Despite Progress, Civilians Continue to Bear Brunt of Conflict, Says Under-Secretary-General in Briefing to Security Council

26 June 2009
SC/9692

Despite Progress, Civilians Continue to Bear Brunt of Conflict, Says Under-Secretary-General in Briefing to Security Council

26 June 2009
Security Council
SC/9692
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6151st Meeting (AM & PM)

DESPITE PROGRESS, CIVILIANS CONTINUE TO BEAR BRUNT OF CONFLICT, SAYS

UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL

 

Concerns about Impunity, Sexual Violence

As Tactic of War, Lack of Humanitarian Access Dominate Day-long Debate

The sorrow and brutality of war continued to be felt by untold millions of civilians trapped by conflict or forced into flight, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today.

Briefing the Council as it considered the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he said that, in the last 10 years, the subject had assumed a prominent place on the Council’s agenda, as manifested by regular open debates, periodic reports of the Secretary-General and the four thematic Council resolutions on the issue.  Regular meetings of the Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians and systematic application of the revised aide-memoire should further enhance the response to protection issues in a more comprehensive and systematic way.

Yet the reality on the ground had not changed in the same way, he said, adding: “Lip service to the principles of international law is no substitute for real action.”  Much greater efforts were required to enhance compliance and accountability on the ground.  That meant compliance by all parties to conflict with the applicable laws, as well as the demands and decisions of the Council, and accountability on the part of individuals and parties that failed in those respects.

Emphasizing that the Council had an important role to play in promoting systematic compliance with the law in situations on its agenda, he said that that entailed, among other things, the threat and application of targeted measures in cases of non-compliance and mandating commissions of inquiry where there were concerns about serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  However, the Council’s concern could not be limited to those situations formally on its agenda.  Even conflicts not perceived by all Council members as having implications for international peace and security could have a dramatic impact on the protection of civilians, thus warranting action.  The Council must also be able to engage with and seek compliance by all parties to conflict, including non-State groups.

To a large degree it was the absence of accountability that allowed violations of international law to thrive, he said.  Addressing that culture of impunity would entail the adoption of national legislation for prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of human rights law.  It also extended to ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as full cooperation with the Court and similar mechanisms.

During the ensuing debate, in which more than 40 delegations participated, speakers noted that, despite the progress made, civilians continued to be deliberately targeted.  They stressed the need for all parties to conflict, including non-State armed groups, to respect international humanitarian law, distinguish between civilian and military groups, and provide safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid.  They should also refrain from the use of excessive force and the use of prohibited weapons, such as white phosphorous and cluster munitions.

Several speakers emphasized that the best protection of civilians came about through the prevention of conflicts by addressing their root causes, such as poverty, underdevelopment, injustice and social exclusion.  The representative of the United Kingdom stated that the Council must show greater readiness to engage at the prevention stage of conflicts, rather than the resolution stage.  It must be more willing to take appropriate, early action.

In order to sensitize non-State groups, there was a need to engage with them many speakers stressed.  The representative of the Russian Federation cautioned, however, that contacts between humanitarian organizations and non-State armed groups could be established only with the consent of the relevant States, and must be approached with great caution, so as not to legitimize such armed groups.

Many speakers addressed the concept of “responsibility to protect”, first introduced in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit.  The representative of Mexico said that far from being an abstract concept that responsibility took on its true value when facing crisis, cautioning that the Council should not be trapped in endless theoretical debate.  Venezuela’s representative noted, however, that some countries wanted the concept of responsibility to protect implemented without the required discussions.  The General Assembly should discuss it first in order to arrive at a consensus interpretation.

Numerous participants in the debate pointed out that civilian protection presupposed unimpeded and safe humanitarian access, condemning all restrictions on humanitarian access and attacks on humanitarian workers.  People escaping from combat areas must be allowed safe transit.  Days of tranquillity and sustained ceasefires were also important in that regard.  New Zealand’s representative added that the increasing incidence of intentional attacks on humanitarian workers in conflict zones was deeply disturbing.  A related concern was the rising frequency of attacks on journalists, who were vital to the monitoring of conflicts and to ending impunity for serious crimes.

Speakers also discussed the issue of impunity, emphasizing that the Council should refer the worst violations of international humanitarian law to the International Criminal Court.  Austria’s representative said the Council must ensure that violations were investigated and that there were consequences for non-compliance.  Greater efforts were needed to strengthen national systems in order to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice and victims granted effective redress.

Echoing the sentiments of many other speakers, the representative of Norway said sexual violence and rape were often calculated tactics of war and should be treated as such.  She asked the Council to use the most effective measures at its disposal, including targeted sanctions, to make clear that sexual violence was unacceptable and that perpetrators would be held accountable.  Norway supported the referral of such crimes to the International Criminal Court.

Other speakers participating in today’s debate were the representatives of Croatia, Viet Nam, Japan, China, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Human Security Network), France, Libya, Uganda, United States, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Brazil, Qatar, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Israel, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Argentina, Canada, Syria, Peru, Australia, Jordan, Italy, Nicaragua, Morocco, Uruguay, Kenya, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Georgia, Guatemala and the Republic of Korea.

Also delivering statements were the Permanent Observers of Palestine and the African Union.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and suspended at 1:25 p.m.  Resuming at 3:10 p.m., it ended at 6:35 p.m.

Background

Before the Security Council was the report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2009/277), which notes that, since the subject was placed on the Council’s agenda 10 years ago, further efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians remains crucial as actions on the ground have not yet matched the progress in words and the development of international norms and standards.

According to the report, old and new conflicts alike persist amid “sometimes appalling” levels of human suffering owing to the fundamental failure of the parties involved to respect fully their obligations to protect civilians.  That failure demands a reinvigorated commitment by the Security Council, Member States and the United Nations to the protection of civilians and the promotion of respect for the principles of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, upon which the concept is founded.

In practical terms, the report states, that commitment requires determined action to meet five core challenges: enhancing compliance with international law by parties to conflict, particularly in the conduct of hostilities; enhancing compliance with the law by non-State armed groups; enhancing protection through more effective and better resourced peacekeeping and other relevant missions; enhancing humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability for violations of the law.

In his conclusion, the Secretary-General states that the last 10 years have provided a “tantalizing sense” of the potential of the civilian-protection agenda.  “The task before us now is to take the necessary steps to fully realize that potential and meet the five core challenges identified in the present report,” he adds, noting that the Council has the tools required to take forward the recommendations appearing throughout the report.

The Secretary-General says that, in practice, that entails consistent application of the aide-memoire on the protection of civilians; regular meetings of the expert group on the issue prior to establishing or renewing peacekeeping mandates; consistent condemnation of violations of the law by all parties to conflict, without exception; ensuring compliance, including targeted measures, mandating commissions of inquiry and referring situations to the International Criminal Court; and timely deployment of peacekeeping missions or additional temporary capacity with robust protection mandates.

In conclusion, the Secretary-General states: “At the open debate in November, I would urge the Security Council and Member States to seize the opportunity of the tenth anniversary of the protection of civilians to reinvigorate their commitment to this agenda and, above all, to work with the United Nations and other relevant actors in a comprehensive and determined effort to make the protection of civilians more systematically and consistently a reality for all those caught or trapped in the conflicts of today, or those of tomorrow.”

Briefing

JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the sorrow and brutality of war continued to be felt by untold millions of civilians trapped by conflict or forced into flight.  It was precisely against them and their rights and interests that armed force was so often used to devastating effect.  In the last 10 years, protection of civilians in armed conflict had assumed a prominent place on the Council’s agenda, as manifested by regular open debates, the Secretary-General’s periodic reports and the four thematic Council resolutions on the protection of civilians.

Most importantly, concern for the protection of civilians had increasingly permeated the Council’s country-specific deliberations and decisions, he said.  Regular meetings of the Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians and systematic application of the revised aide-memoire should further enhance the response to protection issues in a more comprehensive and systematic way.  Yet the reality on the ground had not changed in the same way at all.  “We cannot be remotely satisfied with the situation we see in so many parts of the world today.  Lip service to the principles of international law is no substitute for real action,” he said.  Much greater efforts were required to enhance compliance and, for that matter, accountability on the ground.  That meant compliance by all parties to conflict with the applicable law and the demands and decisions of the Council, as well as accountability on the part of individuals and parties that failed in those respects.

The Secretary-General’s report set out five core challenges in that regard, including enhancing compliance by parties to conflict with international humanitarian law and human rights law, with particular concern over the conduct of hostilities, he continued.  The lack of compliance led not only to the death and injury of hundreds of civilians every week, but to the displacement of thousands more.  While the weapons had finally fallen silent in Sri Lanka, civilian deaths in Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere constantly reminded the international community of the urgent need for the parties to be much more scrupulous in their efforts to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities.

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the eruption of renewed hostilities in May had been marked by the bombing of civilian areas and street battles, with little regard for the safety and security of the civilian population, he recalled.  Since the first week of May, more than 200 civilians had been killed and over 800 wounded, while some 160,000 people had fled their homes.  Elsewhere, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 261 civilians had been killed in May alone.  Anti-Government elements remained responsible for the majority of those civilian deaths, through attacks on residential areas and schools, the use of improvised explosive devices and often targeted or otherwise reckless suicide attacks.

