MORE AND MORE INNOCENT CIVILIANS CAUGHT IN CONFLICT, NOT ENOUGH BEING DONE TO PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR DEFENCELESS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

22 June 2007
SC/9057

MORE AND MORE INNOCENT CIVILIANS CAUGHT IN CONFLICT, NOT ENOUGH BEING DONE TO PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR DEFENCELESS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

22 June 2007
Security Council
SC/9057
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5703rd Meeting (AM)

MORE AND MORE INNOCENT CIVILIANS CAUGHT IN CONFLICT, NOT ENOUGH BEING DONE

TO PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR DEFENCELESS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Briefs

With more and more innocent civilians, relief workers and journalists caught in the crosshairs of -- or deliberately targeted by -- warring parties around the globe, the top United Nations humanitarian official today warned the Security Council that not enough was being done to provide the protection many of these defenceless people were due under international humanitarian law.

“It is hard not to conclude that, for all our advocacy on behalf of civilians in need for protection and for all the resources that are devoted to all aspects of protection, […] we are still failing to make a real and timely difference for the victims on the ground,” countless thousands of whom had been killed, injured, ignored or treated as less than human, said John Holmes, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Briefing an open meeting of the Security Council, he said that, during his first four months as the world body’s humanitarian chief, he had visited the Sudan’s war-torn Western Darfur region, as well as Chad, the Central African Republic, northern Uganda and Somalia.  In each of those places –- and in too many others, from Sri Lanka to Colombia -- he had seen how hundreds of thousands of civilians had been uprooted from their ordinary lives by the effects of conflict and had been left stranded, their fate of no apparent consequence to those who fought around them.

He urged Council members not to forget the fact that the principle of protecting civilians in armed conflict had special significance among the 15-nation body’s other mandated responsibilities.  It represented a series of primary objectives, including security for displaced persons and host communities; ensuring access to those in need and a secure environment for relief workers; strengthening the rule of law; protection of women and girls; preventing recruitment of child soldiers; mine action; and action on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

That list was long, but it was important; and the increasingly widespread acceptance of those principles, together with the existence of institutions and staff specifically charged with monitoring and, where possible, ensuring their observance was a huge step forward.  So too, was the General Assembly’s agreement at the 2005 World Summit on a fundamental “responsibility to protect” people and communities from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  That principle also recognized the role of the international community and the United Nations in helping States exercise that responsibility, he added.

He painted a “profoundly worrying” picture of civilians, relief workers and, increasingly, journalists being targeted by combatants, and the “particularly horrifying trend” of suicide attacks often perpetrated quite intentionally in public places.  Gender-based and sexual violence was equally repugnant, and had been used as a calculated method of warfare in places such as Bosnia and Rwanda.  On the displacement of civilians as a result, or sometimes the very purpose, of conflict, he said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had just reported that there had been an estimated 9.9 million refugees at the end of last year -- the first increase in the global refugee population since 2002, largely sparked by increased flows from Iraq.

“If I have portrayed a somewhat bleak picture in this briefing, the reason is that there is still a lot to be bleak about, and no room for this Council or anyone else to be remotely complacent about what has been achieved so far,” he said.  But, there was also room for hope.  The humanitarian community continued to work hard to improve its performance in protection on the ground through its monitoring and advocacy, raising awareness and capacity-building, and were devoted to the cause.

He suggested that it might be useful for the Council to take a systematic look at the practical effect that the inclusion of such protection in a number of peacekeeping mandates had had on the ground.  Above all, the culture of impunity must end.  Further, the international community must decide, once and for all, to invest more in: conflict prevention; facilitating political solutions through increased mediation capacity and support to help resolve conflict; and immediate post-conflict measures to prevent rapid relapse into conflict.  “Only where the international community is united and resolute can we hope to protect the defenceless, as we have the obligation to do,” he concluded.

In the open debate that followed Mr. Holmes’ presentation, speakers expressed deep concern over the fact that civilians were increasingly the deliberate targets of armed action and terrorism, as well as the victims of the indiscriminate use of force, citing Darfur, Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and other conflict zones.  Particular concern was voiced over sexual violence in those areas, the plight of displaced persons and the increase in attacks on humanitarian workers and journalists.

To remedy the situation, many speakers called for thorough implementation of the Council resolution that deals with the issue, resolution 1674 (2006), through better monitoring and other measures.  Many also demanded for the end of impunity for those who commit egregious acts against civilians, saying that the International Criminal Court was crucial in that effort.  Further, some called for the continued incorporation of measures to protect civilians in the mandates of peacekeeping missions, citing as a model the more robust rules of engagement for that purpose given to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

Some speakers stressed that armed non-State actors must be held to the same international norms as States’ armed forces.  The representatives of Myanmar and Colombia, in particular, pointed to such groups as the main cause of harm to civilians in their conflict zones.  The representatives of the United States and Israel maintained that distinctions must be made between forces that attempted to avoid civilian categories during armed operations, even if inevitable casualties resulted, and those who deliberately targeted civilians.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Panama, Peru, Italy, Qatar, France, Indonesia, Congo, China, Slovakia, United Kingdom, Ghana, South Africa, Russian Federation, Belgium, Guatemala, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Germany (on behalf of the European Union), Nigeria, Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea and Rwanda.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 2:05 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to discuss the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and was expected to be briefed by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Briefing by Under-Secretary-General

JOHN HOLMES, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, in his first four months as the Organization’s top humanitarian official, he had visited Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic, northern Uganda and Somalia.  In each of those places –- and in too many others -- he had seen how hundreds of thousands of civilians had been uprooted from their ordinary lives by the effects of conflict and had been left stranded, their fate of no apparent consequence to those who fought around them.  Countless thousands had been killed, injured, maimed, assaulted, humiliated, ignored and treated as less than human, he said.

“It is hard not to conclude that, for all our advocacy on behalf of civilians in need for protection and for all the resources that are devoted to all aspects of protection by the humanitarian and peacekeeping communities, we are still failing to make a real and timely difference for the victims on the ground,” he continued.  Perhaps that was an oversimplification, but the international community could not afford to do anything but look the facts in the face; lip service was easy, but effective action was much harder.

