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The President ( spoke in French): I give the floor to the representative of Switzerland.
Mr. Maurer (Switzerland) (spoke in French ): I thank the delegation of France for having organized this debate and Under-Secretary-General John Holmes for his briefing this morning.
My country is grateful to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and to other United Nations entities for their committed efforts in the area of civilian protection.
I should like to focus my statement on the following several points. First, the protection of civilians in armed conflict is a permanent necessity and requires the concerted action of many actors. The Emergency Relief Coordinator has rightly mentioned a number of specific situations that show the importance of having a conceptual framework that is clear but that is applied in a flexible manner. Our strategic objective must be to strengthen the protection framework and to ensure that it is actually implemented in conflicts on the ground.
Secondly, we appreciate the work undertaken by OCHA to update the aide-memoire. That very practical text illustrates the developments made in this area over the past few years. In terms of the work of the Council, we identify several major challenges. It must ensure that best practices are applied more systematically and that the language of protection is better integrated into country-specific resolutions. There must be further development of specific implementation mechanisms; hence the importance of the establishment of a group of experts on the protection of civilians. Resolutions should better reflect needs on the ground; this requires better articulation of protection mandates in the terms of engagement of peacekeeping operations, the enhancement of monitoring capacities, more systematic methods of information gathering and the integration of some of these activities into the budgets of peacekeeping operations.
Moving forward in that way, efforts to ensure better coherence will also need to be stepped up. Good practices learned in one case should be applied in others. Representatives from throughout the United Nations system and experts should be invited more frequently to present their views, thus enabling the Council to reach decisions fully aware of the facts.
Thirdly, the current situation in Gaza dramatically illustrates the importance of the issue we are discussing today. The main victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are civilians. Switzerland is deeply shocked by the high number of civilians who have been killed or wounded, in particular the high number of children. This situation underlines how important it is that the law not go unheeded and that it be truly implemented. It also reminds us that the protection of civilians cannot be ensured by purely humanitarian means but that political negotiations are the only path to achieving lasting solutions.
Switzerland therefore reiterates its call for the immediate cessation of hostilities, the protection of the humanitarian space and the strict respect for international law by all parties to the conflict. This includes in particular the obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and the taking of precautions. Switzerland also wishes to recall that all the parties to the conflict are under the obligation to protect medical personnel, hospitals and other health facilities.
We welcome the call made by the Security Council in its resolution 1860 (2009) for an immediate ceasefire and for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza. This call must be respected immediately by all parties to the conflict. However, we are disappointed that the resolution makes no mention of the importance of respect for international humanitarian law. It is to be deeply regretted that this body of law and therefore its references to the Geneva Conventions have become the object of political negotiation and discretion. It is by insisting on the strict application of international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict that the Council will be able to better protect civilians — a fact that the Council itself underlined in its presidential statement of 27 May 2008 (S/PRST/2008/18).
Furthermore, last week Switzerland called for an impartial inquiry into the allegations of violations of international law committed during these hostilities, including the attacks on two schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. In this context, it is essential that light be shed on all allegations of violations committed by all parties.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Qatar.
Mr. Al-Nasser (Qatar) ( spoke in Arabic ): ...
Today, the war on the Gaza Strip enters its nineteenth day. Palestinian civilians in Gaza are subject on a daily basis to relentless military attacks by Israel, the occupying Power. Such attacks do not discriminate between women, children, the elderly or people with disabilities.
In a speech delivered on 4 January 2009, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar, called on the international community to undertake efforts for the protection and relief of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. His Highness highlighted that the Israeli war machine targets everybody and does not discriminate among its victims. He also said that a war waged with such force against civilian targets cannot but constitute a war crime, as it clearly violates international humanitarian law and international human rights laws, including the Geneva Conventions, and in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, which includes provisions on the protection of civilians under foreign occupation. The number of Palestinian civilian killed in Gaza Strip has almost reached 1,000. What are we going to do about it?
United Nations reports, including reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF, highlight the dire situation in which Palestinian children and their families are still living. Entire families have been killed and buried alive under the rubble of their homes. Those who have managed to survive suffer psychological trauma that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Others have suffered serious injuries and have become mentally and physically disabled.
The Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip is subjected to a campaign of collective punishment, as stated by Mr. Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 . The infrastructure in Gaza, including hospitals and schools, is also under constant attack. The continuous targeting of such institutions leaves no safe areas for the civilian Palestinian population to shelter.
This situation prompted Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, in her capacity as UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, to address a letter to the Secretary-General on 5 January, calling upon the Security Council and the international community to ensure the necessary protection for educational institutions in Gaza with a view to providing a safe haven for the children of Gaza and their families, allowing access to humanitarian assistance and basic materials and evacuating the sick and the wounded.
The world has witnessed how Israel targeted the Al-Fakhura School run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The school provided protection for the children of Gaza and their families, who took refuge in the premises, believing they were in a safe haven. Forty-five people were killed and another 130 were wounded.
We reiterate our call on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities, meet its obligations to protect civilians in armed conflict and ensure respect for the instruments of international law and Security Council resolutions, which provide the legal basis for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation. The rule of law constitutes a fundamental issue in armed conflict. It is therefore imperative for us to realize that respect for international law constitutes the true basis for a world free of armed conflict.
The Security Council today, faced with the indiscriminate aggression against the Gaza Strip, must shoulder its responsibilities towards the Palestinian civilian victims, especially the Palestinian women and children who have been maimed, burned and buried under the rubble by the Israeli war machine, which has spared no one. We would like to remind the Security Council that it is fully responsible for its failure to enforce its most recent resolution, among several others that provide for the protection to which the afflicted Palestinian people are entitled, and to stop the massacre being committed against them.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Al-Jarman (United Arab Emirates) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
It is deeply regrettable that we for 19 days have witnessed a vivid example of the contempt of some States for the resolutions of this Council and the exercise of double standards and selectivity in their implementation. Israel is pursuing its barbaric military assaults against the population of Gaza for the sixth day after the Security Council adopted resolution 1860 (2009), which calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. In its paragraph 5, it also condemns in plain language all violence and hostilities directed against civilians.
Despite the adoption of this resolution, Israel has continued to commit war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza by bombarding civilian areas with internationally banned weapons, using excessive force and imposing severe collective punishments against unarmed civilians, including through siege, the closure of crossing points and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance, in flagrant violation of the principles of human rights and relevant international resolutions and laws.
What is happening in Gaza Strip is testimony to the serious impact of the international community’s failure to implement the resolutions of international legitimacy and the selectivity of their implementation, and to its inability to shoulder its responsibilities and legal commitments in the protection of innocent civilians during conflicts. The death toll among the Palestinian people has so far surpassed 1,000 people, 40 per cent of whom are women and children, and does not account for the missing persons and those suffering from serious injuries and physical and mental disabilities, whose numbers have exceeded 4,000, half of whom are children and women. Their numbers are increasing daily.
The United Arab Emirates supports international efforts to find a solution to the Palestinian question through peaceful means, including the Arab Peace Initiative and the Annapolis Understanding, and urges the international community, and the Security Council in particular, to revisit the implementation standards relating to the protection of civilians when it considers the situation in existing armed conflicts, in accordance with its resolution 1674 (2006), which recognizes the primary responsibility of conflicting parties for protecting civilians in armed conflicts, as well as the shared responsibility of the international community as a whole to assist States to shoulder their responsibility in this regard.
