. As such, he called on all parties to armed conflicts to minimize military activities around civil locations.
Regarding Gaza, he urged parties to heed the call of the global community, and the Council, for an immediate ceasefire, an end to violent acts, and the implementation of measures outlined in resolution 1860 (2009). Disturbed by the displacement resulting from many conflict situations, he agreed that such displacement might become another source of conflict. While the primary responsibility for protecting civilians was with parties to conflicts, the United Nations should play its critical role by providing political mediation and peacekeeping operations. On humanitarian access, he emphasized the need to uphold the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. While recognizing the need for further efforts to protect civilians, the creation of any new mechanism within the Council should be carefully considered before a decision is made.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING ( Austria), associating himself with the European Union, agreed with the Secretary-General that the protection of civilians in armed conflict must remain an absolute priority. Austria welcomed the revised aide-memoire on protection of civilians in armed conflict, and the establishment of a Security Council Expert Group on that issue. The Council should further contribute to strengthening the rule of law and international law by supporting criminal justice mechanisms and, where necessary, considering measures to compel prosecution of those responsible for international crimes.
Turning to Gaza, he called on the parties to fully abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including for parties to an armed conflict to refrain from targeting civilians, and allow the rapid, unimpeded passage of relief consignments. Austria was also deeply concerned at other conflict situations, such as those in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur. Strongly supporting the strengthening of protection mandates in peacekeeping operations, he noted that progress had been made, notably with the new mandate of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), which made protection of civilians the key priority for the Mission. He attached great importance to the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on protection of civilians, and strongly agreed with the positive assessment of the Convention on Cluster Munitions signed in December. The Council must continue to intensify its work to protect the most vulnerable in conflict situations: civilians, and particularly women and children.
BAKI ILKIN ( Turkey) said that, since the last update to the aide-memoire on protecting civilians in armed conflict five years ago, the substance of the matter had changed only in that it had become more compelling for the international community to act in unison. He condemned in the strongest possible terms all deliberate attacks on civilians, and deaths resulting from the indiscriminate use of force. Events in Gaza showcased the tragedy suffered by civilians in such conflicts, and he strongly appealed to the parties involved to comply with the terms of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).
He said protecting civilians in armed conflicts was a top priority for the global community, particularly in cases where conflict prevention was not possible. While States had the primary obligation for protecting civilians, the global community had the duty to help protect them when States failed to do so, and there was a need to agree on fundamental guidelines. The new aide-memoire would provide a convenient guide, and the Council must make best use of those guidelines in addressing the problem on the ground. Urging that legal commitments translate into practical deeds and action, he said States must look into ways to coordinate the fight against terrorism, which was integral to their responsibility to protect. With that understanding, Turkey had joined the presidential statement condemning terrorism.
Many aspects of the responsibility to protect required further elaboration, and he urged approaching the question from a much wider angle, notably through addressing issues such as the creation of conditions for stability, by strengthening the rule of law, human rights, democracy and good governance. States should ensure that perpetrators of violence against civilians under any condition were held fully accountable. The international community had a duty to do more in that direction through capacity-building and technical assistance. In closing, he said the cause of protecting civilians in armed conflict must be pursued by the international community with total determination. Protection issues would likely figure prominently on the Council’s agenda in late May and June, when Turkey assumed the Council Presidency, and his delegation would do its best to contribute to the Council’s work on the issue.
CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said the challenges faced by the United Nations in protecting civilians in armed conflict were diverse, and had reached complex levels, noting that the world had seen the consequences of violence on the Gaza Strip. Mexico was deeply concerned at the recent violence, and he condemned the excessive use of force by the Israeli Army, as well as rocket launches into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. In any conflict situation, it was imperative to respect international humanitarian law, especially those provisions outlined in the Fourth Geneva Convention on protecting civilians during war. Reiterating Mexico’s call for respecting resolution 1860 (2009), he said the goal of attaining a long-term ceasefire could be reached only through the creation of an international monitoring mechanism that would allow unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance and protect civilians.
Mexico paid special attention to the issue of civilian access to humanitarian assistance, he said, and disagreed with restrictive interpretations of human dignity that set that principle against that of sovereignty. On gender violence, Mexico recognized United Nations efforts to eliminate that problem. He called on all States to avoid the use of cluster munitions during armed conflict and notes that Mexico had subscribed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions last December in Oslo. Urging that Council resolutions on protecting civilians in armed conflict be based on the principles of international humanitarian law, he also emphasized the importance of cooperation both between States and the Organization, and the Council and the International Criminal Court. Mexico had recently ratified the Rome Statute. The updated aide-memoire would be a practical tool for improving the analysis of civilian protection. He called for States to support the United Nations in creating a “culture of protection” in which Governments fulfilled their responsibilities, armed groups respected international law, and the private sector recognized the impact of its commitments in conflict countries.
NORIHIRO OKUDA ( Japan) emphasized the importance of protecting and empowering civilians in armed conflict from a human security perspective. He lauded the adoption last May of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Convention was a significant tool for advancing a normative framework conducive to civilian protection. Japan had actively contributed to the clearance of unexploded ordinance in countries affected by cluster munitions’ remnants, landmines and other ordinance, and it was providing assistance to victims. This year could become a landmark year for the United Nations in protecting civilians in armed conflict. He said he expected that a revised aide-memoire and an independent study by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on implementing Security Council mandates on the protection of civilians would help the Council deepen consideration of that issue.
Japan welcomed the revised aide-memoire and was pleased to see the presidential statement that would adopt it today, he continued. Japan had repeatedly called for the aide-memoire’s revision in order to increase its practical applicability as a checklist for the Council’s creation or extension of peacekeeping operation mandates. The independent study was extremely useful in clarifying how Council mandates on civilian protection were implemented in reality and what problems must be solved to enhance activities on the ground. The study’s outcome should put forward concrete recommendations for implementing the Council’s field mandate.
He expressed grave concern about the dire situation of vulnerable civilians in armed conflicts worldwide, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sri Lanka. Deliberate attacks against civilians, journalists, aid workers as well as the recruitment of child soldiers, restriction of humanitarian access and other human rights violations were unacceptable. He expressed serious concern about the situation in and around Gaza. He fully supported Council resolution 1860. He stressed the importance of protecting Palestinian and Israeli civilians and condemned all violence and hostilities against them. The people in Gaza needed immediate humanitarian aid. Japan would provide $10 million in aid, of which $3 million would be provided through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) immediately. He renewed the call for an immediate ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
FRANCIS BUTAGIRA ( Uganda) said, today, Uganda hosted some 175,000 refugees. His country had decried the actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including its crimes against humanity and countless human rights abuses. He condemned the Army’s renewed activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the forced recruitment of women and children, as well as their wilful acts of rape and torture and looting. Those acts constituted a permanent threat to security in the region. His Government had made several attempts to end those activities, including offers of amnesty.
He said something should be done about non-State actors. Those groups had no respect for international humanitarian law. Uganda had been threatened with being placed on the Council’s agenda because it was fighting those gangs. Eventually, Uganda had agreed to talks, but LRA had refused to sign the final peace agreement. The rebel groups should not be appeased, not even under the pretext that “there is no military solution”. In 2004, Uganda had developed a policy on internally displaced persons leading to the improvement of the rights of internally displaced persons and improved protection and assistance by Uganda. His Government had always ensured unhindered access of humanitarian personnel and protection of humanitarian workers. It had carried out human rights educational programmes and had developed a national action plan against recruitment of children.
MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said the events in Gaza demonstrated that the civilians still bore the brunt of the effects of armed conflict. Indeed, the international community witnessed frequent violations of Council resolutions, international law and the Geneva Conventions in conflict zones. It also witnessed the intolerable and reprehensible acts of aggression specifically targeted against civilians, as well as the recruitment of children by armed groups. Equally disturbing was the targeting and treatment of refugees and displaced persons, especially those living in and around refugee camps, who were seen as “easy targets” by many parties to the conflict. He said that States bore the responsibility to protect civilians, as well as to allow safe and unhampered humanitarian access to desperate civilian populations.
