Despite recent strides in strengthening the ability of the United Nations to protect civilians, conflicts around the world were still characterized by a “prevailing disrespect” for the core principles of international humanitarian law, top officials warned the Security Council today. Briefing the Council ahead of a day-long open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict topic, they said grave challenges remained in each of the discussion’s focus areas: enhancing compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law; ensuring humanitarian access to affected populations; and strengthening accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
“Protecting civilians demands timely political action and prevention,” emphasized Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose latest report on the topic (document S/2012/376) was the subject of many references by speakers. That meant helping Governments — with whom lay the primary responsibility for protection — to build the necessary capacity, and might include a presence or pre-emptive action by uniformed peacekeepers, he added, pointing out that civilian protection remained at the core of nine current United Nations peacekeeping operations. Meanwhile, creating the new mandate of the United Nations Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as strengthening that of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), offered opportunities to enhance the Organization’s ability to protect civilians.
Noting that the meeting was taking place on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day — and on the tenth anniversary of the bombing of Baghdad’s Canal Hotel, which took the lives of 22 United Nations colleagues — he went on to pay tribute to those who protected, fed, sheltered, educated, healed and assisted millions of people around the world, even in situations of danger and adversity. “It is an outrage that our colleagues and partners should be attacked for providing these essential services,” he said, urging all to be “inspired by the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of humanitarian workers everywhere”.
Delivering the next briefing, Philip Spoerri, Director for International Law and Cooperation at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that, despite considerable progress on the normative and policy fronts, the reality on the ground continued to reflect the dire lack of protection. Many of today’s armed conflicts were increasingly protracted and increasingly complex, he noted. “The result, simply put, is spiralling human suffering.” However, “neither the complexity and intractability of many of today’s conflicts, nor the burden of the global economic crisis, can be an excuse for States to ignore their primary responsibility to the people affected by these conflicts”, he warned, underlining that the most critical civilian-protection challenge was enhancing respect for international humanitarian law on the part of States and non-State armed groups.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized that providing humanitarian access and ensuring accountability for violations of global human rights and humanitarian law were not only moral imperatives, but also legal requirements. Reviewing efforts undertaken in various conflict zones around the world — including support for the Commission of Inquiry on Syria — she reiterated her call on that country’s Government to grant the Commission full access. She also repeated her call for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which would “make clear to all actors that they will be held to account for their failure to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law”.
Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, warned that humanitarian access was often severely constrained owing to interference, violence and restrictions on the movement of goods. She echoed particular concern over the situation in Syria, where insecurity, coupled with bureaucratic constraints and other limitations, prevented aid from reaching all those in need. Ensuring accountability for violations of international law also remained a serious challenge, she said, adding that the primary obligation to investigate and prosecute them lay with national authorities. However, the relatively small number of prosecutions at that level underscored the need for the United Nations and Member States to provide increased financial and technical support.
Following the briefings, more than 50 speakers took the floor to decry attacks on civilians and humanitarian personnel, while paying tribute to United Nations staff who had perished in the 2003 Baghdad bombing. Noting that today’s debate was the third of its kind this year alone, many delegates expressed satisfaction that the Council’s continued engagement — including a presidential statement issued in February — had raised the profile of civilian protection.
Stressing also that the topics explored today should be duly reflected in the Secretary-General’s next report, expected in November, a number of speakers agreed that strides had been made recently through the strengthening of several peacekeeping mission mandates. However, some expressed concern that those strengthened mandates — particularly that of MONUSCO, which included a new, combative “intervention brigade” and the use of new technologies, such as unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) — went too far and represented a threat to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Opening the debate was Susana Ruiz Cerutti, Legal Adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Argentina.
Among others speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Togo, Australia, United Kingdom, Morocco, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Luxembourg, France, Guatemala, United States, China, Argentina, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Japan, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Syria, Switzerland (on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians), Lithuania, Uganda, Indonesia, Colombia, Qatar, Estonia, India, Belgium, New Zealand, Spain, Croatia, Slovakia, Armenia, Hungary, Chile (on behalf of the Human Security Network), Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic Countries), Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Nigeria, Namibia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bolivia, Iran, Venezuela, South Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Georgia and the European Union delegation.
Israel’s representative took the floor a second time to deliver additional remarks.
The meeting began at 11:10 a.m. and ended at 6:15 p.m.
The Security Council met today to hold an open debate on Protection of civilians in armed conflict, for which it had before it a letter dated 1 August 2013 from the Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document S/2013/447).
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON, speaking on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, recalled that, 10 years ago today, an explosion had ripped through the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, killing 22 United Nations colleagues. The annual commemoration was an opportunity to salute those who protected, fed, sheltered, educated, healed and assisted millions of people around the world, even in situations of danger and adversity, he said, adding, “it is an outrage that our colleagues and partners should be attacked for providing these essential services”.
Calling for greater respect and protection for humanitarian workers and assets everywhere, he went on to say that, every day, there were reminders of the grotesque consequences of conflict, violence and terrorism. He was particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated centres. “Roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes are indiscriminate,” he said, calling on the Security Council and Member States to also work through the General Assembly to act on that critical issue.
In Syria, he said, villages and towns were repeatedly subjected to indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, and all parties to the conflict were systematically failing in their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians. “This must end immediately,” he warned, expressing concern at the shrinking humanitarian space in opposition-held areas and the Government’s imposition of numerous and unacceptable bureaucratic and administrative constraints.
Also drawing attention to tragic conflicts in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he stressed that “protecting civilians demands timely political action and prevention”. That meant helping Governments — who bore the primary responsibility for protection — to build the necessary capacity. It might also include a presence or pre-emptive action by uniformed peacekeepers.
Where the United Nations supported the strengthening of national security institutions, it was guided by the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, which was firmly rooted in fundamental principles of international law, he said. The protection of civilians remained at the core of nine current peacekeeping operations. Meanwhile, the creation of the new mandate for the United Nations mission in Mali, as well as the strengthening of the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), offered opportunities to enhance the Organization’s ability to protect civilians.
The evolving nature of the protection role posed a number of significant challenges for the Council to consider, he said. In particular, it should beware of the risk of being seen as a party to conflict and diminishing the United Nations’ ability to provide impartial and timely humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, he stressed, “those responsible for attacks against aid workers must be arrested and prosecuted”, and “we must never tolerate impunity”.
In the 14 years since the Council had first acknowledged the protection of civilians as a fundamental component of its own responsibility, divisions had too often stood in the way of action to meet urgent needs. “The tragedy in Syria is a particularly stark example,” he said. He urged all to “be inspired by the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of humanitarian workers everywhere” and to uphold the responsibility to the peoples of the United Nations.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, paid tribute to the United Nations staff that died in Iraq 10 years ago. A decade later, civilians in many conflict zones still suffered unacceptably high levels of threats to their lives, security and dignity. In July, Iraq saw the deadliest month in years as violence killed more than 1,000 people. In the first half of 2013, a total of 1,319 people had been killed in Afghanistan, and more than 100,000 had been killed in Syria since the fighting began there. The number of victims of ongoing violence in the Central African Republic was unknown, but reports were “concerning”.
She pointed to important recommendations made during the recent Oslo conference in which her Office, other organizations and 94 States had participated. Among them was that all parties to a conflict must apply and respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In that regard, she welcomed the Assembly’s adoption of the International Arms Trade Treaty and strongly encouraged States to ratify it as soon as possible.
Throughout the past year, her Office and human rights components of peace operations and political missions had worked in key country situations on the Council’s agenda to improve respect for global human rights and humanitarian law, she said. In coordination with the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), it was closely monitoring the situation in that country. She had dispatched a fact-finding mission on human rights violations and was working to increase the number of human rights officers on the ground. She appealed to the Council to urgently authorize deployment to that country of a large multinational force with a strong protection mandate.