In this context, we affirm the importance of the following.
First, pressure must be exerted on Israel to comply with the provisions of resolution 1860 (2009). It must immediately cease its aggression against the Palestinian civilian population, fully withdraw from Gaza and open all crossing points in order to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis being faced by Palestinian people.
Secondly, the international community must exert pressure on Israel to resume peace negotiations, given that the present crisis has shown the need to expedite a serious and peaceful negotiating process. It must also require Israel, the occupying Power, to shoulder its responsibility and honour its previous agreements and commitments, which would contribute to establishing an independent Palestinian State as soon as possible.
Thirdly, an international commission of inquiry must be established to investigate the war crimes committed by Israel against civilians in Gaza and to prosecute those responsible in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy, the latest of which is the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council.
Here, we would like to reaffirm the importance of strengthening the international role that the Security Council must play in collaboration with specialized departments and committees established by the Secretariat, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council, particularly in taking effective, swift and decisive action to prevent the suffering of civilians in conflict areas. That includes providing a safe and secure environment for civilians in armed conflicts, which, under the Charter of the United Nations, is one of the Security Council’s priority tasks in maintaining international peace and security and in building peace.
In that connection, we emphasize the need to develop methods for monitoring acts committed against civilians during armed conflicts and the need for measures to be taken to persuade all countries and parties to conflicts throughout the world to fulfil their commitment not to target civilians and to protect their lives, property and legitimate interests without applying double standards, bearing in mind the need to fully respect the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-interference in their internal affairs.
The President (spoke in French ): I now call on the Permanent Observer of Palestine.
Mr. Mansour (Palestine): Palestine welcomes this open Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We firmly share the belief that the protection of civilians in armed conflict is a matter of immense importance and that the Council’s attention to that issue is both appropriate and necessary. We hope that the Council will continue to address the issue in an effective manner until the serious protection of civilians in armed conflict is ensured in all cases, without selectivity or inaction based on political considerations.
For Palestine, today’s debate is especially timely. For the nineteenth day now, Israel, the occupying Power, has continued with impunity to unleash its military wrath on the defenceless population of the Gaza Strip, killing nearly 1,000 Palestinians, including more than 400 children and women, and injuring nearly 5,000. Those who were killed not only were trapped, traumatized and terrorized along with the 1.5 million other inhabitants there, but also were denied the protection accorded to civilian persons under international law. In the light of that, the Palestinian people and their leadership — especially our people in Gaza — continue to call upon the international community to provide much-needed and long overdue protection for the civilian population and for measures to be swiftly taken in that regard to prevent the loss of more innocent lives.
As the Palestinian civilian population continues to be subjected to Israel’s indiscriminate, excessive and disproportionate use of force by means of tanks, F-16s, helicopters and other heavy weapons, including white phosphorous shells and dense inert metal explosive bombs, the profound human suffering continues to mount, as the people of Gaza have nowhere to run and nowhere to seek refuge. Moreover, among countless other violations, the occupying Power has attacked medical workers and clearly marked ambulances, wantonly destroyed public and civilian infrastructure and institutions, targeted United Nations schools and buildings, denied access to medical treatment for the sick or wounded, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, all the while continuously denying an entire population their most basic rights, including the right to food and water.
Clearly, international law forbids such brutality. Humanitarian and human rights law prohibits, inter alia, the killing and bodily injury of civilians, reprisals against civilians and civilian objects, the wanton destruction of homes and other civilian property, and the collective punishment of civilians. Such actions, wilfully perpetrated, constitute war crimes.
The belief that the occupying Power has in fact committed war crimes is also being reported by several human rights organizations now working on the ground in Gaza. In that regard, the appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the Human Rights Council, in its resolution dated 12 January 2009, for an independent investigation of crimes committed by Israel, the occupying Power, in Gaza is important and should be acted upon. We would also like to recall the suggestion made by Secretary-General in his latest report on civilians in armed conflict (S/2007/643), in which he stated that, in situations where parties to a conflict commit systematic and widespread breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law and thereby create the threat of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the Council should be willing to intervene under Chapter VII of the Charter.
Here, we would like to recall resolution 1860 (2009), adopted less than a week ago, which, among many other important provisions, calls urgently for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire and for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatment. Of course, the ceasefire that the Security Council called for was intended to lead to a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
Unfortunately, Israel continues to ignore the resolution adopted by the Council, pressing on with its military aggression against the Gaza Strip and even intensifying it over the past couple of days. We call on the Council to compel Israel to heed the calls of the Council, in accordance with its obligations as an occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and its obligations under the United Nations Charter as a State Member of the United Nations.
Moreover, we call on the Security Council and all concerned parties to make the necessary efforts and work to ensure the effective implementation of the resolution in order to bring an end to all military activities and violence; to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs of the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, who for too long have been under Israel’s inhumane siege; and to help the parties return from the precipice to which this crisis has brought us and back to the path of peace.
In addition to the massive carnage against the Palestinian people in Gaza, the civilian population there continues to suffer from unlawful measures of collective punishment being imposed on them by the occupying Power. The situation before the Israeli assault in Gaza was already dire owing to Israel’s inhumane 19-month siege, by which it deliberately obstructed humanitarian access and the movement of persons — including sick persons needing treatment unavailable in Gaza — and of all goods, including the most essential, such as food and medical and fuel supplies. All aspects of life were severely impacted, with poverty, hunger, disease and instability rising to alarming levels, particularly among the refugee population and children — who constitute nearly 56 per cent of the population — exacerbating the humanitarian crisis to catastrophic proportions.
Protecting civilians in situations of foreign occupation must be a priority mission of the United Nations, and the Security Council has clear responsibilities in that regard. Regrettably, the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for its violations and crimes over the past four decades has reinforced Israel’s lawlessness, permitting it to continue using military force and collective punishment against the defenceless Palestinian people under its occupation and, in essence, absolving it of its legal obligations as an occupying Power.
As Israel continues to breach its legal obligations towards the Palestinian civilian population, the Security Council, if it cannot compel Israel to abide by the law, has a duty to determine and undertake appropriate measures to protect the civilian population. Respect must be demanded for the instruments of international law that are supposed to provide the Palestinian civilian population with protection from human rights violations and crimes committed under occupation.
It should be recalled that the basis and guiding principles for the protection of civilians in armed conflict are embodied in the rules of international law, particularly humanitarian law and human rights law. The need to protect civilians, promote their welfare and safeguard their human dignity is at the core of the spirit and purpose of these laws. Protection provisions can be found in many instruments of law, including the Geneva Conventions — particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, which comprises provisions explicitly aimed at ensuring the safety of civilians in armed conflict, including specific provisions for civilians under foreign occupation — the Additional Protocols, the Human Rights Covenants, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and United Nations resolutions.
We have the legal instruments and tools that are required, and we know what actions need to be taken to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We are convinced that the international community has no choice but to make progress and create a different and safer situation than that faced today by civilians not only in Palestine but everywhere else affected by armed conflict.
Before closing, we would like to commend the work of many United Nations bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as the work of many international humanitarian organizations that have worked tirelessly to launch initiatives and programmes to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We continue to support and encourage their work in this field.
Mr. Sorcar (Bangladesh): ...