He said that suicide attacks and bombs left in public places had become commonplace in such places as Iraq and Somalia as well, no longer eliciting the same degree of attention and outrage as they once had.  Civilians continued to die in Afghanistan also as a result of the actions of pro-Government forces, particularly during air strikes.  He welcomed recent statements by the incoming leadership of the United States and international armed forces in Afghanistan about the need to reduce civilian casualties, review the rules of engagement and ensure that they were strictly observed.  “We will monitor such efforts closely, just as we continue to carefully monitor the situation of the civilian population in the North and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The choice of weapons was critical in minimizing and reducing the impact of hostilities on civilians, he said.  Significant progress had been achieved in efforts to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, with the adoption in 2008 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  However, there was a broader concern about the indiscriminate and severe humanitarian impact of explosive weapons more generally, particularly when used in densely populated areas.  Member States, in consultation with relevant United Nations agencies and other actors, should consider that issue further, including by addressing the widespread use of improvised explosive devices in densely populated areas.

The Council had an important role to play in promoting systematic compliance with the law in situations on its agenda, he said.  That entailed consistently condemning violations, without exception, and demanding compliance.  It also included the threat and application of targeted measures in cases of non-compliance, requests for reports on violations and mandating commissions of inquiry where concerns existed about serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  But the Council’s concern could not be limited to those situations formally on its agenda.  Even conflicts not perceived by all Council members to have implications for international peace and security could have a dramatic impact on the protection of civilians and could warrant Council action.

He said the Council must also be able to engage and seek compliance by all parties to conflict, including non-State groups –- the second of the five challenges identified in the Secretary-General’s report.  The simple yet brutal reality was that the failure to engage armed groups was always likely to mean more civilians killed and wounded.  It was also essential for gaining access to people in need and for establishing a safe and secure environment in humanitarian activities were accepted and respected.  Various initiatives could be pursued to that end, including training and special agreements or codes of conduct, through which groups could commit to compliance with their obligations.  As a first step towards a more comprehensive approach to addressing the actions of non-State armed groups, the Council should convene an Arria Formula meeting to discuss the experiences of United Nations and non-Government actors in engaging armed groups, and to help identify additional measures to improve compliance.

Regarding the inclusion of protection activities in the mandates of peacekeeping and other relevant missions, he said that, from Sierra Leone in the past, to present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, peacekeeping operations had made and continued to make important contributions to the safety and security of civilians.  The challenge now was to maximize their impact by addressing the disconnection between mandates, intentions, expectations, interpretations and implementation capacity.

He said it also meant providing clear and practical guidance to heads of missions and force commanders on implementing protection mandates, more systematic development of mission-specific protection strategies, and the spread of best-practice innovations.  It also meant ensuring not only that protection was prioritized in decisions concerning the use of available capacity and resources, but more crucially still, that the capacity and resources provided were genuinely appropriate for the task of protecting civilians.  Such issues would be addressed in the forthcoming independent study commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

As detailed in the annex to the report, access to conflict-affected populations was too often unsafe, not timely enough and too frequently impeded, he continued.  Burdensome bureaucracy was one of the main constraints in that regard.  In Gaza, for example, Israel’s criteria for allowing the importation of goods into the territory remained unpredictable, and its decision in March to allow unrestricted entry for all foodstuffs from Government-approved sources remained unimplemented.  In Sudan, the convening of the now-expanded High-Level Committee represented significant progress towards renewed cooperation on facilitating humanitarian action in Darfur.  The Committee must now be replicated at the state level in Darfur.

In Somalia, renewed hostilities in Mogadishu had recently led some humanitarian actors to cease their activities, including the provision of medical services, he said.  It was critical that parties to conflict allow and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in such circumstances, including through such operational measures as de-conflicting arrangements, days of tranquillity and humanitarian pauses.  They must also allow safe passage for civilians seeking to flee zones of fighting.  The most abhorrent constraint on access stemmed from violence against humanitarian operations and staff, which had steadily increased over the past decade, including a sharp rise in attacks affecting United Nations agencies since 2006.

The year 2008 had been the worst on record for all humanitarian actors taken together, he said, stressing that such incidents would not disappear without concerted action.  Humanitarian workers had been targeted for political reasons, while relief supplies and assets were viewed as soft targets for criminal exploitation.  Critical in that regard was broadening the understanding and acceptance among State and non-State actors alike of the purpose of independent, neutral and impartial humanitarian action.

He said the Council had an important role to play in that regard.  Possible steps included calling on parties to allow and facilitate the provision of assistance and safe passage for civilians; concluding and implementing agreements to expedite the deployment of humanitarian staff and assets; and condemning systematically acts of violence targeting humanitarian workers.  Above all, the Council should ensure that constraints on access had consequences for those who imposed them and not just those who suffered under them.  That meant, for example, applying targeted sanctions against those obstructing access or perpetrating attacks against staff, and even being ready to refer situations involving prolonged and wilful impediment of relief or attacks against humanitarian workers to the International Criminal Court.

To a large degree it was the absence of accountability and in many instances even the lack of any expectation of fear of accountability that allowed violations of international law to thrive, he said.  Addressing that culture of impunity was the fifth challenge identified in the Secretary-General’s report.  Ensuring accountability began with training combatants on the law, issuing manuals, orders and instructions setting out their obligations and establishing effective disciplinary measures.  It also entailed the adoption of national legislation for the prosecuting of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of human rights law.  It also extended to ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as full cooperation with the Court and similar mechanisms.  For the Council, that meant insisting on cooperation and, if necessary, enforcing it through targeted sanctions.

Accountability also meant reparations, he continued, urging the Council to call on States to establish, or itself to mandate in the relevant context, mechanisms to receive claims alleging violations of international law.  Ultimately, the aim must be to enhance compliance and accountability, not just in respect of the law, but, crucially, in respect of the Council’s demands and decisions.  The Council’s willingness and ability to uphold and enforce them would inevitably be the real test of its commitment to the protection of civilians.

Statements

RANKO VILOVIĆ ( Croatia) expressed concern about the heavy toll that civilians in many conflicts continued to bear, in Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gaza, among other places.  In situations where prevention had failed, national Governments must be held accountable for arresting and prosecuting those responsible for committing grave crimes, since the parties to an armed conflict bore the primary responsibility for protecting civilians.  If Governments failed to fulfil their responsibility in that regard, recourse to the International Criminal Court could be considered.  That was where the Council could play an important role.

He said the mandates of many peacekeeping operations contained strong provisions on the protection of civilians.  Since the missions often acted in close cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the ground, more attention was needed in the implementation of those provisions, including on possible lessons learned from varying situations.  Concerned about reported cases of Governments or armed groups denying access to humanitarian assistance, he strongly condemned attacks on humanitarian personnel and urged all parties to ensure their safety.  There was also a need to intensify efforts to help the many civilians who ended up with disabilities, both physical and psychological, live a dignified life, especially during the delicate time of post-conflict peacebuilding.

BUI THE GIANG ( Viet Nam) expressed deep concern about the persistent and pervasive violations as well as the increasing, indiscriminate and excessive use of force against civilians in conflict situations.  Disturbed by the growing number of civilian deaths and injuries, and their widespread displacement in most conflicts, Viet Nam feared that trend could provoke other widespread conflicts resulting from social tensions and other problems in host locations.

He reiterated that the State must bear the primary responsibility for protecting civilians, with the United Nations system playing a critical role, particularly in mediation, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and development assistance.  There was also a need to enhance coordination among United Nations bodies and field missions in responding to the needs of civilians in armed conflict, not only in physical terms, but in political and socio-economic terms, as well.

Dialogue with non-State armed groups must be carefully considered to avoid inadvertently legitimizing illegal or even internationally recognized terrorist groups, he said.  In order to end impunity, in accordance with resolution 1674 (2006), Viet Nam supported implementation of both justice and reconciliation mechanisms, including national, international and “mixed” criminal courts and tribunals, and truth and reconciliation commissions, as appropriate.  Yet, referring situations to the International Criminal Court or similar mechanisms should be considered on a case‑by-case basis to avoid the risk of infringing on national sovereignty as a result of generalization.

CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said the sheer number and complexity of contemporary conflicts and scant respect for the norms of international humanitarian law had increased the challenges facing the Council.  Mexico was concerned that, in recent conflicts, the parties had made illegal and excessive use of force, and had used prohibited weapons, among other things.  It was important in that regard to make a distinction between civilian and military targets.  Concrete action was needed to address the use of cluster munitions and the easy availability of light weapons.  Mexico called upon Member States that had not yet done so to ratify the conventions on cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines.  As for the Council, it must commit itself to ensure that refugees and internally displaced persons could freely and securely return to their homes.  It must also take all measures necessary against those who acted against the needs of civilians.

Regarding Sri Lanka, he encouraged the Government to protect the civilian population and urged it to coordinate its efforts to evacuate trapped civilians with United Nations agencies.  Serious humanitarian and human rights violations should be investigated by an independent body.  The responsibility to protect was not an abstract concept, but took on its true value when facing crises.  The Council should not be trapped into an endless theoretical debate.  Violations of the basic norms and principles of international humanitarian law were war crimes and, if States lacked the capacity or willingness to prosecute them, the International Criminal Court had jurisdiction to do so.  It was essential that the international community focus on preventing conflict and promoting an end to impunity.

YUKIO TAKASU ( Japan) said substantial progress had been made in the protection of civilians during armed conflicts since the Council’s first debate on the subject 10 years ago.  The Council had produced a number of well-established normative frameworks, including the one laid out in resolution 1674 (2006).  Japan welcomed the recent practice of convening meetings of the Expert Group to hear briefings from the Secretariat on up-to-date and detailed information about the protection of civilians, prior to consultations on the mandates of specific peacekeeping operations.  What was important now was putting those established normative frameworks into practice.