In Mali, she noted, 25 human rights officers had been deployed within the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, to monitor, investigate and report on compliance with global human rights and humanitarian law, including by documenting and analysing patterns of violence in critical areas and advising on action to prevent further violations. She was deeply concerned about the recent resumption of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the Joint United Nations Human Rights Office within MONUSCO, the latest fighting between the 23 March Movement and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had resulted in at least 200 cases of sexual violence, as well as many gross human rights violations. That Office had increased field visits and advised on mission strategies to protect civilians. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri would visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo next week.
Undertaking monitoring, casualty tracking, analysis and reporting of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were critical to inform appropriate responses, she said. She welcomed the increased use by United Nations bodies of international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions to investigate violations in conflict situations and the Council’s developing practice of referring to their findings. Her Office was supporting the international commissions on Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Earlier this year, it had published the shocking results of a study on the number of people killed in Syria.
Providing humanitarian access and ensuring accountability for violations of global human rights and humanitarian law were not only moral imperatives, but also legal requirements, as was clearly recalled in the report of the Internal Review Panel on the United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, she said. In a recent joint statement, she and Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to allow humanitarian organizations safe access to all people in need. “Today, I renew my call to the Syrian Government to grant representatives from my Office and the Commission of Inquiry on Syria full access to the country,” she said.
Following the recent upsurge in inter-communal violence between rival Nuer and Murle tribes in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, thousands of civilians fled to the bush, where their access to humanitarian assistance had been extremely limited, she said, calling on the authorities to redouble efforts to create a secure environment that would allow civilians to return to their towns and villages. She, meanwhile, welcomed the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine, adding that ensuring accountability for all human rights and humanitarian law violations was essential. That process could only succeed if the protection of human rights of all Palestinians and Israelis was placed at its centre. The illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted, and freedom of movement throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory should be ensured.
She expressed serious concern about the prevalence of impunity, which undermined the fabric of societies and was detrimental to any lasting solution. States must adopt necessary measures for combating impunity in compliance with global standards. In that regard, she welcomed the considerations given in Guinea-Bissau to the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate crimes of political violence and other serious breaches, including gross human rights violations committed since March 2009.
There must also be full accountability for violations committed in the Central African Republic, she continued, welcoming the recent statement by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that her Office would, if necessary, investigate and prosecute those most responsible. She reiterated her call for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and that would “make clear to all actors that they will be held to account for their failure to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law”.
She remained seriously concerned about the human rights implications for the protection of civilians of armed drone strikes carried out in the context of counter-terrorism and military operations, including in Gaza, Pakistan and Yemen. The current lack of transparency surrounding their use created an accountability vacuum and affected the ability of victims to seek redress. “I urge relevant States to clarify the legal basis for such strikes, as well as the safeguards in place to ensure compliance with applicable international law,” she said.
VALERIE AMOS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that humanitarian workers operated in very complex and insecure situations. However, their access was constrained, owing to hostilities, violence against them, restrictions on the movement of goods, and interference in their activities. In Syria, for example, where huge and urgent needs remained unmet, she was “extremely concerned by the failure to protect civilians in flagrant violation of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law and human rights law”. Insecurity, coupled with bureaucratic constraints and other limitations, prevented aid from reaching all those in need. And, in Sudan, an estimated 900,000 people were out of reach in areas controlled by armed groups.
Other factors limited access and raised protection concerns, she said, noting that people in areas controlled by non-State armed groups might have no or diminished access because of restrictions imposed by counter-terrorism laws and policies. A recent independent study on that issue had recommended that all actors discuss how better to reconcile counter-terrorism measures and humanitarian action, and that counter-terrorism laws and measures include appropriate exemptions for humanitarian action. In addition, measures should be considered to prevent and mitigate the humanitarian impact of the use in populated areas of explosive weapons which were, by their nature, indiscriminate.
Ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law remained a serious challenge, she said. The primary obligation to investigate and prosecute such violations lay with national authorities, with international mechanisms playing a subsidiary role. However, the relatively small number of prosecutions at the national level underscored the need for the United Nations and Member States to provide increased financial and technical support.
She recalled several of the basic international law obligations of parties to conflict, adding that the evolution of situations requiring humanitarian response around the world had made clear that the concept of arbitrary denial of consent for humanitarian operations required greater legal development and policy attention, including from this Council.
PHILIP SPOERRI, Director for International Law and Cooperation, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that, despite considerable progress on the normative and policy fronts to protect civilians, including the historic adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty in April, the reality on the ground continued to reflect the dire lack of protection. Many of today’s armed conflicts were increasingly protracted and increasingly complex in their causes and consequences. They were also characterized by an alarming contempt for the rules of international humanitarian law by belligerents. “The result, simply put, is spiralling human suffering,” he said, pointing to deliberate killings and rapes, property destruction, and forced evictions.
“Neither the complexity and intractability of many of today’s conflicts, nor the burden of the global economic crisis, can be an excuse for States to ignore their primary responsibility to the people affected by these conflicts,” he said. The most critical challenge to protecting civilians was the need to improve respect for global humanitarian law by States and non-State armed groups in global and non-global armed conflicts.
Working to ensure respect for such laws was a fundamental tenet of the ICRC’s mandate, he said. That entailed continuous engagement with all parties to the conflict, including non-State armed groups and building pragmatic relationships with the relevant political forces locally and nationally in a confidential way, thus building trust. That lack of respect for international law by parties to conflict impeded humanitarian access and endangered humanitarian personnel. Attacks on ICRC personnel had strengthened its resolve to achieve broad-based acceptance of its impartial, neutral and independent humanitarian approach and to continue to build its security strategy based on that acceptance.
Asserting that the ICRC would rise to the challenge and negotiate its way through to those most in need, he expressed particular concern over direct attacks on hospitals, ambulances and health-care personnel; blocking ambulances from accessing the wounded; harassment of health-care workers, and the diversion of medical supplies. From January 2012 to May 2013, the ICRC had noted more than 1,200 incidents affecting the delivery of and access to health care, including the killing of 112 medical staff, and some 250 incidents involving attacks on or denial of access to ambulances, which were often delivering life-saving support. Working to address that was a priority for the ICRC.
Despite some progress in mobilizing concerned stakeholders and raising awareness and understanding of the issues, there was a prevailing disrespect by belligerents for the inviolability of health facilities, transport and personnel, which made safe access to health care impossible for untold numbers of people in need, he said. He urged Council members to initiate or actively support efforts to address that urgent humanitarian concern and to press others to do the same. Respect for the laws of war helped to facilitate post-conflict recovery.
He called on States to swiftly ratify and implement the Arms Trade Treaty in a consistent, objective and non-discriminatory manner. That would go a long way towards achieving the Treaty’s explicit humanitarian purpose of reducing human suffering and saving civilian lives. In practice, that entailed carrying out a rigorous risk assessment prior to authorizing arms transfers and refraining from transferring weapons to parties to armed conflicts, which had a track record of serious international humanitarian law violations. Several current conflicts revealed a gap between the Treaty’s transfer obligations and the practices of some States.
He pointed to the joint Swiss-ICRC initiative to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law, noting that, in June, more than 70 States had participated in discussions in Geneva concerning a global compliance system with international human rights and humanitarian law. Switzerland and the ICRC would formulate concrete proposals concerning the format and content of a periodic reporting system on national compliance; the form, content and possible outcome of thematic discussions on international human rights and humanitarian law issues; the modalities for fact-finding; and features and tasks of a meeting of States.
