Press Releases

    11 December 2002


    NEW YORK, 11 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement delivered today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the meeting of the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:

    I am very grateful to you for chairing this important meeting on how to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This question is among the most urgent, and most important, for this Council and for the United Nations as a whole as we seek to address the effects of conflict around the world.

    It is urgent because civilians account for the vast majority of victims of armed conflicts today. Millions of them are directly targeted, displaced from their homes, subject to appalling human rights abuses, and denied assistance in times of war.

    And it is urgent because we know that strengthening the protection of civilians is a key to achieving a sustainable peace. We are now in a position to learn from our experiences and take effective, practical measures to strengthen their protection. The question is whether we show the will and the determination to make protection an inescapable duty for all parties in conflicts.

    I know that Colombia is a country in which the protection of civilians remains a key challenge. The civilian toll has been terrible, and its effects can be seen in every aspect of civil life in Colombia. But Colombia is not alone in facing that challenge. No part of the world has been immune from this scourge.

    It is therefore fitting to have this discussion on Human Rights Day -- a day on which we reaffirm our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and seek new ways of strengthening respect for individual rights and freedoms. There exists an unambiguous linkage between improving the security of the individual person and securing and sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict.

    The work of the Security Council over the past three years on this issue has provided us with an all-important conceptual framework. We need to continue this work in formulating new policies, especially in today’s fast-changing environment. But what we need most of all is practical action and a clear path from policy to implementation.

    We need to move forward and develop a more systematic approach to this issue. We need to build a solid structure through which analysis and policy, and an awareness of best practices, will translate immediately into practical action that makes a difference in people’s lives. In this report I have tried to show ways in which this may be done, and to encourage the Council to move decisively towards practical implementation.

    Since my last report 18 months ago, we have seen many important developments, including the beginnings of a real if fragile transition from war to peace in a number of long-standing conflicts. The transitions must be sustained. And in many of them, greater emphasis on the protection of civilians may prove decisive.

    The protection of civilians does not stop with a ceasefire, but must continue in the immediate post-conflict phase. Ensuring that they receive needed humanitarian assistance, ending and reversing forced displacement, tackling the scourge of landmines and small arms, and beginning processes of justice and reconciliation: these are not only worthy efforts in themselves, but they are also the building blocks for peace and recovery.

    I thank the members of the Council for their important work in this area. Success in this endeavour is essential to achieving the most fundamental aim of this Organization: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

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