Expressing grave concerns about continuing civilian casualties all over the world, whether civilians, journalists or humanitarian workers, he emphasized that States bore the primary responsibility to enhance compliance with international law and to protect civilians.  At the same time, the international community must address the serious impact that non-State groups were having.  It was essential to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law.  Protection of civilians should be a priority in any conflict situation, whether a civil war or an anti-terrorism operation.  It was not easy to fight rebel groups or terrorist organizations and protect civilians, but both objectives must be pursued simultaneously to the fullest extent.

LIU ZHENMIN ( China) noted that, over the past decade, the international community had given increasing attention to the protection of civilians, yet large numbers of them continued to be harmed in armed conflicts.  China was deeply concerned about threats to the lives and property of civilians, and urged all parties to conflict to respect international law and relevant Council resolutions.  Given that the Council had the main responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, it should examine the protection of civilians in a comprehensive manner within the framework of tackling conflicts.

However, the responsibility for protecting civilians lay primarily with national Governments, he stressed, adding that the international community could provide assistance, while exercising with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned.  In terms of fighting impunity, China was in favour of giving national courts a major role.  The Council had an active part to play in advancing the cause of civilians in armed conflict, but China did not favour the use of sanctions, or threats to apply them, in every instance.

National Governments had the right to take law-enforcement measures to fight terrorists and extremists in their territory, he said.  Law-enforcement action in the fight against terrorism had nothing to do with armed conflict, and the international community should not interfere with national measures under the pretext of protecting civilians.  There was a wide variety of causes behind each conflict, including poverty.  The United Nations could also play an important role in mobilizing international resources for the provision of assistance to the nations concerned.

JAIRO HERNÁNDEZ-MILIAN (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, said there had been an improvement in the protection of civilians 10 years after the subject had first been placed on the Council’s agenda.  There had also been significant progress at the country-specific level.  Almost all peacekeeping missions now had protection mandates while multidimensional peacekeeping operations included capacity-building, security-sector reform and other tasks.

Protecting civilians was not only a military task, he said, stressing that comprehensive strategies were the most effective in responding to security threats to civilian populations.  Concerned about attacks against refugees, displaced persons and humanitarian workers, as well as the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, he deplored the continued targeting of civilians and their use as human shields.  All parties must abide by the principle of proportionality and distinguish between civilian and military targets.  Maximum restraint should be used to minimize impacts on civilians.

He said the Council should respond strongly, systematically and promptly to violations of international law, including through rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance.  There was also a need for more substantive interaction among the Council, the Secretariat, host countries and troop-contributing countries.  It was fundamentally important to address constraints facing peacekeeping operations such as access to resources and training.

Respect for and implementation of international humanitarian law was linked with the fight against impunity, he said, adding that ending impunity was part of a comprehensive approach to seeking peace and national reconciliation.  Restoring the rule of law and security-sector reform were also key areas in which national systems should be supported by enhanced international assistance.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that, with regard to compliance with international humanitarian law, States should allow for more dialogue between humanitarian organizations and non-State armed groups.  Special arrangements such as days of tranquillity and humanitarian corridors were crucial.  Proposing a meeting under the Arria Formula to discuss the experiences of non-governmental organizations in dealing with non-State groups, he said the Council should make use of all the tools at its disposal, including punitive measures in situations such as Gaza and Sri Lanka.

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (France), supporting the statement to be made on behalf of the European Union, said he was concerned about the situation in such countries as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, adding that the Council could take stronger action in those situations.  Among other tools at its disposal, the Council could include civilian-protection mandates in peacekeeping operations.  For instance, the protection of civilians was among the priorities for the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  However, responsibility to protect civilians lay first and foremost with national Governments.

Welcoming the study commissioned by OCHA and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he said his country had participated in financing that project and hoped there would be a follow-up.  Protection of civilians was a vital element of France’s joint initiative with the United Kingdom on peacekeeping operations with complex mandates.  The first progress report on the initiative would be presented in August.

States must pursue and sanction those who violated international humanitarian and human rights law, he said, stressing the importance of security-sector and legal reform in that regard.  Bodies of international law should be able to judge the most violent crimes.  France called on all States to support the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court.  With the General Assembly preparing to debate the responsibility to protect, there was an urgent need to make that ambitious concept operational.

ILYA I. ROGACHEV ( Russian Federation) noted that, for 10 years now, the Council had been examining the question of protecting civilians in armed conflict, but civilians were still the majority of casualties.  There was a need to refrain from selective approaches to violations of international humanitarian law and for strict observance of law-enforcement standards.  It was necessary to condemn all such violations without exception.  For example, the deaths of 150 civilians in May as a result of strikes by international forces in Afghanistan should be investigated carefully.  It was the responsibility of all parties, including foreign forces, to protect civilians.

Expressing concern about civilian deaths at the hands of private military and security companies, he said their share of responsibility should be borne by those who recruited them.  Furthermore, contacts between humanitarian organizations and non-State armed groups could be established only with the consent of the relevant States, and must be approached with great caution so as not to legitimize such armed groups.  It was unacceptable to consider such terrorist organizations as the Taliban and Al-Qaida as “armed opposition groups”, as they could not be considered legitimate interlocutors on humanitarian issues.

He reiterated the need to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian personnel, noting that humanitarian work must be conducted on the basis of impartiality and neutrality.  In that context, he drew attention to the situation in the Caucasus following the events of 2008, thanking the Secretary-General for a positive assessment of his country’s actions in providing humanitarian assistance in the annex to his report.  The Russian Federation was concerned that Georgia’s legislation on so-called occupied territories was practically hindering humanitarian work in South Ossetia.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING ( Austria) said his country was a fervent supporter of the civilian-protection agenda and stood ready to contribute to its implementation.  The Council must pay systematic attention to protection concerns in its daily deliberations.  He welcomed in that regard the establishment of the Expert Group, which had already demonstrated its usefulness.  More consistent and comprehensive reporting on protection issues in the Secretary-General’s reports would enable the Council to be more systematic regarding the protection of civilians.  The question of enhancing civilian protection through peacekeeping operations had been identified as a major challenge, and several missions had been mandated to ensure physical protection.  Austria looked forward to the findings and recommendations of the independent study commissioned by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and OCHA in that regard.

Ensuring better compliance with international humanitarian law was another priority area, particularly in the case of non-State actors, he said.  The Council must ensure that violations were investigated and that there were consequences for non-compliance.  It should further support justice mechanisms and affirm its opposition to impunity.  More efforts were needed to strengthen national systems in order to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice and victims granted effective redress.  The vulnerability of civilians in relation to the abundance of weapons, mainly small arms, also called for the Council’s urgent attention.  The Cluster Munitions Convention’s provisions on victim assistance should become the new international standard.

ABDURRAHMAN SHALGHAM ( Libya) said that, in spite of the progress made, civilian casualties, including those resulting from foreign occupation, had not declined, and the Gaza Strip was a living example of that.  The Israeli occupying authorities had conducted a military operation against Gaza using prohibited weapons such as white phosphorous and failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets.  Schools, hospitals and United Nations buildings had been targeted.  There had been similar situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the Israel’s 2006 aggression against Lebanon.  However, the Council had not gone after the Israeli perpetrators of the crimes committed in Gaza because of the right to veto enjoyed by some Council members who wished the aggressor to be above the law.

Calling for special attention to conflict prevention, he said it required coordinated efforts to deal with hunger, poverty and injustice affecting large populations around the world.  The Council must be able to take balanced and transparent measures, eschewing double standards.  Violations of international humanitarian law must be prevented and the production of some weapons prohibited, especially cluster munitions.  The Council must also apply strict measures for humanitarian access, which would require the opening of access points into Gaza by Israel to allow the free flow of individuals, goods and funds.

RUHAKANA RUGUNDA ( Uganda) said that, over the last 10 years, the Security Council had adopted several presidential statements and resolutions, paying specific attention to the protection of civilians.  However, those decisions were of limited value, unless they translated into concrete improvements on the ground.  The inclusion of protection activities in peacekeeping mandates, such as that of MONUC, was important, and the Council had also taken significant steps to improve the protection of women and children.  It had endeavoured to enhance the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons by mandating peacekeeping operations to protect camps and sites against attacks and supporting the disarmament and separation of combatants.

He pointed out, however, that there was a need for a common understanding of what peacekeeping missions should be mandated to do or not do, to answer questions about the appropriate degree of robustness for modern missions, what other peacebuilding tasks should be undertaken by peacekeepers and for how long.  The proliferation or fragmentation of non-State armed groups had contributed to the asymmetric nature of conflict, as seen in such trouble spots as Somalia, with profound negative effects on civilians.

While armed groups were bound by international humanitarian law, for some of them, like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), attacks against civilians were a deliberate strategy, he said, emphasizing the necessity for that to stop.  It was critically important that Member States support, or at least not impede, efforts by other parties, such as religious leaders and civil society organizations, to engage armed groups in order to seek increased protection for civilians.  When such efforts failed, alternative means must be considered, which should not be limited to demands for compliance and condemnation.

He said mandates should include clear guidelines as to what missions could and should do to protect civilians, but such guidance should be informed by realistic assessments, in consultation with other stakeholders, including regional organizations and countries of the conflict-affected region.  Currently, there was a disconnection between expectations, mandates, interpretation and real implementation capacity due to such omissions.  However, that must take place within a broader policy framework, including where State armed forces were perpetrating violations against civilians.  The protection of civilians did not stop with the end of hostilities, as they needed humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

SUSAN RICE ( United States) said that the Secretary-General’s report cited many encouraging developments, as well as challenges, and the Council should review his recommendations carefully in order to improve the protection of civilians during armed conflict.  Protection must be a core principle in all peacekeeping operations.  In Afghanistan, the international coalition continued to fight the Taliban and Al‑Qaida while causing as few civilian casualties as possible.  The United States deeply regretted every civilian death and would continue to review its rules of engagement while making the reduction of civilian casualties a priority.