We are appalled by the scale and intensity of the devastation and the deaths of innocent Palestinians, including women and children, caused by the indiscriminate and excessive use of force in the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. It is disconcerting to see that even humanitarian workers are being killed by the Israeli attackers. The ongoing attacks, in continued defiance of the Council’s call for a complete ceasefire, are contributing to continued civilian casualties.
My delegation wishes to draw the international community’s attention to the fact that Israel, as a signatory to the relevant provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulates the responsibilities of an occupying Power, cannot legally or morally absolve itself of its responsibilities for guaranteeing the basic human rights of the people under its occupation. In this regard, my delegation would like to re-emphasize the importance of the principle of the responsibility to protect, as endorsed in the 2005 World Summit Outcome, in preventing harm to civilians in armed conflict.
In conclusion, my delegation once again expresses its grave concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation caused by the ongoing Israeli attacks in and around the Gaza Strip. Israel must comply with resolution 1860 (2009). My delegation strongly urges the international community, particularly the Council, to take effective steps to ensure implementation of that resolution and thereby bring about a complete ceasefire in the Gaza Strip forthwith.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Kuwait.
Mr. Bu Dhhair (Kuwait) ( spoke in Arabic ): ...
The tragic circumstances faced by the unarmed population of the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the savage onslaught in which civilians are subjected to all kinds of killings, horrors and expulsions, call for urgent action and a firm stand to stop the aggression immediately, with no delay, to protect the lives of civilians. One and a half million people live in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them civilians. A helpless minority militia faces a professional military institution that is using bombs that sow fear in the hearts of children and kill them indiscriminately. That can only lead to the creation of a generation that is more violent, more extreme, and will engender more hatred and resentment as the days go by. The same applies to those who live under siege, who are denied food and medicine, as we hear from the testimony of international organizations working on the ground in Gaza. It is as if the Israelis had not learned any lessons from history.
The practice of the Israeli occupation army is a clear violation of international laws and conventions, and that must oblige us to take a very clear stand vis-à-vis such inhumane practices and practices that do not guarantee the safety of civilians. We must take a stand against such practices. When arrogant countries allow the voices of arms and bombs to prevail and think that by killing, terrorizing and starving innocent civilians they achieve their political goals or that that will bring them peace, they are totally mistaken. That is a dead-end road and will only bring more instability and counter-violence, more pain and suffering, and will transform those who are defenceless — civilians who are seeking a better life for themselves — into extremists who know only the language of violence, blood-letting and extremism in all its forms.
My delegation invites all peace-loving Member States to create a new and effective system or methodology for taking serious action against any country that undertakes the kind of military aggression that Israel has unleashed on the Palestinians, threatening the lives of civilians. No human logic or conscience can accept a country that preaches democracy, respect for human rights, especially those of women and children, and love of peace using tanks and bombs to kill, maim and terrorize civilians.
If the proposals presented by the United Nations through its Secretary-General and his representatives are not given due consideration, the Organization and its main bodies, the Security Council in particular, will lose all credibility in the eyes of unarmed civilians, who call on us to assume our responsibility for protecting them in armed conflict.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Israel.
Ms. Shalev (Israel): This month has proven to be a complicated one. Allow me to thank you, Mr. President, for convening this debate. I further wish to thank Under-Secretary-General John Holmes for his informative briefing and to thank him and his team for their important and ongoing humanitarian work, in particular in our region at the present difficult time.
This debate is, to be sure, considering a wide range of issues related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. All of them are important. Yet there exists one major threat, one distinct danger to civilians, that the Security Council must not and cannot ignore: terrorism. Terrorism causes enormous harm to civilians in armed conflict. Terrorism turns civilians into targets, shields and weapons. “Acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations ... are activities aimed at the destruction of human rights” ( A/CONF.157/23, attachment, part I, para. 17 ): so stated the United Nations in clear and unambiguous terms.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hamas’s terrorist war against Israeli civilians and the Palestinian people.
It is on Israeli civilians that Hamas rockets rained down for eight long years. For more than one million Israelis, daily life included rocket and mortar attacks against houses, schools, kindergartens, markets and all forms of civilian life.
These are not indiscriminate attacks as some like to classify them. Hamas’s attacks are very discriminate: directed deliberately at civilians — men, women and children. These attacks kill and maim Israelis, creating a living nightmare, a nightmare that forced Israel to act in self-defence.
As Hamas launches those attacks, they cower behind Palestinian civilians, knowing full well the danger they invite. Civilian casualties in Gaza, as a result, are the heartbreaking consequence and sole responsibility of Hamas’s terrorist actions. Hamas hides weapons and explosives in mosques and uses minarets to launch attacks. What kind of person, we must ask, uses a house of prayer as a weapons depot? The answer is Hamas terrorists.
Evidence against Hamas abounds. Hamas terrorists launched rockets from school yards and rigged Palestinian schools with explosives as booby traps. What kind of person, we must ask, uses schools — places where children gather — as a battlefield? The answer is Hamas terrorists.
Hamas commanders and leaders set up shop in the basement of Gaza’s largest hospital, the Shifa hospital. Hamas fighters and members have entered hospitals and donned doctors’ coats in an effort to blend into the civilians of Gaza. What kind of person, we must ask, uses hospitals to cower behind injured civilians? The answer is the same: Hamas terrorists.
As Israel has facilitated the movement of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip — more than 800 trucks totalling over 25,000 tons of aid — there are repeated and horrifying reports that Hamas terrorists have seized aid, distributing it to its own members and supporters and selling what is left to the impoverished civilians. What kind of person, we must ask, confiscates humanitarian supplies from civilians in a conflict zone? The answer is the same again: Hamas terrorists.
It is Hamas and terrorists like it that view civilians not as a population to be avoided in an armed conflict but as a population to be exploited in an armed conflict.
We must use today’s debate to ensure that we denounce the harm that terrorism inflicts on civilians. In recent years, more civilians were killed, maimed and injured by terrorists than by legitimate armed forces. And we must act against terrorists and their inhumane methods. Failure to act simply because terrorists are using civilians as cover would broadcast an invitation to every terrorist group in the world to set up shop inside a hospital or a kindergarten.
Hamas’s despicable and cynical use of targeting civilians is an appalling example of the toll that terrorism takes on all civilians. When civilized people look at children, they see the future. When terrorists look at children, they see targets and human shields. The Security Council must offer no refuge to those who drag civilians into armed conflicts.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Jordan.
Mr. Al-Allaf (Jordan) ( spoke in Arabic ): ...
This meeting comes at a difficult time, as the world watches, live and in astonishment, the situation in Gaza. The situation has been ongoing for three weeks now. All international rules and standards regulating armed conflict have been violated. The Israeli aggression has targeted unarmed and innocent civilians and destroyed infrastructure in Gaza. Here, Jordan joins the international call issued by the Secretary-General for an end to the suffering of civilians in Gaza and for their protection.
We are faced with an unprecedented example of inhumane aggression against the security, safety, rights and basic freedoms of human beings, the most important of which is the right to life and freedom from fear and terror, and against the right to the basic requirements of normal life. We are witnessing a flagrant violation — an attack against the identity of the Palestinian people and their character, future and basic rights. We are also witnessing an unjustified siege that has cut the lifeline of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza. These are civilians who are being subjected to a disproportionate use of force and to collective punishment. They deserve immediate protection by this Council.
