SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR CREATION OF WORKING GROUP, AS SECURITY COUNCIL HOLDS DAY-LONG DEBATE ON PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT

20 November 2007
SC/9174

SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR CREATION OF WORKING GROUP, AS SECURITY COUNCIL HOLDS DAY-LONG DEBATE ON PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT

20 November 2007
Security Council
SC/9174
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5781st Meeting* (AM & PM)

Secretary-General calls for creation of working group, as Security Council holds

 

day-long debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict

Delegates Stress Importance of Ending Impunity, Sexual Violence;

Underscore Need to Rethink Use of Private Security Contractors, Cluster Munitions

Expressing regret that civilians continued to suffer grievous violence in conflict situations around the world, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council this morning to create a working group to ensure their protection.

As he opened a day-long Council discussion on protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Secretary-General said:  “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.”

Underlining that the Council’s words must have their greatest impact on the ground, he pointed out the timeliness of today’s meeting since it was on the same date in 1945 that the war crimes trials had begun in Nuremberg, Germany.  Sixty-two years later, civilians continued to pay a dreadful toll in conflicts, from the Sudan to Afghanistan and Iraq.  Women, girls, boys and men suffered unimaginable violations of humanitarian and human rights law.

The plight of children in armed conflict was particularly disturbing, despite the creation of international legal instruments, he said.  Thousands of them were killed and wounded in conflicts each year and an estimated 250,000 of them served as soldiers.  “The protection of civilians is and must remain an absolute priority” for the United Nations and, above all, for the Member States with whom rested the primary responsibility for protecting civilians.

Introducing the Secretary-General report on the subject, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said its recommendations were critical to more systematic consideration by the Council of civilian protection.

“A leap of imagination is not always easy, sitting in this warm and comfortable chamber, but let us remember the essential background,” he said.  Civilians in conflict situations were threatened by random killings, abductions, forced enlistment, torture, rape, abuse and displacement.  A case in point was the growing toll on civilians in Somalia.  Conditions in Gaza were provoking a risk of even more violence, and the situation in Darfur grew ever more worrying.

Suicide attacks, a feature in a growing number of conflicts, were a particularly disturbing way of deliberately targeting civilians, he noted.  However, any military response must itself comply with humanitarian law and show respect for the human and cultural dignity of those already endangered.  The Secretary-General’s report made a number of proposals with regard to compliance with international humanitarian law in situations of asymmetric warfare, including the use of cluster munitions.

Consideration should be given to referring grave incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence to the International Criminal Court, he said, adding that targeted sanctions could also be applied.  The Council should seek creative ways to support States in holding perpetrators accountable, for example, through the establishment of social ad hoc judicial arrangements.  Other actions proposed in the report concerned more robust legal protection for humanitarian workers, against whom attacks continued to mount.  There was also a critical need to address housing, land and property issues much earlier in a conflict to prevent violence arising from disputes over them.

In the discussion that followed the briefing, most speakers agreed with the urgent need to protect civilians more effectively, systematically and proactively.  In that light, most also agreed with the bulk of the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report.  However, the representative of the Russian Federation said the creation of a working group seemed like a bureaucratic move.  Rather than such structural considerations, it was more important that the Council act quickly and use effectively the mechanisms it already had under international law.

Italy’s representative supported the creation of a working group, but only if it was meant as a tool to enhance an operational, ground-centred approach.  Its focus should be on a framework that included clear peacekeeping mandates, an effective system of proactively monitoring humanitarian access and punishment of those who blocked humanitarian access or committed sexual violence.  “Let’s deliver on such proposed actions,” he added.

Among other concerns raised was the danger posed to civilians by private security contractors and cluster munitions, with many speakers supporting the Oslo Process to prohibit the latter.

Other speakers today were the representatives of Belgium, China, Panama, United Kingdom, France, South Africa, Ghana, Qatar, United States, Slovakia, Peru, Congo, Indonesia, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Angola (on behalf of the African Group), Japan, Israel, Senegal, Guatemala, Austria, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, Liechtenstein, Norway, Nepal, Argentina, Mexico, Viet Nam and Colombia.

Also making a statement was the Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and was suspended at 1 p.m.  It resumed at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 5:25 p.m.

Background

As the Security Council considered the question of protection of civilians in armed conflict today, it had before it the Secretary-General’s sixth report on the subject (document S/2007/643), submitted pursuant to resolutions 1674 (2006) and 1738 (2007), which provided a clear framework for action by the Council and the United Nations.  The report contains an update on progress made in implementing resolution 1674 (2006) and strengthening the framework for the protection of civilians elaborated by the Council and other partners in recent years.  It also takes stock of positive developments and ongoing or new concerns.

Further, the report highlights four challenges of particular importance to all:  the denial of life-saving access to civilians in need; the “abhorrent” practice of sexual violence in conflicts and its devastating impact on individuals and communities; the critical need to address more consistently the impact of conflict on housing, land and property; and the importance of eliminating the unacceptable humanitarian toll of cluster ammunition.

The report notes that much has been achieved in recent years towards strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including the acceptance of the responsibility to protect; increased engagement of the Council on issues relating to the protection of civilians; more regular inclusion of activities in support of protection of civilians in peacekeeping mandates; investment in strengthening the United Nations peace mediation capacity; improved coordination of protection activities among humanitarian actors; and increased momentum at the international and national levels towards combating impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Secretary-General observes that a critical and consequential next step towards operationalizing resolution 1674 (2006) that would have a tangible impact on the ground is more systematic attention to the concerns and recommendations made in this and previous reports on the protection of civilians in the daily deliberations of the Council.  Towards that end, he recommends a number of actions.

As for the conduct of hostilities, the Secretary-General recommends the systematic inclusion of a requirement for strict compliance with international humanitarian law, as well as human rights law, in all resolutions authorizing United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions, as well as a request for reports from United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions on steps taken to ensure the protection of civilians in the conduct of hostilities.

Recommendations to address the issue of sexual violence include:  requesting the systematic provision of comprehensive information on sexual violence as a specific annex to all reports to the Council on peacekeeping operations and other relevant missions; and referring situations of grave incidents of sexual violence to the International Criminal Court and/or considering the imposition of targeted sanctions against States or non-State armed groups that perpetrate or support such crimes.