All nations must abide by international humanitarian law, she said, adding that her country was committed, together with the international community, to defeating violence, consistent with its values, legal obligations and ideals.  All nations had a responsibility to protect their civilian populations, and United Nations Member States had a responsibility to protect when individual countries were unable or unwilling to do so.  The Council had taken that into account in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Ending impunity for violations was also essential.  International and hybrid tribunals had been successful in prosecuting those guilty of many violations, but in order truly to end impunity, functioning national judicial systems were very important.

Special note must be taken of the most vulnerable groups, including women and children, she continued, emphasizing the importance of redoubling efforts to address sexual violence.  The United States looked forward to the report on the implementation of the resolution on women, peace and security, the provisions of which must be implemented.  There must be clear consequences for such crimes.  Regarding the continuing recruitment of children, the Secretary-General’s recommendations on humanitarian access would be useful in ensuring their well-being.  More robust mandates were needed to ensure the protection of civilians, but they must be clearly defined.  Missions also required the means to implement them.  The United States looked forward to the OCHA-Department of Peacekeeping Operations study on how best to put the guidelines for protecting civilians into practice.

MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said that, despite recommendations for the protection of civilians, they continued to be the most targeted victims in armed conflict, in disregard of international humanitarian law, Council resolutions, several treaties and the responsibility to protect.  All parties, including non-State actors, had an obligation to respect the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols, and those groups should be fully aware of their responsibilities.  It was therefore important to establish dialogue with them, without legitimizing their presence.  It was also important that the Council include robust civilian-protection mandates in peacekeeping missions.

Protection of civilians presupposed unimpeded humanitarian access, he said, condemning all restrictions on humanitarian access.  Civilian protection was a collective responsibility which demanded of all actors the political resolve to carry it out, with States having the primary responsibility in that regard.  The creation of national mechanisms for receiving complaints and independent judicial systems could contribute to the fight against impunity.  Subregional, regional and international organizations should also take on their responsibilities while scrupulously respecting the sovereignty of States.  The Council should contribute to strengthening the rule of law while referring some cases to such mechanisms as the International Criminal Court.  Burkina Faso encouraged all States to consider adopting an arms trade treaty.  Further, the Council must ensure enforcement of arms embargoes and other sanctions.

PHILIP PARHAM ( United Kingdom) said the Council should be ready to address flagrant violations against civilians, noting that civilians in Burma were caught up in the conflict between the Government and ethnic groups, and calling on the Burmese Government to begin an inclusive political dialogue.  In Sri Lanka, the priority was to ensure that the needs of the displaced were met.  Efforts were also needed to ensure steady progress in the political process and in establishing accountability.  The United Kingdom deeply regretted the killing of civilians by military action in Afghanistan, but assured Council members that there were strict procedures in place to minimize civilian casualties and to investigate them if they did occur.

He said the Council must find new and better tools to ensure that international humanitarian law was enforced fully during conflicts.  International accountability measures to combat impunity should also include referral to the International Criminal Court.  The United Kingdom supported the convening of an Arria Formula meeting to engage non-State groups.  Commending the outstanding protection work by United Nations personnel in the field, he said it provided many excellent examples which should be reflected in country reports.  Improving information was an inherent part of the joint initiative by France and the United Kingdom on mission mandates.  There was a disconnection between the language contained in peacekeeping mandates and the actual work in the field.  The Council must show greater readiness to engage at the prevention stage of conflicts, rather than the resolution stage.  It must be more willing to take appropriate, early action.

Council President BAKI İLKIN (Turkey), speaking in his national capacity, said the Council’s credibility was at stake as it faced the challenge of stopping the killing of civilians and reversing the alarming trend.  The Secretary-General’s report demonstrated the magnitude of the task of ensuring the effective protection of civilians during conflict.  That should be a collective and multidimensional effort with the primary responsibility resting first and foremost with States.  The entire international community also had a responsibility to protect civilians.

Unless handled carefully, the sensitive issue of non-State armed groups carried the risk of undermining or weakening ongoing efforts to protect civilians, he warned.  Given the ambiguity of that term, there was a need for extreme care in dealing with such groups, particularly since many terrorist organizations attempted to abuse the term and what it entailed in order to gain international attention and support.  Combating terrorism was the right and obligation of every State.  International and non-governmental organizations in particular should be vigilant in conducting their work in conflict areas, and not allow themselves to be exploited by such groups.  It was through the strengthening of the rule of law, human rights, democracy and good governance that the international community could expect long-term, lasting protection of civilians.

REGINA DUNLOP ( Brazil) said the Council should use appropriate and non-selective instruments provided for in the United Nations Charter to end gross violations of international humanitarian law associated with civilian casualties.  Among them, the instruments set forth in Chapter VI should be given careful consideration as a means to stimulate the peaceful settlement of disputes.  When Chapter VII became necessary and sanctions emerged as a potentially effective tool, they should be specific and targeted, so as not to impose further suffering on affected populations.

When a peacekeeping mission was established, it might be necessary and even morally imperative to give it a clear mandate to help protect civilians, she said.  Brazil fully recognized the increasing importance of that task in peacekeeping and concurred with the Secretary-General’s view that it was not exclusively military in nature.  Rather, it was and must be multifaceted.  Brazil favoured a comprehensive approach that sought to address, alongside security concerns, the underlying political, economic and even cultural factors of armed conflict and violence against civilians.  Another key element for success was cooperation with national authorities, given the primary responsibility of host Governments to protect their own populations.

A challenging aspect was compliance with international humanitarian law by non-State actors, she continued, adding that her delegation recognized the benefits of such dialogue as a way to obtain guarantees for the security of humanitarian personnel and access to populations in need of assistance.  It was essential that the humanitarian purposes of such dialogue be entirely clear to all participants, and that the principles of independence, neutrality, impartiality and humanity be fully observed at all times.  Those principles were critically important in addressing such issues as safe and timely access to those in need.

Enhanced cooperation and coordination of humanitarian actors with States was also important, she said, noting that States could also contribute to the safety of humanitarian actors by educating their agents on the purposes and benefits of humanitarian assistance, as well as on the need to ensure the safety and security of all involved in its delivery.  It was fit to recall in that connection the General Assembly’s 2008 decision to establish a World Humanitarian Day on 19 August.  Hopefully it would help raise awareness of the importance of humanitarian activities and therefore have a positive impact on the safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel.

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said all efforts to protect civilians, including the inclusion of protection provisions in peacekeeping mandates and plans to face up to all forms of violence, would be meaningless unless the decisions were translated into concrete action.  Protection of civilians was a multifaceted issue, and it was important to ensure adherence to international law, including provisions on foreign occupation.  Qatar condemned all targeting of civilians in armed conflict and under foreign occupation, as well as all acts of retaliation against civilians.  In the Middle East region, more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians had lost their lives during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which had also led to vast damage to infrastructure and schools operated by the United Nations, in violation of international law.

Underscoring the importance of documenting the obstruction of humanitarian access during and after the crisis, he said that, under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, primary responsibility lay with the parties to the conflict and the occupying party to protect persons under their authority and meet their basic needs.  In the Middle East, the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip were suffering under restrictions imposed on the importation of humanitarian supplies, which were subjected to unjustified standards and procedures.  In fact, Israel was still denying the entry of basic construction materials for the rehabilitation of infrastructure destroyed during its aggression, imposing restrictions on traffic at the border crossings and clearly hampering humanitarian operations and efforts for early recovery.

He said the obstruction of humanitarian operations by the occupying Power in Gaza had also disrupted education -– a fundamental human right.  The Council should instruct its various organs to make a priority of the right to education in areas affected by armed conflict and foreign occupation, and focus on that issue in its own future deliberations.  He also emphasized the importance of ensuring accountability for violations of international law, saying that the dilemma always resided in non-enforcement and double standards.

Continued impunity frustrated victims and fuelled their desire for revenge, he said, adding that it also allowed perpetrators to feel that they were above the law, ultimately encouraging them to commit further violations.  Qatar stressed the importance of action by the Council for the implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding panel investigating a series of Israeli attacks on United Nations facilities and staff in the Gaza Strip, including schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  There was also an urgent need to examine one of the recommendations on conducting a thorough and unbiased investigation of all violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza.  The Council should shoulder its obligation to protect civilians in armed conflict and impose respect for the instruments of international law and Security Council resolutions.

MARTIN PALOUŠ (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed firm support for the work of the Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians, saying its potential should be used fully.  The Council should give further practical relevance to its own aide-memoire, which should be translated into concrete improvements in protecting civilians on the ground.  There was a need for close coordination and meaningful positive synergies on civilian-protection policies within the framework of United Nations activities in other key areas, such as human rights, gender equity, children in armed conflict, rule of law, small arms and light weapons, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and security-sector reform.

It was crucially important to put the concept of responsibility to protect into operation and the European Union called for its full implementation by the Council and the General Assembly, he said, stressing that the Council must react to the changing nature of threats to international peace and security.  He called on all parties to conflicts to ensure civilians were protected and in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.  The European Union strongly encouraged the Governments concerned to fully protect internally displaced persons and children affected by armed conflict.  All violations of human rights and international humanitarian law should be investigated and those responsible held to account.

