PLIGHT OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT REMAINS CONSIDERABLE,
GRAVE PROBLEM, UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL
Says Core Protection Principles Adopted by Council in 2002 Important Tool;
Success Will Be Determined by Number of People Protected by Swift, Decisive Action
NEW YORK, 20 June (UN Headquarters) -- Although much of the world’s attention was focused on Iraq, the plight of civilians in armed conflict remained a considerable and grave problem in many other parts of the world, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima told the Security Council this morning.
Briefing the Council, he said the past year had witnessed some of the more horrendous acts of violence carried out against civilians. Council missions to areas of conflict had proved their value by bringing international attention to situations where the lives of civilians had been at the utmost risk.
Mr. Oshima, who will conclude his term at the end of this month, said the Aide-Memoire adopted 15 March 2002 (S/PRST/2002/6) had proved to be an important tool in establishing a stronger common base of analysis and assessment on key protection requirements and responses within the United Nations system as a whole. It had also been used as a practical tool in the field to develop an active collaborative framework for protection in such countries as Burundi, Afghanistan and Iraq. So that it reflected the evolving needs of protection, he recommended that an update be presented to the Council at the next briefing on the issue in December.
Using the Aide-Memoire to highlight key protection concerns, Mr. Oshima reviewed a wide range of issues in specific areas of conflict, including the problem of restricted access for humanitarian workers; the widespread use of rape and other atrocities against women and girls; the need to separate civilians and combatants remained in refugee camps so that they did not become recruiting grounds for armed groups, in particular for the forcible recruitment of children; the general breakdown in security, law and order; disarmament, demobilization reintegration and rehabilitation of combatants; and internally displaced persons.
In conclusion, he said that the culture of protection “urges us to put the individuals in need of protection at the centre of our efforts. It is the millions of voiceless that require our attention and commitment”, such as the father who was too powerless to protect his family from brutal attack, the mother who had no access to medical care and was helpless to save her sick child, the young child faced with the daily trauma of war, and the teenage girl who had been brutally raped and might never fully recover from her injuries. “These are the people who are depending on us”, he said. “They will judge our success”, which will be determined by the number of people protected by swift and decisive action.
In the ensuing debate, speakers expressed support for the work of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on the issue, as the protection of civilians was at the very heart of United Nations credibility, but stressed the need for “mainstreaming” protection of civilians in armed conflict in United Nations activities. An integrated approach should include prevention of conflict, promotion of a culture of respect for human rights and eradication of impunity. They also emphasized the need to end impunity for perpetrators of crimes against civilians. The importance of educating the public regarding the provisions of international humanitarian law was also underlined.
Noting that more than 90 per cent of the victims of conflict were civilians, the representative of Germany drew attention to the fact that, in situations of failing States and terrorism, civilians were often the main target of attack. Therefore, all States must sign and ratify the core instruments regarding protection of civilians, including the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions, he said.
At the outset of the meeting, the President of the Council, Sergey Lavrov (Russian Federation), paid tribute to Ambassador Mamady Traoré (Guinea), who was attending the Council for the last time. He also noted that Mr. Oshima was concluding his work at the United Nations, and expressed deep appreciation for his work in addressing the growing need for humanitarian work in various areas of the world.
Mr. Traoré (Guinea) thanked the President for his kind words and expressed the hope that the unity of the Council, which had been put to the test severely during his presidency in March, would be further strengthened.
The representatives of Mexico, United Kingdom, Guinea, Syria, France, China, Pakistan, Chile, Cameroon, Spain, United States and the Russian Federation also spoke.
The meeting started at 10:40 a.m. and was adjourned at 12:40 p.m.
The Security Council met today to consider the question of the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
On 23 April 2001, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the Council that protecting civilians must become central to United Nations peacekeeping. Some encouraging recent developments included criminal prosecution of human rights violations, access to vulnerable populations, and the separation of civilians and armed combatants in refugee camps.
A presidential statement of 15 March 2002 (S/PRST/2002/6) identified 13 core objectives for protecting civilians in conflict situations: access to vulnerable populations; separation of civilians and armed elements in refugee camps; justice and reconciliation; security, law and order; disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation; small arms and mine action; training of security and peacekeeping forces; effects on women; effects on children; safety and security of humanitarian and associated personnel; media and information; natural resources and armed conflict; and the humanitarian impact of sanctions.
Following an open debate on the issue on 10 December 2002, in a presidential statement of 20 December (S/PRST/2002/41), the Council strongly condemned all attacks and acts of violence directed against civilians or other protected persons under international law and international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict. The Council emphasized the responsibilities of States to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of humanitarian law. It also recognized the needs of civilians under foreign occupation and stressed in that regard the responsibilities of the occupying Power.