Turning to the issue of access, the Secretary-General recommends, among other things, ensuring that United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions are mandated to contribute to the creation of security conditions that enable the provision of humanitarian assistance; having the Emergency Relief Coordinator systematically bring to the Council’s attention situations where serious access concerns exist; and, where appropriate, considering the referral of grave instances of denial of access, as well as situations involving attacks against humanitarian workers, to the International Criminal Court.

The Secretary-General further recommends addressing the issue of housing, and land and property rights by including language in all relevant resolutions on the right of displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes and places of origin.  He also recommends addressing non-acceptance of the results of ethnic cleansing or sectarian violence; promoting the establishment of effective mechanisms at the national level for addressing housing, land and property issues; and mandating United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions to prevent the illegal appropriation or confiscation of land and property, to identify and register land and property abandoned by refugees and displaced persons, and to issue ownership documentation where this has been lost or destroyed.

The Secretary-General also recommends the establishment of a dedicated, expert-level working group to facilitate the systematic and sustained consideration and analysis of protection concerns, and ensuring consistent application of the aide-memoire for the consideration of issues pertaining to the protection of civilians in Council deliberations on the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions, draft resolutions and presidential statements, and in Council missions.

Secretary-General’s Statement

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General, noted that today was a fitting day for a meeting devoted to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, as it was this date in 1945 that war crimes trials began in Nuremberg.  Sixty-two years later, civilians continued to pay a dreadful toll in conflicts, from the Sudan to Afghanistan and Iraq.  Women, girls, boys and men suffered unimaginable violations of humanitarian and human rights law.

That was why, he said, the protection of civilians was and must remain an “absolute priority”, for the United Nations, and above all, for the Member States with whom rested the primary responsibility for protecting civilians.

The Council had taken a number of important steps in recent years, but the establishment of a Security Council working group on the protection of civilians was almost an inevitable next step, he said. 

“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,” he said, underlining that the Council’s words must have the most effect on the ground.

He said that the plight of children in armed conflict was particularly disturbing, despite the creation of international legal instruments.  Thousands of children were killed and wounded in conflict each year and an estimated 250,000 children served as soldiers.  New monitoring mechanisms and a dedicated special representative were vital tools to help remedy that situation.

It was also critical that peacekeeping operations be empowered with resources and political support to implement their mandates of protection of civilians, he said, adding that Darfur was a test case.  In addition, timely and unhindered access to those in need must be ensured.  For all those concerns, regular reporting to the Council was important, and concerted action in response to particularly grave situations was crucial.

Introduction of Report

JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, saying its recommendations for action would be critical to more systematic consideration by the Council of protection of civilian concerns and the implementation of the landmark resolution 1674 (2006).

“A leap of imagination is not always easy sitting in this warm and comfortable chamber, but let us remember the essential background,” he said, describing the risks under which civilians lived during armed conflict, such as random killing, abduction, forcibly taking up arms, torture, rape, abuse and displacement.  A case in point was the growing toll on civilians in Somalia from fighting between insurgent groups and Ethiopian-backed Government forces.  All parties should refrain from indiscriminate attacks affecting civilians.

He said the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Gaza, was reaching the limits of what was bearable for any community.  The combination of access restrictions, economic deprivation, Israeli military incursions and aerial attacks, as well as intra-Palestinian violence, was driving the civilian population into a situation where the risk of provoking even more violence and tragedy was only too evident.  In Darfur, too, the humanitarian issues grew ever more worrying.

Suicide attacks were a particularly disturbing manifestation of deliberately targeting civilians, he said, correcting a misleading impression given by paragraph 22 of the report, which stated that suicide attacks were a feature in an increasing number of countries and citing Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Somalia.  It could be read as suggesting, incorrectly, that suicide attacks were increasing in each of those countries, including Israel, which was not the case.

The targeting of civilians showed blatant contempt for the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, he said.  It presented Member States with the daunting challenge of determining how to respond, particularly when such violence was perpetrated by non-State armed groups whose members were often difficult to identify.  What was clear, however, was that any military response must itself comply with international humanitarian law and show respect for the human and cultural dignity of those already exposed to insurgent attacks.  The report made a number of proposals with regard to compliance with international humanitarian law in situations of asymmetric warfare, the use of cluster munitions and accountability.

He said the report contained a number of recommendations regarding the need for more concerted and innovative action to prevent and respond to sexual violence in armed conflict.  Combating sexual violence, and the impunity that made it thrive, required a rethink of how to use the tools at the disposal of the international community and the Council.  Those tools included the referral of grave incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence to the International Criminal Court and targeted sanctions.  The Council should also look for creative ways to support States in holding perpetrators accountable, for example, by establishing social ad hoc judicial arrangements.

A second action concerned access, an essential, if not the most essential, element in efforts to provide assistance and protection, he continued.  Of particular concern was the fact that security incidents involving humanitarian staff continued to mount.  Attacks against United Nations staff and personnel of non-governmental organizations in Darfur had increased by 150 per cent between June and July.  Last month, seven humanitarian workers had been killed.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was developing a monitoring and reporting mechanism to facilitate more in-depth analysis of the causes and consequences of access constraints.  Such an analysis would produce an expectation of action by the Council.  Serious consideration should be given to developing a standard moratorium on immigration and customs requirements for humanitarian workers and supplies.  The Council should also hold situation-specific debates on access and, where appropriate, consider referring grave instances of access denial to the International Criminal Court.

He underlined the critical need to address more effectively, and much earlier, issues of housing, land and property, the resolution of which was inevitably linked to the achievement and consolidation of lasting peace and the prevention of future violence.  Recording losses of land, homes or property, upholding rights and entitlements, reinforcing the right to return and mediating disputes should become standard measures, even while conflict continued.

Establishing a Council working group on the protection of civilians would mark a new phase in the Council’s efforts, he said, adding that he would like to see a regular forum for timely consultation on the protection of civilians between the entire Council, OCHA and other relevant departments. Systematic implementation of resolution 1674 (2006) would show real commitment to the millions of victims and send a message, the impact of which would reverberate around all the conflicts that civilians faced throughout the world.

Statements

JOHAN VERBEKE (Belgium), aligning himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the European Union, affirmed the validity of the responsibility to protect, and said that if States refused or could not assume that responsibility, then the Council must act.  Humanitarian access was particularly important and a swift detection of obstacles was crucial, as was collaboration with OCHA in such cases.  Sexual violence as a weapon of war, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was particularly repugnant, and those responsible must be brought to justice.