Urging the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to redouble its efforts to transform relevant Council resolutions into results in the field, he also strongly supported enhancing the role of women in protection issues, in accordance with Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008).  The Council should make clear that any assault on civilians, including genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, were totally unacceptable.  He encouraged all States to fully support the International Criminal Court by acceding to the Rome Statute and cooperating with the Court.  The European Union was dedicated to systematically considering human rights, gender and children affected by armed conflict when planning and conducting its European Security and Defence Policy missions and operations.  He stressed the importance of enhanced European Union-United Nations cooperation in civilian protection where the two organizations had missions deployed side by side, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

KIRSTY GRAHAM ( New Zealand) said the 26-year-long conflict in Sri Lanka had cost the lives of many of its people and her country had joined others in condemning the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacks on the civilian population.  However, it had also been concerned about reports of Government forces using heavy artillery in areas with a dense civilian population.  She also expressed concern for the safety of internally displaced persons.  New Zealand strongly supported the inclusion of civilian-protection activities in peacekeeping mandates, but called for improvements in their clarity and specificity.  Little progress had been made in developing the necessary capacities and doctrines that should accompany civilian-protection mandates.

She said the increasing incidence of intentional attacks on humanitarian workers in conflict zones was deeply disturbing, and urged parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law, particularly the duty to respect and protect humanitarian assistance personnel.  A related concern was the rising frequency of attacks on journalists, who were vital to the monitoring of conflicts and ending impunity for serious crimes.  It was imperative for the protection of civilians that impunity was ended, and New Zealand supported the International Criminal Court in that regard.

DANIEL CARMON ( Israel) said the Secretary-General’s report contained a number of deficiencies and inaccuracies.  It did not acknowledge the actions of the Hamas terrorist organization against Israeli civilians and did not note that the southern part of the country had been subjected to a ceaseless barrage of rockets and mortars for eight years.  In the old terrorist tradition, Hamas deliberately targeted Israeli civilians.  While clear evidence existed of its cruel misuse of civilian infrastructure, contrary to the most basic humanitarian values, the report shied away from addressing that practice in an appropriate manner.

He said the report ambitiously verged on drawing judicial conclusions concerning international humanitarian law, although the mandate, expertise and procedure upon which they were based were unclear.  It did not mention Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties.  The report was fundamentally flawed for its omissions, errors and selective use of language.  It failed to address the actions of non-State parties who had made a mockery of the concept of civilian protection.  Israel hoped such misrepresentations would not be repeated, and that futile politicized semantics, wrong accusations and deliberate omissions would be avoided in the future.

“For Israelis –- as victims of terrorism –- the protection of civilians is not a theoretical exercise; it is a reality that we have been grappling with for over 60 years,” he said.  “It is unfortunate that terrorism, on a daily basis, presents us with the dilemma arising from the need to uphold human rights while protecting civilians on all sides.”   Israel expected substantial improvements in future reports so that the international community could engage in a relevant, accurate and in-depth debate on that important issue.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said all States and other relevant actors must give central priority to the protection of civilians, as well as strict observance of international humanitarian law and norms in that field.  Colombia had prioritized, through its democratic security policy, the strategic objective of strengthening and guaranteeing the rule of law throughout its territory.  The consolidation of that policy had enabled the creation of more solid conditions for stronger protection of the people and enjoyment of their rights.  Those actions went hand in hand with a comprehensive policy on human rights and international humanitarian law, aimed at ensuring proper punishment for violations, including for members of the public forces of the State.  Since 2002, more than 51,000 members of illegal armed groups had been demobilized and the fight against drug trafficking, the financial source of violence and terror, was also a national priority.

She expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call to States that were not yet parties to the Convention against Anti-personnel Mines to ratify that instrument without delay, noting that her country would host the Second Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention from 30 November to 4 December.  Colombia also agreed with the Secretary-General regarding the urgent need to implement controls for the eradication of the illicit trade in small arms as an essential prerequisite for better civilian protection.  Colombia would continue to promote that issue in the Assembly and expected the Security Council to emphasize the importance of adopting effective measures in that field.

Condemning attacks against humanitarian personnel, she emphasized the primary responsibility of States to provide and coordinate humanitarian assistance within their territories.  Colombia also recognized the importance of international cooperation and facilitation of humanitarian access, in accordance with international norms.  The Government was the main provider of humanitarian assistance and, on his recent visit to Colombia, Under-Secretary-General Holmes had verified progress in that regard.  Progress in security was reflected in improved access and enhanced safety for humanitarian staff throughout the country.  It was also essential that States comply fully with their international obligations to protect refugees.

MIRSADA ČOLAKOVIĆ ( Bosnia and Herzegovina) said that, given its own painful experience, her country always recognized the need for strict compliance with international humanitarian law.  The international community must strengthen mechanisms to enhance compliance by State, as well as non-State actors.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed to the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Combating impunity was a factor in preventing violent acts against civilians, she said, welcoming the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which her country had signed in December.  That Convention would serve as an indispensable legal instrument in contributing to the protection of civilians during armed conflict.  Bosnia and Herzegovina supported the work of the Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians.

She reiterated the importance of regional and subregional organizations in conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and conflict prevention.  Bearing in mind that most conflicts today were not international, regional and subregional approaches would lead to more workable and lasting solutions.  Bosnia and Herzegovina invited competent United Nations agencies to work closely with regional organizations in that regard.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) said that, among the core principles of international humanitarian law was the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, the proportionality of the use of force and the requirement to take all feasible measures to minimize civilian casualties.  Repeated violations of those rules, as in Sri Lanka and Gaza, warranted a clear response from the Council.  Where national accountability mechanisms failed, it should establish commissions of inquiry and, in the most serious cases, consider referral to the International Criminal Court.

He said the Council must, where necessary, call on parties to conflict to remove all unwarranted impediments to humanitarian access.  The Council had a particular obligation to protect United Nations staff and to ensure there was no impunity for attacks on humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel, which constituted a war crime.  Protection of civilians must be an inherent task for all peacekeeping missions and Liechtenstein welcomed the development of mission-specific inclusive strategies and plans of action, particularly regarding acts of sexual violence.  The Council’s clear guidance on how to protect civilians from such acts would be useful to force commanders, who currently provided protection on an ad-hoc basis and under a flexible interpretation of their vague mandates.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said his people were all too familiar with the international community’s failure to guarantee the protection accorded to them under international law.  For more than four decades, the Palestinian people had endured appalling levels of human suffering at the hands of Israel, the occupying Power.  The protection of peoples under foreign occupation must be a priority undertaking of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council, which had clear responsibilities in that regard.  The international community’s repeated inability to hold Israel accountable for its violations and war crimes had regrettably reinforced that country’s impunity and lawlessness.

Never had the absence of protection for the Palestinian civilian population been more evident than during Israel’s three-week aggression against the Gaza Strip, he said.  More than 1,400 Palestinians had been killed in the Israeli onslaught, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, including hundreds of women and children.  Civilian areas and objects, including United Nations schools where civilians were known to be sheltering from the violence, had been directly targeted by the occupying Power.  Among countless other violations, Israel had also attacked humanitarian personnel and clearly-marked ambulances, destroyed the infrastructure and obstructed humanitarian access.  Those actions constituted not only serious, systematic violations of international law, but many of them amounted to war crimes, for which accountability must be pursued.

Several independent inquiries and investigations into Israel’s military aggression against Gaza had clearly confirmed that Israel had committed grave breaches of international law, as it continued to do with its ongoing blockade of the enclave.  He called for serious steps to pursue accountability and justice for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian civilian population.  The international community, including the Council, must follow up on the findings and recommendations from United Nations-related investigations, including the Board of Inquiry and the investigation being undertaken by the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding commission.  At the same time, urgent measures must be undertaken to end Israel’s unlawful blockade of Gaza.  As long as Israel continued to breach its obligations towards the Palestinian civilian population, the Council must act to uphold its Charter responsibilities to ensure compliance with international law and United Nations resolutions.

HEIDI GRAU ( Switzerland) welcomed systematic efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations and certain non-governmental organizations that were committed to ensuring that armed groups respected their obligations with regard to civilians.  On the other hand, it was important to clarify applicable international law regarding the operations of other non-State actors in armed conflict, such as private military and security companies.  Switzerland, in collaboration with ICRC, had taken an initiative which had resulted in the Montreux Document last year.

Turning to the fight against impunity, she welcomed the recommendations asking Member States to take measures at the national level to ensure that international crimes did not go unpunished.  Switzerland particularly welcomed the recommendations that the Council do everything within its power to ensure full cooperation of States with the International Criminal Court.  It was essential that investigations were carried out on alleged violations of international humanitarian law in every armed conflict, regardless of the perpetrator.  The Council should systematically demand reports on such allegations and consider the creation of commissions of inquiry.  In that connection, she recalled the existence of an international fact-finding commission established by the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, encouraging the Council to give a mandate to that body, rather than appointing ad hoc commissions of inquiry.

She also welcomed the establishment of the Group of Experts on protection of civilians and supported the recommendation calling for it to meet prior to the establishment or renewal of peacekeeping mandates.  On access, she said her Government had launched concrete projects designed to improve humanitarian access with the aim of providing national authorities, international organizations and humanitarian actors in the field with practical instruments.  Those instruments were now being prepared and should be presented at the meeting on access due to take place at the beginning of 2010 in Switzerland.

JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said that, in accordance with international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians was a legal obligation of parties to a conflict from which they were not relieved, even if the counterpart acted in breach of it.  As for non-State armed groups, it was clear that article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions contained specific obligations that also applied to non-State parties.  The inclusion of protection activities in United Nations mandates was very important for granting access for humanitarian assistance.  There was a need to develop clear mandates that provided the necessary resources.