Briefing by Under-Secretary-General
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, KENZO OSHIMA, said much of the world’s attention was focused on Iraq. The plight of civilians in armed conflict, however, remained a considerable and grave problem in many other parts of the world. Current years had witnessed some of the more horrendous acts of violence carried out against civilians. In the past year, Council missions to areas of conflict had proved their value by bringing international attention to situations where the lives of civilians had been at the utmost risk. Recent Council mission to Central Africa had provided a considerable impetus for addressing protection issues. In Côte d'Ivoire, the practical results of the Council’s increased engagement in the protection of civilians were enshrined in resolution 1464
He said the main emphasis of the Secretary-General’s 2001 report was to make the “culture of protection” a practical reality and had outlined three key approaches. The first approach was to develop a “road map” that established a shared commitment between Member States, the United Nations system and international organizations to a timetable for action. The second element was to establish a strong programme of dissemination and advocacy with Member States. The third element involved establishing a stronger common base of analysis, assessment and response within the United Nations system.
He said that within the Secretariat, an Implementation Group on the Protection of Civilians had been established, as well as a Member States Support Group on the Protection of Civilians. Both groups intended to complete their work towards the end of the year. The process of dissemination and advocacy with Member States had been undertaken through a series of regional workshops. Those workshops had proven to be an extremely useful basis for identifying the major regional concerns on the protection of civilians.
Also, in line with the need to keep the protection agenda current, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had organized a series of round tables since 2001. During the latest discussion in May, the application of protection principles to the impact of terrorism and counter-terrorism on civilian populations in armed conflict had been explored. While no general agreement had been reached on how to move the process forward, there was consensus on the need for counter-terrorism policies and measures to be undertaken, in accordance with recognized principles of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The Aide-Memoire, adopted by the Council in 2002, had proved to be an important tool in establishing a stronger common base of analysis and assessment on key protection requirements and responses within the United Nations system as a whole. It had also been used as a practical tool in the field to develop an active collaborative framework for protection in such countries as Burundi, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Restricted access remained the primary concern in most conflict areas, he said. In West Africa, hundreds of thousands of civilians could not be reached by humanitarian agencies. There were reports of widespread abuse, including rape and summary executions, as well as acts of reprisal against internally displaced persons by government forces, who accused them of collaboration with rebel groups. In the last few days, some 70,000 were concentrated in Monrovia’s centre in deplorable conditions. Immediate international intervention was required to stabilize the security situations, allow humanitarian agencies to assist the vulnerable and, thus, prevent a further deterioration in that most desperate of humanitarian situations.
The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory had further deteriorated over the past six months, he said, and he was concerned by recent policies of the Indonesian Government in Aceh, suggesting constraints on the delivery of international humanitarian assistance.
The widespread use of rape and other atrocities against women and girls was a brutally devastating weapon of war, Mr. Oshima continued. Using the example of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said women were punished as outcasts and were vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS. Strong cultural sensitivities made it even more difficult to address the issue in protection terms. The need to separate civilians and combatants remained one of the key protection challenges. The presence of combatants in refuge and internally displaced person camps drastically increased the vulnerability of civilians. Refugee camps in West Africa were used as recruiting grounds for armed groups, in particular, the forcible recruitment of children.
Recent weeks had shown that situations of armed conflict were invariably accompanied by a general breakdown in security, law and order, he continued. The desire for a quick restoration of security, law and order was the foremost concern of all Iraqis with whom he had met during his recent mission there. Looting and violent crimes had become persistent. Hospitals went unprotected, electrical and water sanitation plants had become open supply grounds for looters, and humanitarian assistance was held back.
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and rehabilitation of combatants was a complex challenge, but fundamental to the protection of civilians. The disarmament of combatants, including thousands of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was a key prerequisite to the protection of the civilian population. He called upon the Council to give serious consideration to more proactive disarmament measures aimed at curtailing violence against civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Safeguarding the security of its humanitarian personnel remained a key challenge to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners, he added. Recent months had witnessed ongoing threats and horrific attacks against humanitarian personnel in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, the occupied Palestinian territory, Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and the Sudan. He encouraged the Council mission to West Africa to stress to the parties the obligation to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and to ensure that those responsible for the attacks were promptly brought to justice. The mission must also demand, as a matter of urgency, the safe return of missing United Nations and non-governmental organization workers in Liberia.