Describing the use of cluster munitions as another practice that was harmful to civilians, he said his country had organized an international meeting to further the negotiation of an international treaty.  In general, the humanitarian dimension of a conflict should be better integrated into the Council’s deliberations, and Belgium supported mechanisms to accomplish that aim.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation), citing the grave problem of internal and external displacement, said it was not only States that had a responsibility to protect civilians, but non-State actors, as well.  Security contractors, such as those in Iraq, should also be held accountable and comply with the norms of international law.  The Russian Federation welcomed the initiatives of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to consider a relevant response to armed contractors.

He said the Secretary-General should provide more details on the expansion of the role of Special Representative.  With respect to the creation of a working group, however, the Russian Federation had reservations because it was a bureaucratic step.  Instead of new bureaucratic structures, the United Nations should be ready to act quickly in alignment with international humanitarian law and Security Council decisions.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said that, despite conventions and United Nations resolutions, large numbers of civilians were still being devastated by armed conflicts, which now encompassed changing characteristics and an emergence of complex historical, political, religious and resource-related factors.  China urged parties to conflicts to strictly abide by international humanitarian law and relevant Security Council resolutions, and emphasized that civilian protection should be bolstered by enhancing the role of Governments and international bodies, as well as by attaching importance to conflict prevention.

To accomplish that, he suggested that the Security Council continue to fulfil its primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security.  Governments’ roles in protecting civilians should be respected, and humanitarian relief work should be carried out in a judicious and effective manner.  Further, the concept of the “responsibility to protect” should be interpreted and applied in a prudent and accurate way.  The Council should also continue to address the protection of civilians in the context of specific conflicts.

RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said resolution 1674 (2006) had reaffirmed that attacks targeting civilians were in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights standards.  The 2005 World Summit Outcome document had adopted the responsibility to protect as the Organization’s standard.  When a Government did not wish or could not protect civilians, the international community should assume that responsibility.  Sexual violence as an act of war was a clear example of the international community’s obligation to act.  The United Nations, particularly the Security Council, must review the way in which that question was tackled.

He said the Secretary-General’s report established a clear basis on which to proceed, but some of its proposals required consideration, particularly the one regarding the establishment of a working group, which Panama supported in principle.  However, before developing new structures, there was a need to address the Council’s working methods.  The central part of the obligation to protect was bringing to justice those who committed crimes against humanity.  The International Criminal Court should put an end to impunity in that regard.

JOHN SAWERS (United Kingdom), associating himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the European Union, said that the Council should set standards for protection of civilians during armed conflict.  It should ensure effectiveness in United Nations missions and pressure States to meet their obligations towards that end.  The responsibility to protect should be put in place through partnerships that strengthened States’ ability to exercise their sovereign duties.  In exceptional cases where States could not or would not protect their civilians, the international community had the responsibility to do so.  Action could come in a range of forms, from sanctions to direct intervention, but it should always be proportionate and carefully chosen.

He said that the responsibility to protect must also influence all actions throughout the conflict cycle, from conflict prevention to stopping or punishing abuses during a conflict, to rebuilding shattered societies.  Regarding sexual violence, such as that which was rampant in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, all those responsible must be brought to justice.  In renewing the United Nations Organization Mission in that country (MONUC) at year’s end, more effective action should be ensured in that area.  Regarding Darfur, the Government of the Sudan must cooperate with the International Criminal Court and surrender the two individuals for whom arrest warrants had been issued.  In general, he agreed that the United Nations needed to become more systematic in implementing protection of civilians and mainstreaming it into the Council’s work.

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France) noted that, since its last debate on the question of protecting civilians on 22 June, the Council had responded to a number of specific situations.  The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) both had mandates to protect civilians under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.  Other situations, from Iraq to Somalia, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Afghanistan, also deserved the Council’s attention.  France had sent a vessel to protect humanitarian convoys sailing to Somalia.

He said the Secretary-General’s recommendations should allow the Council to act more effectively.  The Council should always point out that respect for humanitarian law was meant for all, including non-State actors.  Sustainable prevention or protection was not possible if there was impunity.  France supported the International Criminal Court and its arrest warrants must be executed.  There should be binding instruments to forbid the use and stockpiling of cluster munitions.  As for sexual violence, France supported the Secretary-General’s intention to report cases of sexual violence.  The Council must be fully informed about the blocking of access to humanitarian aid.  France supported the establishment of a working group in the format of a group of experts.

DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said that, while exploring a response to challenges of protecting civilians, it was important to have an accurate and factual account of the conduct of hostilities.  Suicide attacks on civilians must be utterly condemned; everyone, including Palestinians, had roundly condemned such attacks against civilians in Israel.  Those attacks had since decreased in Israel and had not taken place in a long time, and he regretted that the Secretary-General’s report had not made that clear.

He noted that the 19 November letter from the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the Security Council had confirmed the decrease in suicide attacks and had stated that “the perpetuation of reporting, including certain language usage, that overlooks the existence of this occupation is unacceptable”.  The letter also stated that, while the occupied people were obliged to respect international law, any examination of the situation and developments must be considered within the overall context of the occupation, which impacted all aspects of the situation on the ground and remained the root cause of the conflict.  The fact that suicide attacks were still used against civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia remained a challenge.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence was a cruel and despicable tool of conflict, and they must cease, he said.  The Council had condemned such acts, calling for an end to all violent acts during armed conflict and for specific measures to protect women and girls.  It had also stressed the need to end impunity for such acts.  It was important to ensure that peacekeepers were adequately trained to address the specific needs of women and girls, prior to deployment.  The United Nations policy of zero tolerance must be uniformly applied, and the international community should assist the victims of sexual violence, who were often forgotten after the violence was made public.

He also urged the international community to address the resettlement of people in the territories they had fled during war and which were now occupied by the conflict’s victor.  Ensuring the right of a safe and unimpeded return for refugees and internally displaced persons was vital to sustaining peace and preventing future violence.  That right was sacrosanct and should never be compromised.

MARCELLO SPATAFORA (Italy), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, said that the protection agenda of the international community had picked up momentum, and it was important to build on it through effective, sustainable proposals.  The Secretary-General’s report was an important reminder that what mattered most, at the end of the day, was if and how relief was delivered to those who suffered on the ground.  There was some doubt that there had been progress in that regard.