Guaranteeing humanitarian access was an important aspect of civilian protection, he said, adding that people escaping from combat areas must be allowed safe transit.  Argentina attached the utmost importance to the role of justice, due to its none-too-distant past.  Individuals having committed war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity must be held criminally accountable.  In that regard, the International Criminal Court did not replace national justice, but operated when it was not in operation.  Ensuring accountability for such crimes under the national system was not only an obligation of States but also a way to help alleviate part of the perceived tension between the quest for justice and the search for peace.

JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said 10 years of experience showed that the language surrounding Council resolutions on civilian protection did not automatically translate into clear mandates and operations on the ground.  To bridge that gap, it must be translated into practical field-based guidance for military and civilian actors, including civilian police.  Those entrusted with protection must have the knowledge and training effectively to fulfil that role, with particular sensitivity to vulnerable groups such as women and children.  Canada was pleased to have co-sponsored a recent conference to examine the role of military peacekeepers in addressing sexual violence, which had resulted in an inventory of good practices.

Noting the need to work together to assign appropriate accountabilities in order to ensure implementation of mandated tasks, he applauded the commitment of OCHA and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to more effectively make operational the protection of civilians in peacekeeping mandates.  Among other things, Canada also welcomed a recent Department of Peacekeeping Operations high-level seminar on robust peacekeeping and looked forward to the upcoming OCHA-Department of Peacekeeping Operations lessons-learned study.  It was important to prevent gaps in coordination between peacekeeping operations and civilian agencies with a critical role in protecting civilians.  Full, safe and unhindered access to populations in need must be provided.

Welcoming OCHA’s efforts to better monitor access constraints and report to the Council, he said timely and credible information and analysis were crucial in developing effective responses.  When issues of access were brought to the Council’s attention, follow-up was vital.  The Council must be willing to draw consistently upon key tools at its disposal, including fact-finding missions, good offices, envoys, monitoring missions and preventive deployments, when civilians were at risk.  It must also monitor its own resolutions and provide back-up for missions, as necessary.  The Secretariat also had a role.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, field visits by the Experts Group could provide the Council with key information.

On accountability, he said national authorities were responsible for exercising jurisdiction over those responsible for crimes against civilians, including humanitarian workers.  When there was unwillingness to do so, the Council and the broader United Nations membership had a role to play.  Canada had been pleased to participate in the process leading to the Montreux Document -- a non-binding document intended to clarify international law as it pertained to private military and security companies.  The compendium of good practices was an important guide for Member States in their relations with private security providers.

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said the striking paradox was the ever-widening gap between agreements and practices on the ground.  Ten years had elapsed since the Council had begun debating civilian protection.  When the Council had taken up the matter in January, the world had seen a brutal and flagrant aggression by Israel against Gaza.  Despite repeated demands by the Security Council and the international community, however, Israel had escalated its aggression, targeting the unarmed civilian population of Palestine.  Prohibition of movement, impeding the delivery of international aid, settlement activities and the demolition of homes were among Israel’s oppressive practices in violation of international law.  Its actions represented a deliberate violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as other international norms.

The Council had condemned all violations against civilians and called on all parties concerned to end such practices, he said.  It had also recognized the needs of civilians under foreign occupation, underlining the responsibility of the occupying Power in that regard.  It had also insisted on the need for safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to those in need, while also underlining the need to end impunity.  The Secretary-General, in his most recent report, had expressed grave concern about the high number of casualties in Gaza and the significant damage to property and infrastructure.  Yet Israel persisted in its policies, which perpetuated the suffering of civilians in Gaza.

He said the report of the investigation team dispatched by the Secretary-General documented Israeli violations, including the use of white phosphorous and damage to UNRWA premises.  All those practices represented war crimes, and the Security Council should implement the recommendations of the investigation and hold those responsible accountable.  The Council should explain whether Israel had implemented its demands.  Syria wished to know why double standards were applied and why Israel was exempt from fulfilling its obligations.  Were Palestinians not considered to be civilians like others around the world?  To give credibility to today’s debate, the Council should also exert pressure on Israel to uphold the rights of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan, he added, describing a series of unlawful Israeli actions there.

LUIS ENRIQUE CHAVEZ ( Peru), noting that the Expert Group had substantively promoted the treatment of issues relating to civilian protection in the Council, said its work was reflected in several resolutions.  The Group needed to focus especially on cases that had not yet been resolved, despite numerous efforts.  While the United Nations had been working to provide real protection to civilians, it was nonetheless alarming that the situation prevailing in 1999 was not substantively different from the current situation.  There were still violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in various conflicts, with civilians, particularly women and children, as victims.  The Council must handle effectively the complete implementation of resolutions 1296 (2000) and 1674 (2006), including the responsibility of all Member States to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Expressing support for programmes and policies promoting the prevention of violence, he called for implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) so that grave cases of sexual violence could be referred to the International Criminal Court.  There was a need to implement measures that would contribute substantially to civilian protection, including respect for international humanitarian law; the promotion of compliance, particularly on the part of non-State groups; broadening access for humanitarian workers; and ensuring accountability where the law was broken.  In the post-conflict period there was a need for action to strengthen institutions, the rule of law and stable economic conditions.  That could combat poverty and social exclusion, which were often at the root of conflicts.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said the question of humanitarian access remained a critical challenge for the Council and Member States.  The latter needed to increase their efforts to address constraint to humanitarian access and there was a clear need to streamline bureaucratic procedures in that regard, which could add to the costs and reduce the effectiveness of humanitarian operations.  It was also important for all parties, including non-State actors, to cooperate with humanitarian organizations to establish arrangements that would allow the safe passage of humanitarian workers and relief items to affected populations.  Another issue was the inclusion of civilian-protection tasks in peacekeeping mandates.  Guidelines and training to that end could help mission personnel understand how to effectively implement their protection mandates.

He said the Council must be more willing to consider country situations in which civilians were at risk.  Past experience had demonstrated that the Council accepted its responsibility to address the protection needs of civilians in such countries as Afghanistan, Sudan and Timor-Leste.  However, there was a need for greater consistency in the Council’s approach, as too often it appeared unwilling to address the plight of civilians in many internal armed conflicts.  Chapters VI, VII and VIII of the Charter provided the Council with adequate tools to make a difference, including targeted measures, international criminal justice mechanisms and authorization for the use of force.  What was lacking, at times, was the Council’s political resolve to use those tools to protect civilians.

MOHAMMED F. AL-ALLAF (Jordan), endorsing the recommendations made by Costa Rica on behalf of the Human Security Network, said that over the years, the Council had developed the main concepts on civilian protection, but a number of challenges still needed to be addressed.  They included the need to strengthen respect for international law by parties to conflict, including non-State groups; strengthening protection; facilitating humanitarian access; and ensuring accountability.

In the case of Gaza, the international community had failed to apply the main principles of protection, he said, pointing out that the suffering of Palestinian civilians in that territory continued even after the end of the conflict owing to restrictions imposed by Israel, which continued to prevent access for humanitarian aid and construction materials to rebuild infrastructure.  There should be no discriminatory or targeted attacks on civilians.  International humanitarian law determined the treatment of civilians not taking part in hostilities.  In the case of foreign occupation, the victims were always civilians.

Reaffirming that peacekeeping mandates should incorporate civilian protection, he said his country was satisfied that the report proposed that peacekeeping missions support countries hosting missions in order to create a climate of security.  Success in protecting civilians required clarity in the mandates adopted by the Council, support from the standpoint of resources, training and operational concepts.  The components of peacekeeping operations in support of civilians should not always be military in nature.  Jordan welcomed the input of the Expert Group.

GIAN LORENZO CORNADO ( Italy) said women and children bore the main brunt of sexual violence when used as a tactic of war.  Council resolution 1820 (2008) clearly stated that that was a matter of international peace and security.  Parties to conflict must therefore immediately and effectively put an end to sexual violence and take special measures to protect women and children.  Civilian protection should continue to be part of peacekeeping mandates and peacekeepers should be properly trained and equipped.

The concept of “robust peacekeeping” was not making its way in the Secretariat’s assessments and Council debates, he said, adding that his country supported the inclusion of civilian-protection clauses in peacekeeping mandates.  International criminal jurisdiction should be viewed increasingly as a complementary instrument in the suppression of international crimes.

The protection of civilians required further efforts to prevent the destabilizing accumulation of conventional weapons, he said, noting that his country was working for a legally binding arms trade treaty.  Italy was in the forefront of the fight against illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons.  The responsibility to protect implied that sovereignty brought special responsibilities and that Governments must protect their own populations.  Only when a Government was unable or unwilling to do so should the international community intervene.

JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO ( Nicaragua) said civilian protection should not be manipulated with a view to interfering in strictly internal affairs of States.  Unfortunately, there were many examples of such interference in the history of Nicaragua and Latin America.  The Council had been selective in applying the main principles of protection, for example in the case of Palestine.  The application of double standards inevitably undermined the Council’s reputation, leading to despair on the part of the people involved.

Regarding the activities of multinational coalitions or forces, it was important to develop mechanisms for monitoring them so that the euphemistic use of the term “collateral damage” disappeared from the news and justice could be applied.  Regarding the protection of civilians, it must be accomplished in accordance with the Charter and the guiding principles of peacekeeping, which included the consent of the host State.  Civilian protection could not be assured in a sustainable manner without a peace process involving the participation of all parties and enjoying the support of the countries concerned.

Peacekeeping missions should cooperate closely with the countries concerned and support them in protecting civilians, he said.  The painstaking work of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which had concluded its work yesterday, should serve as a lesson:  it should be clear that if mandates voted on by the Council were to be implemented, it was important to provide the missions concerned with all the resources required.  They should include funds for training and increasing the capacity of host countries.  Political crises that degenerated into armed conflict could not be resolved without tackling the root causes and promoting sustainable development.  Only then would civilian populations be safe.