He said “protection” meant different things.  To most people, it meant what it said: physical protection of innocent people from those trying to harm them.  “We must not lose sight of this primary meaning,” he said, but added that the protection of civilians in armed conflict also had particular significance in the work of humanitarian organizations and in the context of the Security Council’s responsibilities.  For the Council, it represented a series of primary objectives aimed to transform the security, political, legal and moral environment in which all concerned operated.  Those objectives included, among others, security for displaced persons and host communities, ensuring access to those in need and a secure environment for relief workers, strengthening the rule of law, protection of women and girls, preventing recruitment of child soldiers and action on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and mine action.

That list was long, but important, and the increasingly widespread acceptance of those ideas and principles, together with the existence of institutions and staff specifically charged with monitoring and, where possible, ensuring their observance, was a huge step forward.  So too, had been the agreement by the General Assembly at the 2005 World Summit on a fundamental “responsibility to protect” people and communities from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  That principle also recognized the role of the international community and the United Nations in helping States exercise that responsibility, he added.

“I believe that we are gradually making a difference to what is regarded as acceptable and normal, and that this will have a profound effect over time,” he said.  The activities of the International Criminal Court, four seminal Council resolutions and the specific inclusion in peacekeeping mandates of provisions on the protection of civilians were all key steps in changing the international environment.  There were also some improvement on the ground, he said, noting, among others, the more robust peacekeeping and strategic deployment of peacekeepers in the interest of protecting civilians, which had helped facilitate returns or, at the very least, an environment conducive to the provision of assistance in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He said that, in northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and Nepal, relative peace and stability were allowing some refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes and begin the arduous task of re-establishing their lives.  Implementation of the cluster approach should lead to a more coordinated protection response at the field-level among United Nations agencies and their partners through the action of a specific protection cluster.  “In many cases, however, the picture remains sombre and profoundly worrying,” he said, noting first that the targeting of civilians, whether deliberately or through lack of concern about the consequences by those using force, was a particular concern.  Such targeting was a flagrant violation of humanitarian law that was seen, day in and day out, particularly in internal conflicts and civil wars, which had increasingly replaced wars between States in today’s world.

“Civilians bear the brunt of indiscriminate firing and violence in populated areas, including cities, where warring parties fail to distinguish, or even try to distinguish, between combatants and the civilian population,” he said, adding that civilians were also harmed in cases where warring parties employed weapons such as cluster bombs or methods of combat that were out of all proportion to any military advantage to be gained.  He noted that combatants often deliberately placed themselves among civilian populations to try to deter attacks, or at least to ensure that the opposing side would damage their image by killing civilians if they did attack.  In Somalia, fierce fighting in Mogadishu between March and May had resulted in the deaths of more than 400 civilians.  Some 700 -- mostly elderly people, women and children -- had been wounded as a result of the heavy weapons fire.

Also, civilian casualties from the indiscriminate use of force had characterized fighting in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, whether from Israeli military operations or violence between Palestinian factions, as well as indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel itself, he said.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to the dreadful toll of civilian deaths caused by insurgents and militias on all sides, the civilian casualties resulting from security operations by multinational forces and Government security forces were of increasing concern.  Last weekend in Afghanistan had been particularly tragic, when 18 children had died as a result of separate attacks by insurgent and multinational forces, and the news overnight of possible further civilian deaths reinforced that concern.  He added that, In Iraq, the United Nations Mission there had estimated that an average of 94 civilians had died violently every day last year due to the actions of all sides in the conflict

He went on to say that civilians were too often deliberately targeted in order to create a climate of fear and to destabilize populations.  “We see this in calculated attacks by the Janjaweed and other militias on innocent villagers in Darfur and Chad; in brutal sectarian, ethnic and political violence in Iraq; and in large-scale killing and abduction of civilians, particularly women and girls, by ruthless armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said.  He called the Council’s attention to arbitrary executions and acts of banditry attributed to Congolese Government forces, as well as to assassinations, disappearances and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by those bearing arms in places as far apart as Sri Lanka and Colombia.

He said that one particularly horrifying trend was the increasing use of suicide attacks, including car bombs or improvised explosive devices.  “These are most often perpetrated quite intentionally in public places; places of worship, market squares, civilian areas where people gather in the normal course of their lives and where there is no military advantage to be gained,” he said, stressing that the inevitable result was carnage among wholly innocent civilians, thousands of lives ruined forever and a pervading sense of insecurity.  Only three days ago, the bombing of a mosque in Iraq had killed nearly 200 civilians, and similar trends in countries like Afghanistan, Lebanon and Somalia were profoundly worrying.

“Those who send so many young men and women to their bloody ends, along with their innocent victims, in order to foment ethnic or sectarian tension and violence bear a heavy responsibility,” he said, adding: “Those who keep quiet about such attacks or even privately applaud them share that responsibility and appear heedless of the likelihood that they or their societies, in turn, may become victims of this inhuman method of spreading pointless death and destruction.”

Gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence, was another repugnant manifestation of deliberate targeting of civilians, he said of the practice that had been used as a calculated method of warfare in places such as Bosnia, Rwanda, and Liberia, and was currently used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as occasionally in other conflicts, including in Darfur.  The aim of that practice was to brutalize and instil fear in the civilian population, especially women and girls, but also sometimes boys and men, to weaken their resistance through humiliation and shame.  The nature of sexual violence demanded that the United Nations and the international community did more.  To that end, the world body had recently launched the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a coalition of 12 United Nations entities aiming to support national actions to prevent such violence.

Turning next to the displacement of civilians as a result of, or sometimes as the very purpose of, conflict, he said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had reported that there had been an estimated 9.9 million refugees worldwide at the end of last year.  That was the first increase in the global refugee population since 2002 and had been sparked largely by increased flows from Iraq.  UNHCR had also reported that there were now some 24.5 million internally displaced persons that had been deliberately forced from their homes or had fled violence and conflict to meet their basic needs and to protect their families.  In Darfur, the ranks of internally displaced persons continued to swell, with well over 150,000 people displaced in the first five months of this year alone, bringing the total number to well over 2 million.  Some 237,000 people had fled Darfur for neighbouring Central African Republic and Chad, countries that were also facing large numbers of internally displaced persons.