At the same time, he called for ongoing discussions on the “responsibility to protect” towards firming up the parameters of international community action when States did not, or could not, protect their civilian populations. States must do their utmost to end impunity and ensure that the rule of law was observed by all. He went on to say that the Security Council must continue to ensure that its peacekeeping mandates addressed civilian protection. The international community must also enhance the participation of women in peacebuilding and post-conflict peace processes. He also said that all forms of abuse of civilians must be ended. Another collective responsibility was ensuring that humanitarian personnel were provided the utmost safety and security as they carried out their important work under the most difficult circumstances.
RANKO VILOVIC ( Croatia), referring to the situation in Gaza and the sixtieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, said the debate came at a timely juncture. Situations of particular concern were those that continued to be characterized by indiscriminate violence and attacks against women and children. Increased use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tactic of war demanded more effective implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008). The fight against impunity was an integral element of the protection of civilians. Conflicts remained the major cause for the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons. The security situation in and around security camps was, therefore, important.
He said that, although the Council had established a broad framework on the issue, greater systematic follow-up by the Council was required, including a more consistent approach at the country-specific level. The full implementation of smart sanctions and other targeted measures on individuals or parties to conflict should not be overlooked. Another challenge remained the access of humanitarian assistance. He appealed to all parties to conflicts to put the interests of civilian populations first, especially through guaranteeing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance. Commending the courage and commitment of humanitarian staff, he urged staff on the ground to adhere to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.
Croatia had been a strong supporter of the Oslo process and had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in December, he said. That instrument was an important step towards enhancing the security of civilians in conflicts. Further, the updated aide-memoire was a welcome step and he expressed gratitude to OCHA for all its efforts in that regard. He believed it should be updated on a more regular basis.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that, despite a whole arsenal of international legal instruments, entire civilian populations suffered under conflicts. To address that situation, selective approaches must be abandoned and there must be strict compliance with human rights standards. Through Russia’s intervention in August last year, ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia had been prevented. Innocent civilians had been subjected to bombardments and rockets. There had been direct targeting of homes, schools, hospitals and ambulances. Over the last month, those facts had been convincingly corroborated. However, certain influential members of the international community did not seem to be eager to consider those facts. Still urgent was the question of the prosecution of those responsible for those crimes.
He strongly condemned the deliberate attack on civilians, as well as the disproportionate use of force, and expressed concern at the escalation of the crisis in Gaza. He was particularly concerned at reports of use by Israel of cluster bombs, and called upon all parties to comply with resolution 1860 (2008). The civilian population was also still suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stressed the responsibility of all parties to protect civilians and supported investigation of incidents, including by military and private military personnel. Protection of civilians was not only a responsibility of States, but of all participants in a conflict. The international community must seek compliance by all parties with international humanitarian law and Council resolutions.
ROSEMARY DICARLO ( United States) said that her delegation shared the concerns about the vulnerability of civilians who found themselves in pressing situations due to no fault of their own. While the parties to conflict bore the main responsibility for civilian protection, the international community also had a role to play. To that end, she noted the specific mandates for civilian protection now included in many United Nations mechanisms and bodies. While stressing the United States concern for all civilians trapped by conflict, she reiterated the call in the Council’s resolution last week for a durable ceasefire in Gaza. It was time for all violence impacting civilians, including acts of terror, to be halted.
However, she said the Council must not forget that the hostilities in Gaza had been started by Hamas, a terrorist organization that had called for the destruction of Israel and launched countless rockets and mortars into Israeli territory. She called on Hamas to, among other things, refrain from using civilian structures and centres to house command and control facilities and munitions stockpiles. Hamas must cease “all cowardly practice that placed civilians at risk”, she said. At the same time, she urged Israel to make all efforts to minimize impact on innocent civilians and to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to needy populations.
She said the United States was also concerned about the use of sexual and gender-based violence. It called for an end to such practices and urged the end of the use of rape as a weapon of war. Her Government also supported all efforts to improve the conditions of civilians, including those displaced by conflicts, through the elaboration of livelihood strategies to bolster the self-reliance of refugees. The United States was working to provide help for those in need, including asylum seekers and “Stateless” persons. Her country was working to ensure civilian protection in other ways, including through its African Contingency Operation and Training Programme, which had trained more than 26,000 African peacekeepers. The United Nations remained committed to the protection of civilians in its worldwide activities and within the Council. It also supported the work of OCHA, she added.
KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom) said that, given the perilous situation in which many civilian populations found themselves today, it was imperative that the Council proactively ensure that the issue remained at the forefront of its work. She put on record that her country did not agree with all the characterizations of situations heard today, but did not want to go into details. As for Gaza, the civilian population in Gaza was all the more vulnerable because it could not flee. She called on all parties to implement resolution 1860. There were other situations, among other things in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where obligations had not been met. The primary task of MONUC was the protection of civilians. The concept of operations should be adjusted to reflect the priority the Council had attached to protection of civilians.
She invited all Council members who opposed robust language in peacekeeping mandates to reflect on whether political considerations on their part were overriding the Council’s work on the protection of civilians. A more systematic approach must be adopted. While regretting the civilian deaths and casualties in Afghanistan, she said her country did not target civilians and would continue to review incidents. One way to build a coherent strategy was through the creation of an informal Council expert group, she said, and she expected the aide-memoire to underpin the expert group’s considerations.
She said systematic consideration of protection issues could also provide the opportunity for creative thinking about how to deal with uniquely difficult situations. Disturbed by the activities of LRA, she hoped that dealing with non-State actors might be a subject of consideration by the Council in the coming year. The World Summit had been clear about the particular responsibility that fell to the Council under the responsibility to protect. The international community had a responsibility to provide assistance to a State where necessary, to guard against the perpetration of mass atrocities.
Council President JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France), speaking in his national capacity, said his delegation was seriously concerned about the situation in Gaza, where civilians were paying a high price. He once again urged the parties to that conflict to take all care to minimize its impact on civilians and ensure humanitarian access to those in need. He condemned all violence against civilians and, in the case of the Gaza crisis, urged the international community to support diplomatic efforts under way, especially the Franco-Egyptian-led negotiations on crafting a durable ceasefire. He added that the news coming out of Cairo in that regard was promising and the effort must be fully supported.
He went on to say that the civilian protection mandates of respective United Nations peacekeeping missions must be reflected concretely on the ground, and he hoped that, and other important matters, would be discussed next week during the informal seminar on peacekeeping that would be convened by France and the United Kingdom. Continuing, he said France appreciated the work of OCHA and looked forward to the adoption of the aide-memoire on civilian protection at the conclusion of today’s meeting. At the same time, he was disappointed that it did not devote a specific section to sexual violence, as had been called for. Sexual and gender-based violence were serious problems that needed to be urgently addressed and he called on the Council not to lose sight of the matter.
He also expressed concern over the ongoing recruitment of child soldiers in many conflict situations and called a reaffirmation of efforts to ensure the protection of children in armed conflict. While States bore the ultimate responsibility for ensuring civilian protection, the international community must be ready to mobilize in cases of lack of ability or will on the part of States. At the same time, while France supported the “responsibility to protect”, and hoped the international community worked to reach consensus on that principle, it also believed that the international community must step up its efforts to head off conflicts before they began. He went on to stress that France was concerned about attacks against humanitarian personnel. He called on host States to do more to protect relief workers and he urged all Member States to fight against the targeting of humanitarian aid workers.
MARTIN PALOUŠ (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that, while emphasizing the need to develop in parallel additional concepts to protect civilian populations, called for the full implementation of the principle of the responsibility to protect by the Council and the General Assembly. As the Union was concerned by the continued high prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, including as a tactic of war, it was pursuing three objectives: prevention, protection and support for victims and combating impunity. The Union continued to implement long-term Union Guidelines on the Protection of Children affected by Armed Conflict and remained deeply concerned by the continuing practice of recruitment and use of child soldiers. Concerned by the growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons, the Union called for ensuring their protection.
