Secretary-General, in Security Council Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Cites ‘Fundamental Failure’ By Parties to Respect Obligations

11 November 2009

Secretary-General, in Security Council Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Cites ‘Fundamental Failure’ By Parties to Respect Obligations

11 November 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, in Security Council Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed

Conflict, Cites ‘Fundamental Failure’ By Parties to Respect Obligations

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the open debate of the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, in New York, today, 11 November:

I thank the Government of Austria for convening this ministerial debate to mark the tenth anniversary of the Security Council’s engagement on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  I commend Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger for his leadership.

Over the past decade, this issue has come to occupy a prominent place on the Council’s agenda.  We see this in the biannual open debates; we see it in the thematic resolutions on the subject; and we see it in the Council’s adoption of an aide memoire and the convening of an informal expert group.

Most importantly, the protection of civilians increasingly permeates the country-specific deliberations and decisions of the Council.  This has raised global awareness and advanced what is, after all, a key part of this Organization’s cardinal mission:  saving and protecting people from the horrors of armed conflict.

Not so long ago, many Member States questioned whether internal armed conflict posed a threat to international peace and security.  Today, the regional dimensions and destabilizing effects of internal conflicts have been firmly recognized.  Not so long ago, Member States questioned whether the United Nations Charter contemplated the protection of civilians as a legitimate subject of a peacekeeping mandate.  Today, the Council readily demonstrates its willingness to address the protection needs of civilians in situations on its agenda.

This is a welcome evolution.  However, even conflicts that are not perceived by all Council members to have implications for international peace and security could have a dramatic impact on civilians, and therefore warrant Council attention.  We must find ways to better address these situations as well.

The past 10 years have seen some major conflicts come to an end.  But others have persisted, and new ones have broken out.  In old and new alike we see appalling levels of human suffering and a fundamental failure of the parties involved to respect their obligations to protect civilians.  This failure demands a reinvigorated commitment by the Security Council, Member States, and the United Nations to the principles of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law.  It requires the Council to guard against the perception that only some situations are of concern.  And in practical terms, it requires us to meet five core challenges. 

First, we need to strengthen compliance by all parties to conflict with international law, particularly in the conduct of hostilities.  This means access to conflict zones and reporting on the way conflicts are conducted.  This in turn means making better use of existing instruments and machinery.

But the Council may also wish to consider ways of improving what we do and how widely we do it.  At the moment, under mandates from this Council, we are able to examine and report on the impact of armed conflict on children and, soon, on sexual violence perpetrated against women wherever there is conflict and without additional procedural hurdles.  This has been a welcome step.  I now welcome your thoughts on what we have learned from these mechanisms that could be applied to the broader task of protecting civilians.

Second, we need more consistent engagement with non-State armed groups in order to ensure their compliance and our safe access to populations in need.  Member States must accept the fundamental necessity of such engagement.  Third, peacekeeping missions must be enabled to discharge their protection mandates more effectively.  Protection mandates place very distinct and enhanced responsibilities on peacekeepers, and re-shape the requirements of our missions.  Most obviously, protection mandates can involve not only the static protection of a line separating forces, but the active policing of territory.  This means improved operational guidance, training, equipment and appropriate resources, especially those that allow our forces mobility. 

In this connection, I welcome the recently completed independent study on the implementation of protection mandates by United Nations peacekeeping missions commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).  I call on the Council and Member States, including troop- and police-contributing countries, in cooperation with the Secretariat, to consider these recommendations for implementation.

Fourth, humanitarian actors must have better -- and safer -- access to civilians in need of assistance.  The Council must be prepared to respond when such access is not forthcoming.  Last but not least, we must enhance accountability for individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious violations of international human rights law.  There is a need for consistency and perseverance in this regard.  Through criminal prosecutions and other resolute action, we must hold to account those who violate the law –- the laws, I should stress, that we have worked so hard to put in place.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of the Security Council’s consideration of the protection of civilians, let us not dwell too long on what has been achieved, significant though that is.  We must focus on the future -- and on how to ensure more effective protection of civilians in armed conflict.

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