ALEXANDER PANKIN ( Russian Federation) stressed that “selective and unilateral approaches” to international violations of international humanitarian law must be set aside, and Security Council decisions given primacy. There was no excuse for attacks against humanitarian workers or peaceful civilians, or for terror attacks and hostage-taking, all of which violated international law. The protection of civilians was an area of responsibility for Governments, while international organizations should seek to support those national efforts.
However, “attempts to manipulate mandates approved by the Security Council are unacceptable,” he said, adding that it was not always right to strengthen mandates or to allow peacekeepers to use force. Indeed, civilian protection should be carried out in accordance with specific individual peacekeeping mandates, which should be drawn up clearly. Ensuring the protection of civilians also required coordinated national, regional and international measures, as well as a comprehensive strategy for conflict prevention built on the principles of the United Nations Charter. In line with one of those core principles, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States receiving aid should always be ensured.
KIM SOOK ( Republic of Korea) said civilians made up the majority of casualties in conflicts despite the call from the Council in February for strict compliance by States with their international law obligations. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria had found that murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts against civilians were widespread, he said, stressing the need for accountability. In that, tribunals were crucial, and the Security Council should play its part by referring situations to the International Criminal Court. He voiced support for referral of the situation in Syria. The international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions of the Human Rights Council helped to investigate, document and verify allegations of violations of international law, and he encouraged more timely recourse to the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.
He pointed to progress in implementing United Nations peacekeeping protection mandates typified by MINUSMA and commended the anticipated reporting by the missions on the concrete measures they were taking to implement those mandates. He was deeply concerned about the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, noting that 78 per cent of the 34,000 explosive weapons deaths in 2012 had been civilians. The Arms Trade Treaty offered a chance to regulate that trade. Disturbed at the continuation of sexual violence, he called for greater accountability, women’s empowerment and better cooperation between the Council and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
KODJO MENAN ( Togo) noted that the red tape, restrictions and discrimination imposed by belligerents around the world continued to hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid. Perpetrators of such acts must be prosecuted. Togo welcomed recent actions by the Security Council to enhance the protection of civilians in conflict zones, including the adoption of resolution 2112 (2013), which established a civilian protection strategy in the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). The effective protection of civilians in armed conflicts required robust peacekeeping mandates, as well as the means to carry out those mandates. The Security Council should, therefore, reach agreement on the use of new technologies in peacekeeping, including drones.
In addition, he encouraged all States to ratify the recently concluded Arms Trade Treaty. The protection of civilians in armed conflict also required efforts to combat impunity. Finally, Togo supported the view that the five core imperatives referred to in the Secretary-General’s report remained relevant and should be reflected in the report to be submitted by the Secretary-General next November.
GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said humanitarian actors operated in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and constraints on their access undermined their abilities to perform, causing “unnecessary death, avoidable disease, and needless suffering”. Under international law, each party to a conflict had a responsibility to meet the basic needs of civilians under its control and it was essential that consent to relief operations never be arbitrarily denied. Challenges to humanitarian efforts were most evident in Syria, where the Government had systematically used bureaucratic obstacles to deny, delay and impede delivery of urgently needed assistance. That amounted to a “grave failure of the Syrian Government’s protection obligations to its own citizens”.
International humanitarian law was routinely breached by States and non-State actors, he said, calling for the law’s further promotion, and commending the ICRC for efforts to strengthen compliance. Non-State actors should be aware of their international legal obligations, and he applauded practical measures like the “Deeds of Commitment” to encourage non-State compliance with humanitarian and human rights norms. The Deed of Commitment banning anti-personnel mines was just one example of what was needed. Violators of laws protecting civilians must be brought to justice; the fact-finding missions launched by the Council could document violations and inform decision-making. United Nations missions should help their host States to strengthen the rule of law and boost their investigative and prosecutorial capacities, and the Council should be proactive when national authorities were unwilling or unable to take responsibility, and refer grave violations to the International Criminal Court.
PHILIP PARHAM ( United Kingdom) lauded the passage of the Arms Trade Treaty and looked forward to its ratification and implementation. The protection of civilians was vital. The creation of the international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia had signalled a new era of accountability. Today, Heads of State and other political leaders had to account for their actions, but much remained to be done to support existing justice mechanisms. He urged all United Nations members to become party to the Rome Statute and all States parties to uphold their responsibilities in that regard. He regretted that high-profile indictees refusing to cooperate with the Court were still allowed to go unchecked into the territories of States parties. He greatly regretted the failure to refer the situation in Syria to the Court, and urged the Council to impress upon all parties in Syria that there was no impunity; all those responsible for war crimes must be held to account.
He stressed the vital need to ensure humanitarian access to those in need, and he highlighted the Darfurians in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan States. He welcomed Ms. Amos’ practical recommendations on Syria, and urged the warring parties there to immediately reach a negotiated settlement. He hoped the Council would be able to renew its commitment in the near future to such an approach. For all the efforts made, protection of civilians was still abysmal. The Council must focus intensively on that challenge. It was necessary to uphold the authority of justice mechanisms, support humanitarian access in situations where it was hindered, and demand that all parties meet their civilian protection obligations.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) stressed the need to protect, in particular, women and children, who were primary targets of crimes. Despite rules on the protection of civilians, those population groups continued to pay a high price. Challenges for the protection of civilians were enormous. The Council had adopted many resolutions on civilian protection since the Secretary-General’s 2009 report, and in its second presidential this year (document PRST/2013/2), it rightly sounded the alarm on persistent conflicts and their impact on civilians, seeking, among others, a lasting solution to refugees, whom the Council said must be registered. Civilian protection was primarily the responsibility of States. Access to those in need must be granted, including by non-State actors. He hoped the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty would improve the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) said that, even as the Council was meeting, wars and conflicts were unfolding, with the majority of their victims, civilians. Despite established norms and laws, the “abysmal” state of civilians in armed conflicts had changed little, he said, adding that it was imperative to translate strategy into action on the ground. Compliance with international law was sporadic at best or none at all; there were obstacles to humanitarian access and accountability was often weak or non-existent. When considering the protection of civilians, special measures should be taken to support vulnerable groups, such as women, children, refugees and internally displaced persons.
He said that the protection of civilians was the primary responsibility of States, however, as a major troop contributor, Pakistan had first-hand experience in protecting civilians; based on that experience, it felt that sufficient resources should be provided to peacekeeping troops. In addition, the term “protection of civilians” should also always be used with utmost precision to avoid giving legitimacy to armed terrorist groups.
TOFIG MUSAYEV ( Azerbaijan) said that, over the years, a comprehensive legal framework on the protection of civilians in armed conflict had been established. The significant development of international norms and standards, as well as the engagement of the Security Council, had given increased attention to the issue. However, efforts in that area had not always been consistent or successful, and civilians continued to suffer in many parts of the world. The main challenge related to the failure of parties to armed conflict to abide by their humanitarian and human rights law obligations. Other major problems included the neglect of civilian needs and the widespread lack of accountability.
He said that when Governments failed to ensure accountability, the international community should take an active role, including by establishing ad hoc tribunals, fact-finding missions and other mechanisms. States should also use their leverage to combat non-compliance, including by publically denouncing parties who shirked their international obligations, or by “naming and shaming”. Parties to armed conflict should take all necessary measures to ensure rapid and unimpeded access by humanitarian actors, in line with the United Nations Charter. “It is imperative that the Security Council maintain its focus on the protection of civilians,” he concluded.