I will not list all the figures, which are known to us all, but I would like to point out that 280 children have been killed, 1,200 have been wounded, and many more are living in fear and terror. This terror will haunt them for generations and decades to come. UNICEF has clearly expressed its deep concern over the destructive impact that the Israeli aggression has had on children in Gaza.
Israel must protect civilians, especially children, who constitute 56 per cent of Gaza’s residents. Israel must abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law, especially the principles of distinction between targets and proportionality. These figures are not simply collateral damage; rather, they represent primary damage caused by targeted military operations in a disproportionate and exaggerated use of force. This arbitrary use of force does not distinguish between a military target and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East school, in which a group of women, children and elderly people had sought refuge from Israel’s military operations.
The evacuation of the injured and the provision of safe passage for ambulances and medical personnel are among the most important tenets of international humanitarian law. On that basis, Israel must guarantee and facilitate access by medical staff and ambulances, which are now unable to do their duty in the light of the dangerous circumstances prevailing in Gaza. Israel must abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the Protocols Additional I and II to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, which pertain to the protection of the victims of international and non-international armed conflict. It must also abide by all relevant international instruments, the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict and all relevant General Assembly resolutions.
Jordan calls on the international community to uphold its responsibilities and obligations in protecting civilians in armed conflict, including by calling upon Israel to immediately implement resolution 1860 (2009), which calls for an immediate ceasefire that would lead to a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and guarantee the full protection of the international community for the people of Gaza against the Israeli military aggression.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Argentina.
Mr. García Moritán (Argentina) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
In this context, the Republic of Argentina expresses its profound concern with regard to the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East. We condemn the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza and the launching of rockets towards Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Full respect should be ensured for obligations in the context of international humanitarian law and all measures should be taken to protect the civilian population . The United Nations reports are eloquent: the number of civilians who have died as a result of bombings and land operations is horrific. This must stop.
Humanitarian conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories are also cause for special concern for our countries. The international community should take urgent steps to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population. Israel must also contribute to that end by allowing humanitarian personnel immediate and secure access.
The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is alarming. In the current circumstances, international assistance cannot reach the affected population. If we do not act urgently, a major humanitarian crisis could ensue, potentially affecting more than 1.5 million Palestinians. We know that various coordination efforts are being considered to provide assistance in the area. Argentina is preparing a significant package of humanitarian assistance for Gaza. We are prepared to join our efforts with those of the international community. Our country is also prepared to contribute to official assistance, in particular by providing personnel from our White Helmets initiative and placing specialized teams of trained volunteers able to act as reserves at the disposal of the United Nations humanitarian system.
The Government of Argentina strongly emphasizes that this is the time for diplomacy. The inclination towards bellicose action should be abandoned. A negotiated way out of the crisis should be supported, including the urgent establishment of an unconditional ceasefire that allows the international community to immediately set up a humanitarian truce to make it possible to help people at risk.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the Permanent Representative of Morocco.
Mr. Loulichki (Morocco) (spoke in Arabic ): I am speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, which would like to thank you, Mr. President, for your initiative to convene this open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. I would also like to thank Under-Secretary-General John Holmes for the valuable and comprehensive briefing he gave during this debate.
Today’s six-monthly debate coincides with a painful event that highlights its importance and places it in a special light of practicality and everyday life. At a time when the Council is meeting to discuss the content, mechanisms and goals of the concept of protection of civilians, we are witnessing the tragedy of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which is of direct relevance to the issue at hand today.
For the past 19 days, Israel has invaded Gaza using the full potential of its war machine, spreading terror and destruction, assassinating innocent children, annihilating entire families and destroying homes, schools and places of worship. The toll of this aggression has exceeded 1,000 dead and 4,500 injured, not to mention the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been forced to flee their homes. Where are we in terms of protecting civilians in times of war?
Israel has not stopped at this point. Rather, it has tightened its siege on Gaza and its residents. It has deprived them of the most basic requirements of life. It has prevented them from seeking their daily living and has obstructed the fuel and electricity needed to power public facilities, including hospitals. It has also prevented humanitarian aid from reaching those in dire need of its assistance. What precisely are we doing in terms of protecting civilians in times of conflict?
Moreover, Israel has attacked a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, in which families had sought refuge from the Israeli war machine. Instead, they were met with death. Medical teams and international staff have also been targeted by the Israeli military machine. In addition, the occupying forces, in their vindictive military campaign, have used white phosphorous bombs, as well as weapons that have been banned internationally. What, then, are we doing to uphold our duty to protect civilians in times of conflict?
The catastrophic situation of civilians in Gaza is a painful reminder of what the Palestinian people are suffering every day throughout the occupied Palestinian territories as a result of Israel’s illegitimate occupation, its illegal settlement policies, its inhuman siege and its efforts to annihilate the Palestinian identity and punish Palestinian civilians. The occupying Power has become more oppressive and tyrannical as it flouts the principles of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which includes clear provisions pertaining to the protection of civilians in times of war, clearly stipulates the responsibilities that Israel as an occupying Power must uphold and obliges it to implement and respect those provisions. This was reaffirmed strongly by the Human Rights Council in the resolution adopted at its special session of 9 January 2009. The Council called “for immediate international protection of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory in compliance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law”. ( A/HRC/S-9/L.1/Rev.2, para. 9)
The Secretary-General has repeatedly condemned the Israeli aggression and has called for its immediate cessation. Moreover, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described the Palestinians’ plight as the only conflict in the world in which people are not even allowed to flee. Recently, the Council adopted resolution 1860 (2009) calling for an immediate ceasefire in order to put an end to the bloodbath, whose price the unarmed Palestinians are paying more dearly than anyone else. However, instead of responding to or heeding the call of the Council, Israel has pursued its aggressive policies and even escalated its aggression, claiming the lives of dozens every day with no concern for international appeals, regardless of their source. What, then, are we doing to uphold our duty to protect civilians in times of war?
What awaits the Palestinian people, the rest of the Arab countries and the international community as a whole? They expect the Council to work to ensure Israel’s implementation of resolution 1860 (2009) immediately and its immediate declaration of a ceasefire. Every hour that passes jeopardizes the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of innocents and increases the desperate humanitarian situation of the rest of Gaza’s residents. Is this not one of the duties of protecting civilians of times of war?
The aide-memoire prepared for this meeting indicates the need for the Security Council to take into consideration the situation of most civilians, as well as the responsibilities of parties to a conflict to protect civilians and to respond to their basic needs. It also condemned all the aggressor’s actions and called for an immediate end to those and any others that would harm civilians in situations of armed conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law and the relevant conventions.
Therefore, if there is a way to translate those good intentions into concrete implementation by matching the Council’s words with actual deeds, and to gauge their feasibility by their impact on the ground, then civilians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories must be protected. That would end the bloodshed and the aggression that has targeted them, thus preserving the credibility of the Security Council and enhancing the effectiveness of its efforts.
In conclusion, the protection of civilians in armed conflict, despite its importance, is part of a larger challenge related to the need to peacefully resolve conflicts and to positively and effectively address their underlying causes. That challenge lies at the heart of the responsibilities of the Security Council, which, under the Charter of the United Nations, is the principal organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The President (spoke in French ): I now call on the representative of Liechtenstein.