He agreed with the creation of a working group, but as a tool for an enhanced operational, ground-centred approach.  Focus should be on a framework that included clear mandates in peacekeeping, an effective system of proactive monitoring for humanitarian access and punishment for those who blocked access or committed sexual violence.  “Let’s deliver on such proposed actions,” he urged.

ROBERT TACHIE-MENSON ( Ghana) said the relative decline in the number of conflicts around the world was no reason for complacency in view of the brutality of continuing conflicts.  While the primary responsibility for protecting civilians fell on States and Governments, the present reality was that they were unwilling or unable to provide the protection, and the international community had a moral and legal duty to extend it by the steps outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, including by strengthening peacekeeping and peace mediation mandates and by combating impunity.  The role of a fully operational International Criminal Court in the latter regard was indispensable.

The valiant role of journalists in reporting on conflicts at great risk must not be forgotten, he stressed.  Without their commitment and professionalism, the extent of conflicts and atrocities could be difficult to detect.  The deliberate targeting of journalists and media personnel was unreservedly condemnable.  Also, the use of cluster munitions must ultimately be prohibited.  Their devastating impact on civilians made their use unconscionable and unacceptable.  An expert-level working group on the protection of civilians should be established, as recommended by the Secretary-General.

NASSIR ABDELAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said that, despite repeated condemnations of the deliberate targeting of civilians, forced displacement and denial of humanitarian access, tragic suffering continued in conflict areas.  Displacement had become one of the prominent features of contemporary conflicts.  The risks facing the elderly and persons with disabilities, as in the case of southern Lebanon in 2006, were concerns that must be addressed by national authorities and humanitarian actors.

While access to humanitarian assistance remained the greatest challenge, another cause for concern was the growing phenomenon of impunity in cases of sexual violence against children and women, he said.  The latter demonstrated the need to provide the financial and technical support necessary to strengthen national capacities in States whose jurisdictions penalized such acts.  There was also a need for concerted efforts to end the use of cluster munitions once and for all.

Describing new mechanisms as a waste of time and effort, he said what was needed on the ground was the effective implementation of actions and measures contained in relevant Security Council resolutions regarding civilians in areas of armed conflict or under foreign occupation.  Parties to armed conflicts, States and non-States alike, bore the responsibility to comply fully with their obligations under international law and Security Council resolutions.

JACKIE WOLCOTT ( United States) said humanitarian access in conflict areas was often hindered by security and infrastructure constraints.  In some cases, however, States and non-State actors flagrantly denied access and attacked humanitarian workers directly.  In Darfur, aid was frequently hindered by Government action, despite an earlier agreement in that regard.  In Burma, the regime’s restrictions on humanitarian agencies had led ICRC and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to close their offices.  As for the report’s discussion of Afghanistan and Iraq, all parties had an obligation to allow and facilitate the passage of humanitarian relief.

She condemned the use of sexual violence as an instrument of policy, saying her country was implementing an initiative to target key strategic areas in addressing gender-based violence:  access to justice, human rights monitoring, access to accurate information, and humanitarian protections, including clinical care.  The United States was also working actively with other Governments to provide protection when civilians were forced to flee and seek asylum.  The country remained the single largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to Iraqis, both inside their country and in neighbouring countries, having provided almost $1 billion since 2003.  It had also ramped up resettlement processing for Iraqi refugees and had assisted in the return of a million African refugees over the past two years.

As for combating the deliberate targeting of civilians, she cited the report’s reference to the human toll of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and incidental civilian casualties resulting from military operations.  However, civilian casualties topped the concerns of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom, often resulting in the cancellation of operations.  In glaring contrast, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq deliberately targeted civilians.  It was past time for all Member States to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to armed groups that deliberately targeted civilians.

She said the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was the right framework to take up the issue of cluster munitions, noting that they continued to be legitimate weapons when employed properly and in accordance with existing international humanitarian law.  While disputes over land tenure could lead to armed conflict and abuse, it was unclear that United Nations peacekeeping missions should, in all cases, be mandated to deal with those issues.  As for the recommendations regarding the International Criminal Court, there was a need to distinguish between the position of parties to the Rome Statute and those who were not parties to it.  Different States had different views about the best mechanism for combating impunity.  While welcoming the idea of inviting Council members to informal OCHA briefings, the United States was not convinced that a formal working group was necessary.

DUŠAN MATULAY ( Slovakia) said that information coming from conflict regions clearly showed serious gaps in the practical implementation of existing legal instruments for protecting civilians in armed conflict.  Despite joint international efforts, reports continued to reveal deliberate attacks on civilians, cases of rape and other sexual violence used as a weapon of war, abductions and the use of children as soldiers.  Denial of humanitarian access to civilian populations was unacceptable, and Slovakia was deeply concerned about restrictions imposed on those organizations in many conflict situations.

He called upon Governments and other parties to conflicts to lift restrictions and to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies.  Slovakia was most concerned with widespread and often systematic violence, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 4,500 cases of rape were reported in the first half of 2007 in South Kivu province alone.  National authorities and the international community must respond more effectively to crimes against civilians, including rape.  Measures by Governments, the United Nations system and all other actors on the ground should be based on effective, reliable and more focused monitoring and analysis.

JORGE VOTO-BERNALES ( Peru) said the report presented important recommendations alongside its disturbing description of the continuing violence against civilians in conflict situations.  The Council should continue to develop feasible actions to protect those civilians.  Better monitoring was important in helping to ensure humanitarian access, as was firmer action to protect women and children.  Grave cases of sexual violence should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Measures on housing and land were also vital, he said, adding that peacekeeping missions must more effectively incorporate the protection of civilians into their mandates.  There was also a need to pursue a binding instrument against cluster munitions.  The idea of establishing a working group should be studied carefully, but, meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s reports to the Council must provide adequate reporting on the protection of civilians.

LUC JOSEPH OKIO (Congo), aligning himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the African Group, said the report presented a gloomy picture with doubtful progress being made on the ground.  Actions were, indeed, more important than words.  The protection of civilians was a moral duty and the responsibility to protect them applied, firstly, to Governments, some of which needed assistance from the international community.