LOTFI BOUCHAARA ( Morocco) said the existence of conflicts could be explained by many factors, among them the sometimes active, direct or indirect involvement of States in the region.  That was why the problem of good neighbourliness often constituted the key to any lasting solutions to ensure the protection of civilians.  The worsening of intra-State conflicts and armed rebellions was often caused by poverty and underdevelopment.  Fuelled by illicit trafficking in weapons and drugs, such conflicts often forced the displacement of civilians.  Civilian protection required integrated efforts, available resources, and clear and feasible mandates.  Priority should be given to the political process itself.  One word spelt out the best guarantee for the protection of civilians:  peace.

He said the instruments for civilian protection were reflected in the Geneva Conventions and other international instruments, as well as Council resolutions.  Despite the availability of those tools, however, the Palestinians continued to suffer enormously.  The people of Gaza had been subjected to violence, in violation of international humanitarian law, a situation which was being exacerbated by a blockade which deprived them of their most basic rights.  Light weapons were another factor contributing to the victimization of civilians, particularly in Africa.  Morocco therefore supported the development of international regulations for their importation and export.

Countries hosting refugees must give all possible support to efforts by the international community to facilitate their free repatriation, while also carrying out a transparent census of refugee populations, he said.  That approach to the protection of civilians should be preventive and must tackle the main causes of armed conflict.  Such a preventive approach must include sustainable development, poverty eradication, good governance and the promotion of democracy.

JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA ( Uruguay) said civilian protection should be addressed comprehensively, including through peacekeeping, promotion of the rule of law, political stability, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, post-conflict reconstruction, and social and economic development.  Women and children required special protection and, despite efforts undertaken, a lot of work remained to ensure their protection.  There was a need for greater attention to the reintegration of victims of grave violations, particularly victims of abuse and sexual exploitation.  Violations of clear obligations under international law, particularly against women and children, should be referred to the International Criminal Court.

He said any humanitarian response must be sustainable and take the development perspective into account.  Enhancing protection through more effective and better resourced peacekeeping constituted one of the five core challenges identified in the Secretary-General’s report.  The incorporation of protection activities into peacekeeping mandates was among the most significant of Council actions to that end.  Wider support for such mandates would create a deeper commitment among all actors involved in their implementation.  Troop-contributing countries whose task it was to implement them on the ground had very limited possibilities for participating in the decision-making process.  There was a need for clear guidelines, emanating from realistic and achievable mandates, and for appropriate resources.

ZACHARY MUBURI-MUITA ( Kenya) said that, while words had not matched actions on the ground, some achievement had been realized in the area of protection of civilians in armed conflict.  A few remaining challenges included civilian protection mandates.  Those mandates, used for some missions, remained largely undefined.  The Council must offer clear guidelines that underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach involving all components of a mission.  Available capacity and resources must also be ensured.  Also, humanitarian access was a fundamental prerequisite for life-saving assistance.  A secure environment must be provided to allow humanitarian workers access to civilians in need, including displaced persons.

He said sexual violence had turned into a tool of warfare.  While adoption of resolution 1820 (2008) had been a step in the right direction, a lot was still required to enhance its implementation.  There was a need to create “a culture of protection” in which Governments fulfil their responsibilities, armed groups respect the norms of international law and the private sector recognizes the impact of its commitments to countries in conflict.  The Council, the entire United Nations, as well as regional and international organizations were urged to act in a swift and decisive manner when civilians were threatened in armed conflicts.

MOHAMMAD ERFANI AYOOB (Afghanistan), noting that the Taliban and their allies showed an increasingly blatant disregard for human life in his country, said that in the first five months of 2009, UNAMA had counted 800 civilian deaths.  The Taliban had also stepped up its use of assassinations, human shields, school attacks, kidnappings and threats against those accused of “cooperating” with the Government or the international community.  When civilians became victims, however unintentionally, it undermined the people’s faith in the Government.  The best hope for the Afghan people was the continuing support of the international community, and Afghans were more aware of that than anyone.  Without international assistance and the international military presence, they would not have escaped the repression and brutality of the Taliban era and would not now have a better future in sight.

The safety of each person and preventing of deaths of innocent civilians were critically important for the Government of Afghanistan, which had raised that issue repeatedly with its friends and allies, he said.  Afghans should be made to feel that their safety was at the centre of attention.  He applauded the decisions by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to improve the rules of engagement in populated areas, minimize the use of air bombardment, and make human security a priority.  In addition, it was highly important that the international community do more on the professional training and equipping of the growing Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police so that the Government could take over more –- and eventually full –- responsibility for the protection of its citizens.  The main goal of the Government and its allies was to fight terrorism and bring about a better future for the Afghan people.

SURESH CHANDRA ( Sri Lanka) said the Secretary-General’s report suffered from selectivity of language and situations in dealing with different countries.  The situation in Sri Lanka, to which the report referred “with considerable factual inaccuracy in some places”, was one where a terrorist group had taken a large number of civilians hostages and used them as human shields.  The children of those civilians had been forcibly conscripted, suicide attacks had been launched on civilians, adults had been used for forced labour and a large portion of the food and medicines delivered to the civilians had been forcibly taken by the terrorists.

It was necessary to recognize the extraordinary challenges and new situations that constantly confronted elected Governments in dealing with such unrelenting groups, he said.  Sri Lanka’s recent experience showed how non-State actors in civilian garb used schools and hospitals for terrorist operations and deceived the world by blurring the distinction between civilian and military targets.  Non-State actors paid scant attention to international norms and did not feel bound by any legal framework.

As in most conflicts, especially those involving ruthless and unrelenting terrorist groups such as LTTE, the ending of the conflict had inevitably cost the loss of lives, property and national wealth, he said.  However, the Government was gratified that, due to the professionalism of its soldiers, there had been no cataclysmic scenario as some had predicted.  It was important to recognize that the efforts of the security forces had succeeded in bringing to safety hundreds of thousands of civilians from a terrible hostage situation.

Addressing the issue of illicit arms, which contributed to the spread of violence and terrorism, he said that while measures could be imposed on States legitimately engaged in protecting their civilian population from terrorists, albeit selectively, non-State actors such as terrorist groups had relatively easy access to illicit weapons.  There was also a need to recognize the legitimate role of the military in civilian protection.  The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies must support and assist Governments, and in doing so, be sensitive to the ground realities, including respect for the sovereignty of States.

The principle of unimpeded access for humanitarian personnel must be respected, but it could not disregard the State’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, he said, stressing that terrorists did not distinguish between military and humanitarian personnel in their attacks.  Another inevitable consequence of armed conflict was internal displacement, which armed groups used to exploit civilian populations, sometimes by hiding among them. 

Unfortunately, those ground realities were not considered by those who looked at civilian protection in isolation and applied generalizations, regardless of specific circumstances, he said.  “The challenges facing us are primarily of a practical nature, requiring more international cooperation and greater coordination between the United Nations bodies and Member States,” he added.  The Government of Sri Lanka reiterated that the framework that the Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka had agreed upon would be the basis for continued cooperation in the post-conflict period.

MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said civilians in armed conflict required immediate and unhindered humanitarian assistance to alleviate their suffering, and it was extremely deplorable that irresponsible acts against relief workers, humanitarian aid convoys and others engaged in humanitarian assistance to civilians continued to take place.  All parties to armed conflicts should adhere to international law, including the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol.

For Indonesia, the best protection from armed conflict was in its prevention, he continued, urging the Council to spare no efforts in that area.  The Council’s efforts to protect civilians merited wide support from regional and international actors alike.  By the same token, the Council should lend its full support to the efforts of regional organizations in addressing dire humanitarian situations.  To attain that objective, it was important to promote “the culture of protection” through regional and international organizations.

In the conduct of hostilities, the parties should do everything feasible to protect civilians and civilian objects, he said.  All the efforts to protect civilians must be founded on the tenets of human rights, security and development -– the three pillars of the United Nations.  Those three principles should be reflected in the next report of the Secretary-General, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary in November of the Council’s having placed civilian protection on its agenda.  The anniversary should also serve to maintain the momentum by strengthening the United Nations system, with Member States and other stakeholders working in a coordinated, coherent and comprehensive manner.

ALEXANDER LOMAIA ( Georgia) recalled that, last year, the citizens of his country had suffered a massive foreign military invasion, followed by the occupation of up to 20 per cent of its territory.  More than 130,000 citizens had been forced from their homes in a move branded “ethnic cleansing” by a major European intergovernmental body.  That horror continued.  Dozens of villages inside the occupied territory had been deliberately destroyed and tens of thousands of displaced Georgians were being prevented from returning to their homes.  That policy represented the third wave of ethnic cleansing, the first two having been carried out in Abkhazia, where 400,000 citizens of the pre-war population had either been killed or expelled.

He said the Russian occupying forces had blocked access of humanitarian aid to the occupied territories, another breach of international humanitarian law.  That humanitarian blockade had resulted in the turning of the occupied territory into a “black hole”, where people were deprived of basic human rights.  The Government of Georgia, as well as the whole international community, regretted the termination of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) due to the sole negative Russian vote.  The termination of that mandate was meant to reduce the level of protection in occupied Abkhazia and to create another obstacle to the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  To better address their needs, the presence of UNHCR, OCHA, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies should be enhanced inside the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala) said there was no doubt as to the importance of all the actions of the past decade, but the Secretary-General’s report revealed that the situation confronting civilians in current conflicts was depressingly similar to that prevailing in 1999.  Progress was relative, unless met with substantial improvements on the ground.  With regard to the five core challenges identified in the report, Guatemala wished to offer its firm support to that invigorated commitment and to be a part of the proposed culture of protection.

