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Protection of civilians in armed conflict
The President: In accordance with the understanding reached in the Council’s prior consultations, and in the absence of objection, I shall take it that the Security Council agrees to extend an invitation under rule 39 of its provisional rules of procedure to Mr. Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
There being no objection, it is so decided.
I invite Mr. Oshima to take a seat at the Council table.
The Security Council will now begin its consideration of the item on its agenda. The Security Council is meeting in accordance with the understanding reached in its prior consultations.
At this meeting, the Security Council will hear a briefing from Mr. Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. I invite Mr. Oshima to take the floor.
Mr. Oshima: I would first like to thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to address the Council once again on the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
I am aware of concerns relating to the number of thematic issues brought to the Council’s attention in recent years. Given the daily threat to civilians in many conflicts around the world, however, I believe that it is critical to keep this important issue high — and firmly — on the Council’s agenda. It is important that decisive and timely action be taken to end the suffering of millions of innocent victims of warfare, including many women and children.
Take the Middle East, for example, where the escalation of violence has resulted in many civilian casualties over the past few days alone. In his statement to the council on 12 March, the Secretary-General indicated that "the toll of the dead and wounded, particularly among innocent civilians, has risen to levels that can be described, without exaggeration as appalling" (S/PV.4488, p.2). He specifically emphasized that the use of heavy weaponry by Israel in civilian areas has made life even more difficult and precarious for Palestinian civilians, who were already subject to severe physical and economic hardships, and that it must stop. Also, he told the Palestinians that the deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is morally repugnant. He said that acts of terror and suicide bombings must stop. Against this backdrop, Security Council resolution 1397 (2002) represents a crucial step in reconfirming the need to ensure the safety of civilians and to ensure respect for universally accepted norms of international humanitarian law in the context of the Middle East. Our concerns, however, remain.
Mr. Wehbe (Syrian Arab Republic) (spoke in Arabic): It is a pleasure to congratulate you, Sir, on your initiative of resuming the Council’s discussion of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This is undoubtedly one of the most important issues before us, as Ambassador Levitte said in his statement and as we see from the statistics he provided. This issue is intimately bound up with the question of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts. I greatly appreciate the aide-memoire annexed to the draft presidential statement; it is truly a road map for our future work.
Let us be more frank. Let us ask some questions that shed light on this question. As a practical example of what is happening in the Middle East, do you not see as I do, Sir, the gravity of what is occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories and all the other occupied Arab territories? The Palestinian people is suffering, as Mr. Oshima stated in his intervention. Have not the forces of Israeli occupation killed more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians in the past few months alone? What did we, the Security Council, do to stop the advance of the Israeli tanks into Palestinian refugee camps, where they crushed the bones of scores of Palestinians? Even after yesterday’s adoption of Security Council resolution 1397 (2002), the Israeli Prime Minister ordered the tanks to reoccupy Ramallah, where the headquarters of Chairman Arafat are located. Did not Israeli forces mutilate the bodies of those killed in the conflict? Were their bodies not thrown in the alleys? Were not Red Cross and Red Crescent ambulances prevented from transporting injured Palestinians, including many pregnant women, many of whom died at the checkpoints set up by the Israeli army? Did they not prevent many women in labour from reaching hospitals? Many of them gave birth at those checkpoints. Are they not human beings? Does international humanitarian law no longer apply when the subject is Palestinian citizens and Arabs who are defending on their own land their right to life, liberty and dignity? Palestinian civilians are unjustifiably being killed at the very moment when the Council is discussing the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Why does the Council not send a letter to the occupying force, telling Israel to stop the killing and destruction, to put an end to the carnage and to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, as called for in the relevant Security Council resolutions? The Syrian Arab Republic supports safe and unimpeded access to civilian populations in need of assistance. However, it is necessary to stress the need for the organizations providing international assistance to be unbiased and objective. We would like to congratulate the International Organization of the Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which are making every effort to meet that goal. We must commit ourselves to the Charter and to other international instruments, including General Assembly resolution 46/182, in a way that demonstrates respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, their political independence and their national laws. Such instruments should not be used for political purposes.
Syria supports the bringing to trial of those who commit the crime of forcibly transferring peoples under occupation from their land and replacing them with others, which is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. People — including those under foreign occupation — particularly civilians suffering from the scourge of war and armed conflict attach great importance to our continued deliberations in this respect and to our determination to ensure the implementation of agreements, recommendations and international instruments to protect them and to ensure that conditions are in place to enable them to live a dignified life until such a time as their suffering can be ended. However, sincere political will is essential to ensure respect for these international laws, resolutions and instruments, in particular the principles of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is applicable to the protection of civilians under occupation. It is both important and necessary for us to stress this fact in Security Council resolutions that relate to armed conflict in all parts of the world. How can the Council fail to stress the importance of the implementation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War?
The meeting rose at 12.20 p.m.