There had been three significant developments concerning the protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, he said. Last July, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) had adopted a plan of action which established six core principles of minimum standards of behaviour expected of all United Nations civilian staff members. Peacekeeping missions had started to incorporate those issues in their rules. Also, several Member States had complemented the United Nations policy by formally adopting policies requiring incorporation of the six core principles into their funding agreements with operational partners.
While the promising peace processes in Angola and the Sudan had allowed humanitarian assistance to reach most internally displaced persons, generally internally displaced persons remained the group that had the least access to protection and humanitarian aid, he continued. In Colombia, over decades of conflict, an estimated 1.3 million civilians had been forced to flee. The current “anti-terrorist” measures must not restrict humanitarian access or call into question the civilian character of the population in target areas.
The framework for the protection of civilians was now well established within the United Nations, he said. The Aide-Memoire was becoming a regular point of reference for the Council in drafting mandates of peace operations. By bringing together the mandates and skills of departments and agencies across the United Nations system and beyond, the document had already contributed to a more effective and coherent humanitarian response. He recommended that an update of that Aide-Memoire be presented to the Council in December.
However, more support was required to facilitate the incorporation of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement into national legislation. The recognized norms and principles of international law, in particular, the Geneva Conventions and the 1951 Refugee Convention, need to be fully respected and implemented.
In conclusion, he said that the culture of protection “urges us to put the individuals in need of protection at the centre of our efforts. It is the millions of voiceless that require our attention and commitment -- it is the father who is too powerless to protect his family from brutal attacks; the mother who has no access to medical care and is helpless to save her sick child; the young child who wakes up each morning faced with the trauma of war and violence and a life without a future; the teenage girl who has been brutally raped and may never fully recover from the internal injuries she has suffered”.
“These are the people depending on us”, he said. “They will judge our success” which will be determined by the number of people protected by swift and decisive action.
CARLOS PUJALTE (Mexico) highlighted the importance of consolidating activities to protect civilians in armed conflicts. Undoubtedly, the Council had a responsibility in that respect. An integral approach that needed to be taken should include prevention of conflict, promotion of a culture of respect for human rights and eradication of impunity. Civilian victims in armed conflicts were primarily women, children and older persons. As rape, abuse, sexual violence and forced recruitment of children were becoming more widespread, it was important to address those threats. Because of the importance of the subject, he urged the Secretary-General to move to an earlier date presentation of his next report on the matter, which was scheduled to come out next June, so that the Council could better evaluate the situation.
The Council also needed to be informed about progress made in strengthening cooperation among various departments of the United Nations and the parties involved, he continued. It was important to ensure observance of the principles of international humanitarian law. In that respect, at the macro-level, the United Nations and Member States should publicize the issues involved. It was not enough for States to join international conventions and treaties, if those whom they intended to protect were unaware of them. For that reason, the workshops organized to disseminate information on the matter were particularly important. He also highlighted the need to ensure unrestricted access of humanitarian organizations to the zones of conflict and to the vulnerable populations.
He said that his delegation had presented a draft resolution on the protection of civilian personnel. He appreciated the input of Mr. Oshima and his staff to the work on that text. Once a conflict was over, it was essential to promote confidence-building measures, including disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Also, violations of international humanitarian law must not go unpunished. Establishment of the International Criminal Court represented an important step forward in that regard. He was convinced that once its universality was achieved, the Court would be an important tool in countering the culture of impunity. Nobody was above the law, and nobody could escape it. Mexico would continue to support efforts to protect civilians in conflict.
JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) said that his country had always placed emphasis on mainstreaming the issue of civilians in conflict. In that respect, the United Kingdom was trying to identify where policy links could be achieved to secure closer relationships between protection of civilians and peacekeeping policy. The Aide-Memoire was an important tool, and he wanted the United Nations to identify cross-cutting ways of achieving its goals, responding to the Council’s emphasis on the matter. He supported proposals to update the Aide-Memoire in the coming months.
The scope, shape and resources of peacekeeping operations should take into account the need to protect civilians, as well, he said. Following the briefing, he wanted to know if OCHA could point out any improvements in mainstreaming the issue of civilians in the field, including gender mainstreaming. As for the workshops on the protection of civilians, he wanted to know about their outcome, particularly in view of any lessons to be learned from the experience, to date. He also mentioned the need for the Council to work together with other parts of the United Nations system.