With Government troops facing armed rebellions in the conflicts common today, numerous types of illegal trade proliferated, he said.  The Council must address those problems and take action to ensure humanitarian access.  The Congo condemned all acts of sexual violence and exploitation and noted the rise in violence against humanitarian personnel in recent years and.  The Congo emphasized the need for compliance with arms embargoes.

Council President MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia), speaking in his national capacity, said a humanitarian crisis caused by armed conflict could be created in a second, but it often took time and effort before the necessary assistance could be brought in.  The Council should, therefore, offer guidance on ways to provide assistance and take steps against those who deliberately displayed disregard for human life.  In many conflicts, civilians were deliberately targeted in violation of international law, and non-State actors, including terrorist groups, should be subject as individuals to the penalties of international law enforcement, in addition to sanctions for their activities as a group.

He said the Secretary-General’s report contained an array of recommendations that could contribute to the overall efforts of the United Nations system, international stakeholders, and national Governments in addressing the protection of civilians.  The best protection from armed conflict was its prevention, but in the absence of peace, one must remain vigilant with regard to the impact of war on civilian populations.  The United Nations system, Member States and other stakeholders must work as a whole in a coordinated, coherent, comprehensive and cooperative manner.

ANGELO GNAEDINGER, Director General, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that, despite recent operational initiatives and international legal norms, the world’s response to forced displacement, forced disappearances and sexual violence remained inadequate.  The Secretary-General’s report pointed to the collective failure to tackle sexual violence, particularly where rape was deliberately used as a method of warfare.  The plight of rape victims still stood in stark contrast with all too frequent impunity for the aggressors.

He expressed concern over the impact of cluster munitions, saying such weapons had severe consequences for civilians during conflict owing to the large areas they affected, because they remained explosive long after the fighting had ended.  The ICRC called on States immediately to end the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions and to negotiate a new international humanitarian treaty to prohibit their use.

The lack of political will to respect and enforce international humanitarian law was a major obstacle, he said.  Far too often, parties to conflict disregarded humanitarian law and deliberately targeted civilians.  The fundamental principles underlying those values were timeless, and achieving the broadest possible support for, and compliance with, the law must be a priority.  States must employ all appropriate political, legal, economic and security means to honour their commitment to act in conformity with the United Nations Charter in cases of serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The protection of civilians by United Nations peacekeepers implied a military and security dimension, which must be clearly distinguished from protection activities carried out by humanitarian actors.

PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said the five initiatives proposed by the Secretary-General amounted to a strategic orientation that would guide the Council in implementing resolutions on the protection of civilians.  The erosion of the principles of distinction and proportionality in current conflicts was a matter of great concern.  The Council must do everything to ensure that parties to conflict, as well as peacekeeping forces, respected international humanitarian law and human rights.  Rigorous efforts were necessary to combat impunity, something in which the International Criminal Court had an important role to play.  Switzerland called on all States that had not yet ratified the Rome Statute to do so as soon as possible.

Stressing the importance of unhindered humanitarian access to civilian populations in armed conflict, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s proposal to systematically report problems of access to the Council.  The Swiss Government intended to hold a meeting of experts on that issue and to propose innovative solutions that were both in the interest of the victims and respected the law.  Issues relating to protection of civilians must be better integrated into peacekeeping mandates.  The protection of civilians also depended on the capacity of the United Nations to enter into partnerships with regional organizations.  A regional meeting organized by OCHA with the support of Switzerland and Canada had been convened in Dakar, Senegal, in April, and Switzerland encouraged OCHA to organize similar meetings to create awareness of the problems in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

HJALMAR HANNESSON ( Iceland) said the international focus on the security of the individual was an important breakthrough that, however, placed a heavy burden on the Security Council.  In addition, the massive displacement of persons made the re-establishment of peace much more difficult.  Iceland continued to support the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in assisting Iraqi refugees.  It also welcomed the Secretary-General’s unambiguous comments on the “atrocious” impact of cluster munitions and supported the ongoing Oslo Process towards a legally binding instrument prohibiting their use.

Sexual violence was a grave war crime, he said, welcoming the adoption of the resolution on its elimination.  Effective measures to reduce impunity were essential, and the International Criminal Court and other tribunals could provide the necessary tools for that purpose.  Sexual violence was incipient in all societies and all States should, therefore, look at their own legislation.  Iceland was a strong supporter of the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women, as well as other international efforts towards that goal.

ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand) commended the steps taken to strengthen the normative framework for the protection of civilians and welcomed efforts to provide a more active role for peacekeepers in protecting civilians under Security Council mandates.  The provision of reliable data to the Council through monitoring and reporting was critically important in developing targeted and effective strategies for civilian protection.  The high degree of impunity that had been allowed to exist sent the message that the international community was not prepared to take action, even when fundamental human rights were breached.  New Zealand encouraged Member States to provide their full support to the International Criminal Court by acceding to the Rome Statute.

She said those who deliberately prevented humanitarian access must be held accountable, noting that grave instances of such access denial were within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.  Bringing serious challenges to the attention of the Council was also a welcome proposal.  New Zealand remained deeply concerned about acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and other United Nations personnel, and welcomed the General Assembly’s recent adoption of the amended model Memorandum of Understanding with troop-contributing countries.  As for cluster munitions, the negotiation of a treaty on that question was long overdue, and New Zealand would host a conference of the Oslo Process in February 2008 on that topic.

JOÃO SALGUEIRO ( Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said individual sovereign States bore the primary responsibility for protecting their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, as Governments had agreed at the 2005 World Summit.  The European Union welcomed the Council’s reaffirmation of that responsibility, including through resolution 1674 (2006).  Should a State be unable to address its problems, the Council must make good on its duty to protect by more proactive means.

Extremely disturbed at the numerous cases of denial or obstruction of humanitarian access, he called for full cooperation with the United Nations in that regard.  On women and vulnerable groups, the Union stressed the need for effective implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) and reiterated its full support for the Organization’s zero-tolerance policy towards sexual abuse and exploitation, which the European Security and Defence Policy Operations had also adopted.  The Union was also mainstreaming children and armed conflict issues into its policies and programmes.  As for older persons and persons with disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities could ensure their safety in conflict situations.

He expressed concern at the growing number of internally displaced persons worldwide, noting that camps were often insufficiently protected.  On small arms and light weapons, the European Union had joined the consensus decision of the Meeting of State Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, by which it could promote its proposal to negotiate, by 2008, a legally binding instrument on cluster munitions.