He said the Council should make clear that any actions against civilian populations, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, were unacceptable. The Union encouraged all States to fully support the International Criminal Court by acceding to the Rome Statute. Further, he encouraged humanitarian personnel on the ground to follow the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence and called on the recipient country to ensure their safety and security. He urged all countries that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Safety of the United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol.
Commending the increasing support of States for the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Union was determined to negotiate within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons a legally binding instrument that addressed the humanitarian concerns of cluster munitions in all their aspects, he said. The Union welcomed progress achieved in the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. The protection of civilians was a key aspect of the United Nations peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts that had to be comprehensively, systematically and consistently incorporated in all Council mandates. The Union believed the updated aide-memoire would prove to be an inclusive instrument in integrating various aspects of the protection of civilians.
GIULIO TERZI ( Italy), associating himself with the statement of the European Union, said the Council had heard from Under-Secretary-General Holmes a very disturbing description of the negative effects of conflicts around the world: the denial of humanitarian access and the appalling consequences of hostilities, including the scourge of sexual violence. In cases where sexual violence was used as a method of warfare, it constituted an inadmissible threat to international peace and security and the Council should be able to intervene. United Nations operations must be clearly mandated to ensure the protection of civilians and to subsequently report on it. He encouraged the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ developing policies and guidance to ensure consistent and harmonized implementation of mandates. The Emergency Relief Coordinator’s monitoring of, and reporting on, serious humanitarian access constraints should be enhanced.
He said the reaffirmation in resolution 1674 of the responsibility to protect had been a cardinal achievement of the United Nations. That principle implied that sovereignty brought special responsibilities. Only when a Government was unable or unwilling to protect their own populations should the international community intervene. The responsibility to protect should not be perceived in a confrontational manner, but should be seen as an instrument available to the international community to overcome crises. In situations where any civilian population was the target of attacks, the Rome Statute provided the legal basis for holding accountable those responsible for the attacks, if a State was unwilling or unable to do so.
JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said this year’s debate coincided with the upcoming tenth anniversary of landmark achievements in advancing civilian protection stemming from the Council’s adoption of its “groundbreaking” resolution 1265 (1999), which proposed actions towards both physical and legal protection concerns. While important progress had been made since the issue had been placed on the Council’s agenda, critical gaps remained between key principles and the daily actions taken to respond to protection challenges –- gaps keenly felt by civilians in conflict situations around the world. Such populations often accounted for the majority of casualties in conflict, as indirect victims, and, more sobering, as deliberate targets.
By example he noted that, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the recent escalation of violence had led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as a serious increase in sexual and gender-based violence. In Sri Lanka, he said civilian populations continued to face unending displacement, moving ahead of shifting frontlines to avoid being caught in the crossfire of fighting there. In Afghanistan, more than a quarter-century of violence had taken a heavy toll on the population and served as a potent reminder of why support for that country’s Government was so important. To that end, needs-based humanitarian action remained Canada’s key priority, and his country was working with others to save lives, alleviate suffering and build self-reliance among the most vulnerable of Afghanistan’s populations.
Looking ahead, he said there was much the international community could do to enhance and ensure civilian protection, particularly as it had at its disposal a sophisticated legal framework based on international law and Security Council resolutions which laid out mutually reinforcing commitment and responsibilities. “But, we must move from Council commitments to practical action,” he said, calling for strengthened monitoring and reporting mechanisms, which would help in responding to specific situations -- with the right tools –- in a timely and effective manner. Canada was particularly interested in progress on efforts to report to the Council in a timely manner when humanitarian access was denied or deliberately hindered. Further, it was important to strengthen the capacity of the global humanitarian system to address protection issues, and also for the Council and wider United Nations membership to ensure accountability for all those who violated international law.
MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said that, among the several key aspects concerning the protection of civilians, she would focus on only two that lay at the core of the problem. First, the failure of parties to conflicts to abide by their international obligations was the root cause of the situation with which the Council had been increasingly concerned. States and non-State actors must fully understand that they were expected to respect international humanitarian law, and it was up to the international community to ensure accountability. Addressing the situation in Gaza and southern Israel, she said Israel’s disproportionate response to unlawful rocket attacks by Palestinian militants had taken a “dramatic” toll on civilians: thousands had left their homes and some 25,000 had sought refuge at United Nations facilities. Acknowledging Israel’s steps to improve conditions for humanitarian aid, she said they were far from enough, and called on all parties to fully comply with resolution 1860 (2009). Brazil joined the United Nations in asking for an independent investigation of the recent shelling of areas near United Nations schools, she said. The killing of civilians in southern Israel by rockets launched from Gaza must also immediately stop.
The second aspect she wanted to comment on was related to the first -- the United Nations role when parties failed to abide by their obligations. She said “our collective conscience” could not –- and would not -- accept a situation in which the United Nations would stand by as civilians were killed. To avoid that, it was essential that the Council craft mandates and secure military resources in line with such a moral and political imperative. Adequate protection of civilians with refugee status must also be ensured. She hoped that the adoption of the updated aide-memoire would contribute to the implementation of Council resolutions on protection of civilians in armed conflict.
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA (Indonesia) said he was deeply concerned and saddened that civilians continued to be victims of violence committed by parties to armed conflict, including by the deliberate targeting, the indiscriminate and excessive use of force, and sexual and gender-based violence. Three basic conditions were a prerequisite for providing protection of civilians in armed conflicts: unhindered humanitarian access; upholding of, and respecting by, humanitarian personnel of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence; and the taking by all parties of all precautions to spare civilians and humanitarian workers and facilities. Building a “culture of protection”, through the engagement of United Nations agencies, regional and international humanitarian organizations and other relevant actors was essential to raise awareness of civilian suffering and to develop action plans to prevent further loss of life.
He said that, in Gaza, Israel continued to stubbornly defy the call by the international community to end its military operation. It was especially galling that Israel had claimed that its actions were intended to protect civilians. Far from it, Israel’s policy of collective punishment and its utter disregard of humanitarian principles “is deeply repugnant”. If a commitment to the protection of civilians in armed conflict underpinned the Council’s deliberation today, “this is the moment to act”, he said. Welcoming the aide-memoire to be adopted by the Council, he reiterated that protection of civilians must be based on the three pillars of the United Nations: human rights, security and development, which were closely linked. The tragic situation in Gaza clearly reflected the fact that civilians did not merely need their rights and security protected. Clean water, food and shelter were some of the basic needs that had to be provided by all parties to all civilians in armed conflict, including in Gaza.
PETER MAURER ( Switzerland), noting that the protection of civilians in armed conflict demanded the concerted action of many actors, said strengthening the framework of protection -- and ensuring its implementation in conflict zones -- must be a strategic objective. Switzerland appreciated the practical nature of the aide‑memoire for use in both Council deliberations and broader intergovernmental and inter-agency protection work. For the Council, the major challenges included: ensuring that best practices were systematically applied in specific situations; further developing implementation mechanisms; better reflecting the needs on the ground in resolutions, notably by enhancing monitoring capabilities; and considering the aide‑memoire as a basis for developing more ambitious practices. Further commitments would also be needed for achieving greater coherence among various processes for protecting civilians.
Turning to Gaza, he said Switzerland was deeply shocked by the high number of civilians killed or wounded in the conflict. International law, particularly international humanitarian law, must be effectively implemented on the ground to ensure maximum civilian protection. Reiterating the call for an immediate halt to hostilities, protection of the humanitarian space and strict compliance by all parties with international law, he underscored specific respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. Discussing resolution 1860 (2009), he said Switzerland was disappointed that the text made no mention of the importance of respecting international humanitarian law, and deeply regretted that such law had become the object of political discretion. It was by insisting on strict application of such law in armed conflict situations that the Council would better protect civilians.