Mr. Wenaweser (Liechtenstein): We thank you, Mr. President, for convening this open debate and the Emergency Relief Coordinator for his briefing at the beginning of this meeting.
This debate is taking place against the backdrop of the armed conflict in Gaza, which is causing very high numbers of civilian casualties, in particular among children. We support resolution 1860 (2009), which is legally binding on the parties to the conflict, and call for its implementation, first and foremost in the interest of the civilian population, whose rights are not being respected, who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing violence and who are being deprived of the necessary humanitarian assistance. The parties to the conflict have the responsibility under international humanitarian law to facilitate humanitarian operations.
The President (spoke in French ): I now call on the representative of Nicaragua.
Mrs. Rubiales de Chamorro (Nicaragua) (spoke in Spanish )...
International humanitarian law is implemented in times of war to protect persons who are not participating or no longer participate in hostilities because they have been wounded or taken prisoner. In addition, it imposes restrictions on the methods and means of combat. The main instruments of such law are the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and its Protocols Additional, which are nearly universally accepted. I say “nearly” because this debate is occurring in the face of a concrete case of the violation and non-application of those international instruments. This is the case in Israel’s terrible aggression carried out by land, sea and air against the civilian inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. We are witnesses to the fact that in Gaza, the very bases of society — houses, civilian infrastructure, public health facilities, universities and schools — are being destroyed.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child denounced the devastating effects of the Gaza conflict on children. The Committee’s 18 experts recalled that the international instruments to which Israel has acceded prohibit the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.
My delegation wonders: Who is stopping the violation of the most fundamental rights of these thousands of civilians, children and women who are being massacred? What body of our Organization is implementing on the ground the provision, set out in the first paragraph of Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations, for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace? How many more children will have to die in Gaza before the United Nations takes action?
In accordance with the instruments of international humanitarian law that I mentioned previously, in the event of hostilities every possible precaution must be taken to avoid causing the collateral death or injury of civilians, or damaging civilian property. The distinction must be made between property of a civilian nature, such as homes and places of worship, and military targets.
However, Israel seems to have a contrary understanding of these provisions and has taken every possible measure, such as the use of the most technologically advanced weapons — including weapons of which the use is prohibited in international humanitarian law — to cause the largest possible number of civilian victims and the destruction of civilian property. The banned weapons that are being used, as borne out by independent experts in Gaza, include white phosphorus and cluster munitions, which are strictly banned in densely populated areas, such as those we are talking about here.
Given this tragic situation, I would like to express the profound disappointment of the people and the Government of Nicaragua that the Security Council has not been able to date to take real and concrete measures on the ground or to comply with its responsibility to immediately halt the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. This concern is all the greater given the possibility that the conflict could spread through the region.
The number of civilian victims in the Gaza Strip has doubled since the adoption of resolution 1860 (2009), as have the derision and disdain of Israel of the adopted resolution, of the body that adopted it, and of the members of that body, particularly the permanent members, and of the international community in general. And this disdain does not end there, since the Israeli slaughter and barbarity continues against the Palestinian civilian population.
As a State Member of the United Nations, we urge this body to comply with its responsibilities, take the measures necessary to implement resolution 1860 (2009), and establish a ceasefire leading to a withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces, thus halting the genocide that is being practiced against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and ensuring the unfettered delivery of humanitarian assistance. The resolutions of the principal body of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security must be complied with on the ground, all the more so when human lives are at stake. We must act to protect the civilians in the armed conflict in Gaza from the Israeli armed aggression.
Given this situation of inertia, my Government supports the call by the President of the General Assembly, who at the request of the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement has decided to reconvene the tenth emergency special session of the Assembly. We support the Secretary-General in all his initiatives on the Middle East and any other international initiative that will bring an end to the slaughter once and for all. We have the unshirkable responsibility to protect civilian populations in armed conflict.
Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
In a statement I made to this Council on 27 May 2008, I referred to Mr. Holmes’ statement to the Council in November 2007 on the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, which he described at the time as reaching the limits of what is bearable for any community. I would now like to recall what Mr. Holmes said in his statement of 27 May 2008. “In Gaza, Israeli air attacks and ground incursions continue to result in unacceptable Palestinian civilian casualties” (S/PV.5898, p. 3).
At that time, seven months ago — which happens to be the duration of the truce with Israel — I described the inhuman situation of civilians in Gaza as a result of collective punishment policies that are legally actionable and that are embodied in the siege and in the deprivation, oppression and tyranny that Israel has practiced against civilians under the umbrella of a so-called truce. This so-called truce has in fact led to the transformation of the Gaza Strip into the biggest collective detention camp in the world, while its residents have been deprived of the most basic requirements of life. The situation I described was the tragic situation during the truce of the past seven months, as Mr. Holmes, who is sitting to my left, can attest.
According to the science of philosophy, rational thought would presume that repeated calls upon Israel to put an end to these practices should logically lead to its immediate cessation of these illegitimate policies and practices. That is what the rational thought of philosophy would assume. Unfortunately, Israel did not just ignore these calls and the demands issued several months ago, during the truce. Rather, it escalated its aggressive practices and launched a cowardly military operation targeting the unarmed civilians that it is holding prisoner in this detention camp called the Gaza Strip. It has killed and wounded thousands and is continuing to do so at this very moment, thus completely undermining the concepts of international legitimacy, international law and international humanitarian law.
Incidentally, we would like to remind the Council that this collective prison called Gaza occupies an area of only approximately 363 square kilometres. It is a strip of land that is 35 kilometres long and about 6 to 12 kilometres wide. It is equivalent to the area of one of the Nazi detention camps that humanity mistakenly thought were a painful experience never to be repeated in the future. However, Israel has insisted on such a repetition.
Let us review together what was stated in the Security Council’s statement on the protection of civilians, of 27 May 2008 (S/PRST/2008/18). The Council reaffirmed that parties to armed conflict are responsible to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians, in particular giving attention to the specific needs of women and children. What was Israel’s response to these words? Its response was to kill more than 400 children and approximately 200 women, not to mention the elimination of entire families.
Moreover, the Security Council statement stipulated the need to grant safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel to provide aid to civilians in armed conflict in accordance with international law. What was Israel’s response to this statement? Its response was to deny medical and food aid completely despite international calls to the contrary, the most recent of which was resolution 1860 (2009). And what were its aims through this? To kill those it could not kill directly by depriving them of food, medicine, water and electricity.
The Israeli forces also rounded up several families and led them to an empty house, then bombed them from aircraft in a flagrant breach of the Third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners. Moreover it has used internationally banned weapons such as white phosphorus in bombing its enemies, who are women and children.
The criminal acts that Israel is perpetrating constitute a unique case of wholesale violation of all the principles and tenets of international law and international humanitarian law, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, as well as international conventions on the protection of children. These crimes are war crimes and genocide that must be prosecuted.
Let us admit here that Israel’s aggressive behaviour has a unique trait — let us call it a shortcoming — that no usurper in history has yet achieved: it violates humanity’s entire legal tradition in one go, with no exception. Here we ask this Council to tell us which legal obligations Israel has upheld since the Security Council placed the item of the protection of civilians in armed conflict on its agenda in the late 1990s. We also ask the Council to inform us where and when has it held Israel accountable for its violation of international criteria and laws pertaining to the protection of civilians.