Calling on States to ratify existing conventions and resolutions, he said parties to conflict must also comply fully with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law on protecting civilians.  The European Union remained firmly committed to the effective functioning of the International Criminal Court and called on States that had not yet done so to accede to the Rome Statute.  Finally, adequate briefings by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others, could help the Council effectively to protect civilians.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS ( Angola), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said United Nations reform and Security Council resolutions would have an impact on civilians in armed conflicts and post-conflict situations.  However, the African Group hoped that the views of the Governments concerned would be taken into account in the search for feasible solutions, since the protection of their citizens was the prerogative of national Governments.

He said that, while important steps had been taken towards identifying problems and the instruments needed to address them, challenges remained, including coordination to facilitate the implementation of decisions taken for the effective protection of civilians.  The Security Council should continue to consider the humanitarian impact of sanctions.  More concrete proposals were needed with regard to actions aimed at enhancing assistance to host countries and communities.  The death of millions of civilians, whenever it occurred, attacks against peacekeepers, sexual violence and other harmful conflict-related practices must be condemned.  The African Group fully supported an end to impunity for those involved in atrocities against civilians, and was clearly interested in seeing more progress in ensuring the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

YUKIO TAKASU ( Japan) said that, while the number of conflicts had declined globally, civilians continued to fall victim, often the deliberate targets of military attack and sexual violence.  Japan was concerned about increasing casualties among humanitarian workers and called upon all belligerent parties to comply with international humanitarian law.  Japan further supported the recommendation in the Secretary-General’s report calling for United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions to report on concrete measures to protect civilians and on their effectiveness.

He said the perpetrators of crimes must not enjoy impunity and a proper balance must be struck between national reconciliation and punishing wrongdoers.  The rule of law and proper judicial systems contributed to durable peace and stability.  Japan had acceded to the Rome Statute and had contributed 40 per cent of the cost of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge trials so that they might proceed promptly and fairly, bringing to justice those who had committed atrocities.

Noting the importance of controlling conventional arms and the particular humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions, he called for an arms trade treaty that would put an end to irresponsible transfers.  Human security would receive high priority in the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-IV), “Towards a Vibrant Africa”, which Japan would host by next year.

DANIEL CARMON (Israel) said the Under-Secretary-General had described the situation in the Gaza Strip as if there were only Palestinian hardships, but no Palestinian terrorism -– the very reason for closures and restrictions.  Yesterday alone, there had been three major security violations by Palestinian terrorists, one of which had resulted in the murder of an Israeli citizen in the West Bank.  The threat posed by Palestinian terrorism demanded that Israel take precautions to prevent further loss of innocent life, as any responsible Government would do.

He expressed for the record his country’s strong reservations and concerns regarding several elements in the Secretary-General’s report, which mistakenly portrayed certain rules of international law and offered a misguided factual picture of the conflict in the region.  Abuse, manipulation and endangerment of civilians were at the heart of the terrorists’ modus operandi.  In Lebanon, Hizbullah had stored rockets inside homes and launched attacks from positions nestled within the fabric of civilian life.  Palestinian terrorists employed similar methods in the Gaza Strip.

The principle of proportionality under international humanitarian law had no clear definition as referred to in the report, he said, adding that it referred to an overall assessment of incidental loss of life or injury to civilians in relation to the goals of a military campaign.  The safety and access of humanitarian personnel must be ensured, but the fact that terrorists often abused access privileges, thereby greatly endangering humanitarian workers and obstructing the movement of aid, must not be ignored.  The closing of crossing points was invariably a result of rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian terrorists.  Under international humanitarian law, the right to free movement of humanitarian personnel was subject to military necessities and security considerations.  The report’s presentation regarding free access was incomplete and legally questionable.

He said the question of refugees in any conflict situation was but one issue of many.  Israel and the Palestinians had already agreed to discuss that outstanding issue as part of the overall settlement of the conflict between them.  It was incorrect to isolate one issue of armed conflict, and doing so had the potential of prejudging an outcome that should be left for the parties themselves to determine.  In the protection of civilians, greater focus should be given to timely and credible preventive measures.  Effective action also required consistent follow-up.  The Council must be proactive in monitoring the implementation of resolutions.

COLY SECK ( Senegal), aligning himself with the African Group, said the exponential increase in civilian casualties during conflict showed a need for urgent and bold action.  Senegal agreed with the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report and appealed for international support for their implementation.  Access for humanitarian assistance was also essential.  Senegal welcomed the role of the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals in deterring violence against civilians, as long as they acted under international law.

He said his country was working at the international and regional levels to halt violence against civilians, by hosting a regional coordination conference aimed at heightening awareness among all actors of the need to do their utmost to reduce the suffering of civilian populations.  Senegal supported the proposal to set up a working group on the protection of civilians, and the Council must ensure that timely action was taken in all situations where non-combatants were threatened.

JORGE SKINNER-KLEE ( Guatemala) said the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians rested with States, who were required to request international aid if they could not provide it.  Any resolution on peacekeeping missions should include language on the important premise of protection.  All efforts must focus on strengthening and implementing norms and standards.

Combating sexual violence had been a high priority of the United Nations and progress had been achieved in addressing the matter in peacekeeping missions, he said.  However, sexual violence was still perpetrated by armed groups.  It was a multidimensional issue that could be addressed by actions in three areas:  prevention, implementation of measures, and assistance to victims.  The topic should also be considered by the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.  In addition, OCHA should provide regular reports to the Council before mandate renewals.

Regarding the right to housing, land and property, he said conditions must be established for the voluntary and safe return of refugees.  The Organization could help Governments in establishing a registry system, but peacekeeping missions should not be able to issue documents of property.  The problem should be resolved in cooperation with local authorities and within the legal systems of the country concerned.  Because civilians were the primary victims of cluster munitions, an end should be put to their use.  Guatemala had played an active role in Latin American conferences on that question, the most recent of which had been held in Peru and Costa Rica.

GERHARD PFANZELTER (Austria), associating himself with the European Union, said his country was committed to protecting civilians by striving for a ban on cluster munitions that caused unacceptable harm -- including killing and maiming civilians, particularly children -– deprived communities of livelihoods and prevented refugees from returning home.  Austria was striving to destroy stocks of munitions and prohibit their transfer.  It was important to ensure the swift and efficient clearance of affected areas and to provide assistance to victims.  Any new instrument on cluster munitions must contain clear and robust provisions on assistance to victims of cluster munitions.  Austria supported the Secretary-General’s appeal during last week’s Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons for a legally binding instrument to prohibit their use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer.