Reminding delegates that Switzerland had called for an independent inquiry into allegations of international law violations, he said it was essential that light be cast on all charges of violations committed by all parties. Other “extremely worrying” situations could be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sri Lanka. He was also extremely concerned at the situation in Darfur, where several incidents pointed to ongoing international law violations. Crisis situations demanded trained personnel and the application of law, and it was from that perspective that Switzerland had organized last July a meeting of experts to identify ways to overcome humanitarian access difficulties. His Government was examining possible steps to take in the follow-up to that meeting.
NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER( Qatar) said the Council had clear responsibilities in the area of protection of civilians in armed conflict, including in situation of foreign occupation. International humanitarian law and human rights law confirmed that killing civilians and taking reprisals against civilians and civilian targets constituted war crimes. However, conflicts still claimed the lives of innocent civilians. The problem, therefore, lay in the lack of implementation of international legal mechanisms and in using double standards. The Palestinian population in Gaza was daily subjected to relentless military attacks by Israel, the occupying Power. A war waged with such force against civilian targets could not but constitute a war crime.
He called again on the Council to assume its responsibilities, saying it must impose respect for the instruments of international law and Council resolutions that provided the legal basis for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation. As the rule of law constituted a fundamental issue in armed conflict, it was imperative to be aware of the fact that respect for international law constituted the true beginning of creating a world free of armed conflict.
JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA( Uruguay) said 10 years ago, the Council had held its first debate on the issue. Despite progress made, Uruguay was concerned to note that, despite a reduction in the number of armed conflicts in the world, the civilian populations continued to be targeted deliberately. In various peacekeeping missions Uruguay was participating in, its troops had found it impossible to carry out its tasks, because destabilizing forces in the areas were larger than the peacekeeping forces in place. Mandates should, therefore, incorporate the necessary preparations to ensure maximum success. It was also necessary that the United Nations forces had the capabilities to ensure the protection of civilians.
Uruguay shared the Secretary-General’s assessment of the four challenges in the protection of civilians in armed conflict: access to civilians for humanitarian assistance; combating sexual violence; the need to deal with issues such as land, houses and assets; and to end the use of cluster munitions. The United Nations should carry out its obligations with humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence, and should ensure security for personnel on the ground. Protection of civilians was a legal and ethical imperative. He announced that on 27 January, Uruguay and Australia would hold a workshop on protection of civilians in armed conflict in the context of peacekeeping operations that would also address the responsibility to protect.
JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) said Under‑Secretary‑General Holmes’ briefing had revealed that major efforts needed to be undertaken to ensure that civilians were protected during times of conflict. Indeed, civilians were forgotten when they were targeted by Hamas rockets or when they were used as human shields. At the same time, civilians were also forgotten when Israel Defense Forces put military objectives first, in clear contravention of international law. Belgium would, in such contexts, call for an immediate halt to all hostilities.
He said that the notion of protecting civilians had gained traction and had resulted in the elaboration of a relevant international framework of measures and mechanisms. That framework had grown to include the principle of the “responsibility to protect”, which Belgium held dear, as it set out the duty of all States to protect their citizens from the most heinous crimes, including war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
As the Security Council had integrated civilian protection in its work, so must it now fully integrate the notion of the responsibility to protect, he said. The Council already touched on the issue in its work in a number of ways, including through instituting good offices missions, fighting impunity, and combating the use of child soldiers. It could do so more firmly and with more conviction, as the high crimes he had mentioned were firmly rooted in international law. For its part, Belgium would continue to work with all those seeking to develop early warning and rapid response mechanisms to minimize the impact of conflict on civilians. Finally, he welcomed the revised aide‑memoire set to be adopted at the end of the meeting, as well the imminent convening of the Council’s informal working group on civilian protection.
AHMED AL-JARMAN (United Arab Emirates) said that, in spite of the progress achieved in developing international legal mechanisms that promoted the protection of civilians and determined criminal responsibility for the killing of civilians during armed conflict, new and tragic forms of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including wilful killing, rape and forced displacement, were still being perpetrated against civilians. Such acts, which included attacks against humanitarian personnel and news reporters, were committed and used by warring parties as a tool for exerting maximum political pressure to achieve their goals at the expense of the security and safety of innocent civilians.
The United Arab Emirates believed that such flagrant violations were not necessarily due to weaknesses in the international legal protection framework, but to the non-compliance of some States in implementing their international obligations. To that end, it was deeply regrettable that a “vivid example” of the contempt of some States for the resolutions of the Security Council, as well as the double standards and selectivity in implementation, was being displayed by Israel, which was continuing the 19‑day assault on Gaza. Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) had condemned Israel’s actions in plain language, yet it continued to commit war crimes against the Palestinian people by, among other ways, bombing civilian areas with globally banned weapons, using excessive force and collective punishment against unarmed civilians, and obstructing humanitarian assistance.
“What is happening in Gaza is a testimony to the serious impact of the inaction of the international community in implementing legitimate resolutions and the selectivity in their implementation,” he said, urging the international community and the Security Council to revise the implementations standards relating to civilian protection. He reaffirmed, in that regard, the importance of exerting pressure on Israel to force it to comply with the provisions of resolution 1860 (2009); exerting pressure to compel Israel to resume peace negotiations and to honour previous arrangements and commitments; and establishing an international commission to investigate ware crimes committed by Israel against civilians in Gaza.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that on the date of the current debate, Israel, the occupying Power, continued with impunity to unleash its military wrath on the defenceless population of the Gaza Strip. Among the nearly 1,000 Palestinians killed were more than 400 children and women. Those who had not been killed were trapped, traumatized and terrorized. He called on the international community to provide the much-needed and long overdue protection of the civilian population. As the Palestinian civilian population continued to be exposed to Israel’s indiscriminate, excessive and disproportionate use of force, it had nowhere to run and nowhere to seek refuge.
He said, clearly, international law forbade such brutality. The belief that the occupying Power had, in fact, committed war crimes had been reported by several human rights organizations working on the ground in Gaza. The Secretary‑General had suggested in his most recent report that in situations of systematic and widespread breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law that, thereby, created the threat of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Council should be willing to intervene under Chapter VII of the Charter. Unfortunately, Israel continued to ignore resolution 1860 (2009). He, therefore, called upon the Council to compel Israel to heed its calls.
He said the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for its violations and crimes over the past four decades had regrettably reinforced Israel’s lawlessness. Respect must be demanded for the instruments of international law that were supposed to provide the Palestinian civilian population with protection from human rights violations and crimes under occupation.
MUHAMMAD ALI SORCAR ( Bangladesh) said civilians had become the primary target of attacks motivated by ethnic or religious hatred, political confrontation or the ruthless persecution of a member of the opposing groups, despite many resolutions adopted by the Council. He condemned all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and stressed the need to combat impunity, safeguard access for humanitarian assistance and protect humanitarian aid workers. The continued civilian casualties among Palestinians caused by Israel’s indiscriminate and excessive use of force in the Gaza Strip was of particular concern. The ongoing attacks, in defiance of the Council’s call for a complete ceasefire, were contributing to civilian casualties. In that connection, he emphasized the importance of the principle of the responsibility to protect endorsed by the 2005 World Summit.
He said the vulnerable situation of civilians in post-conflict societies needed special attention, as they remained traumatized and permanently scarred by the brutalities of war. For peace to be sustainable, they must be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into their communities. The Peacebuilding Commission should have that issue permanently on its agenda. Because prevention was at the heart of protection, the preventive capacity of the Organization must be enhanced. Member States also needed to take steps to inculcate the values of peace, tolerance and harmony -- a culture of peace. Work should begin on crafting clear guidelines towards effective coordination, particularly between the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs.
ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) said that, in the past few years, the Taliban, Al‑Qaida and other terrorist elements had embraced tactics that targeted civilians, accounting for the majority of civilian casualties in his country in 2008. The Taliban were also using civilians as human shields; using men, women and children as cover for attacks on Government and international forces. Over 60 per cent of the civilian casualties had occurred in the south and east of the country, where the Taliban and Al‑Qaida were most active. Many civilians had also lost their lives during counter‑terrorist operations, a matter of grave concern for his Government. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and United States-led forces had already introduced new strategies aimed at minimizing civilian casualties.
He said tactics that caused significant unintentional civilian deaths must be avoided, such as air strikes. There must be more cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan and law enforcement on the ground. Afghan National Army and police should assume responsibility for home searches. He also encouraged international forces to operate with greater cultural sensitivity and to avoid heavy‑handed tactics and operate with respect and minimal force. Where civilian casualties occurred, there should be apologies and accountability. With the increasing violence of the Taliban, it had become even more imperative that the Afghan Government and the international community work together to effectively eliminate terrorism.
KHALAF BU DHHAIR ( Kuwait) said the meeting was taking place while civilians were suffering the impact of armed conflicts in many places around the globe. The United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law and divine law held all States, particularly member States of the Security Council, responsible for seeking all possible means to grant the United Nations a vital and tangible role on the ground to protect humankind, especially civilians in armed conflict. The tragic circumstances facing the unarmed Palestinian population suffering under the “Israeli onslaught” in the Gaza Strip required urgent international action. The Palestinian population was largely civilian -- only a fraction belonged to the militia -- were facing a professional military institution using bombs that “filled the hearts of children with horror”.
He said that such indiscriminate actions on the part of Israel could only lead to the creation of a more violent and extreme generation, and would engender more hatred and resentment. The same applied to those who lived under siege and who were denied food and medicines. The Israeli occupation was a clear violation of international law, and when “arrogant countries” allowed the “voice of arms” to prevail, and believed that through killing, terrorizing and starving innocent civilians they could achieve political gain, they were totally mistaken.
“This is a dead-end road,” he declared, adding that such postures only transformed those seeking better lives for themselves into extremists that knew only the language of violence and bloodletting. Continuing, he requested all Member States to seriously consider the Secretary-General’s 2007 proposal, which had included his vision of a practical solution for committing the Council to civilian protection by establishing a working group on the issue. That group would assist the Council to move towards real and effective implementation of efforts to protect civilians in armed conflict.
KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said protection of civilians in armed conflict was a cornerstone of international law. Regrettably, civilians still fell victim to the disregard shown by States and armed groups of their obligations. Even State signatories to the relevant instruments failed to abide by their tenets. Her delegation stressed that unarmed men, women and children must not be targeted, and all necessary measures must be taken by conflict parties to avoid civilian casualties. The Nordic countries were deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and the killing and injuries inflicted upon large numbers of non-combatants there. “The ceasefire decided by the Security Council must be given effect [and] lifesaving ambulances and medical personnel must be given unrestricted access to the wounded,” she said.
She said that building sustainable peace and security required increased attention to women’s equal and active participation in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, reconstruction efforts and political activities. As women and children were highly vulnerable in conflicts, their situation should be addressed as a matter of priority and, to that end, comprehensive implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was crucial.
Further, the scope of brutality against women and children in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was particularly worrying. Hundreds of thousands of women in that region had been raped and they continued to lack adequate protection from violence, despite the best efforts of humanitarian actors, MONUC and others. Much more needed to be done to address those horrible crimes, she said. Continuing, she said the Nordic countries supported efforts to enhance coordination of national policies and international humanitarian law. By example, she said that, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly stated that children had the right to express their opinion on matters that affected them, much more needed to be done to ensure that their voices were heard, especially in peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.
GABRIELA SHALEV (Israel) said the debate was considering a wide range of issues related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but there was one major threat to civilians that the Council must not, and could not, ignore. Terrorism posed enormous harm to civilians in armed conflict. It turned civilians into targets, shields and weapons. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Hamas’ terrorist war against Israeli civilians and the Palestinian people. For more than 1 million Israelis, daily life had included, for eight long years, rocket and mortar attacks against houses, schools, kindergartens, markets and all forms of civilian life. Hamas’ attacks were very discriminate -- directed deliberately at civilians. Those attacks killed and maimed Israelis, creating a living nightmare; a nightmare that had forced Israel to act in self-defence.
She said that Hamas had launched those attacks as they cowered behind Palestinian civilians, knowing full well the danger they invited. Civilian casualties in Gaza, as a result, were the sole responsibility of Hamas’ terrorist actions. It hid weapons and explosives in mosques and used minarets to launch attacks. Hamas commanders had set up shop in the basement of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa. Hamas fighters and members had entered hospitals and donned doctors’ coats. There were repeated and horrifying reports that Hamas terrorists had seized aid, distributing it to its own members and supporters, selling what was left to the impoverished civilians. Hamas, and terrorists like it, viewed civilians not as a population to be avoided, but as a population to be exploited in an armed conflict.
Today’s debate must be used to denounce the harm that terrorism inflicted on civilians. In recent years, more civilians had been killed, maimed and injured by terrorists than by legitimate armed forces. One must act against terrorists. Failure to act simply because terrorists were using civilians as cover would broadcast an invitation to every terrorist group in the world to set up shop inside a hospital or a kindergarten. “When civilized people look at children, they see the future. When terrorists look at children, they see targets and human shields. This Council must offer no refuge to those who drag civilians into armed conflicts,” she said in conclusion.
TOFIG M. MUSAYEV ( Azerbaijan), expressing concern at the escalation in the Gaza Strip, said there must be an immediate ceasefire and an end to military hostilities. All measures must be taken to avoid civilian casualties and to help people in need. The ongoing armed conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan had resulted in the occupation of almost one fifth of the country and had made one out of eight persons in the country internally displaced or a refugee. War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide had been committed in the course of the conflict. The General Assembly had adopted two resolutions on the matter. It was important that the recognition of the right to return, along with increased attention to its practical implementation, was applied by the Council, the Assembly and other relevant United Nations bodies with more systematic regularity.
He said consideration must be given to displacement, foreign military occupation, attempts at changing the demographic balance in occupied territories and illicit exploitation of natural resources. The impact of conflict on housing, land and property required a more consistent approach, in order to ensure the safe and dignified return of those forced to leave their homes. There could be no long-term and sustainable peace without justice. In cases when breaches of international humanitarian law or human rights law constituted war crimes or crimes against humanity or even genocide, it was important that pursuit of individuals was undertaken through the domestic legal system of involved or third party States. Ending impunity was important for peace, truth, reconciliation and the rights of the victims.
ROBERT HILL ( Australia) focused on three areas contained in the Secretary‑General’s 2007 report on protecting civilians in armed conflict, explaining first that the mandated task of protecting civilians had become a central feature of United Nations peacekeeping. Recent events in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo had starkly illustrated the constraints and challenges faced by peacekeepers, and he commended the Council for both renewing MONUC’s mandate and authorizing additional capacity. However, implementation was a challenge, and the disconnect between the strategic and operational levels had to be reconciled to ensure that reasonable expectations were being set, and that United Nations peacekeeping remained an effective instrument of international peace and security.
Second, he emphasized the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, calling on States to renew their commitment to end impunity for crimes such as sexual and gender‑based violence. He also urged States that had not yet done so to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Finally, on the responsibility to protect, he expected the Secretary‑General’s upcoming report on the matter to contribute to a shared understanding of that principle, which was agreed to at the 2005 World Summit and was based on the primary obligation of States to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The United Nations Charter gave the Council a specific role in implementing that principle and, to take its role forward, it needed to be more receptive to early warning information. Civilians deserved to have their inalienable human rights and basic humanitarian needs protected.