LAWRENCE MANZI ( Rwanda) said that the Council, through a broadened agenda, must act as a guarantor of civilian protection. He noted considerable progress in increasing the United Nations civilian protection mandate. In the past 10 years, the Secretary-General had put forward more than 100 recommendations in reports to the Council. The cumulative effect had been dramatic, and each time, consensus on the protection of civilians became clearer and perpetrators saw they would be held to account. There was a clear need to translate civilian protection commitments into concrete improvements on the ground.
He said that the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, known as the FDLR, was responsible for the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. It continued to spread its genocidal ideological poison. The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and others continued to traumatize the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, using civilians as human shields and sexually violating women and girls. They must be held to account. In Syria, the crisis showed the failure of all sides to protect civilians.
Rwanda was fully engaged under the stability pact among Governments in the Great Lakes region, he said. The Council should take a more consistent, comprehensive approach in situations of armed conflict. He called on all parties to avoid targeting civilian objects, stop militarizing camps and to allow access to humanitarian aid. Rwanda was doing its part, working to create safe, secure environments for distributing humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons. Rwanda’s formed police unit in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was sharing Rwanda’s home-grown initiatives in policing and community service. Justice must be timely. The international community should increase investment in strengthening national judicial capacity.
OLIVIER MAES ( Luxembourg) regretted the significant gap between the obligations of States in civilian protection and the tragic situation on the ground. More must be done to improve protection of civilians in armed conflict. Improving humanitarian access was particularly vital in Syria, where more than 100,000 people had been killed and several million more were in a disastrous situation. The crisis would not end until a political solution was found. Civilians trapped in the conflict needed aid now and they had a right to it. Access must not be compromised in any way. Syria must respond and give unimpeded access to humanitarian players, and respect for international humanitarian law must be ensured. A strong commitment by States also was required.
In that connection, he called on all States that had yet to do so to become parties to the Geneva Convention and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to implement, in particular, the section on children in armed conflict. He lauded the signing by two armed groups in Nepal and Sri Lanka of agreements to end child recruitment. Violators of humanitarian and human rights law must be held to account. He highlighted the important role of the International Criminal Court, urging that the Syrian situation be referred to it. Injured parties must be allowed to start a new life and aided in doing so. Projects towards that goal must be adequately funded at the international level.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France), joining with the statements to be delivered by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, said that the Council had a role to play in ensuring that parties to conflicts did not shirk their international law obligations. In Syria, the regime had consistently blocked access to civilians, in flagrant violation of such laws, and the number of people in need was growing every day. That was also the case in Sudan, where humanitarian access was “difficult or impossible” and blocking aid had become something of a Government strategy. “We must put an end to this arbitrary and appalling trend,” he said, as the Council had the tools necessary to do so.
For example, he noted, the Council had recently provided MONUSCO with a robust mandate, including an intervention brigade which could conduct operations against armed groups. In Mali, the intervention of French forces had stopped the offensive of terrorist groups in their tracks; the new MINUSMA had a robust civilian protection mandate. Regarding accountability, the Council must send a clear message that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria would be held accountable, and he urged Members to seriously consider the referral of such perpetrators to the International Criminal Court.
GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) asked why the situation of protection of civilians was described as “abysmal” in the Secretary-General’s recent report. For one, he highlighted States’ shortcomings during conflicts to fulfil their primary responsibility to protect their populations. Peacekeeping operations provided an important palliative, but capacity-building was needed to enable States and non-State actors to better protect civilians. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and multilateral financial institutions had a crucial role to play. Ensuring compliance by rebel groups and militias with international norms was complicated, and ensuring their accountability was often difficult.
The Security Council, he asserted, was also part of the problem. It had been criticized for failing to offer clear and detailed guidance on peacekeeping operations’ protection mandates, while its inability to achieve consensus on such situations as the one unfolding in Syria had led to catastrophic consequences. Modern technology was making application of international law’s fundamental norms more difficult. All feasible measures were needed to reduce the damage inflicted on civilian populations. To improve performance, he called for better compilation and analysis of intelligence, strengthening of the law, mandates and sanctions related to violations, and strategies to improve compliance with international law by non-State armed groups.
ROSEMARY DI CARLO ( United States) paid tribute to fallen United Nations staff. The horrific consequences were evident when access to those in need was blocked, as in Syria, and when perpetrators were not held accountable, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The United States had made the protection of civilians a priority and deterrence of genocide a core moral responsibility. She called for a stronger commitment to compliance with global humanitarian and human rights law, and effective accountability for suspected war crimes. She stressed the need to use the tools at hand to improve compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, advance current tools, and name and shame perpetrators of sexual violence. All Governments must raise awareness, including through military training. The international community’s military training work, including in countries like Afghanistan, was critical to fostering global peace and security and to ensuring civilian protection.
Also critical, she continued, was humanitarian access. That was as true in Syria as in Sudan. Attacks against humanitarian personnel, like the one on the United Nations compound in Mogadishu in June, should be condemned. Without accountability, the cycle of violence continued. The United States strongly rejected impunity and was working with national authorities to strengthen domestic judicial systems, including by funding efforts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo towards that end. It also strongly supported international justice mechanisms in efforts to expose and document human rights abuses in Syria. It was bolstering the capacity of civil society organizations to build the foundation for peace. Failure to protect civilians threatened regional stability, and the international community must stay focused on practical steps it could take.
WANG MIN ( China) supported the Council’s in-depth discussion on civilian protection in armed conflict so as to respond to related challenges. National Governments must shoulder primary responsibility, by, among others, prosecuting violators of international human rights and humanitarian law, with full use of domestic justice systems and in compliance with the United Nations Charter. Civilian protection should be mandated by the Council, but not be driven by any political motives or purposes; they should be based on an equitable and fair stance. Relief operations for civilians must observe the principles of neutrality and fairness, and winning the confidence of the host country could ensure their access. The Council should actively conduct preventive diplomacy and help warring parties to work towards political settlements. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations could not fundamentally solve the challenges of civilian protection. The focus should be on helping host countries strengthen civilian protection mechanisms and practices.
SUSANA RUIZ CERUTTI, Legal Adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Argentina, speaking in her national capacity, reminded delegations of their legal obligations to civilians and called for translation of those obligations into tangible improvements on the ground. Compliance with norms was essential and the Global Conference on the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law — the Oslo Conference — had sought to promote that compliance. States should remain committed to disseminating international humanitarian law; Argentina had done so by training its armed forces and by including the subject in the curriculums of several law schools. Buenos Aires had also been the location of a workshop connected to the Oslo Conference.
Peacekeeping operations should also comply with international humanitarian law, she said, underlining the importance of giving United Nations civilian protection mandates for missions. Those should be clear and properly resourced. Humanitarian access was essential, she said, noting that aid workers enjoyed special protection under international humanitarian law. She was gravely concerned about “many cases of bureaucratic impediments” to and denial of such access, and she highlighted the potential role of the International Fact-Finding Commission, which had been recognized by the Security Council. Along with the international system of justice, which had at its core the International Criminal Court and Rome Statute, she outlined steps Argentina had taken to strengthen accountability at nationally, including implementation of that Statute.
REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP (Brazil), associating herself with the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, said that prevention was the most effective strategy to protect civilians. That included the promotion of sustainable development with a focus on social inclusion and food security. In protecting civilians, the use of force must be truly a last resort. Concerning Syria, the external supply of weapons would lead to further bloodshed and not to peace. That also applied to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the military component of the United Nations mission must be part of a political strategy.
Regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she said only peace and the end of occupation would ensure the protection of civilians. She condemned the escalation of violence against civilians demonstrating in Egypt and called for dialogue and reconciliation. Ensuring humanitarian access was a political and moral imperative. Hence, it was essential that parties to conflict allow and facilitate immediate, safe and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to all civilians in need of assistance. Enhancing accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law was also vital, she said, emphasizing that impunity often fed further violence.