The important question, whose answer would be much appreciated by us and by many others, is why are there two standards in the implementation of international law, and why is Israel exempt from the implementation of these standards? Is this so-called international law designed on the basis of criteria that have nothing to do with the criteria of our Member States but much to do with the narrow interests of some influential States in the Security Council, with the aim of protecting Israel and holding it above international law? Is this the reason? Or is there a problem in understanding the terminology so that some do not consider the Palestinians unarmed civilians like all others in the free world?
We note here that the Charter of the United Nations does not give a State the right to violate civilians’ rights, including the rights of civilians under occupation, using the excuse of self-defence. Rather, the Charter obliges the occupying Power to meet clear requirements. It is not permissible for some, even with good intentions, to repeat in this Chamber Israel’s lie that its aggression against the Palestinians is in self-defence, in application of Article 51 of the Charter, because that Article does not apply to invading forces that forcibly occupy others’ lands and have done so for decades. Quite to the contrary, Article 51 of the Charter applies by default to the Palestinians’ resistance against Israeli occupation, in self-defence. In other words, the right to self-defence must not be manipulated by some to justify their silence over Israel’s crimes. There is an Arabic proverb that says “Those who do not speak out against wrong are but a silent Satan”.
The situation of Syrian residents in the occupied Golan is not much different from that of the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation forces continue to confiscate land and to expand illegal settlements. The so-called regional settlement council in the Golan, with the support of the occupation Government, has endorsed plans to build a new settlement tourism village that would occupy 40 dunams near the Israeli settlement of Ani’am, which was built over the ruins of the Syrian town of Nakhila Taibeh. Moreover, that council, in cooperation with the religious Yonatan settlement administration, which is an extremist organization, has set up a plan to attract thousands of settlers so that their numbers would increase to over 50,000 in the near future. Also, representatives of Israeli parties in the settlement of Ketzarin, which was also built on the rubble of a Syrian town, Qazrin, have signed a coalition agreement within the framework of the regional settlement council that aims to establish cooperation and coordination among them in order to oppose any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in light of the resumption of indirect negotiations to that end.
Israel continues to impose a policy of oppressing civilian Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan. It continues to imprison them with no due cause and to subject them to situations that could jeopardize their lives. We would like to call attention here to the case of prisoner Bashir Al Moqt. My Government has called on the Secretary-General, the Red Cross and others to intervene to save his life.
Israel also continues with its policy of cutting off all forms of communication and contact between Syrian family members who have been separated as a result of the occupation. Moreover, the Israeli forces have confiscated Syrian identity cards given to students from the occupied Golan attending Damascus University when they returned to their towns in the occupied Golan. Here, Syria calls upon this Council to pressure Israel to allow Syrian citizens to visit their Syrian motherland, through the Quneitra crossing immediately and without delay, in order to give credibility to this particular debate,. My country has dispatched messages in this regard to the Secretary-General, the Presidents of the Security Council and General Assembly and governmental and non-governmental organizations requesting them to intervene to help in resolving this issue.
We hope that all of these parties would translate the positions that they have taken today into real actions, especially since international law stipulates that Israel’s occupation of the Golan is actually several occupations, thus requiring that the Council issue several incriminations. Israel has not been occupying the Syrian Golan since 1967, but also adopted a provocative and unjust resolution claiming to annex the occupied Golan, which was unanimously rejected by this Council in its resolution 497 (1981). The Council considered the decision to annex as void and demanded that Israel immediately rescind it.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of Myanmar.
Mr. Than Swe (Myanmar): ...
Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a decline in the number of armed conflicts around the world. However, armed conflict, with all its complexity, continues to My delegation is fully committed to a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are convinced that there is no military solution to it. We strongly call for the protection of civilians. In that connection, my delegation wishes to express its profound concern about the destruction and loss of innocent life as a result of the ongoing military attacks in the Gaza. Myanmar joins the international community in urging the cessation of all military activities and violence in order to find a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict.
The United Nations and the international community have a legal and moral obligation to work for durable peace. The principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular resolution 1860 (2009), and the relevant international humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld in a balanced, non-discriminatory and transparent manner if we genuinely wish to protect civilian populations from armed conflict and promote peace and stability.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the Permanent Representative of Egypt.
Mr. Abdelaziz (Egypt) (spoke in Arabic ): At the outset, I would like to express the appreciation of the Egyptian delegation for your initiative, Mr. President, to convene this general debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.
This debate takes place at a very perilous time. The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are confronting genocide under the very nose of the Security Council, and the Israeli occupying Power is clearly and flagrantly violating its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law. Moreover, its actions constitute a blatant defiance of the authority of the Security Council, which has made continuous calls — inter alia, in its press statement of 15 December and its resolution 1860 (2009), adopted on 8 January 2009 — for an immediate ceasefire between Palestinians and Israelis.
The recent Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip has demonstrated unequivocally the inability of the Security Council to enforce its decisions. It has also demonstrated the Council’s inability to adopt critical decisions in a timely manner, as expected by the international community. Furthermore, the Council has demonstrated its inability to prevent the escalation of Israel’s brutal air and ground military operations and its use of internationally banned weapons. The Council is also unable to impose the will of the United Nations as the sole representative of the international community, even when such representation takes the form of a unanimously adopted statement or a resolution adopted by 14 votes in favour and the abstention of one member that endorsed the main thrust of the text.
The issue, then, is that the Security Council discusses the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but turns a blind eye to the ongoing massacre, which has killed approximately 1,000 Palestinians and injured nearly 5,000, at the hands of a brutal force occupying their land. The Council procrastinates on any significant negotiations aimed at peace and claims, with support from forces within and outside its membership, that Israel is exercising its legitimate right to self-defence and reacting to the deaths of Israelis, who number no more than the fingers of one hand, from rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. Israel uses not only excessive and disproportionate force, but also internationally prohibited weapons, in its so-called self-defence, while flouting all its legal and ethical obligations.
Protecting civilians in armed conflict from death and injury and providing humanitarian and economic assistance to the brotherly Palestinian people were the main goals of the Egyptian initiative launched by President Mubarak on 8 January, in conjunction with the adoption of resolution 1860 (2009). The initiative calls first for an immediate ceasefire for a predetermined period, during which humanitarian assistance can be delivered. It provides for an appropriate timeframe for negotiations on the arrangements and guarantees stipulated by the resolution in order to make the temporary ceasefire permanent, thereafter promoting the resumption of peace negotiations.
However, both parties have so far chosen not to implement this initiative; each believes that it will emerge victorious from this military confrontation, ignoring the fact that there are no winners in such a war. There will be clear losers, however: the civilians of Palestine and Israel alike. Those civilians have lost their lives so that some might achieve their electoral aspirations or claim a bogus victory at the expense of the deceased victims. Victory cannot be achieved except through a genuine peace process based not on the ambitions and aspirations of individuals, but on the benefits of peoples living in peace and stability.
Egypt’s efforts to establish an immediate ceasefire between both sides continue, but it also believes that the Security Council has a great responsibility to impose the international will represented in its resolutions and statements; adopt all the necessary measures to protect civilians on both sides by pushing forcefully to implements its decisions; enforce all human rights protection mechanisms, especially through the convening of a special session of the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention; implement the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 11 January; and provide international protection through a protection force for the Palestinian people, in implementation of the principle of the responsibility to protect. Some seek to apply that principle to specific countries, while bypassing others toiling under brutal occupation and confronting ferocious aggression without any international force to protect them.