MOHAMMED F. AL-ALLAF ( Jordan) said the international community’s role in protecting civilians in armed conflict did not only lie in adhering to international humanitarian law, but also in guaranteeing that there was no impunity for violations. In Gaza, all international rules and standards for conflict had been violated and Israeli aggression had targeted civilians. It was an unprecedented model for aggression against civilians and violation of their rights, including their right to life. It was a flagrant violation that obliterated the Palestinian people’s identity. The current siege cut off the lifeline of 1.5 million civilians in Gaza. They deserved the immediate protection of the Council.
He said 280 children had been killed and 1,200 children had been injured. Children in Gaza were filled with fear and terror. Israel must protect civilians, especially children, and abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law, especially the concepts of distinction and proportionality, as it was using disproportionate and excessive force. The evacuation of the injured and providing safe passage to ambulances was one of the most important tenets of international humanitarian law. Israel must abide by its obligation to protect medical personnel and ambulances. He called on the international community to uphold its obligation to protect civilians and called on Israel to implement resolution 1860 (2009) immediately.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN ( Argentina) said the Security Council had provided a legal framework for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, particularly through its resolutions and decisions. The Council had repeatedly required compliance with relevant instruments of international law, including The Hague Conventions. It had also condemned in the strongest terms the breach of international law. Argentina, for its part, was particularly sensitive to matters relating to the protection of civilians and believed that the State was responsible for ensuring such protection of all those on its territory, or under its control.
With that in mind, Argentina was very concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. It was also concerned by the suffering of Palestinian civilians. Indeed, United Nations reports and briefings spoke eloquently to the grim circumstances and Argentina called for an end to the suffering of civilians in Gaza. The fact that access to the civilian population was being obstructed was deeply disturbing and was an issue that must be addressed immediately. The international community must shoulder its responsibility to bring an end to the hostilities and alleviate the suffering of all civilians, he said, stressing that now was the time for diplomacy, and all support must be given to a durable, negotiated outcome. Such steps must be taken quickly, lest the ongoing violence set in motion a humanitarian tragedy that could affect more than 1.5 million Palestinian civilians.
KIRSTY GRAHAM (New Zealand) said that, as the aide‑memoire affirmed, parties to armed conflict were responsible for ensuring the protection of civilians in conflict areas, and it was a “distressing reality” that the needed steps to protect civilians were not being taken. Even more deplorable was that civilians, in many cases, were the targets of attacks. New Zealand was appalled at the human rights violations and abuses directed against civilians. Crises in Darfur, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe were of particular concern, and her Government had stood with the international community in expressing deep concern at sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and summary executions, among other situations. He fully supported United Nations peacekeeping efforts to protect civilians in armed conflict zones in Africa.
Turning to Gaza, he said indiscriminate rocket firing and full‑scale military campaigns being conducted in heavily populated cities meant that civilians paid the heaviest price. Protecting civilians began with an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, as called for in resolution 1860 (2009). In Afghanistan, the security situation was a concern with ongoing insurgent attacks against the Government and the troops of NATO-International Security Assistance Force. New Zealand was active in protecting civilians through its Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province. Finally, New Zealand was concerned at the increasing attacks targeting humanitarian workers in conflict zones, and urged all parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law. New Zealand had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and strongly supported practical action to enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
JOYCE C. KAFANABO (United Republic of Tanzania) said it was distressing that there were many situations around the world in which civilians were in dire need of protection, as she noted the December 2008 commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Protection of civilians in armed conflicts is not an option for warring parties; it is mandatory,” she asserted. While parties to a conflict were duty-bound to protect civilians, the situation on the ground was very different: civilians, particularly women and children, had become direct targets and were subject to rape, sexual and gender‑based violence. She condemned all parties that perpetuated all forms of violence against civilians, and called on States, nationally and collectively, to end such impunity. National and international legal systems must be strengthened and she urged warring parties to respect international laws, notably international humanitarian and refugee laws.
The responsibility to guarantee international peace and security was a matter for all United Nations Members to address individually, regionally and subregionally, she said, pointing to the Peer Review Mechanism and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as examples of instruments at the regional level. The United Nations must collaborate with regional institutions to strengthen such instruments. Urging support for all efforts to protect civilians, she said the best protection was an end to conflict. Of greater importance was to address the causes of conflict, and she called for States to work with the United Nations to help development prevail. Safety in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons would go a long way in dissuading children from following the path of war. In closing, she called on States to elaborate on the responsibility to protect and human security concepts.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the debate coincided with a painful event that highlighted its importance. The tragedy of the Palestinian people in Gaza was of direct relevance. Israel had invaded Gaza, spreading terror and destruction and annihilating entire families, destroying homes, schools and places of worship. Tens of thousands of civilians had been forced to flee their homes. Israel had tightened its siege and deprived the civilians of the most basic needs of life. It had prevented humanitarian aid. Israel had attacked an UNRWA run school where families had sought refuge. Medical teams and personnel of international organizations had also been targeted. White phosphorus bombs had been used by Israel.
He said the occupying Power had violated international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. That had been reaffirmed by the Human Rights Council in its recent resolution. The Secretary-General had condemned the Israeli aggression and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The Council had called for an immediate ceasefire. Instead of heeding the Council’s call, Israel had escalated its aggression. The Council should work to ensure Israel’s implementation of resolution 1860 (2009) immediately.
The aide-memoire had indicated the need for the Council to take into consideration the responsibilities of parties to a conflict to protect civilians, he said. If there was a way to convey the Council’s good intentions to implement, then the protection of civilians in Gaza and in the occupied Palestinian territories was a true test. It would maintain the credibility of the Council and bolster its effectiveness. The protection of civilians in armed conflict was part of a larger problem, namely the peaceful solution of conflicts and address of the root causes.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), noting that today’s debate took place against the background of armed conflict in Gaza, said his Government supported resolution 1860 (2009), and looked forward to its early implementation, first and foremost in the interest of civilians whose rights were not being respected and who bore the brunt of the ongoing violence. While civilian populations had always suffered the consequences of armed conflicts, modern warfare had massively exacerbated their situation. The Council had achieved remarkable results on protecting civilians in conflict situations, notably through resolutions 1674 and 1738 of 2006, which enhanced the normative and operational framework for protection. However, the disproportionate burden that conflict placed on civilians required a more consistent and permanent engagement. The creation of an expert‑level group of the Council, and consistent application of the aide‑memoire would facilitate a more systematic consideration of protection concerns. Liechtenstein hoped that the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, while a first step, would rapidly lead to the total elimination of such weapons.
Noting that 2009 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, he said only full implementation of the Conventions and other international humanitarian law provisions could ensure the effective protection of civilians in armed conflict. There had been an erosion in the observance of international humanitarian law, and he urged States to urgently reverse that trend. When national judiciaries failed in their duty to prosecute the most serious crimes under international law, the International Criminal Court could step in to fill the gap. One type of crime warranted the Council’s particular attention, he said, explaining that sexual violence, with its large‑scale, systematic and targeted use, had turned into a method of warfare aimed at destroying the social fabric of communities to achieve political and military ends. Reiterating support for resolution 1820 (2008), he said protecting civilians from acts of sexual violence must be an inherent task for all peacekeeping missions. The Council’s mandates must offer clear guidance on how to provide such protection.
MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO ( Nicaragua) said the main instruments of civilian protection were the Geneva Conventions and subsequent protocols. Still, the Council was drawn to debate the issue in the face of the ongoing suffering of civilian populations, including the “terrible aggression” against innocent Palestinian civilians being waged by Israel in a land, sea and air assault on the Gaza Strip. The very basis of society in Gaza was under attack, as critical infrastructure was being wantonly destroyed. United Nations experts had recounted attacks against children and women, in violation of international instruments to which Israel was a signatory.
How many more children would have to die in Gaza before the United Nations took action to ensure Israel’s adherence to international laws on which the Organization’s existence was based? she asked. Such laws called on all States to avoid civilian casualties. It seemed, however, that Israel’s operation was employing measures and weaponry to inflict as much damage as possible. Nicaragua was “profoundly disappointed” that the Council had been unable to take concrete action to address Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people.