STEFAN BARRIGA (Liechtenstein) stressed that all parties to a conflict, including State and non-State actors alike, must strictly respect the principles of distinction and proportionality, and in particular, avoid the use of explosive force in densely populated areas. Swift and unhindered access of humanitarian actors must be guaranteed and not arbitrarily denied. He also called on all States that had not yet done so to ratify the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its 2005 Optional Protocol.
Moreover, emphasizing that accountability was an essential element of reconciliation, he encouraged States that had not yet done so to join and implement the Rome Statute. In the same vein, the Council should be ready to swiftly establish commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions to jump-start accountability efforts and to effectively follow up on their outcomes. On Syria, he said his country had joined a total of 63 States that called upon the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
KAZUYOSHI UMEMOTO ( Japan) said that, 10 years since the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad claimed 22 lives, the operational environment for humanitarian aid had become more difficult. He was gravely concerned that a large number of humanitarian personnel, who contributed to saving the lives of thousands of affected people, were working at grave personal risk and facing increasing danger. They had difficulty accessing people in need, he said, voicing serious concern over the “arbitrary denial” of humanitarian access. Denial or obstruction of rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access put the lives of affected people at risk, and parties to conflict must bear in mind the consequences of such actions. It was vital to build tools to enforce accountability and to analyse fundamental factors by which humanitarian aid in armed conflict was perceived as adversarial by the warring parties. To do so, it was necessary to hear voices from the field where access was negotiated and humanitarian operations were launched, and to discuss how norms of civilian protection could be met realistically. He hoped the Secretary-General’s report in November would address such fundamental issues.
RON PROSOR ( Israel) said that, in light of recent attacks on United Nations personnel in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, “we must show zero tolerance to those who deliberately target United Nations and humanitarian workers”. While men and women were persecuted all over the world, nowhere was the situation bleaker than in the Middle East. There, after years of brutal oppression, millions had poured into the streets to raise their voices for liberty, democracy and opportunity. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous campaigns had led to reports of killings, kidnappings and torture of civilians. Those atrocities had been made possible through Hizbullah’s support and Iran’s financing. “As a family of nations, our responsibility to one another stems from our common humanity,” he said, adding that the United Nations’ moral imperatives superseded whatever politics, religion or geography might divide its members. “From the deserts of Africa to the jungles of South America, we must stand together to ensure people everywhere have freedom, opportunity and dignity.”
RAJA REZA RAJA ZAIB SHAH ( Malaysia) was deeply concerned by the increasing death rate of civilians in various armed conflicts worldwide. The Secretary-General’s report testified to that and reminded everyone of the need to work together to improve the status quo. Civilians in armed conflict should be given the necessary protection from indiscriminate targeting, and all parties to an armed conflict should do their best to distinguish civilians from combatants. While a distinction was not always easily made, efforts were needed to stop unnecessary civilian deaths. More work was needed to support awareness and ensure compliance by the parties to a conflict.
He voiced appreciation for the inclusion in many peacekeeping operations of a civilian protection mandate, included on a case-by-case basis. He called on parties to ensure greater access for humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable people caught in conflict and to accord the necessary protection to humanitarian workers. Impunity could not be tolerated; the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The condition of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remained in a sorry state. Israel’s blockade of Gaza continued to strangle the livelihood of the people there. “If we are serious in protecting civilians, the international community should act to bring an end to this illegal occupation,” he said. He also called for an immediate end to the senseless killings and appalling human rights violations, especially against civilians, and on all parties to conflict to restrict the use of heavy weapons and explosive munitions.
CHAYAPAN BAMRUNGPHONG ( Thailand), stressing efforts at the national level, said Governments must raise awareness about respect for human rights and protection of civilians, and put in place human rights mechanisms, strengthen judicial capacity and institutions, and incorporate international laws and the protection of civilians concept into the curriculum of military academies. At the same time, peacekeepers should have clear mandates, responsibilities, chain of command and code of conduct in protecting civilians under specific circumstances, particularly when the use of force was necessary to ensure the mission’s credibility and success. Pre-deployment training should focus on all those areas, and the Council should regularly review the scope of a mission’s mandate based on its assessment of the situation on the ground.
LOUAY FALLOUH ( Syria) stressed that the protection of civilians was at the centre of international human rights and humanitarian law, but unfortunately in some regions, the principle was being used selectively to the detriment of his country. Citing the concept paper prepared by the Argentinean delegation, he stressed the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Initial response to the protection of civilians was up to the State in question. It must not be politicized and it should not be used as a tool to conduct military intervention or force a change of regime.
His Government cooperated with various United Nations bodies, such as in the areas of humanitarian assistance, he said, while it increased the number of non-governmental organizations operating in Syria, including the ICRC. The Syrian population remained victims of unilateral sanctions, which undermined the provision of basic services, such as food and fuel. Some States exploited the sufferings of the Syrian people. The Council should act to condemn terrorist groups harming his country. The Government exercised its constitutional duties, with its judiciary system sparing no efforts in the fight against impunity. He accused Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorist activities in Syria. He also condemned Israel for its criminal policy and aggression.
THOMAS GURBER (Switzerland), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians, noted that the core challenges identified in the last three reports of the Secretary-General had not been addressed sufficiently. Parties to conflict too often failed to comply with international humanitarian law, which required the protection of the civilian population from hostilities. In particular, increasing numbers of humanitarian workers, including medical personnel, had been deliberately harmed or even killed recently; there was, thus, a clear need to find ways to improve their safety and security, while at the same time, humanitarian access to reach those in most need must be maintained and negotiated with all relevant parties.
Stressing the need to do more in the framework of the United Nations Charter to ensure accountability, he recalled that attacks on humanitarian workers constituted a war crime under the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and that accountability and legal protection were, therefore, stronger with an increasing membership in the Court. Lastly, he welcomed the discussions on the topic and looked forward to a debate in November, based on the next report.
Speaking in his national capacity, Mr. GURBER said that his country’s joint imitative with the ICRC to increase respect for international humanitarian law was creating a positive dynamic, with a growing number of States participating in substantive discussions within the framework of that Geneva-based process. The issue of respect for international humanitarian law by non-State armed groups was particularly complex. Dialogue was the best route to get those actors to respect the law. Switzerland had been supporting such processes in Colombia, the Philippines and Sudan. Turning to Syria, he stressed the need to address issues in a holistic manner within the framework of a political solution. He also noted that his Government had initiated the drafting of two publications in conjunction with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the ICRC to support humanitarian actors.
IOANNIS VRAILAS, speaking on behalf of the European Union delegation, called the Arms Trade Treaty an important contribution to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Underscoring that women and children suffered the most in those situations, he called the use of rape and sexual violence a method of warfare and one of the most serious violations of international humanitarian law. He expressed support for the initiative taken by Switzerland and the ICRC to establish a mechanism that would improve compliance with international humanitarian law. Where national authorities failed to take the necessary steps to ensure accountability, the Security Council had an important role to play in referring cases to the International Criminal Court.
He said that humanitarian access remained the most significant challenge for humanitarian organizations, often due to political considerations, administrative and physical barriers, and restrictions. He urged all parties to conflict to grant safe and unimpeded access to the affected population, adding that any arbitrary denial of access constituted a violation of international humanitarian law. On Syria, he said all parties, in particular the authorities, must ensure immediate, safe and unimpeded access to those in need on all sides in the conflict. He also mentioned United Nations peacekeeping missions in Mali, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and stressed the need to combat impunity there and deliver life-saving assistance to vulnerable populations.