He said that better ways of preventing the conditions that led to displacement and dealing with the results must be found, including a focus on the right to voluntary, safe return and the rejection of ethnic or sectarian cleansing.  Displacement was only the beginning of many frightening challenges to survival, loss of educational and livelihood opportunities and, even if needs are met, inevitable misery.  If peace was restored, there were still enormous challenges in returning those displaced home in a truly voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable manner, including restitution of property, community reconciliation and painstaking clearance of mines and other explosives.

Humanitarian access, he said, was the main prerequisite for humanitarian action; yet, such access was increasingly far from safe or unhindered.  In Darfur, in particular, the targeting and harassment of aid workers continued to place enormous strain on the delivery of life-saving assistance to millions of people.  Between January and May of 2007, over 60 humanitarian vehicles had been hijacked and 56 staff temporarily abducted.  Thirty-one aid convoys had been ambushed and looted, 13 relief organizations had been forced to relocate due to attacks and humanitarian personnel and African Union forces had been killed.  In Sri Lanka, the Middle East and elsewhere, deliberate and unacceptable attacks on aid workers had continued.  He proposed that the reasons and consequences of such attacks, which violated international humanitarian law, be systematically investigated.

In conclusion, he said that, even if there was a lot to be bleak about, there was also room for hope.  The humanitarian community continued to work hard to improve its performance in protection on the ground through its monitoring and advocacy, raising awareness and capacity-building, and the devotion of staff to that cause.  He suggested that it might be useful for the Council to take a systematic look at the practical effect that the inclusion of such protection in a number of peacekeeping mandates had had on the ground.  Above all, the culture of impunity must end.  Rule of law and redress were crucial and, in the case of sexual violence, the involvement of women in all aspects of protection would make a real difference to attitudes.

It was worth repeating, however, that, no matter what kind of assistance humanitarian workers could provide, only political solutions could end the majority of conflicts.  The international community must decide once and for all to invest more in: conflict prevention; facilitating political solutions through increased mediation capacity and support to help resolve conflict; and immediate post-conflict measures to prevent rapid relapse into conflict.  He would continue to work with the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to that end, as well as with the Council to make sure its resolutions were implemented.  “Only where the international community is united and resolute can we hope to protect the defenceless, as we have the obligation to do,” he concluded.

Statements

RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said that Member States could not address the protection of civilians in armed conflicts without considering ways to prevent such conflict.  The Council must examine root causes such as terrorism, marginalization and climate change.  It must also be ever guided by the principles of human rights, whether considering ways to prevent or to end conflicts.  He also said that women and children needed specific attention in that regard, as they often bore the brunt of conflict.

Overall, he said, it was important to recognize that, even with the countless mechanisms, resolutions and measures in place, the United Nations had consistently failed to marshal its resources in a timely and effective manner to protect civilians from the most atrocious violations of human rights.  Such failure had been clearly visible in conflicts across the globe, from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur to Iraq and the crisis in Lebanon last summer.  He said that such failures had damaged the credibility of the United Nations, but the hit the Organization had taken was insignificant when compared to the loss of lives.  Finally, he called on the Council and the wider Organization to do more to promote the principle of the “responsibility to protect”.

LUIS ENRIQUE CHÁVEZ ( Peru) said that the Council must recognize that much remained to be done to comprehensively protect civilians in armed conflict and to ensure the protection and promotion of their human rights.  Conflicts around the globe reflected that, time and again, the United Nations and the States concerned had failed to adequately meet the needs of ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire, particularly displaced persons and refugees.

Peru would stress that the Council must ensure the full application of its relevant civilian protection resolutions and measures, as well as do more to promote the principle of the “responsibility to protect”.  The Council must also do more to protect humanitarian and relief workers on the ground struggling to move aid supplies to citizens in danger.  It must continue to work with humanitarian and other agencies to gain a better understanding of complex humanitarian emergencies.  Finally, the Council must continue to work closely with the new Peacebuilding Commission, particularly in order to ensure that, in post-conflict situations, the proper institutional and socio-economic frameworks were put in place to prevent a return to war.

JACKIE SANDERS (United States) said that the responsibility to protect civilians rested primarily with the parties in conflict, but that the international community should consider stepping in when those parties could not, or would not, do so.  Sexual violence was of particular concern, including in Burma, where Government soldiers were reported to rape and torture women.  Forced labour, use of child soldiers and the use of land mines were also hurting the civilian population there.  In Darfur, as well, violence was often used to humiliate villagers, often through sexual violence.

The protection of displaced civilians remained one of the biggest challenges, and she applauded the work carried out under Mr. Holmes in reconfiguring efforts to protect those persons.  Darfur illustrated clearly the role that the international community must play in protecting civilians, though she stressed the responsibility of the Government of the Sudan to hold perpetrators of attacks against humanitarian workers responsible.  She reiterated the call on all parties to facilitate humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts.  In Iraq, the Multinational Forces worked to minimize civilian casualties, but the deliberate targeting of civilians by other actors must be condemned.  She urged humanitarian agencies to increase their presence in Iraq.

