24 April 2001


NEW YORK, 23 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Security Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in New York on 23 April:

We meet today to continue the debate on a subject of vital importance: the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Civilians account for an estimated 75 per cent of war victims. The ongoing human suffering inflicted by conflicts from Afghanistan to Angola, and from the Middle East to the Great Lakes and elsewhere, are daily reminders of the need for a new and concerted response at the highest political levels: from governments, which bear the primary responsibility for protecting civilians; from the Security Council; and from all others who can help cover the considerable distance still to be travelled if the international community is to find truly effective solutions in this area of acute human need.

I would like to stress at the outset how glad I am that this Council has invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to address this meeting. Looking at the protection of civilians from the perspective of human rights can help some very useful steps that the Security Council may wish to consider. Mrs. Robinson will speak to you in greater detail along these lines. My own remarks will concentrate on a number of other key areas arising from the Secretary-General's report.

Wars today are often fought not between sovereign countries or with regular armies, but between different religious, ethnic and political groups and irregular armed groups. In these conditions, civil defence forces, vigilante groups and militias often prey on civilians for their own private and destabilizing purposes, and in some cases specifically target them. Given such circumstances, the protection of civilians must become a regular and central aspect of United Nations peace operations, and should be reflected in the mandates and design of such operations.

The second report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict is now before you for consideration. As you know, the first protection report was issued in September 1999 and contained 40 recommendations for action. The new report complements the first report's findings and takes a closer look at current trends in a few areas that are of concern to the international community, or have shown some encouraging developments in recent years. Among these areas, I wish to mention three:

First is the criminal prosecution of violations of international criminal law. We have recently witnessed remarkable progress -- both domestically and internationally -- in efforts to end the culture of impunity for those who have committed serious assaults on the civilian population during an armed conflict. The Secretary-General's new report urges the speedy ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and calls for reliable funding of the International Criminal Tribunals and in particular the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The report also supports the use of truth and reconciliation commissions, calls on Member States to enforce international law, and opposes the use of amnesties for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Second is the question of access to vulnerable populations. Access to affected civilian populations is the prerequisite for any meaningful action and impact on the ground. The Security Council has a pivotal role in this respect, particularly in engaging with all parties to a conflict, including armed groups not controlled by a recognized State. Operations mandated by the Council, such as those in Angola, Bosnia and Sierra Leone, have been handicapped by their inability to establish effective contact with such groups. Renewed efforts are needed in this area, given the nature of today's conflicts.

A third priority must be the separation of civilians and armed elements in refugee camps or other settlements where displaced persons gather. Recent fighting in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia for instance has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. There, as elsewhere, mixed communities often find themselves under the control of unaccountable armed elements, who may further terrorize already vulnerable civilians, divert needed aid to fighters, and establish bases for cross-border attacks, all of which threatens even greater destabilization and even regional wars. The Secretary-General's report underlines the urgent need for the international community to assist already burdened host States in separating armed elements from displaced civilians at the earliest possible time in order to preserve the civilian character of asylum, to prevent further deterioration of security conditions and to deny such groups a haven for their activities.

Last September, the Member States of the Organization pledged in the Millennium Declaration to expand and strengthen the protection of civilians in complex emergencies. However, many of the main recommendations of the Secretary-General's first report have gone unimplemented. The Secretary-General hopes this meeting will help move from words to deeds, and from intention to implementation. The Secretariat stands ready to report on progress made in carrying out the 54 recommendations made in both of the Secretary-General's reports, and to devise clear steps to act upon these recommendations. I wish you all success in these very important deliberations and I thank you very much Mr. President.

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