RITA KAZRAGIENE ( Lithuania), associating with the European Union, said international humanitarian law was indispensible to protecting people affected by conflict. The Lithuanian Commission on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law coordinated promotion and dissemination of international humanitarian law to military, police personnel and the general public. Additionally, Lithuania’s armed forces were proactive in enhancing civilians’ situations by providing medical care, mine clearance and gender training to local populations. Ensuring accountability for violators also sent a strong deterrent message. Credible information was vital and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission and other such mechanisms helped to provide that. The Security Council should act consistently and coherently in response to violations and should refer situations to the International Criminal Court. The Rome Statute offered a chance to bring retributive and restorative justice closer together.
RICHARD NDUHURA ( Uganda) said greater international, regional and subregional efforts were needed to prevent and resolve conflicts that could endanger civilians. Support for national Governments was also needed, bearing in mind the vital need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned. Protection of civilians should never be a pretext for interference in a State’s internal affairs. Efforts to protect should be collective and be incorporated into the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions. That was particularly important in situations where groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army were operating. The Security Council and the international community should support national, regional and subregional efforts to settle conflicts peacefully. There was a need to end impunity and, for long-term stability, to promote reconciliation.
DESRA PERCAYA ( Indonesia) said that, while it was the primary responsibility of the Government concerned to guarantee access for humanitarian assistance, all warring parties, including non-State actors, must shoulder that responsibility. He expressed concern about conflict that took place in densely populated areas and where its nature became asymmetric, compounded by the use of new technologies, such as cyber warfare, drones and explosive weapons. Also worrying, he said, was the growing involvement of private security companies in armed conflict, which had led to new challenges, particularly when the parties did not always clearly distinguish themselves from the civilian population. With regard to strengthening accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, it was crucial that there be more focus on the development of effective tools and on supporting and strengthening national capacities.
NÉSTOR OSORIO ( Colombia) said that today’s topic was relevant to his country because it had suffered five decades of illegal attacks against its civilian population. Colombia was committed to complying with international human rights law, humanitarian law, and refugee law, and planned to host a high-level international conference next year on victims of violations of those laws. He stressed the importance of aligning international assistance with the situation of a country, respecting its sovereignty, autonomy and independence. In that regard, the United Nations bodies should have clear and objective information about the countries it assisted, which could be used to identify both challenges and progress. His Government was committed to national reconciliation for the benefit of all.
SHEIKH MESHAL HAMAD M.J. AL-THANI ( Qatar) said the Geneva Conventions emphasized protection of civilians in domestic conflicts, as well as respect for international humanitarian law. He called on the international community to take measures to ensure their protection. The General Assembly and the Human Rights Council had adopted numerous resolutions on the grave violations suffered by Syrians at the hands of the regime, which was determined to use its security apparatus to muzzle its population. The Government’s violations had been documented and there was no doubt that Syrian civilians were suffering atrocities and grave violations of international law. Civilians looked to the Security Council to stop such atrocities and to provide humanitarian assistance. The Council’s paralysis enabled perpetrators to enjoy impunity and to continue their actions.
MARGUS KOLGA ( Estonia) regretted that, despite the Security Council’s focus and recurring debates on that issue, civilians continued to account for the vast majority of casualties in armed conflict. Not only did States bear the primary responsibility for ensuring the protection of civilians, but it was their responsibility to investigate and prosecute those suspected of having committed serious crimes of international concern. Unfortunately, national investigations and prosecutions of those crimes were rare. Estonia encouraged the Council to play a more proactive role in ensuring an appropriate international response when States were unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute international crimes, including continued use of its ability to refer situations to the International Criminal Court, he said, adding that Syria was a prime example, where the Council could put its words into action — where war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violation of human rights had for too long been a daily reality.
ASOKE KUMAR MUKERJI ( India) said it was important for the international community, including the United Nations, to step up to the plate and partner with national authorities to build and strengthen the capacity of State organs on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In that regard, adequate resourcing was an imperative for United Nations peacekeeping missions, which were now given protection of civilian mandates. Moreover, peacebuilding efforts should be initiated at the outset and the cause of the armed conflict addressed through national reconciliation and inclusive political processes, which gave everyone a stake in a peaceful coexistence. He stressed the need to ensure humanitarian access for affected populations and urged States to facilitate it. Humanitarian actors should also ensure that their activities did not provide legitimacy or operational space for terrorist or armed groups. Terrorists must be held accountable for attacks against civilians and United Nations peacekeepers.
BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET ( Belgium), expressing concern over the recent indiscriminate bombing in densely populated areas in Syria in violation of the international humanitarian law, stressed that the protection of civilians was at the centre of her Government. Regarding Syria, the Security Council president in a statement in February had urged parties to the conflict to comply with provisions of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. She also highlighted the inalienable rights of victims of violations of those laws. In Syria, 40 per cent of public hospitals had been destroyed and another 20 per cent damaged. Those facilities were used for military purposes or had become detention centres. She urged the Council to act on its resolution 1894 (2009), in which it had expressed a readiness to adopt appropriate steps in certain cases of armed conflict where civilians were deliberately targeted. She called on the 15-member body to refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court.
JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) noted several important developments since February, including the adoption in April of the Arms Trade Treaty and last week’s Council decision to stress the important role of regional and subregional organizations. The new approach to the robust use of force for protection of civilians within MONUSCO was another sign of the growing commitment to the protection agenda. The African Union’s decision in July to establish a new peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, with a strong civilian protection mandate, was particularly welcome. It was critical that the Council urgently treat the African Union’s request for assistance to African-led International Support Mission for the Central African Republic, known as AFISM-CAR.
He said the Council must also do more to address civilian protection at the thematic level and must more fully engage in implementing the current agenda item in practice in the field. It should lend more practical support to the regional organizations’ protection efforts. The situation in Syria was a glaring example of where the Council was failing. Each Council member must work to address practical protection needs. He stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of humanitarian actors and their essential access to alleviate suffering, notably in Syria. “Civilians trapped in these conflict areas cannot wait for the successful conclusion of a political process before they receive assistance.” Preventing access by deliberately attacking humanitarian workers was a war crime, and ensuring accountability for such violations was an important role for the Council.
FERNANDO ARIAS ( Spain), aligning with the European Union, said that the protection of civilians — which was the primary responsibility of States — required the adoption of measures to “prevent, protect and punish”. With regard to compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, the adoption of a series of measures at the national level, including the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, was a basic starting point.
On access to humanitarian assistance, whose provision was a responsibility for all parties to a conflict, he said that those responsible for its hampering must know that their actions were punishable by national and international institutions. In addition, criminalizing engagement with non-State groups might result in impeding humanitarian access. The international community must use all available means to fight such situations, he said, calling on the Council to keep track of the present debate and act accordingly. Finally, the Council had a clear responsibility in the fight against impunity. The International Criminal Court should be strengthened and utilized by the Council, especially in cases where States were unwilling or unable to fulfil their responsibilities to prosecute serious international humanitarian law violations.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK ( Croatia), supporting the statement by the European Union, said valuable lessons should be drawn and implemented from the troublesome history in the civilian protection field. He commended the Governments of Argentina, Austria, Indonesia and Uganda for hosting a series of regional workshops, whose results were reflected at the global conference in Oslo on reclaiming the protection of civilians under international humanitarian law. Croatia had actively participated in the Vienna and Oslo meetings and firmly supported the recommendations made at Oslo. It had made serious efforts to strengthen the role of global humanitarian law and pave the way for criminal justice.