In seeking to ensure compliance, international efforts should not be limited to ensuring respect for legal obligations, but should also address the need to strengthen existing international law, he continued.  To promote compliance by non-State parties, outreach activities were needed to sensitize armed groups, as well as civil society, to the need to uphold the highest respect for civilians and international law.  Enhanced protection would depend on a broad scope of actions by the Council.

Supporting a multidimensional approach to all aspects of civilian protection through thematic, country-specific and group-specific considerations, he said its effectiveness would depend on such external factors as the allocation of adequate resources, the number of people on the ground, logistics and capacity.  Guatemala welcomed the annex to the report, which contained an analysis of restrictions to humanitarian access, and hoped its recommendations would soon turn into concrete measures.  Regarding accountability for violations, it was important to remember that the Council was not a juridical body.  Therefore, it should resort to enhancing international cooperation and mutual legal assistance for criminal matters, as recommended in the report.

In conclusion, he emphasized that primary responsibility for the protection of civilians fell to States, but they were equally responsible for seeking international assistance when they could not fulfil that basic duty.  In the coming years, both the General Assembly and the Security Council would have a prominent role to play in making that concept operational, while also continuing to improve the United Nations assistance structure.  The Council, and the international community as a whole, would be judged according to their capacity to protect the most vulnerable.

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said the many violations of humanitarian law over the last few years, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians, was a cause for grave concern.  There was an urgent need to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law.  A key concern was securing access for humanitarian assistance to those in need.  It was also necessary to ensure that those who violated international humanitarian law were held accountable.  Promoting respect for international humanitarian law required engaging non-State actors.  In that regard, Norway supported the holding of an Arrias Formula meeting to discuss the experiences of United Nations and non-governmental actors in engaging armed groups.

Noting that sexual violence and rape occurred every single day in armed conflict, she said those acts were often calculated tactics of war and should be treated as such.  The systematic use of rape had rightly been recognized as a war crime by both the Council and the International Criminal Court.  The adoption of resolution 1820 (2008) had ended the debate on whether or not sexual violence belonged on the Council agenda.  Asking the Council to use the most effective measures at its disposal, including targeted sanction, to make clear that sexual violence was unacceptable and that perpetrators would be held accountable, she expressed support for referring such crimes to the International Criminal Court and considering sanctions against Member States and non-State actors that perpetrated them.

PARK IN-KOOK ( Republic of Korea) said no violators of international humanitarian law should go unpunished.  When it was clearly established that there was no escape for a violator, compliance with international law would be enhanced accordingly.  Civilian protection was the primary responsibility of the parties to armed conflict and, in that connection, the Republic of Korea fully endorsed the Secretary-General’s emphasis on accountability for mass atrocities, as well as the responsibility of States to prosecute those suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Recognizing the responsibility of States, the Republic of Korea also wished to emphasize that the role of the International Criminal Court should be respected.  The proliferation and fragmentation of non-State armed groups also deserved special attention.

Sexual violence against women and girls was one of the most horrible forms of violence against civilians and must be stopped, he said, stressing also the importance of timely, safe and unhindered humanitarian access as a cardinal rule that should always be assured.  Humanitarian response should be driven exclusively by the humanitarian needs of the affected populations, irrespective of any political grounds.  Preventing access would only increase unnecessary civilian casualties, and non-State actors employing such a tactic should be held accountable.  Efforts to protect civilians should be an integral part of all peacekeeping missions.  The Republic of Korea welcomed the Council’s intention to include clear guidelines on civilian protection in peacekeeping mandates, and expected continuing efforts by the Council to define and elaborate protection mandates, strategies and plans of action.

JORGE VALERO (Venezuela), noting that armed conflicts were characterized by a multiplicity of factors requiring a comprehensive approach, said the relevant United Nations organs must develop prevention strategies to safeguard peace and protect civilians.  They must deal with such causes of armed conflicts as poverty, interventions by commercial companies, and the wishes of some countries for domination.  Venezuela had the responsibility to protect civilians displaced by the internal conflict in Colombia, many of whom had settled down in Venezuela and been integrated, while others had returned to Colombia.  They had been treated in strict compliance with international law and human rights.

That had not been the fate of many other peoples in the world, including the Palestinian people, he said.  The events in Gaza should not go unpunished, as that would encourage the perverse practice of selecting civilians as military targets.  Such practices must be the subject of the severest consideration by the Council and the “impunity syndrome” must be addressed.  The detention of children and women by parties to conflict in order to obtain information was another violation of the rights of civilians.  Primary responsibility for the protection of civilians resided with States, and the international community could play a constructive role in support of national efforts, always with respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of States.  Some countries wished to see the concept of responsibility to protect implemented without the required discussions.  The General Assembly, however, should discuss the concept and provide a consensus interpretation.

ALICE AGHENEBIT MUNGWA, Senior Political Affairs Adviser in the Office of the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, outlined the Union’s efforts to protect civilians in conflict, saying that, since its inception, the Union had established a major policy framework towards that end.  The African Union Peace and Security Council, the African Standby Force and early warning system were among the structures that had provisions in place for the protection of civilians.  The principles for comprehensive post-conflict recovery had also been set out by the Union.  African States were fully committed to playing their role in conflict settlement, and she called on the Council to continue lending its support to those efforts.

She described the Union’s vigorous system of special representatives and envoys to prevent conflict escalation.  Following the efforts of the African Union, with support of the Security Council, there was renewed hope among millions of civilians on the continent.  She was pleased with the emphasis placed on the protection of women and children today, as it was one of the Union’s priorities, as was the protection of youth in situations of conflict.  All of the Union’s components were focusing on addressing attacks against civilians in conflict, working with other actors in conducting fact-finding missions, and providing support for various peace initiatives.

Welcoming the Council’s work to improve the protection of civilians, she said that, sadly, despite the progress, serious gaps remained in the implementation in the field.  Over the past 10 years, extensive violence and death had been visited upon innocent civilians in Somalia, for example.  She thanked the Council for its efforts to address that conflict and called for continued support for the Union as it sought to prevent further escalation of that conflict.  She appreciated the United Nations support package for the African Union Mission in Somalia.  The Union was also in the process of establishing a mechanism to address the plight of internally displaced persons across the continent, and it had enhanced its early conflict resolution mechanisms.

In conclusion, she emphasized the importance of enhancing cooperation towards the protection of civilians, which needed to support and complement national efforts, taking into account the situation on the ground.  She hoped today’s debate would inspire the Council to enhance support for the peace efforts of organizations such as the African Union.  She also reiterated the need to address the issue of illegal circulation of small arms and light weapons, which exacerbated the situation of civilians in armed conflict.

VLADIMIR ZHEGLOV ( Russian Federation), reacting to the statement by the representative of Georgia, said that it had been Georgia itself that had unleashed aggression against the people of South Ossetia, which had resulted in massive human rights violations.  Hundreds of peoples had been killed and wounded, and tens of thousands had been displaced.  There was evidence of deliberate targeting of civilians.  The Georgian people had also been a victim of the policies of the President and feared the authorities’ repression, as illustrated by the fact that some 2,000 citizens of Georgia had asked to be registered as refugees in Russia.

He said there was no truth to allegations that the Russian Federation was occupying South Ossetia, or that there had been no humanitarian access to South Ossetia.  It was the Georgian leadership that was, in fact, trying to hinder humanitarian assistance to South Ossetia.  The crimes of the Georgian army should be properly evaluated.  Over the past two decades, the Georgian leadership had unleashed aggression against civilians and had committed many acts that could be classified as crimes.

Mr. HOLMES, responding to comments, welcomed the clear commitment to civilian protection expressed by the speakers, as well as the acknowledgement of the need to do much more in that regard.  The commitment to the Secretary-General’s recommendations and statements looking forward to the OCHA-DPKO report were heartening.

Turning to points of particular significance, he noted the concern expressed about the inclusion of particular situations in the report, as well as explanations that they should be seen as law enforcement or anti-terrorism operations.  He said that among the markers of armed conflict were involvement of organized parties and intensity and duration of conflict.  The situations mentioned in the report had, indeed, been marked by prolonged and intense engagement of armed forces, as well as population displacement and civilian casualties.  The motives did not affect that determination.

Responding to comments by the representative of Sri Lanka, he said that such a determination or inclusion in the report should not be seen as a judgement or a questioning of the entitlement of States to address terrorism, nor did it equate the parties in any way.  The report was attempting to take account of the situation on the ground, while stressing the need to ensure respect for national sovereignty and the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality.  Once the dispute reached the threshold of conflict, however, it must comply with international law.

He said he took seriously the points made by the representative of Israel, while not necessarily agreeing with them.  The short paragraph referred to could not be deemed to be comprehensive.  He went on to state that, while the report did not mention the rocket attacks against southern Israel, both he and the Secretary-General had condemned them.  As for the conduct of Hamas during the conflict, he was not in a position to verify the group’s alleged use of human shields, but that information had raised serious concerns.  The inquiry by the Human Rights Council was intended to clarify that issue, and it was regrettable that Israel had so far been unwilling to participate in that inquiry.

A number of speakers had expressed support for dialogue with non-State actors and the idea of an Arria formula meeting, he said, noting that others, on the other hand, had stressed the need to avoid legitimizing such groups.  The truth of the matter, however, was that it was, indeed, necessary to engage with those groups to improve the situation of civilians.  And finally, he noted the numerous calls for improved reporting and more assessment and monitoring of the Council’s mandate to improve civilian protection.

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