She said that Israel was showing disdain for international law and the will of the Security Council, especially that body’s permanent members. She urged the Council to shoulder its responsibilities and ensure the implementation of resolution 1860 (2009) “to end the genocide being carried out in Gaza” and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to the desperate population there. She agreed with the General Assembly’s recent decision to resume its emergency session on illegal Israeli activities and supported the efforts of the Secretary‑General, who was currently visiting the region, “to bring an end to this slaughter”.
BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said, despite all the progressive developments in international law since the creation of the United Nations, civilians and vulnerable populations were still paying the heaviest price during armed conflicts. It was ironic that the gap between what the law dictated and practices on the ground was widening, especially regarding protections for those living under occupation. He recalled that, in a briefing to the Council this past May, Under‑Secretary‑General Holmes had stressed that the situation in Gaza was becoming unbearable, a statement which Syria had wholeheartedly supported. Indeed, since that time, Gaza had been turned into the biggest detention centre on Earth, as it had been squeezed ever tighter by Israel’s oppressive measures.
Despite calls from the international community to end its siege against the “collective prison called Gaza”, Israel had nevertheless launched a “cowardly” ground assault on the territory a little more than a week ago. He reminded the Security Council of Gaza’s small size and likened the area to that of a “Nazi concentration camp, which the international community had roundly condemned but Israel had determinedly replicated”. Israel had flouted the elements of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), including its call to take all measures to ensure the safety of women and children.
Indeed, it regularly flouted all international obligations. Here, he asked the Council to give just one example where Israel had abided by international obligations to protect civilians. Why was there a double standard when it came to Israel’s compliance with international law? He stressed that the right to self‑defence must not be manipulated to carry out collective punishment against unarmed civilian populations. He also noted that the plight of Syrians in the Occupied Golan Heights was not that much different than that of the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel continued to expand its settlements and continued to threaten and imprison Syrians living there. He hoped that all those parties working to end Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights would live up to their obligations, in that regard.
JAIRO MONTOYA PEDROZA ( Colombia) said his Government, through democratic policies, had focused on providing conditions that guaranteed the protection and the full enjoyment of the rights of all persons living in its territory. The rate of extortive kidnappings was at its lowest point in the last 20 years and there were no more towns being besieged by outlaw groups. As well, the security forces had been consolidated in the national territory. The country had continued to strengthen its assistance to victims of displacement. In 2008, 260,000 displaced families had been entered into the Families in Action programme. Colombia reaffirmed its condemnation of any action aimed against the civilian population. Ten years after the Council had started its debates on the issue, there still existed no clear understanding of the matter. The aide‑memoire would be a useful instrument, in that regard.
He said his Government supported the operational work of the United Nations for the protection of civilians. To that end, it was necessary to maintain adequate cooperation between the Council and other relevant bodies, and strengthen, in particular, the role of the Assembly. He stressed the importance of establishing effective controls on the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. That illicit trade was a grave problem for his country that threatened civilian security, increased crime rates and caused the death or permanent disability of thousands of persons. He also highlighted the importance of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
THAN SWE ( Myanmar) said the grim reality was that protecting civilians in armed conflict was a daunting challenge, especially because small arms and light weapons were easily available and because modern warfare and armaments, even with their deadly precision, resulted in collateral damage and massive destruction. Myanmar believed that the most effective way to protect civilians in armed conflict was to address the root causes of tensions and address them quickly and resolutely. Efforts to promote reconciliation between conflict parties needed to be reinforced by promoting sustainable development, poverty eradication, good governance, and protection and promotion of human rights towards durable peace and stability.
With all that in mind, the Myanmar Government had embarked on a national reconciliation process through peace negotiations with insurgent groups in the country. As a result, 95 per cent of insurgents, numbering some 100,000, had returned to the legal fold, including, in some cases, participating in the process of drafting a new Constitution and the national referendum. Looking outward, he said Myanmar was fully committed to a peaceful settlement of the Arab‑Israeli conflict and was convinced that there was no military solution. He strongly called for the protection of civilians in that conflict.
Myanmar also joined others in expressing profound concern for the loss of innocent lives and destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and would, therefore, urge the cessation of all military activities and violence in order to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The United Nations and the wider international community had a legal and moral commitment to work towards a durable peace, he said, stressing that the tenets of the Charter and relevant international law must be upheld in a balanced, non-discriminatory and transparent manner if it genuinely wanted to protect the civilian population from the disastrous effects of armed conflict and promote peace and security.
ZACHARY D. MUBURI-MUITA ( Kenya) said it was always the civilians who were severely and negatively impacted by war and other conflicts. That had become a constant problem for the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, where hundreds of thousands of civilians had been uprooted. One must continue to make concrete and specific efforts to ensure the dignity of those distressed by war. Humanitarian access during conflict was lifesaving. Providing a secure environment for humanitarian workers was, therefore, important. He supported current efforts to enhance the capacity of peacekeeping missions in that regard, but peacekeepers often lacked the capacity to reach the entire threatened population. That issue should be addressed in order to avert large‑scale population displacement and widespread human rights violations in future conflicts.
He said sexual and gender‑based violence had been used as a calculated tactic of war aimed at dehumanizing of, and instilling fear in, the civilian population. Although resolution 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) had been a step in the right direction, one had to move from words to deeds to ensure the protection of the sexually vulnerable in armed conflict. Addressing the December 2007 post‑election violence in his country, he said civilians had been the primary target and many had been displaced. The Government, with strong support from international and regional partners, had stepped in to avert a further worsening of the crisis and to protect the civilians. The displaced had been accommodated in camps and Government security forces had been used to open up routes for humanitarian support. That had ensured that civilians in the conflict areas were afforded basic human dignity.
MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said the debate was occurring during a perilous time, when Palestinians in Gaza were confronting genocide under the nose of the Security Council and an apparent, flagrant violation by Israel of its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law. Israel had blatantly defied the Council’s authority and its continuous calls, as stated in its 28 December press statement and resolution 1860 (2009) adopted on 8 January, for an immediate ceasefire against Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Israel’s recent aggression in Gaza had demonstrated the Council’s inability to: enforce its decisions against some; adopt critical decisions in a timely manner; and prevent Israel’s brutal military operations, including air bombardments, land assaults and the use of internationally banned weapons, from escalating. The Council had proved unable to impose the will of the United Nations, as the international community’s sole representative, even if it took the form of a unanimously adopted statement or a resolution adopted by 14 votes and 1 abstention.
The Council was discussing the protection of civilians in armed conflict, while turning a blind eye to the continuous massacre of approximately 1,000 Palestinians and the maiming of nearly 5,000 at the hands of a brutal occupying force. That occupying force, which was supported by forces within and outside the Council, claimed that it was exercising its legitimate right to self‑defence over the death of Israelis due to rocket attacks from Gaza, a number that could be counted on one hand. That act of self‑defence not only used force excessively and disproportionately, it also used internationally prohibited weapons and contradicted all legal and ethical responsibility. Egypt had launched its initiative on 8 January, in conjunction with adoption of the Council resolution, with the main aim of protecting civilians in armed conflict and giving them humanitarian and economic aid. However, both parties had so far chosen to ignore that call for a ceasefire and the fact that no real winners would emerge victorious from the military confrontation.
The losers were clearly the civilians in Palestine and in Israel who lost their lives in order for some to achieve their electoral aspirations and for some to claim a bogus victory at the victims’ expense, he said. Victory could only be achieved through genuine peace negotiations. The Council had a great responsibility to push forcefully to implement its decisions, enforcing all human rights protection mechanisms, particularly the convening of an extraordinary session to the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention; implementing the Human Rights Council’s 11 January resolution; and providing an international protection force to protect Palestinians under the “responsibility to protect” principle. The Council was also responsible for investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and turning in perpetrators for international prosecution.
JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO( Venezuela) said the Council was holding its debate in the wake of a crisis that had “plunged the Palestinian people into mourning” and threatened to once again portray the United Nations as ineffective and impotent. The character of armed conflicts was changing and now involved complex and interlinked factors. Such complexity required the specific situations be examined by the Security Council, as well as the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies, within their respective competencies.
He said that Israel’s devastating assault on the Gaza Strip was one of the worst types of contemporary warfare, wherein the aggressor party aimed to crush the will of a people, so they would be led to believe in a type of benign slavery. But, history had proved that subjugated peoples more often chose freedom and self‑determination over genocide and oppression. What was needed in Gaza, and elsewhere, was the implementation of efforts to safeguard the life, integrity and basic needs of civilians. However, what was actually taking place was clearly the result of outdated institutions and the subservience of those institutions to equally obsolete mechanisms.
He went on to say that his delegation had been following with concern those within the United Nations system that tried to promote the notion that the principle of the “responsibility to protect” could be implemented without discussion. To that end, the Security Council was not in a position to define and implement that principle without a prior review by the General Assembly. He said that Venezuela believed in cooperation and good faith to ensure the protection of civilians in all circumstances. It also believed that such protection required the timely provision of humanitarian assistance and condemned deliberate attacks against any and all humanitarian personnel. Venezuela condemned the fact that Israel had not given staff of UNRWA the proper assurances to effectively carry out their important work in Gaza.
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE ( Iran) said in the past 19 days, Palestinian civilians had been deliberately targeted by the ruthless Israeli war machine. The abhorrent Israeli‑caused carnage and Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip continued unabated. Humanitarian aid was being turned away by the Israelis, as was the case of an Iranian ship bringing supplies that had been turned away yesterday. Even United Nations workers and premises where innocent civilians took shelter had not been immune from Israeli attacks. The international community had no doubt that the Zionist regime was violating the basic principles of international law, international humanitarian law and human rights law and defied the most fundamental values for which the civilized world stood. The carnage must be stopped immediately and the Israeli war criminals should be brought to justice.
He said that, despite its commitment to the full and effective implementation of its resolutions on the protection of civilians in such circumstances, no effective action had been taken by the Council to stop the genocide against Palestinians. Even resolution 1860 (2009), as imperfect and belated as it had been, was being totally ignored by the Israeli regime, as were many other previous United Nations resolutions. He urged the Council to force the Israeli regime to put an end to its violations of international law and to its aggression. The international community should act swiftly to end impunity and to bring the Israelis responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and numerous serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to justice.
ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) said that, since it was better to prevent than to treat, the root causes of conflict should be addressed. Civilians were not only victims of violence, but also victims of the latest technologies of death, including cluster bombs, as shown in Gaza. The aggression against civilians in Gaza put the credibility of the Council debates on protection in question. The Secretary‑General had underscored the importance of enhancing the capacities of United Nations missions in protecting civilians. However, when there was no peace to be kept, the missions were restricted to ensure their own protection. What protected civilians, above all, was peace, as well as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and programmes for development.
Building peace should be a priority for the United Nations, and regional organizations could add value to that. Protection of civilians in armed conflict was a noble goal, but he was concerned at attempts to use the principle for political aims, such as in the principle of the responsibility to protect. That principle was still the subject of different interpretations. The duty to protect civilians in armed conflict was an element that was part of other duties and rights, including the right to development, the right of refugees to return, and the duty of donors to meet their commitments. As protection of civilians was primarily the responsibility of States, their capacities should be enhanced, instead of weakened through sanctions or intervening in their affairs.
FARUKH AMIL ( Pakistan) said that his delegation had long called on Member States to fully utilize the principle of the Charter towards the pacific settlement of disputes. It had also stressed that the just settlement of conflicts required, above all, addressing root causes. As the leading contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping, it had subsequently played a leading role in the Organization’s efforts to ensure the protection of civilian lives. He said that there were international laws that set out the parameters of civilian protection. What delegations had gathered to discuss today was not the efficiency of those laws and norms, but the apparent inability to ensure their full and effective implementation.
He said that as Gaza burned, the world was watching the United Nations and the Security Council in particular. As the Council spent an entire day debating “high sounding moral principles and respect for international law” it had meanwhile failed to carry out its Charter‑mandated responsibility to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security. Indeed, the people of Gaza, who had suffered under siege so long, were now being subjected to a new campaign of destruction and terror while the world watched.
It was clear that civilians were continuing to bear the brunt of armed conflict. That was also the case in Gaza, he said. Less than a month ago, the international community had celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but today, the Security Council seemed unable to stop the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Indeed, after the Council’s adoption of resolution 1860 (2009) the number of Palestinian dead continued to rise and the destruction of the Gaza Strip continued.
He said that, while the Council’s record in this context “is not without blemish”, the 15‑member body’s action in the face of the current crisis was a litmus test of its future efforts in this area of its agenda. He called for renewed determination to provide protection of all civilians in armed conflict, “including those we see dying by the minute in Gaza”.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer of the Holy See, said that while the Security Council had been dealing with the issue for more than a decade, civilian security during conflict had become more and more critical, especially in light of the ongoing situations in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just to name a few. He said that 2009 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, and inasmuch as civilian protection norms stemmed from the tenets of those important instruments, the Holy See trusted that the new year would provide an occasion for assessing the commitment of parties to ensure the protection of civilians through greater respect for the rules of international humanitarian law.
He went on to say that the 2003 update of the aide‑memoire on the Protection of Civilians was an important tool for clarifying responsibilities, enhancing cooperation, facilitating implementation and strengthening coordination within the United Nations system. It also remained an indispensable road map for bringing protection to civilians in conflict. Moreover, the aide‑memoire’s action points challenged the international community, and especially the Security Council, to deal with the issue in a prompt, decisive and action-oriented manner.
He said that, in a context such as that of the Gaza crisis, where it was sadly clear that political and military designs superseded basic respect for the dignity and rights of persons, and where women and children were used as shields for combatants and humanitarian access was denied, protection of civilians required good political will and concrete action. Such protection must be based on widespread responsible exercise of leadership, including the exercise of the right of States to defend their citizens while fully recognizing their responsibility towards the international community and respect for the rights of other States and communities to exist and coexist in peace.
Finally, he stressed that the increased burden of civilian casualties of war was a consequence of the massive production, and continued innovation and enhanced sophistication of weapons. The higher quality of small arms, anti‑personnel mines and cluster munitions, among others, tragically made killing that much easier and more efficient. To that end, the Holy See supported and encouraged the objectives of recent General Assembly resolution “Towards an arms trade treaty”, which laid out the first steps towards a relevant legally binding instrument.
Responding to delegates’ comments and questions, Mr. HOLMES said he welcomed the clear commitment by delegations to the agenda of protection of civilians and the recognition that more must be done in order to have an impact on the ground. He also endorsed the view that more needed to be done to tackle causes of conflict.
He was now able to give the latest figures regarding casualties and injured in Gaza, as provided by the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Authority: 1,013 dead, including 322 children and 76 women. Four thousand five hundred sixty people had been injured. Comparing the figures to the population of New York, that would mean 34,000 dead. Comparing it to the population of the United States, it would stand at 1 million. He agreed with comments that much more needed to be done to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Only a full and fully respected ceasefire would protect civilians in Gaza.
He said that, although protection of civilians had been included in peacekeeping mandates, results had been mixed. Better guidance was needed in that regard. He was encouraged by support for the expert group. It was a modest expert group and had no cost implications. Its creation was not an attempt to isolate protection issues from the wider complex of conflict prevention. He welcomed the adoption of the aide‑memoire, which should be updated regularly. It could be a useful vehicle to share experiences with such regional organizations as the African Union. He wholeheartedly endorsed the view expressed by some speakers that women should participate in all peace processes.
* *** *For information media • not an official record