MAMADY TRAORE (Guinea) said that in the report to the Council in December, the Secretary-General had outlined the main measures that needed to be undertaken for the protection of civilians and the main dangers that threatened them. He reiterated his delegation’s proposal regarding establishment of a multitask group, which could coordinate efforts in that respect. He appreciated the efforts undertaken by the United Nations in order to prevent complex emergency situation, whose main victims were civilians. Recent workshops were very important in that respect. The efforts of the United Nations had established a frame of reference on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Also, the dangers that jeopardized humanitarian work needed to be addressed. He condemned acts of violence against humanitarian workers and wanted to see perpetrators punished.
GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany) said, despite impressive progress within the United Nations system, there was no reason for complacency, as had been shown by the mass killings of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Without secure access to areas of crises, there was no way of delivering humanitarian assistance. More than 90 per cent of the victims of conflict were civilians, and women and children were most severely affected. There was no sign that that trend was abating.
He said in asymmetric conflicts, such as in situations of failing States and terrorism, civilians were often the main target of attack. The Council had said often that it was responsibility of the belligerents to protect civilians. In that regard, all States must sign and ratify all core instruments, including the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions. However, the United Nations, and the Council in particular, must send a strong message to belligerents that the protection of civilians was of the highest priority. Only mainstreaming the subject in all activities of the United Nations would ensure that efforts in that regard would bear fruit.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said the importance of the question stemmed from the fact that the overwhelming proportion of victims of armed conflict were civilians and that armed conflicts displaced civilians in enormous numbers. The United Nations had achieved progress in the matter, but the objective required the political will of the international community and its institutions. The protection of civilians in armed conflict must be considered imperative in the work of the United Nations in the coming years.
The Middle East region was the clearest example of the suffering of civilians, he said. The international community had failed, so far, to protect the Palestinian people. Over the last 18 months, there had been more than 2,000 victims. Closing Palestinian towns and villages and preventing the delivery of supplies and medicines to Palestinians contributed to the suffering. Those practices also took place in the occupied Syrian Golan. The Fourth Geneva Convention must be respected strictly in the Palestinian occupied territories, the Syrian Golan and other areas of conflict.
MICHEL DUCLOS (France) said that many situations highlighted the importance of the matter under discussion. In Iraq, for example, it was important that the occupying Power comply with the need to protect civilians. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the need to protect civilians, including refugees, was a major issue. The situation in Liberia was a source of concern. There may be some confusion regarding the role of peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance operations in protecting civilians. In both cases, the objectives were the same, but it was important not to confuse the two types of operations.
Respective responsibilities needed to be allocated to various bodies within their scope of competence, he said. Humanitarian personnel paid a high cost for fulfilling their noble mission. It was shocking to see that those who wanted to assist the most vulnerable were themselves subjected to violence. Perhaps the Council needed to issue a reminder regarding the obligations of every party to a conflict to protect humanitarian workers.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that speakers before him had covered many of the points he wanted to make. Protection of civilians involved efforts on many fronts, and international agencies needed to work in synergy towards that goal. It was gratifying to know that relevant recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report were being implemented and that guidelines for the protection of civilians were being finalized.
MASOOD KHALID (Pakistan) said, in view of the proliferation of armed conflicts, one could hardly overemphasize the importance of activities of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and more strenuous efforts were needed to further strengthen its activities. In the near future, the Council could consider making an analytical study of Secretary-General’s recommendations to identify the reasons for the delay in their implementation. The workshops that OCHA organized should be converted from ad hoc programmes into a global programme of action, emphasizing countries and regions that were crisis prone. The training and awareness workshops should have concrete follow-up, and measures should be taken to enable countries to have their own programmes for capacity-building, comparable to what was done in the matter of natural disasters.
Most importantly, he said, there was a need for strict application of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts. He drew attention to his own region, where in Kashmir there was a blatant disregard of international humanitarian law and massive violations of human rights perpetrated by the occupying Power, which had acerbated the suffering of the civilian population. In conclusion, he said that OCHA needed to be provided with the finances and human resources to carry out its mandate.
HERALDO MUNOZ (Chile) said that the protection of civilians was at the very heart of United Nations credibility. It was expected that the Organization would protect people in crises. Otherwise, there would be a perception that the United Nations was unable to carry out such a priority. For that reason, his country was very interested in participating in the network of human security. Of course, there was a State dimension to security, but it was important to remember that conflicts had an impact on human beings, as well. Thus, the concept of human security was directly related to the responsibilities of the Organization.
One aspect of the problem was that, lately, weapons were easily available to armed groups, he said. Also, it was not only that the victims were vulnerable in armed conflicts -– increasingly, they were targeted in situations of war. To stop impunity in cases of humanitarian crime, it was important to ensure that perpetrators were brought before the courts, and emphasis must be placed on punishment.
