Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
6427th Meeting (AM & PM)
IN PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT, SECURITY COUNCIL REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PROTECTION
OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT, ADOPTS UPDATED AIDE MEMOIRE ON ISSUE
Senior Humanitarian Affairs, Peacekeeping, Human Rights Officials Brief
Delegations Say Conflict Parties Must Respect International Humanitarian Law
The Security Council had before it the Secretary-General’s eighth report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2010/579), which states that civilians, whether as the intended targets of attack or incidental victims of the use of force, continued to account for the majority of casualties in conflict, an issue requiring the Council’s “unstinting and rigorous” attention.
The Council has established a comprehensive framework through which to pursue more effective protection on the ground, the report says, and to that end, the aide memoire on the protection of civilians must be systematically applied and the informal expert group on the protection of civilians used to inform the revision of peacekeeping and other mandates. For United Nations country teams and other missions, more effective coordination and strategy setting, along with regular monitoring and candid reporting to the Council, were needed.
The report also covers work to be done to meet the five core challenges to ensuring more effective civilian protection, as identified in the previous report: enhancing compliance by parties to conflict with international law; enhancing compliance by non-State armed groups; enhancing protection by United Nations peacekeeping and other relevant missions; enhancing humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability for violations of the law.
In the area of enhancing compliance by non-State armed groups, the report notes that, whether engagement was sought with armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the occupied Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Yemen or elsewhere, “experience shows that lives can be saved by engaging armed groups in order to seek compliance with international humanitarian law”.
The report cites research that identifies incentives for such groups to comply with international norms to protect civilians, the primary of which is the group’s own self-interest, which has military, political and legal aspects. “Engagement with armed groups for humanitarian ends is clearly possible and, indeed, necessary in order to negotiate safe humanitarian access to those in need,” the report says.
Yet, the Council’s ongoing discussions on the issue has yet to translate into broad acceptance of such engagement or, moreover, into a willingness to refrain from adopting measures that impede or criminalize engagement with non-State armed groups. Situations in Somalia and Gaza are cited in that regard, as is domestic legislation in the United States criminalizing various forms of material support to prohibited groups.
In sum, the Secretary-General stresses the need for a comprehensive approach towards improving compliance with the law by non-State armed groups, which would involve an increased understanding of the motivations of specific groups. More immediately, he urges States to consider the potential humanitarian consequences of their legal and policy initiatives and avoid measures that inhibit humanitarian actors.
CAROLINE ZIADE (Lebanon) said compliance with existing protection standards was “far from satisfactory”. The primary responsibility for protection rested with the concerned Government, which, through national institutions, had the duty to provide physical security for their citizens. Occupying Powers were obliged to protect populations under foreign occupation and, in that regard, she underlined the implications of sustained violations of international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the “appalling” humanitarian situation of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Protection was most successful when part of a larger strategy, and she called the development, by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, of an operational concept and framework to guide preparation of protection strategies as a “good step in the right direction”.
MERON REUBEN (Israel) expressed his Government’s deep commitment to protecting civilians. The international community continued to face difficult operational, humanitarian and moral dilemmas in ensuring civilians’ protection in armed conflict. Foremost among those was the new phenomenon of asymmetric warfare, which blurred the distinction between combatants and civilians under the laws of armed conflict. In the Middle East, regular armies were fighting terrorists or guerrilla organizations that deliberately operated within, and in the vicinity of, civilian populations. That had produced a “horrific” transformation of the civilian landscape, with religious institutions becoming rocket launch pads and hospitals being used as weapons storage facilities. He urged the Council to seriously consider the nature of such warfare.
In the Gaza Strip, he continued, Hamas launched rockets at Israeli towns from densely populated areas, as had been seen last week. In Lebanon, Hizbullah deployed weapons and built military infrastructure within the fabric of civilian life, endangering the Lebanese population. Israel, fully in conformity with its international obligations, sought to protect civilians while it pursued terrorists hiding among them. Israel employed many independent oversight mechanisms and placed a humanitarian affairs officer in every combat unit above the battalion level to minimize civilian casualties. Any candid assessment of the challenges involved in protection must balance several key principles, such as distinction and proportionality, military necessity and humanity. Israel’s efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance in Gaza included relaxing restrictions imposed on the passage of civilian goods into that area.
BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said the important issue of protecting civilians in armed conflict could not be approached in a selective or biased way. The protection of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese civilians living under Israeli occupation was an essential part of the issue at a time when “grave violations” affecting those populations continued as result of “barbaric Israeli aggression”, continued settlement construction and the ongoing blockade of Gaza. The international community’s attempts to make progress in implementing humanitarian principles must not only be applied to the weak, but also to the strong. Indeed, the inability to put an end to the Israeli actions and the seeming “immunity” of that country had enabled Israel to continue to disregard international law.
Turning to the occupation of the Syrian Golan, he said Israel refused to accept international resolutions, including Council resolution 497 (1981), which considered Israel’s occupation of Syrian Golan “null and void”. When would the Council finally demand that Israel implement its resolutions? he asked, saying that question must be tackled when addressing the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict.
MOHAMMAD SARWAR MAHMOOD (Bangladesh) …
… In closing, he said the total disregard for humanitarian and international laws committed by occupation forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was a disgrace. The occupier State must comply with resolution 1860 (2009).
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For information media • not an official record