MARCELLO SPATAFORA ( Italy) welcomed the positive achievements in the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which was at the core of the United Nations activity in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and rapid response to crisis.  The focus now should be on how to ensure steady implementation of resolution 1674 (2006), for which he stressed three simple ideas.  The first was the need to systematically address the issue of protection of civilians on the ground upon revision of United Nations mission and operation mandates.  Second, use a framework, based on that of the working group for children in armed conflict and its reporting mechanism, for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, so as to provide a better system of monitoring and prevention.  Third, encourage further cooperation among the relevant actors to follow-up on the Council’s decisions, taking due account of the crucial role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

He said that Under-Secretary-General Holmes’ briefing was troubling.  It addressed key protection issues, such as a rise in the deliberate targeting of civilians in conflicts, indiscriminate use of force, forced displacement and the issue of safety and access of humanitarian personnel.  He was gravely concerned by the specific cases highlighted in the briefing.  Protection of civilians was not an abstract political or legal concept.  Civilian suffering caused by the ongoing crisis in Darfur must end.  He also drew attention to the situation in Somalia, where the civilian population had suffered immensely, particularly during the recent heavy fighting in Mogadishu.  In that respect, he was particularly concerned with the protection of the groups most exposed to the consequences of conflict -- women and children -- and consistent reports regarding the increase in the number of journalists killed in conflict situations were alarming.  In situations where civilians were the target of attacks, the Rome Statute was the legal basis for holding the perpetrators accountable.

JAMAL NASSER AL-BADER ( Qatar) said that, despite the efforts of the Security Council and the international community as a whole, the world was still witnessing an increase in the cases of deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist attacks.  Humanitarian workers had not been spared and civilians living in conflict areas were still suffering from the scourge of forced displacement.  There were also the accidental killings of civilians in conflict areas and areas where military operations were taking place.  That situation required all parties in those areas to take the necessary measures to prevent putting civilians in harm’s way, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

He said that the principle of “responsibility to protect” civilians was a critical humanitarian principle.  From a practical perspective, and insofar as implementation was concerned, that principle should be handled with caution, so that it was not exploited or abused.  It should be ensured that the objectives were not politicized, in order to remain above individual interests and reflect purely humanitarian motives.  The parties to armed conflict, be they Governments or non-Government actors, bore the responsibilities of full compliance with their commitments under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions.  The responsibility to protect rested, first and foremost, with the States concerned.  The role of the international community was to provide the necessary protection to civilians and find the means to mediate in the peaceful settlement of conflicts.  Peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations of the United Nations were merely contingency solutions.

Security Council resolution 1674 (2006) contained classifications of groups of civilians suffering from the scourge of armed conflicts and in need of assistance and protection, he said.  That classification had failed, however, to include the category of persons with disabilities in areas of conflict, despite the serious impact that armed conflicts had on that category.  He recalled that General Assembly resolution 61/131 on the implementation of the World Program of Action for Disabled Persons, which referred to the concern about the devastating consequences of the continuing armed conflict on the human rights of persons with disabilities.  He also noted the similar reference to the need to fully protect persons with disabilities in armed conflict and foreign occupation in the preamble of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  He underlined the importance for the Secretary-General, in his next report on the topic of civilians in armed conflict, not overlook those situations.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIÈRE ( France) said that his country was extremely concerned that civilians were increasingly targeted and that “humanitarian space” was no longer a sanctuary.  Under no circumstances could parties avoid compliance with international humanitarian law.  He invited States that had not yet ratified the two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions to do so as soon as possible.  Impunity must be ended, and the International Criminal Court had a pre-eminent role to play in that effort.  He stressed that humanitarian law also applies to forces engaged in peacekeeping operations and welcomed the zero-tolerance policy in regard to sexual abuse.

He called sexual violence abominable and said that such crimes must be prevented and punished.  The recruitment of children to serve in armed forces was equally unacceptable.  In addition, from Darfur to Iraq and Sri Lanka, millions of displaced people needed protection.  He expressed great concern over attacks against humanitarian personnel and journalists, who must be protected using relevant Security Council resolutions.  Full, unimpeded access to vulnerable populations must be provided to humanitarian workers, and the Council must be informed of obstacles to humanitarian assistance.  Finally, he said that protection of civilians must be considered in relation to rules of engagement of peacekeeping operations, and must receive adequate reporting.

HASSAN KLEIB (Indonesia), reaffirming his country’s commitment to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, said that protection of civilians in armed conflict was an urgent matter and required new measures.   He emphasized that non-State armed combatants must be held to the same standards of international humanitarian law, and called for measures to enforce those standards among such groups.  In addition, he expressed appreciation to humanitarian agencies and said that attacks on assistance convoys must be stopped.

He said that farmers and schoolchildren in over 60 countries were vulnerable to harm from landmines left in the wake of conflicts.  He urged the cooperation of all parties in removing such mines.  Protection of civilians was a complex problem and required efforts at all levels.  The prevention and ending of conflict, however, was the best way to protect civilians, and he urged the Council and the entire international community to strengthen their efforts towards that end.

PASCAL GAYAMA ( Congo) said that civilians were increasingly caught in the crossfire of cruel combatants with access to ever more powerful and devastating weaponry.  At the same time, it was important to briefly note that some civilians, whose motives were debatable, chose conflict.  Those were generally people who practiced terrorism and were recruited among extremists.  That specific group was often made up of children, who were one of the key targets of effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes.  In such instances, particularly where the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and children were concerned, it was more important than ever to support the work of the new Peacebuilding Commission, which aimed to build capacities on the ground to ensure that post-conflict countries did not fall back into war.

He said that, along with the Peacebuilding Commission, the United Nations Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were the “collective voice” of the international community that impunity would not stand and that the well-being of civilians and humanitarian personnel would be a priority.  He also noted that the recent signing of an agreement between the United Nations and the African Union with the Sudanese Government to allow a hybrid force would go a long way towards protecting civilians in that country.  It was important for the international community to stand up to the wanton use of force and promote the rule of law, particularly through the Geneva Conventions and relevant Security Council resolutions.

LI JUNHUA ( China) said that, although the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict had been on the Security Council’s agenda for many years, civilians’ circumstances had not improved much.   Some conflicts had gone on for too long or had escalated and led to a continuous deterioration of the humanitarian situation.  The Council should carry out its duty to respond to a crisis with an integrated legal and political approach.  It must step up efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts.  That was the best way to protect civilians.  The Council, along with other relevant bodies, should identify and remove the root causes of conflict.  Governments must bear the primary responsibility for protecting civilians.  However, he warned that, in providing assistance, they must respect the will, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Governments concerned and not impose any arbitrary intervention.

