Ban Ki-moon's speeches


Remarks to the Security Council during its debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Security Council, 20 November 2007

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to you for chairing this important debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Today is a fitting day for such a meeting. On this day in 1945, the Trial of the Major War Criminals began at Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Trials had a profound influence on the development of international law. They had an important bearing on the notion of individual criminal responsibility for atrocities committed against civilians in armed conflict. They underlined that, even in war, certain acts are unacceptable. And they reflected the world’s conviction that civilians are entitled to protection.

Sixty-two years later, civilians continue to pay a dreadful toll in today’s conflicts -- in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In these and other conflicts, large numbers of civilians -- women, girls, boys and men -- suffer unimaginable violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. As I state in my report now before you, some victims are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others are deliberately targeted and subjected to appalling human rights abuses in an environment of almost total impunity. Deliberate attacks against civilians are often employed as an instrument of warfare.

That is why the protection of civilians is and must remain an absolute priority. For me as Secretary-General. For the United Nations. For this Council. And, above all, for the Member States, with whom rests the primary responsibility for protecting civilians.

There has been some progress in recent years towards strengthening the protection of civilians. We see increased levels of humanitarian action and more regular inclusion of protection activities in peacekeeping mandates. Greater attention is also being placed on humanitarian issues during mediation processes, and ultimately on preventing disputes from degenerating into violence in the first place, so as to spare civilians from the horrors of war. And around the world, we see increased momentum towards combating impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At the World Summit in 2005, all the world’s Governments agreed in principle to the responsibility to protect. I will work with Member States and civil society to translate this concept from word to deed -- to ensure timely action when populations face genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity.

This Council has taken a number of important steps -- including the adoption last year of resolution 1674 (2006) on the protection of civilians. The resolution establishes an important framework for action. Here too, we must now work together to translate the text into real action.

In my report, I have tried to show ways in which this may be done. The Emergency Relief Coordinator will elaborate on these recommendations in greater detail. However, allow me to mention one of the proposals -- the establishment of a Security Council working group on the protection of civilians.

I believe the establishment of such a group is an important next step, perhaps even an inevitable next step, in the evolution of the Council’s consideration of the protection of civilians. It would not only underline the Council’s commitment to this cause, it would give practical meaning to your commitment. It would ensure more timely and systematic consideration of the protection of civilians in the Council’s deliberations. And it would assist the Council to move decisively towards practical implementation.

And that, ultimately, is where the Council’s words must have the most meaning -- on the ground, in support of the affected civilians who need protection from the shocking indignities of armed conflict.

The plight of children in armed conflict is particularly disturbing. Eighteen years ago today, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Eleven years later, it adopted the Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict. But these have yet to be fully translated into reality. Every year, thousands of children are killed and wounded as a direct result of fighting. And the number of child soldiers around the world is estimated at 250,000.

We saw progress in 2005 when this Council adopted resolution 1612 (2005), followed by a working group on children and armed conflict. Thanks to the resolution’s monitoring and reporting mechanism, the Council is now in a much better position to take effective measures against perpetrators of grave violations of the rights of children in armed conflict.

Another vital tool is the work of my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy. By carrying out field visits and consulting actively with concerned parties, she helps ensure that they fulfil their child protection responsibilities. My Special Representative, in collaboration with the entire United Nations system, also works to support the demobilization of child combatants and their reintegration into their communities.

The Council has mandated peacekeeping operations to assist with the protection of civilians within the limits of their capabilities and areas of deployment. It is critical that peacekeeping operations be empowered with resources and political support to implement their mandates. I see Darfur as a test case, where all concerned must collectively meet the challenges of deploying an effective mission and achieving a peace agreement.

We must also ensure safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need, wherever required. Access is the fundamental prerequisite for humanitarian action and protection. For millions of vulnerable people caught in conflict, being accessible to humanitarian workers is often their only hope and means of survival.

I would like to emphasize the importance of regular reporting to the Council by the Emergency Relief Coordinator on our humanitarian access concerns. I believe this is critical. Also critical is the need for concerted action in response to particularly grave situations. The Council must act to ensure that those in need of life-saving assistance receive it, and that those who provide it do so in a secure environment. Attacks against humanitarian workers should never be tolerated.

I trust you will have a fruitful debate on this vital issue, which is key to achieving sustainable peace around the world.