Furthermore, the Security Council is primarily and the General Assembly secondarily responsible for investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and for handing over those who are responsible for committing such crimes to international prosecutors. This should take place in conjunction with Arab and international efforts to end the occupation, since without an end to the occupation and without a right for the Palestinian people to establish their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital, the Middle East will never enjoy stability and civilians in Palestine and Israel will not enjoy lives of peace and security.
In order to achieve those ends and to create an opportunity for the peace process to succeed, the siege imposed on the Palestinian people in Gaza must be lifted, access to basic humanitarian and economic needs must be ensured, and Palestinian national reconciliation should be achieved so that clear political prospects that will contribute to the success of regional and international efforts to stop the violence and ensure the success of the peace process, can be established. In this regard, Egypt will continue to do its utmost to achieve those two goals by supporting all efforts to restore full security and stability to the occupied Palestinian territories until the occupation has ended and the independent Palestinian State is established.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Mr. Valero Briceño (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) ( spoke in Spanish ): This meeting to consider the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict is very timely, in view of the tragic events that have plunged the Palestinian people in Gaza and the international community into mourning and threaten to engulf the United Nations once again in a cloud of desperation, impotence and frustration. Civilians trapped in armed conflicts and those who suffer because their neighbours are suffering hope that the purposes and principles enshrined in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations will be applied to safeguard current and future generations from the scourge of war.
The nature of armed conflicts is changing, involving a whole series of factors that must be examined as a whole. The parties involved, the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Human Rights Council and other bodies of the system, each within their respective competencies, need to examine strategies of prevention to safeguard peace and protect civilians, looking to the underlying causes of armed conflict.
In the Gaza Strip, we are facing one of the worst types of war in the modern world: punishing the civilian population to break their morale, destroy their spirit of resistance, crush their will to fight and lead them to believe that slavery can be benign. However, the dignity of peoples has prevailed throughout history. Resistance in search of freedom and self-determination is preferable to submission to genocidal Powers.
Resolution 1674 (2006) contains valuable elements. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela wishes to emphasize that the framework established by that resolution is not exhaustive in terms of the possible actions that the international community should or could take. This is shown most clearly in the deplorable cases of inaction or excessive delay in responding on the part of the Security Council when it needs to safeguard the lives, physical integrity and basic needs of civilians in situations of armed conflict.
The recent experiences in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon are clear examples of how an outdated institution tied to the specific interests of certain States can affect civilians. It enables the parties to a conflict — or some of them — to flagrantly violate international humanitarian law and human rights.
Without the appropriate and timely provision of humanitarian assistance, civilian populations in situations of armed conflict are condemned to prolonged suffering that may even lead to their death. For that reason, Venezuela condemns deliberate attacks against any personnel who do humanitarian work. We deplore the fact that the occupying Power, Israel, has not provided the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) with the security conditions necessary for its humanitarian activities in Gaza. The attacks on United Nations convoys and facilities constitute crimes against human rights, and those responsible must be brought to justice under the relevant international laws. The Israeli authorities must be required to provide conditions of security so that UNRWA and the other United Nations entities acting in situ can continue to assist the victims of the mad violence unleashed as a result of the military aggression perpetrated since 27 December 2008.
The President (spoke in French ): I now call on the representative of Iran.
Mr. Al Habib (Islamic Republic of Iran): At the outset, I wish to thank you, Mr. President, for having convened this open debate at this critical juncture. I would also like to thank Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, for his comprehensive briefing today.
The issue under consideration is of paramount importance, and this meeting is all the more important because it is being held at a time when the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are being subjected to one of the most heinous brutalities ever committed against civilians in the history of humankind.
Rather than making generalities about today’s important topic, I, like many previous speakers, would prefer to address one of the most serious examples in that regard: the untold losses and suffering that the Zionist regime has inflicted on the defenceless civilian population in Gaza. We also hope that the current tragedy in Gaza will be duly reflected in the outcome of today’s Council meeting.
Over the past 19 days, Palestinian civilians have been deliberately targeted and brutally mass-murdered by the ruthless Israeli war machine, which is callously shattering lives and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip. The abhorrent Israeli carnage and Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip are continuing unabated. The 1.5 million people of Gaza have been under a crippling siege and a brutal blockade for more than 18 months now and continue to be deprived of the most needed medical supplies and the most basic necessities — including even bread and drinking water — and are, at the same time, being massacred in the most horrendous and brutal ways, with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and nothing to eat. Whole families are being eliminated in cold blood by the Zionist forces, and women and children, along with other civilians, are being deliberately targeted and massacred.
The humanitarian aid sent to the people of Gaza is being turned away by the Israeli regime and prevented from reaching its destinations, as in the case of an Iranian relief ship carrying 2,000 tons of basic medical and food supplies destined for Gaza, which was intercepted and prevented from continuing on its way to Gaza by the Israeli regime yesterday. We condemn that unjustifiable move and hope that the Security Council will exert pressure on the regime to cease and desist from such unlawful actions.
Even United Nations workers and the United Nations premises where innocent civilians take shelter are not immune from Israeli attacks, as we witnessed in the recent attack on schools of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which claimed the lives of more than 40 people and wounded many more civilians, most of them children. Savage acts, such as forcing women, small children and other civilians out of their homes and then massing them all into a small place and machine-gunning or shelling them, are examples of the rampant atrocities being repeatedly committed by the Israeli forces in Gaza. Those revealed so far are really just the tip of the iceberg, and many other such atrocities are simply never reported because the international media are facing an Israeli ban and cannot cover the heartbreaking tragedies in Gaza.
The international community has no doubt that the Zionist regime is violating the basic principles of international law, international humanitarian law and human rights law and defying the most fundamental values for which the civilized world stands. Israeli forces are blowing away women and children in Gaza without a moment of remorse. As a result of those atrocities, many innocent civilians, including little children, have died horrible deaths, and the bodies of many others have not been recovered from the rubble because the Israeli military is shooting at anyone who attempts a rescue.
This carnage must be stopped immediately, and the Israeli war criminals should be brought to justice for the crimes that they have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate and for the outrageous and brutal pain and torment that they have inflicted and continue to inflict on the innocent people in Gaza.
Despite its commitment to the full and effective implementation of its resolutions on the protection of civilians in such circumstances, the Security Council has thus far taken no effective action to stop this genocide against Palestinians. The Security Council was first prevented by some permanent members from taking any action, and when it took action belatedly, the resolution it adopted, resolution 1860 (2009), did not address the expectations of the international community in, inter alia, forcing the Israeli regime to stop its atrocities against the Palestinians and withdraw from Gaza, or even in strongly condemning the Israeli regime’s crimes against humanity and devising a mechanism for holding Israeli officials accountable for the war crimes and genocide that they have committed and continue to perpetrate against the Palestinian people in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular. Even that resolution, as imperfect and belated as it is, is being totally ignored by the Israeli regime, as are many other previous United Nations resolutions, to which its response had been contempt and defiance.