The concept of the “responsibility to protect” should be correctly understood and applied, he said.  The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document included a large section on “the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” and requested that the General Assembly continue to explore and enrich that concept.  But, because Member States interpreted that concept in different ways, the Council should refrain from invoking it.  Rather, the Council should respect and support continued discussion in the General Assembly in order to reach broad consensus.  Further, the effectiveness and credibility of humanitarian relief efforts should be improved, and the parties concerned should collaborate in accordance with international humanitarian law.

PETER BURIAN ( Slovakia) said that today’s briefing, the most recent Security Council mission to Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and daily news from the Middle East and elsewhere confirmed the continued gross violations of humanitarian law and human rights and other forms of grave violations perpetrated by State and non-State actors.  The international community must do much more to protect the most vulnerable in armed conflicts; there could be no excuse for inaction when thousands of civilians were dying as a result of armed conflict every week.  It was clear that, despite the existing legal framework for civilians’ protection, which had been further strengthened last year by the adoption of resolution 1674 (2006), serious gaps remained in the practical implementation of agreed principles, including the responsibility to protect.  He supported the Secretary-General’s intention to initiate a discussion among Untied Nations Members to translate that core principle of humanity and human solidarity into concrete action at global, regional and national levels.

With respect to one of the gravest crises and humanitarian situations, he said his country welcomed the recent agreement that could lead to both a rapid and successful deployment of an African Union-United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur and improved protection of civilians in the region from human rights and humanitarian law violations.  He called on the Government of the Sudan to facilitate expeditiously the deployment of the hybrid peacekeeping force and allow monitoring and investigation of crimes, including active cooperation with the International Criminal Court.  At the same time, people in other parts of the world must not be forgotten.  In the Middle East and Afghanistan, the number of attacks on innocent civilians increased daily, by the most vicious “killing tactics and terrorist acts”, including the use of chlorine.

He said he was also concerned about the level of impunity with respect to grave violations of humanitarian law and atrocities against civilians, underlining his special concern about the involvement of Government military and security forces and institutions in those criminal activities.  Stressing the need for strict exercise of the zero-tolerance policy with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said impunity for such crimes was unacceptable; it must be ensured that the perpetrators of criminal activities were brought to justice.  In situations where the national judicial authorities were not fully capable or, in some cases, unwilling to address international law violations, Slovakia would continue to support active engagement by the international community, including through international and “mixed” tribunals, the International Criminal Court and, when necessary, through applicable targeted measures of the Security Council.  He also supported all necessary steps and actions by the international community to protect humanitarian personnel, establish safe corridors to allow full and unhindered access and provide basic security for the media.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), aligning her statement with the one to be made by Germany on behalf of the European Union, said that ensuring the protection of the civilians in armed conflict was central to the Council’s work.  Gender-based violence was rampant, millions were displaced every year and humanitarian workers and journalists were being attacked.  Calling all those developments unacceptable, she expressed particular concern over the impact on civilians in Burma, Sri Lanka and Somalia.  She also drew attention to the declining security situation in Darfur, despite agreements on the hybrid force, and expressed deep concern over the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, concerning which she supported the Quartet position and welcomed Israeli humanitarian measures.

She said it was important to draw attention to the actions of the worst offenders of humanitarian law, while supporting those who were making progress.  Respect and enforcement of international law should be strengthened, and perpetrators of egregious crimes brought to justice, with the International Criminal Court having a crucial role in that regard.  The Council should also continue to ensure that, where appropriate, peacekeeping forces were given mandates and the support needed to protect civilians from violence.  She welcomed progress in that area, in particular the robust action taken by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) against armed militia that threatened the local population.  She also urged a closer working relationship between the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

ROBERT TACHIE-MENSON ( Ghana) said that the international community had the legal and institutional tools to deal with the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  The challenge was how to translate the mechanisms into effective practical systems.  The problem of protection of civilians would have to be considered within the context of the following factors:  prevention of conflicts; observance and implementation of the rules of international humanitarian law; peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance; and post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation, and the provision of justice for victims.  On the first point, it was only logical that, to stop of the abuse of civilians, it was essential to go to the root of the problem -- conflict prevention -- thus removing the conditions that bred conflicts in the first place.  For that, he was guided by the Secretary-General’s report of April 1998 on the causes of conflict and promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa, which identified the promotion of human security and human development as the basis of conflict prevention.

Such an approach raised issues of governance, economic management and rule of law, he said.  As stressed by resolution 1674 (2006), there was the need for a coordinated, comprehensive approach on the promotion of economic growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development in vulnerable areas and regions by the United Nations and its agencies.  Cooperation with regional and subregional organization and non-governmental organizations was also needed.  An important aspect of conflict prevention was an early warning system to alert the international community of situations that led to the escalation of violence against civilians and resulted in humanitarian crises.  On the question of the observance and implementation of international humanitarian law, the responsibility lay with the relevant States and combatants.  When States and combatants proved unwilling or unable to act, the international community had a moral and legal duty to intervene to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance were two important tools that kept conflicts in check and reduced the scale of human suffering, he said.  Those two tools, while distinct, were mutually supportive and complementary.  For peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance to work effectively, peacekeeping missions should be reconfigured by adopting robust mandates to ensure, not only the physical protection of civilians, but also the facilitation of humanitarian assistance.  Since the practical and moral underpinning of peacekeeping operations was imperilled if the local population could not be protected, the protection of civilians should be part of the core mandate of peacekeeping operations.  That required additional resources.  It was, however, the most cost-effective way to prevent humanitarian disaster, which absorbed more resources.  On post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation, the international community should make the necessary resources available.  That would facilitate, not only economic reconstruction, but also the building of political and judicial institutions to ensure the rule of law and peace and security.

BONGIWE QWABE ( South Africa) said the Council should avoid the politicization of humanitarian assistance.  He urged the international community not to ignore Gaza.  He supported the call by the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory for the reopening of Karni, the main commercial crossing point into Gaza.  In March, South Africa had introduced an open debate in the Council for greater cooperation and coordination with regional organizations, particularly the African Union, to help better protect civilians and offer humanitarian assistance.  Regional organizations were closer to the areas of concern and their role should be strengthened to act more effectively when future conflicts arose.