He said Croatia was a party to most international humanitarian law treaties, and its national legislation was in line with those accords. Croatia had actively engaged in the Friends of Women, Peace and Security Group of Countries to promote implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. Protection of women and children in armed conflict must be incorporated in peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts, including in relief operations. Individual States were responsible for protecting their populations, but the international community also had a responsibility to protect and to take collective action through the Council. The fight against impunity and the establishment of rule of law was vital to ensure that the most severe crimes did not go unpunished.
FRANTIŠEK RUŽIČKA ( Slovakia) said that when a soldier died, it was “a tragedy”, but when a civilian, woman, or child was killed, it was “a tragedy and a crime”. It was a paradox that there had never been universal recognition of so-called “life integrity rights” on the one hand, while on the other, at least 80 per cent of the roughly 20 million killed and 60 million wounded in recognized conflicts between 1934 and 1994 had been civilians. Of those, three of every five had been children. Mankind had entered the twenty-first century with the heritage of a reappearance of one of the ugliest human rights abuses: conflicts in which the central purpose of military action was the forced removal of civilians from their homes and land on the basis of religion, nationality or ethnic identity. For its part, Slovakia was implementing its pledges made at the thirty-first International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2011 and had joined the initiative of Norway, Argentina, Austria, Indonesia and Uganda on Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law.
GAREN NAZARIAN ( Armenia) pointed to increased efforts to improve protection of civilians, which were underpinned by international humanitarian law, as was the successful resolution of conflicts. Nonetheless, more systematic attention should be given to protection, and the normative commitments made should be supported by concrete actions. He condemned attacks on civilians and the worsening situation in Syria, saying the crisis was not just another news headline to him because Armenia received many refugees from Syria and many Armenians remained in Syria, as their homes and churches were destroyed. There should be no selective approaches to such crises, and responses should be guided by international law. He commended the Council’s continued focus on impunity and on formal investigations of alleged violations. Reparation also should be addressed, in line with the resolution recently adopted by the Human Rights Council on genocide prevention.
ZSOLT HETESY (Hungary), associating with the European Union, said the Kampala Amendments and the Arms Trade Treaty supplemented international law on protecting civilians. Civilians accounted for the majority of casualties in conflicts and their casualty numbers were breaking records. All parties in conflicts were obliged to protect civilians and comply with international legal norms, though States bore the primary responsibility. Nonetheless, States failed to do so, while other actors behaved as if they had no obligations at all. The international community had failed to translate its commitments into concrete improvements; more work was needed to ensure accountability. There could be no lasting peace without combating impunity, and the lack of accountability established “a breeding ground for future atrocities”. The Security Council should take all measures to protect civilians and to hold violators accountable, such as through an accountability strategy that could be applied consistently.
EDUARDO GÁLVEZ ( Chile), speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, expressed concern at the difficulties in ensuring the protection of civilians in Syria, in particular, as well as in other armed conflicts. He hoped the current debate would be an opportunity to examine the most pressing aspects of the issue, in particular, compliance by the warring parties with international humanitarian and human rights law, as that would guarantee protection of civilians, especially vulnerable groups, such as women and children. Although failures to protect rightfully received widespread publicity, it was important to recognize that tens of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers risked their lives everyday to protect civilians. The mandates of peacekeeping and other relevant missions were a central element to civilian protection, and therefore, should be strengthened and implemented effectively. He condemned sexual and gender-based violence, including the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and reiterated the Network’s concern about the safety of journalists in conflict situations.
IB PETERSEN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said that laws and obligations that applied during armed conflict must be respected everywhere — regardless of who was fighting and where the fighting was going on. Sexual assaults during warfare had horrendous implications on victims and entire communities and simply must stop. Women and girls who become pregnant after being raped in armed conflict must have access to adequate sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception and safe abortion. Moreover, if a State was unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute international crimes, the international community had an obligation to offer its support through the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals. He reminded those in Syria responsible for atrocities and human rights violations and abuses that they would be held accountable.
He welcomed the initiative taken by Switzerland and the ICRC concerning the possible establishment of a mechanism to improve compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, parties to a conflict must ensure proper documentation of the conduct of military operations, such as by mapping areas that might be contaminated by unexploded ordnance and by conducting systematic casualty recording. He warned against using sovereignty as a shelter for committing mass atrocities, and emphasized that preventive actions, as well as support to Governments would increase civilian protection. Moreover, he said that comprehensive rule of law strategies in peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions must include assistance to legal institutions and legislative reform.
KAREL VAN OOSTEROM ( Netherlands), associating with the European Union, said that implementation of international human rights instruments must be strengthened. More States must support international mechanisms that offered protection to civilians. In peacekeeping operations, increased attention must be paid to civilians in armed conflict, and Council resolutions mandating those operations must reflect that moral imperative.
He also called for an increase of efforts to protect vulnerable women in armed conflict and emphasized that, in building peace, “we must take women seriously”. Information gathering during conflicts was an essential element of prevention, as it created a basis for prosecution. Statistics on lives lost, women raped, children killed and schools burned, however grim and difficult to read, created a basis for accountability and would bring perpetrators to justice. Those responsible for the crimes committed in Syria must be brought before a court.
HALIT ÇEVIK ( Turkey) said that the humanitarian situation in Syria was getting more grim every day. The regime, which had tried to suppress the legitimate demands of its people through indiscriminate use of force, had failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect the civilians. The work of humanitarian institutions trying to provide assistance to the Syrian internationally displaced persons was also being hampered severely by the bureaucratic hurdles created by the Syrian regime. Turkey was currently hosting more than 200,000 Syrians in 20 camps. The total number of Syrians who had sought shelter in different parts of Turkey exceeded half a million and the resources allocated to the Syrians in need had surpassed $1.5 billion. He called for burden-sharing by the international community. The Council had been abused by one delegation once again for expressing baseless allegations, which Turkey had categorically rejected.
GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI (Canada) observed that women and girls around the world continued to be victims of violence in armed conflict situations, and as such, he urged the international community to persist in working to prevent sexual violence, such as rape as a weapon of war, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, and enforced sterilization. Canada was deeply concerned about the deadly violence in Egypt, particularly the recent attacks on religious institutions in that country. Similarly, the brutal conflict in Syria was a stark example of how much work remained to better protect civilians that were routinely victims of deliberate and targeted attacks, as well as hospitals, medical facilities and health workers. The situations in Afghanistan, Sudan and South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, posed similar challenges in terms of the protection of civilians.
USMAN SARKI ( Nigeria) welcomed encouraging developments in collective efforts to address the challenge of protecting civilians in conflict. The United Nations, along with regional and subregional organizations, played vital roles in preventing and mediating to prevent imminent conflicts. Despite some progress, civilians still bore the brunt of conflict and were direct targets. Situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic illustrated the magnitude of the problems faced in protecting civilians. Syria, Somalia and Mali also presented serious protection challenges. It was time to put into action standardized measures to bring to justice persistent perpetrators of violence against women and children. In that, the Council must take the lead. The arms trade must be regulated to ensure that weapons were not used against civilians. He commended United Nations’ efforts in that regard and urged States to do their part.
JEROBEAM SHAANIKA ( Namibia) declared that the protection of civilians in armed situations should not be motivated by factors other than purely humanitarian ones. He cautioned against double standards and selectivity, which he said sent the wrong signals to perpetrators of crimes against civilians in armed conflict. While the primary responsibility to protect civilians lay with the Governments concerned, in some cases, they were unable or unwilling to act on that responsibility. If that was due to lack of capacity, then the international community needed to offer its assistance. Namibia also rejected the use or deployment of “unmanned robots” to protect civilians in conflict because in most cases, their use resulted in the death of innocent civilians, he explained.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA ( Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that the protection of civilians in armed conflict remained, for his country, a subject of great concern. Due to repeated violence, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had lost 6 million people, he said, calling that “a tragedy unequal in history”. Resurgence of violence, countless cases of abductions, rape and sexual violence, and the illegal use of natural resources painted a picture of the scale of the tragedy and suffering. There had also been an increase in the number of displaced persons to 2.8 million. He mentioned incidents of looting and rape and cited several reports on the current situation in North Kivu. He said that 23 March Movement forces were responsible for many of the indescribable crimes, but there were also 30 other armed groups responsible, including some associated with Al-Shabaab.