IYA TIDJANI (Cameroon) said that he deeply appreciated the efforts of the United Nations to ensure the protection of civilians in conflict. Civilians were the majority of casualties in conflicts, and strengthening their protection was essential for peace and security around the world. It was necessary to adopt a more systematic approach to the issue. Mr. Oshima had presented an eloquent list of concerns, and the international community was responsible for putting measures in place to protect civilians.
The efforts made by the OCHA to implement the Aide-Memoire, which was one of the major instruments for the protection of civilians, included the organization of workshops to advocate the issues involved, he said. It was important to identify specific difficulties on the ground. He agreed with France on the need to adopt a more rational approach to determining each actor’s responsibilities. It was also important to educate the public regarding the provisions of international humanitarian law. Impunity could not be tolerated. Separation of civilians from combatants, restoration of the rule of law and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts were among the key objectives for the protection of civilians. Enhanced cooperation was needed to implement those objectives.
ROMAN OYARZUN (Spain) said, thanks to the Secretary-General’s reports and recent OCHA workshops, the culture of protection had gained ground in society. That progress was not enough, however, and efforts must be doubled to protect civilians in armed conflict.
The limited humanitarian assistance access to areas of conflict was one of the most crucial issues to be dealt with, he said. Lack of access meant that vulnerable groups were left at the mercy of abusers. Thousands of people were deprived of international assistance and must live under the worst horrors of war. He was also deeply concerned about violence and atrocities against women and children, and the sexual exploitation and abuses of humanitarian personnel. Mechanisms must be created so that those crimes would not go unpunished.
Disarmament was vital to avoid new outbreaks of violence in post-conflict situations, he said. Separation of civilians and combatants was one of the most important challenges, as the most numerous cases of child recruitment took place in situations where such separation did not occur. He expressed concern about the tragedy of internally displaced persons, as the international community had not been able to address the matter sufficiently. It was very difficult to reach that most vulnerable group with humanitarian assistance. All energy must, therefore, be applied to attenuate their suffering.
GORDON OLSON (United States) said his country had long believed that safeguarding civilians in armed conflict was at the heart of the United Nations Charter. The information provided would prove useful to the Council in future deliberations. General principles of providing access, separation of combatants and civilians, law and order, and others were fundamental to protection of civilians. His country fully supported further developing the road map.
Speaking in his national capacity, President of the Council SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation) said that he supported the efforts of Mr. Oshima and his colleagues to develop specific steps to implement the existing decisions to protect civilians in armed conflict. He was prepared to further consider the ideas put forward today. No matter what new instruments were developed, no matter how much the need to comply with international humanitarian law was stressed, nothing could be achieved without taking into account the specifics of each particular situation. The United Nations had accumulated significant experience in that respect, including in Angola, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Balkans. He was sure that the appointment of a Special Representative for Iraq would facilitate the goals of protecting civilians and international humanitarian personnel in that country. The tragic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories also required attention. Quite a few ideas were being circulated in that respect.
His final point was that civilian populations were suffering not only from conflict, but also from terrorism, which was an extreme form of attack on civilian populations, he said. Terrorists saw civilians as a target and it was necessary to fight them without mercy. The issue of protecting civilians had been widely discussed at the United Nations, and the General Assembly had adopted a resolution last year, at the initiative of Mexico, on protection of human rights when conducting anti-terrorist operations. At the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights, Russia, for its part, had proposed developing a codex on the protection of human rights. The main thrust of that proposal had been reflected in the relevant resolutions of the session.
In closing remarks, Mr. OSHIMA, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, thanked Council members for their continued commitment to the protection-of-civilians agenda.
He welcomed the suggestion to move the Secretary-General’s report on the issue forward and stressed that his Office stood ready to provide country-specific briefings to the Council and bilateral briefings to delegations. He also welcomed a suggestion to go from occasional workshops to a more systematic programme and promised to look into the matter, including the financial and human resource implications. Reports on recent workshops in Accra, Ghana, and in Fiji would be shared with Council members upon their imminent completion.
He acknowledged the importance of mainstreaming the issue in United Nations activities. A joint training programme on the subject had been established with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs, and he welcomed members of Council missions to participate. Collaborative inter-agency protection frameworks in the field had also been established, and the Aide-Memoire was being implemented in a practical way in countries such as Burundi, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Member States Support Group had been established in order to better implement recommendations put forward by the Secretary-General, he said. A revised and refined road map would be submitted to the Council in December, as well as an updated Aide-Memoire.
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