In resolution 1265 (1999) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Council expressed its willingness to consider how peacekeeping mandates might better address the negative impact of conflict on civilians, he said.  He lauded the fact that United Nations peacekeeping mandates now included the specific protection needs of women and children, including that of humanitarian personnel, due to the Council’s adoption of landmark resolutions 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security; 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict; and 1502 (2003) on the protection of United Nations personnel, associated personnel and humanitarian personnel in conflict zones.  Those resolutions reaffirmed the importance of preventing armed conflict and its recurrence, while stressing the need for a comprehensive approach through promotion of economic growth, poverty eradication, sustainable development, national reconciliation, good governance, democracy, the rule of law and the respect and protection of human rights.

VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that not a day went by when one was not made aware of terrible violent acts committed against civilians.  Amidst the distressing news, his Government welcomed the recent decision by the Government of the Sudan to accept the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union force in the Darfur region.  He hoped the move would finally bring some relief to the long-suffering people of that region.  Unfortunately, however, that sort of positive momentum was not in evidence in Iraq.  One suspected that the international community had not quite grasped the terrible humanitarian tragedy that was occurring there.

The same could be said in light of the renewed violence in the Palestinian Occupied Territory and in Afghanistan.   Russia was particularly concerned by violence perpetrated against vulnerable populations, such as women and children.  He called for strict compliance by all parties to international humanitarian law, as well as relevant Security Council resolutions.  He went on to express concern for the increased number of refugee populations around the world, sparked largely by the rise in people fleeing the ongoing violence in Iraq.   Afghanistan, however, remained the source of most of the world’s refugees.  He recalled that, in 2005, the international community had soundly supported the principle of the responsibility to protect, and he called on all States to stand by that principle.

Council President JOHAN C. VERBEKE ( Belgium), speaking in his national capacity, said that it was clear that there was still a huge gap between the diplomatic perception of the protection of civilians and the reality on the ground.  It was time for the Council to consider more active measures based on its resolution 1674 (2006), which could provide a better tool for the Council to more effectively carry out its role, both in the area of conflict prevention and in post-conflict situations.

He said that the Secretary-General had a role to play, and Belgium would urge him to continue to call attention to the situation of civilians in armed conflict.  At the same time, States bore the ultimate responsibility for the protection of their own civilians.  Where those States could not undertake that responsibility -- or refused to do so -- it was up to the international community to stand by the principle of the “responsibility to protect”.

JOSÉ ALBERTO BRIZ GUTIÉRREZ ( Guatemala) said that, despite the international mechanisms that had been developed over the past century; civilians, and especially the most vulnerable, including women, children humanitarian workers and journalists, continued to be imperilled.  He condemned, in particular, attacks that did not distinguish between military and civilian persons within communities.  A truly coherent strategy involving all parts of the United Nations needed to be developed.

He said his country’s experience showed that protection of civilians was no easy task, and it was still working to strengthen mechanisms in that regard.  For that reason, he felt it was particularly important that protection of civilians be incorporated into peacekeeping mandates, and lessons be learned from the operations that had already had such considerations incorporated into their mandates.  He eagerly awaited coverage of that issue in future reports of the Secretary-General.  He concluded by congratulating the tribunal in Sierra Leone for issuing judgments against those accused of deploying child soldiers.

KENZO OSHIMA ( Japan) said that the protection of civilians was a high priority of his country, as it was essential for human security.  He pointed to the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, to which his Government had made substantial contributions, and the Central Emergency Response Fund as important mechanisms in that regard.  He said the Council had made significant progress through, for example, provisions for monitoring abuses against children in its resolutions.  At the same time, he was deeply troubled by the large number of civilians affected by conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Somalia and other areas, and deplored the fact that civilians had increasingly become the primary targets of violence.

He condemned attacks on humanitarian workers and civilians and called for discussions on concrete measures to protect them.  Well-conceived peacekeeping mandates were part of the answer, as was monitoring to provide early warning on danger to civilians.  Measures to protect displaced persons also needed to be strengthened.  In addition, the right balance needed to be struck between national reconciliation and punishment of those who attacked civilians and, for that reason, his country actively supported the tribunal in Cambodia and planned to join the International Criminal Court formally, by the fall of this year.  He underlined the importance of regional initiatives to protect civilians, and named concrete actions that could save lives, such as demining, extra care taken in counter-insurgency operations and less use of cluster munitions.

JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said the responsibility to protect civilians in conflict was a central principle of humanity that must be depoliticized and transformed into the joint action of Council members and international organizations.  The persistence of atrocities against civilians -- as evidenced by regular evaluations by the Council -- made it necessary to consider adopting effective measures to protect civilians in certain conflicts where the States involved appeared to lack the political will or ability to do so.  National security should not prevail over the obligation of States and other parties to comply with humanitarian law.  He supported the work of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations agencies to protect civilians -- including refugees, internally displaced people, women, children and other vulnerable groups -- during armed conflicts. 

He condemned attacks on humanitarian personnel and expressed his sincere condolences to the families and friends of personnel who had lost their lives while helping others in humanitarian emergencies.  States’ responsibility to protect humanitarian personnel and provide them with full, unimpeded access to affected civilian populations was clearly established and must not be eluded.  Several years ago, the Council had incorporated into its agenda the question of protection of civilians and it had been setting up a legal regime on the subject.  The Council had before it such useful tools to protect civilians as the 10-point action plan.   It had also received valuable suggestions to improve the information mechanism on civilian protection.  It was time to fully implement resolution 1674 (2006). 

CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said gender-based violence -- including sexual abuse of women and violence against and forced labour of girls recruited by militia -- was still an issue of major concern.  Too often, perpetrators were never brought to justice.  The United Nations had the moral responsibility to eradicate the many atrocities committed against civilians in the large majority of armed conflicts.  The Organization must send a clear message that it would not tolerate disregard for basic norms of international humanitarian law and human rights.  It was necessary to implement a comprehensive strategy to guarantee the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, based on respect for humanitarian law; strengthening the rule of law and the struggle against impunity; protection of humanitarian personnel; strengthening of coordination and clear mandates; and full implementation of the 10-point action plan introduced by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Two years after adopting the principle of the “responsibility to protect” populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the international community had witnessed enormous difficulties in applying that principle in concrete situations and in translating the spirit that led to its adoption into action that positively impacted on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, he said.  Mistrust prevailed on the matter.  Some States saw the new principle as merely a continuation of interventionist practices aimed at destabilizing political regimes, while others promoted its application in a selective manner, limiting its scope to cases significant for their own political interests.  Member States must commit to reaching new agreements that were truly viewed and applied objectively and impartially.

MICHAEL VON UNGERN-STERNBERG ( Germany), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the protection of civilians in armed conflict was more important than ever.  While the number of conflicts had declined since 1989, the number of civilians suffering the effects of armed conflict was growing.  Parties to conflict increasingly demonstrated a disregard for the basic provisions of international humanitarian law.  The Union was concerned about the growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide.  Women, children and other vulnerable groups were especially affected by armed conflict, and sexual exploitation and abuse remained widespread, affecting millions of victims.  Such violence was not an inevitable consequence of war, and it needed to be prevented.  Sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel was also unacceptable.

He also stressed the need to end the illegal recruitment of child soldiers, noting that some 300,000 child soldiers participated in armed conflicts.  The growing number of journalists being killed was also extremely disturbing, as was the number of humanitarian personnel being killed and attacked while on mission to help people in need.  In that regard, he strongly condemned the recent killing of two workers of the Lebanese Red Cross, two Red Cross workers in Sri Lanka, two United Nations workers in Gaza, a member of Médecins sans frontières in the Central African Republic, a member of Caritas International in Darfur and all other killings of humanitarian personnel.

International standards for the protection of civilians in armed conflict were largely in place, he said.  International human rights law continued to be applicable to everyone within the jurisdiction of the State concerned in time of armed conflict.  Council resolution 1612 set an enhanced framework for the protection of children in armed conflict.  International humanitarian law urged all parties to allow full, unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to civilians in need of assistance.  Ending impunity was essential, if a society in conflict or recovering from conflict was to come to terms with past abuses committed against civilians, as well as to prevent future such abuses.

Noting three priority areas, including worldwide recognition of standards, he called on Member States to ratify existing conventions and resolutions forming the legal framework for the protection of civilians.  He also stressed the need for clear and robust mandates for peacekeeping operations, including provisions regarding the protection of civilians within their zones of operation, the facilitation of the provision of humanitarian access and the creation of conditions conducive to voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons.  He strongly supported Under-Secretary-General Holmes’ request for the Council’s support in situations were access to humanitarian work was denied.  On the issue of prevention, he emphasized the critical need for early action in case of simmering conflicts.  The protection of civilians in armed conflict was a complex task, and the Union was fully committed to meeting the challenge.

MEIRAV ELION SHAHR ( Israel) said that a quick snapshot of conflicts around the world reminded the international community of the almost daily violence against civilians and the failure of Member States to protect their civilians from such immediate threats to life and security, triggered by forces of extremism and instability.  Sadly, civilians were caught in the crossfire and bore the tragic toll.  They were also often exploited by their own insurgents, who intentionally and cynically chose to operate from densely populated areas in blatant violation of the basic principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians.  She also stressed that the safety and access of humanitarian personnel and journalists, who worked as professional independents, must be ensured.  Additionally, the masquerading of terrorists and militants in journalists’ vehicles must also be forcefully condemned.

She said that, when sovereign States failed to govern responsibly, terrorist and other non-State actors sought to take advantage of the void.  That was a deeply troubling phenomenon that had been witnessed too many times in the Middle East.  Just this past weekend, “in a moment of déjà vu”, Israel had seen rockets again launched directly at civilians in northern Israel by terrorist factions in southern Lebanon.  Moreover, in Lebanon, Hizbullah stored its rockets from positions nestled within the fabric of civilian life and in proximity of places of worship and hospitals.  In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists firing Qassam rockets used similar tactics.  The international community’s vigilance in protecting civilians, particularly in States that were negligent, must not waver.  The choice to deal with such situations could save countless lives, she added, stressing that greater focus should be given to credible preventive measures, as well as actions to ensure that humanitarian agencies could be effective in their work in the field.

AMINU B. WALI (Nigeria) said that, despite the unwavering efforts of the international community to prevent or end conflicts, tensions were igniting fresh fighting in many areas, while the expectation that conflict already under way would be dealt with decisively were becoming “disappointingly wishful”.  The time had come for the international community to re-examine its obligations regarding the responsibility to protect civilians, without prejudice to the sovereignty of Member States.  The genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the crimes committed against unarmed civilians in other areas of conflict, especially in Africa, served as a constant reminder that the international community must search for a generally acceptable understanding of that responsibility.

He said that civilians, particularly the elderly, women and children, were the first casualties in armed conflicts or often became pawns in a deadly game that had no respect for rules of decency or respect for dignity.  Emphasizing that the situation was even more troubling for persons with disabilities or serious illness, who were often denied critical medical care during times of conflict when humanitarian access to such vulnerable populations was hampered.  He went on to welcome the increased capacity of the African Union and its Peace and Security Council to forestall and resolve conflicts and protect civilians.  Nigeria welcomed the valuable support given to the African Union Mission in the Sudan (AMIS), and appreciated the renewed United Nations-African Union partnership aimed at identifying specific cases were the United Nations could assist the African Union’s response capacity, as well as its capacity to monitor the conduct of parties to conflicts.

JOHN MCNEE (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said that the protection of civilians was not a theoretical debate; as men, women and children continued to be the deliberate targets of warring parties and terrorist entities in Darfur, Afghanistan, northern Uganda, Lebanon, Somalia and Sri Lanka, among other areas.  The Council has given much laudable attention to the topic, but words must continue to be turned into deeds.  In Darfur, he urged all parties to implement an effective ceasefire and to facilitate the rapid deployment of the hybrid force, which should include a robust mandate for the protection of civilians, and urged the Sudan to take measures to protect civilians, punish perpetrators of violations and facilitate aid.