He said his country’s national and international initiatives were a testament to its resolve to ban those heinous weapons, he continued.  In February, Austria had adopted a moratorium on cluster munitions, and firmly supported the Oslo Process.  It would establish a cooperation and assistance framework to ensure adequate care and rehabilitation for survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk education and destruction of cluster munitions stockpiles.  Austria was disappointed with the outcome of the recent meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which had failed to adopt a clear and comprehensive mandate to create a legal instrument.  The upcoming Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions would be vital in bringing the international community a step closer to its goal of creating such a legal instrument by 2008.

FELIX A. ANIOKOYE ( Nigeria) expressed concern that threats to civilians were growing despite the decline in the number and intensity of conflicts globally and, most particularly, that civilians were being targeted.  Women and children were affected in unprecedented numbers, while other non-combatants, like journalists and aid workers, were subject to abductions, dubious military strategies, suicide attacks and sexual violence, heightening fears arising from the social, economic and cultural dislocations created by conflicts.  Furthermore, conflict denied access to medical care for the aged and disabled.  It was time for the international community to re-examine when its responsibility to protect should be exercised, without prejudice to the sovereignty of Member States.  Genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against unarmed civilians were all indicators of that necessity.

He welcomed the African Union’s increased capacity to forestall and resolve armed conflicts, as well as its partnerships with Governments and international organizations, to that end.  International condemnation of rape and sexual assault against women, and of enforced recruitment of child combatants, helped to protect civilians in conflict situations.  The expanded definition of war crimes to include rape, enforced prostitution, trafficking, enslavement and torture held more perpetrators accountable before international tribunals.  Nigeria urged Member States to ratify conventions and protocols on armed conflict and ensure their implementation.  The most concrete measure to protect civilians was avoiding conflict.  The international community should intensify peacebuilding efforts and assist regional organizations to that end.

ROBERT HILL (Australia) said the protection of civilians must remain an essential objective for the Council in the context of contemporary armed conflicts, and the international community must demand that parties to conflict allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need.  More must be done to implement the “responsibility to protect” principle, which was important in enabling the international community to prevent large-scale gross human rights abuses and genocide.  It was a clear and suitably constrained statement on the limits of sovereignty.  Australia would become a founding donor to the new Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, which would build a worldwide research network, develop strategy and help coordinate advocacy.

In order to ensure that the perpetrators of the world’s most egregious crimes were denied a safe haven, collective efforts must be stepped up to promote the universality of the Rome Statute, he said.  The International Criminal Court played a crucial role in ending impunity, and Australia urged the Government of the Sudan to arrest its Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, Ahman Harun, and militia leader Ali Kushayb and transfer them to the Court.  There was also a pressing need to negotiate an international ban on cluster munitions, which caused unacceptable harm to civilians.  The Oslo Process and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons could complement such a ban with the aim of negotiating a strong, viable instrument that would include the major producers and users of cluster munitions.

HENRI-PAUL NORMANDIN ( Canada) said effective protection strategies were inextricably linked to broader peace and security considerations, particularly in Afghanistan.  Somalia showed that concerted international attention and action remained critical to protecting people at risk.  Trends in Burma reinforced the reality that protection could not be taken for granted when the principles of democracy and human rights were ignored.  In the face of such grim realities, the Council had demonstrated an important commitment to advancing the protection of civilians, but important work remained to be done.

Sustained attention to monitoring, political pressure and the full range of measures at the Council’s disposal should be focused on the problem, he said.  Canada welcomed the emphasis on humanitarian access in the Secretary-General’s report and urged the Government of the Sudan to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court, including the surrender of indictees for trial.  It was also important to translate the Council’s will on protection issues into clear and robust operational guidance for military and civilian actors, and to ensure that those charged with the task had the proper training and resources.  Canada strongly supported the proposal to establish a working group as a practical step towards ensuring a more systematic approach on protection priorities.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), stressing that the protection of civilians was one of the most complex topics before the Council, said concerns for the well-being and protection of civilians must be mainstreamed into United Nations activities, particularly those of the Security Council, which had the most direct impact on the situation of civilians in armed conflict.  Liechtenstein supported the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish a working group on protection of civilians provided its mandate included the development of mechanisms to ensure the mainstreaming of civilian protection into the Council’s decision-making processes.  It should not lead to a counterproductive situation whereby the protection of civilians was treated as a niche topic.

He said the role of international law was central to protecting civilians, and the situation of civilians in armed conflict would be far less dramatic if existing norms were applied and observed.  Private military companies must abide by applicable international humanitarian law, which should be enforced by the States commissioning such firms.  Sexual violence -– which seemed to be continuing unabated -– revealed the widening gap between applicable standards and facts on the ground.

Impunity played an even more central role in that crime than in others, and Liechtenstein welcomed the Secretary-General’s emphasis on the need for a more robust response, he said.  Meanwhile, the Council might also consider stronger action in specific cases.  The International Criminal Court also played a central role in the fight against impunity.  Despite the historic magnitude of the acceptance of the responsibility to protect, no resulting worldwide watershed had yet occurred.  The protection of civilian populations was the task of the States on whose territories they resided, and United Nations efforts in that regard could usefully focus on strengthening national capacities.

JOHAN LØVALD ( Norway) supported the conclusions and recommendations of the Secretary-General, saying it was vital that all peacekeeping operations be provided with a mandate that took such protection fully into account, with potential consequences for civilians factored into the planning and execution of all mission actions.  Effective protection also required close cooperation among a broad range of actors, with the local community having ownership of an operation’s strategy and goals.

He expressed deep concern about the continued use of sexual violence as a method of warfare and called for an intensified response from the Security Council.  It was totally unacceptable that United Nations officials should be inactive witnesses to atrocities.  Norway supported proposals to refer such crimes to the International Criminal Court to consider sanctions against Member States and non-State actors perpetrating them.  Norway also supported the establishment of ad hoc judicial arrangements to address sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other situations where impunity prevailed.  Finally, Norway supported the Oslo Process to end the use of cluster munitions.