Although the Government had made significant progress in providing security, he said, terrorists of the 23 March Movement continued to thrive, bolstered by external support. He stressed the need for those carrying out violence to be held accountable under international law. He subscribed to the recommendations and conclusions outlined in the Secretary-General’s report and welcomed the action taken by the United Nations in his country. He called for particular attention to be paid to the circulation of weapons in North Kivu and expressed support of sanctions being taken against States that continued to supply weapons to armed groups.
SACHA LLORENTTY Bolivia said it was necessary to tackle conflict’s root causes structurally in order to properly protect civilians. Fighting impunity was vital to ensuring protection, as was imposition of the legal standards included in the Rome Statute. He wondered how often speeches referred to protecting human rights or democracy but masked the speaker’s true intentions, which were to appropriate natural resources, such as oil, gold and diamonds. He highlighted the difficulties in applying international law to private security contractors, and noted that the OHCHR had specifically mentioned drone attacks in relation to protection of civilians. The full protection of civilians would mean there was no Guantanamo Bay prison and that espionage did not go unpunished.
SEYED MOHAMMAD ALI MOTTAGHI NEJAD ( Iran) said successes in the protection of civilians were accompanied by several failures, due mainly to double standards and injustices, which were most visible in the fight against impunity. He referred in particular to “crimes committed by the Israeli regime against civilians in Palestine”. The Israeli regime seemed to enjoy impunity, as it targeted civilian populations using sophisticated weapons, white phosphorous and cluster bombs, and excluded a large number of people from the jurisdiction of international law. He agreed with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Gaza blockade must be lifted and that freedom of movement around the Occupied Palestinian Territory should be ensured. He urged the Council to take measures to prevent the targeting of civilians by terrorist groups, adding that the root causes of conflict also should be addressed. That meant bringing the perpetrators to justice.
JULIO ESCALONA ( Venezuela) said that it was up to States to guarantee compliance with their responsibilities to promote and respect human rights in accordance with United Nations’ principles. Peacekeeping operations should be part of the political solution to conflicts, and not an alternative to the solution. There were no conflicts currently in the Latin American and the Caribbean region. Rather, the use of novel mechanisms had strengthened democratic principles and consolidated a culture of peace.
He reaffirmed his support to a political solution in Syria, which he said was a victim of the interventionist policies that sought to overthrow the legitimate Government of Assad by supplying weapons to mercenary groups operating on the margin of the law and committing atrocities against civilians. Moreover, he reaffirmed the call to an end to the international humanitarian law violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and for an immediate halt to settlement construction.
MLUNGISI MBALATI ( South Africa) said that, sadly, civilians were increasingly becoming the victims of armed conflict. The continued deliberate targeting of civilians created an atmosphere of fear aimed at further destabilizing and displacing civilians. It remained the primary responsibility of States to protect civilians within their borders. In the same vein, armed opposition groups also shared responsibility for ensuring that unarmed civilians were protected. Indeed, failure by both State and non-State actors to uphold that responsibility should not go unpunished. Peacekeepers could not continue to watch civilians being killed, maimed, raped and displaced. He said that the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade, piloted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and endorsed by the United Nations, brought brand new innovation, which could eventually serve as a model in civilian protection.
MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL ( Egypt) said that it was alarming that an increasing numbers of civilians continued to suffer in armed conflicts around the globe. He stressed the importance of providing peacekeeping missions with the necessary mandates, personnel and equipment to enable them to become an effective mechanism for early warning when violations occurred. He also stressed the importance for the missions to uphold the respect for the sovereignty and cultural specificities of the host countries. All parties to conflict had to comply with international law, as well as with the principles of distinction and proportionality in armed conflicts. In addition, he said, “impunity escalates violations, as much as it increases bitterness and hostility between the parties to a conflict”.
He said Egypt regretted that today’s debate had been undermined by some delegations that addressed issues that did not fall within the legal scope of the topic, let alone the mandate of the Security Council. “We reject the reference to the recent events in Egypt in today’s debate,” he added. Those events did not constitute an armed conflict, and addressing Egyptian affairs in the present debate demonstrated either a lack of legal knowledge or the pursuit of narrow political objectives. Indeed, a “non-international armed conflict” was defined by the Geneva Conventions as a situation in which one or more non-governmental armed groups were involved, which was not the case in Egypt. Finally, the situation in his country did not threaten international peace and security. It was an internal matter and the Egyptian people had the right and responsibility to resolve it.
HASSAN HAMID HASSAN ( Sudan) said it was rebel movements that were most responsible for civilian deaths in armed conflicts. In Darfur, armed groups sought to violate the Doha peace document and to undermine the peace process and stability in the region. He was grateful that Ms. Amos had noted the role of rebel groups in preventing humanitarian access to 90,000 people in areas under their control and attacking the offices of international organizations. Such groups were responsible for the flagrant targeting of civilians, he said, calling on the Security Council to play its role in combating those movements in Darfur. He noted that the responsibility to protect had been mentioned several times. It was a noble concept to which all should aspire, but some were using it to serve their own political objectives. It was outlined during the 2005 World Summit in such a way that implied there should be no infringement on sovereignty.
KAHA IMNADZE ( Georgia) said the international community’s role in protecting civilians and ensuring their basic rights was vital. Five years after the Russia-Georgia war, Georgia continued to suffer from the effects of armed conflict. Despite several Council and Assembly resolutions on internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as Georgia’s comprehensive efforts to alleviate the burden of the displaced, the failure of a relevant actor to recognize their inalienable right to return had prevented any sustainable solution. Georgia was very concerned by the humanitarian and human rights consequences of the installation of barbed wire fences and embankments in the Tskhinvali and Abkhazia region, which had intensified since January, displacing many local residents.
He said that, following the unilateral “blockade” of the mandate of the United Nations monitoring mission in Georgia in 2009, the vacuum, in terms of an international presence, had not been filled. Due to artificially imposed obstacles, the European Union Monitoring Mission, the only international mission in Georgia, lacked the possibility to thoroughly implement its mandate and monitor the security and human rights situation inside his country. He urged the relevant party to grant aid agencies unimpeded access to the conflict-affected population in the Georgian regions under its control.
In a further intervention, the representative of Israel said that, based on remarks made earlier that morning, he believed that the High Commissioner for Human Rights ignored simple facts on the ground in Israel. He reaffirmed that there was no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, where there were no shortage of goods. Certain speakers trampled on the principles of the United Nations as they trample on the rights of their own people. It would seem like the Syrians and Iranians were intent, not only on creating a humanitarian crisis in the region, but also on filling the halls of the United Nations with lies.
Responding to Israel’s statement, the representative of Syria said the instability in the Middle East and the “appearance of wars” were the direct consequence of aggression by Israel, which was responsible for a long list of massacres and aggressions. State terrorism by Israel had resulted in horrific massacres in the Golan and Gaza. Israel pretended to have pity on the Syrian situation, but neglected to remember that it still occupied the Syrian Golan and that its occupants were subjected to assassinations and harassments. Without certain supporters, Israel would not be able to continue its atrocities, he said.