Non-State actors, he said, must also be held to humanitarian law, particularly in Afghanistan, and protection issues must be built into peacebuilding efforts and long-term reconstruction.  He also advocated enhanced monitoring and reporting of information reflecting the effect of conflict on the quality of life and well-being of civilian populations, as well as humanitarian access.  In addition, he called for the strengthening of the protection capacity among civilian and military actors and advocated a stand-by mechanism of experts in the field.  Finally, he called for the development of clear guidance for the implementation of resolution 1674 (2006), and noted that action would have to be pursued to translate legal norms into practice over the long term.

PATRICK RITTER ( Liechtenstein) said it was important that all diplomatic means, including embargoes, be used as a first step to protect civilians in armed conflicts to show the concern of the international community.  The full membership of the United Nations should bring situations that are dangerous for civilians to the attention of the Council as early as possible.  The Council should also step in when humanitarian workers were threatened, and legal protections for such workers must be enhanced.  In addition, mediation capabilities must be strengthened, preventive action must be taken and violations of humanitarian law must not go unpunished.  The International Criminal Court must play a central role in the fight against impunity.

Y.J. CHOI (Republic of Korea) said that, since the Council had first put the issue of civilians in armed conflict on its agenda in 1999, some progress had been made on the issue, particularly the adoption of resolution 1674 (2006), which had been significant in that it had reinforced the legal framework established by other resolutions on the subject.  Still, there remained a sad reality that civilians continued to bear the brunt of armed conflict and terrorism.  Ongoing massive violations of human rights, unconscionable violence and brutal killings were making the international community increasingly aware of its responsibility to protect civilian populations and eliminate the culture of impunity.

The best way to protect civilians was to prevent fighting from erupting in the first place, he said, stressing the importance of developing a broad strategy for conflict prevention that addressed the root causes of conflict.  To that end, addressing the question of good governance would be critical.  Any strategy for prevention also needed to be based on solid analysis of ongoing and emerging situations that had the potential to develop into armed conflict.  The Republic of Korea also believed that, because each conflict was different, the Security Council should develop a mechanism for case-by-case analysis of the situation of the respective civilian populations.  Finally, he said that, to deter the recurrence of crimes against innocent civilians, impunity must end.  While the International Criminal Court, the Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, had been crucial in that regard, it was also important to examine ways to provide assistance for judicial capacity-building in war-torn societies.

JOSEPH NSENGIMANA ( Rwanda) said the most serious crimes in situations of conflict were committed against poor, defenceless and voiceless people, often living in remote locations and out of sight of the international community and the media.  For those people, implementation of resolutions 1674 (2006) and 1738 (2006) were most urgent.  Despite those resolutions and the endorsement by all States at the 2005 World Summit of the principle of “the responsibility to protect” -- which Rwanda strongly supported -- it was clear that too many people continued to suffer unspeakable horrors in situations of armed conflict.  Much more needed to be done, particularly by the Council.  Common humanity should unite the international community in the resolve to end the suffering of millions of people who lived in and were threatened by conflict situations.  National Governments must take full responsibility to protect civilians, and the international community must do so when States were unable or unwilling to do so.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide and similar situations should serve as a lesson that the failure of the United Nations, and specifically the Security Council, to take appropriate timely and decisive action to protect people under threat resulted in catastrophe, he said.  The Interahamwe militia, which had been responsible for the Rwandan genocide, remained active in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and continued to terrorize, murder and rape innocent victims with impunity.  It was inexplicable that such atrocities continued, despite the international community’s numerous commitments to prevent and combat genocide and protect civilians in armed conflict.  The presence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo of the largest peacekeeping force in history had equally failed to address the problem.  He called upon the Council to do so urgently.

MAUNG WAI ( Myanmar) called for a strong prohibition on the supply of small arms to non-State actors and joined with the international community in condemning all abuses against civilians in situations of armed conflict.  He said that his country had had bitter experiences of up to 18 insurgent groups committing atrocities against civilian populations.  In the belief that the most efficient way to protect such civilians was to resolve the root causes of conflict and to end armed conflicts, the Myanmar Government had embarked on a national reconciliation process and had brought 17 insurgent groups into the legal fold.  Only one major armed group was left, with whom negotiations would continue to be pursued.

He categorically rejected the accusation that the Government targeted civilians, maintaining that, even towards insurgents, counter-insurgency was only conducted against insurgent elements that engaged in terrorist activities against the civilian population.  Terrorism would not be tolerated, but a comprehensive approach to end the violence that promoted sustainable development was being implemented in conflict areas.  He said his Government would do its duty to protect its citizens and bring about peace, stability and security in the country.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the standards of international humanitarian law that gave Governments the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians.  It was important, however, to differentiate between protection efforts and the provision of humanitarian assistance, for which United Nations efforts were extremely important.  In reference to Colombia, she said it must be made clear that criminal activities of violent groups, funded by illicit activities such as the drug trade, were causing harm to civilian populations.  The Government and its defence forces were working hard to protect civilians from those groups.

Wrapping up the discussion, Mr. HOLMES said he welcomed the Council’s commitment to the agenda of civilian protection, as well as the commitment of all speakers of the need to do more.  He also thanked all those that had expressed support and thanks for the effort of humanitarian workers in the field, who often made the greatest sacrifice to carry out their duties.  He had taken note of many of the suggestion that had been made during the debate, including those that had been aimed at improving and enhancing the next relevant report to the Council.  He had also taken note of the call made by several speakers to boost cooperation between the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in order to look more closely at how peacekeeping mandates addressed the unique situation of civilians in armed conflict.  On the frequent mention of the “responsibility to protect” -– and the clearly differing views on just what that principle was -- he called on delegations, in further debating the issue, not to focus solely on “possible actions of last resort”, as there were many stages ahead of that option.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.