MADHU RAMAN ACHARYA ( Nepal) expressed support for the inclusion in all peacekeeping operations mandates of a requirement to comply with human rights and international humanitarian norms, and welcomed the incorporation of protection-of-civilians language in peacekeeping mandates.  It was also essential to ensure adherence to the principle of national sovereignty.  Nepal had seen the suffering of innocent civilians during its armed conflict, which had lasted more than 10 years.  The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement included provisions for the return of internally displaced persons to their homes, the return of their land and property, and the rehabilitation of victims of the conflict.  It had special provisions for the protection and rehabilitation of children affected by the fighting, mainly child soldiers, and for mine destruction.

He said his country was committed to ending the environment of impunity that had existed during the armed conflict.  As a troop-contributing country, Nepal favoured zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and supported the creation of a Council working group to deal with the protection of civilians.  However, it should not overburden the Council and Member States with reporting obligations.  Special political missions not mandated for the protection of civilians could not be asked to report on the subject.  A more comprehensive framework was required, especially for a rapid response mechanism to protect civilians in armed conflicts.  The Council should be more proactive in engaging concerned Member States, non-State actors and humanitarian agencies.

JORGE ARGUELLO ( Argentina) said the protection of civilians in armed conflict was a human, political and judicial imperative that recognized the dignity and inherent value of all human beings.  Argentina strongly condemned all atrocities committed against civil populations and reiterated that no national security consideration could prevail over the primary obligation of States and parties to armed conflict to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law, contained in the conventions of The Hague and Geneva and their Additional Protocols.  Advances had been made in the fight against impunity, and it was important that all Member States fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court and other international mechanisms fighting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He underlined the importance of including in the mandates of peacekeeping missions provisions addressing civilian-protection issues, and of regional organizations assuming a more relevant role.  The actions and measures proposed in the Secretary-General’s report must secure access and address sexual violence against women and children in conflict situations.  Issues of housing, land and property must also be considered.  Also important was the need for concerted action to end the use of cluster munitions, the humanitarian consequences of which were unacceptable harm to civilians, even after the end of conflict.

CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said the Secretary-General’s report included important recommendations for the strengthening of the framework for the protection of civilians.  Even though the number of conflicts had declined, armed violence was still a threat to the stability of some regions, and civilians were still targeted for attack.  It was crucial to look for new tools and follow-up in implementing existing mechanisms.

He said the asymmetrical nature of conflicts posed additional challenges, stressing that the private security companies that increasingly participated in armed conflicts should not be exempted from the norms and rules governing all parties to conflict.  In addition, the elderly and persons with disabilities were, apart from women and children, the most vulnerable in times of conflict, and Mexico called on those States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to bring it into force as soon as possible.

The international community should be able to take the measures necessary to protect civilian populations in accordance with the “responsibility to protect”, he said.  Sexual violence was one of the greatest challenges the international community faced, while the fight against impunity was a prerequisite for the protection of civilians.  Mexico welcomed the establishment by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of an Office for the Rule of Law, but stressed the need for closer cooperation between that Office and the Peacebuilding Commission.  Mexico also supported the negotiation and conclusion of a legally binding instrument on cluster munitions.

LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) welcomed regional efforts for the protection of civilians, such as the 2007 Dakar meeting convened by OCHA for regional organizations.  At the national level, the efforts undertaken by many Member States to establish criminal jurisdiction over war crimes was also a meaningful step forward.  Viet Nam was deeply concerned, however, that tens of millions of civilians were still threatened by conflict, that deliberate targeting of civilians was more widespread, and that sexual violence continued.  The notion of “permissible civilian casualties” on the part of any warring party was unacceptable and must be rejected in clear terms.

He supported more analysis of obstacles to humanitarian access, stressing that it must not be abused or exploited by any party in order to carry out acts of interference or violate the sovereignty of States.  It was also necessary to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions and private security contractors, in which respect Viet Nam supported intergovernmental discussions.  In other areas, the country supported the humanitarian objectives of the Secretary-General’s proposals, but called for further study before they were implemented so as to ensure their conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter and to avoid duplication of the work carried out in other bodies.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said her country, through its democratic security policy, had achieved striking results in the fight against the scourges that threatened civilians.  In that regard, the Secretary-General’s report overestimated the total number of internally displaced persons in the country, being seven to 10 times higher than the population that had received assistance, as reported by UNHCR in 2006.  In addition, the problem must be put into a context that included Government laws and assistance for the benefit of displaced persons.  There had been a 44 per cent reduction in the displacement rate since 2002 and the enhancement of State authority in many parts of the country.

She said consultation with countries before reports were published could contribute to a better analysis of the civilian situation and better support from the international community.  For similar reasons, it was important for the principles of transparency, non-selectivity and objectivity to guide humanitarian action, and for the competency of the Security Council to stay within the limits of the Charter.  In that light, existing resolutions and United Nations bodies provided an adequate framework to tackle the protection of civilians.  Other issues, such as the right to housing and property, corresponded to the General Assembly and its specialized agencies.

Concluding Remarks

Mr. HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in concluding remarks that he welcomed the strong support expressed by many members for the centrality of the protection of civilians in the Council’s work.  Many speakers had expressed support for some or all of the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report, including those on sexual violence and cluster munitions.  The concerns expressed would be pursued with individual delegations.

He said he had noted the calls for more systematic reporting by OCHA on the question of access and looked forward to an increased engagement with the Council on access issues.  The acid test of such increased exchanges would be that the engagement should produce concrete changes on the ground.  Also welcome was the support expressed by many for the creation of a working group, while recognizing that support was not unanimous.  There should be a regular forum for consultations between the Council, OCHA and other parts of the Secretariat on the issue of protection that would help to ensure more consistent application of resolution 1674 (2006) and the aide-memoire.  It would not set a precedent.

Welcoming the strong support expressed for full compliance with international humanitarian law, he said reinforcing the implementation of international norms was a vital function of the Council.  It was also of vital importance that the highest standards be maintained by all personnel in the field, not least humanitarian workers on the ground.  China’s remarks deserved support in that regard.  Both the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General had condemned the conduct of one non-governmental organization acting criminally in Chad recently.  However, that kind of behaviour was not typical of humanitarian workers on the ground, who worked in dangerous circumstances.  It was important to ensure that those helping were not unjustifiably labelled as unacceptably interfering in a country’s internal affairs.

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*     The 5780th Meeting was closed.

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