We strongly condemn all of these Israeli violations of international law and urge the Security Council to force the Israeli regime to put an end to such practices and to its aggression. The international community should act swiftly to end impunity and to bring the Israelis responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and numerous other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law to justice. The Council has a vital and urgent responsibility to discharge in this regard in order to end these Israeli atrocities and crimes against humanity immediately.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to the representative of the Sudan.
Mr. Mohamad (Sudan) ( spoke in Arabic ): ...
The manner in which the United Nations addresses the disaster facing civilians in Gaza should provide an example of the expected role of the United Nations in the area of the protection of civilians.
We need to hear from those who talk at length of the need to fight impunity and genocide. We want to hear them speak of the events in Gaza.
The President ( spoke in French): I give the floor to the representative of Pakistan .
Mr. Amil ( Pakistan): ...
As we take the floor one after another, restating or rehashing known positions or offering new ideas on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, I am sure we all realize that the world is watching us. As Gaza burns, the world is watching us. The world is watching this Council in particular with disappointment. For while this Council spends a day debating high-sounding moral principles and respect for international law, it has failed to carry out its own primary responsibility under the Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security.
For a debate of the Council on this issue, these are no ordinary circumstances. The 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza, collectively punished, callously persecuted, strangulated and blockaded for years by Israel, the occupying Power, have been subjected to a new deliberate campaign of terror, death and destruction, which continues for the nineteenth day as the entire world watches in horror and disbelief. The besieged people of Gaza, we must not forget, are mostly the Palestinians who were originally dispossessed and driven from their homes by the Israeli occupation. Under the blockade in Gaza, the choice given to them has been either to starve or to submit.
Over the years, stark and disturbing evidence has made it clear that civilians, particularly vulnerable groups such as women and children, continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict and remain the prime victims in such situations. This is also the case in Gaza.
Less than a month ago, we celebrated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international community reaffirmed its pledge to uphold the value of the Declaration. Yet one month after reiterating that “we will not shy away” from the magnitude of the challenges of promoting and protecting human rights, the Security Council appears unable to enforce compliance with resolution 1860 (2009) or to protect the innocent people caught in the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
Resolution 1860 (2009) also condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism. Since the adoption of the resolution, the number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli aggression has increased to around 1,000; almost 40 per cent of the killed and the nearly 5,000 wounded Palestinians are women and children.
Empirical evidence throughout history shows that systematic and consistent violations of the rights of civilians are most frequent and pervasive in situations of foreign occupation and suppression of the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination. This holds particularly true for the people of Palestine and of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The challenges of addressing gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are exacerbated by the problem of inequity in the international response. While in some situations there is a quick and even a robust response, in others, such as Gaza, the perpetrators enjoy virtual impunity. The record of the Security Council itself in this context is not without blemish. In these circumstances, effective and swift application of the concept of protection of civilians in Gaza is a litmus test for this Council’s future actions on this agenda item.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective penalties and collective punishment of the civilian population. The responsibility of Israel, as the occupying Power, is clear in that regard. In the context of protecting civilians in Gaza, the international community must live up to its responsibilities, and in particular the Security Council should lead the efforts to implement its own resolution 1860 (2009). We strongly feel that deliberate violence against humanitarian and United Nations personnel helping to protect civilians is unacceptable in any situation.
We call for renewed determination to provide protection to all innocent civilians caught in armed conflicts and under foreign occupation, including those we see dying by the minute in Gaza as we speak.
The President (spoke in French ): I now give the floor to Mr. Holmes to respond to questions and comments raised during the discussion.
Mr. Holmes : The hour is late, and I will be brief. I will not try to respond to all the detailed points that have been made but will just make a few comments.
Understandably, many, if not most, speakers emphasized deep concern at the situation in and around Gaza. Earlier, I gave some casualty figures for Gaza from 13 January. The reason I was not able to give fully up-to-date figures was that the Palestinian Ministry of Health had no power at the time. They have now released the latest casualty figures, as from, I think, 4 o’clock local time today, according to which the figure of Palestinians killed is now 1,013, of whom 322 are children and 76 are women. And the number of injured now stands a 4,560, of whom 1,600 are children and 678 are women. This means that one in every 270 people in Gaza has now been killed or seriously injured in the almost three weeks of hostilities.
These really are shocking figures. Although such comparisons obviously have their limitations, if we translated these figures to the population of New York City, the equivalent proportion would lead us to the number of more than 30,000 dead or injured; and if we compared it to the population of the whole United States, we would reach a figure of over 1 million people.
All this, again, underlines the sentiment expressed by so many in the Chamber today: that we need to do much more to ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law governing the conduct of hostilities and to spare the civilian population. But, as I think virtually all speakers emphasized, only a full and fully respected ceasefire will spare the civilian population, on both sides, from the unrelenting danger and fear that they currently face.
The President (spoke in French ): I thank Under-Secretary-General Holmes for his additional comments. I thank him for his presence before the Security Council today.
Following consultations among the members of the Security Council, I have been authorized to make the following statement on behalf of the Council:
“The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the full and effective implementation of its resolutions on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and recalls previous statements on the issue made by its President.
“The Security Council remains committed to addressing the impact of armed conflict on civilians. The Council expresses its deepest concern that civilians continue to account for the majority of victims of acts of violence committed by parties to armed conflicts, including as a result of deliberate targeting, indiscriminate and excessive use of force, use of civilians as human shields and of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as all other acts that violate applicable international law. The Security Council condemns all violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict. The Council demands that all relevant parties immediately put an end to such practices. The Council reaffirms in this regard that parties to armed conflict bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians and to meet their basic needs, including by giving attention to the specific needs of women and children.
“The Security Council recalls the obligations of all States to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including the four Geneva conventions, and once again emphasizes the responsibility of States to comply with their obligations to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
“The Security Council recognizes the needs of civilians under foreign occupation and stresses further, in this regard, the responsibilities of the occupying Power.
“The Security Council condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, however and by whomever committed.
“The Security Council underlines the importance of safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel, and of the timely, safe and unhindered passage of essential relief goods, to provide assistance to civilians in armed conflict in accordance with applicable international law. The Council stresses the importance of upholding and respecting the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
“Recalling that on 15 March 2002 the Security Council first adopted the aide-memoire annexed in the statement by its President (S/PRST/2002/6) as a means to facilitate its consideration of issues pertaining to protection of civilians and recalling further that in the statements by its President of 20 December 2002 (S/PRST/2002/41) and 15 December 2003 (S/PRST/2003/27), the Security Council expressed its willingness to update the aide-memoire regularly in order to reflect emerging trends in the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Security Council adopts the updated aide-memoire contained in the annex to this presidential statement.
“The Security Council reiterates the importance of the aide-memoire as a practical tool that provides a basis for improved analysis and diagnosis of key protection issues, particularly during deliberations on peacekeeping mandates, and stresses the need to implement the approaches set out therein on a more regular and consistent basis, taking into account the particular circumstances of each conflict situation, and undertakes to remain actively seized of the matter.”
This statement will be issued as a document of the Security Council under the symbol S/PRST/2009/1.
There are no further speakers inscribed on my list. The Security Council has thus concluded the present stage of its consideration of the item on its agenda.
The meeting rose at 7.05 p.m.
This record contains the text of speeches delivered in English and of the interpretation of speeches delivered in the other languages. The final text will be printed in the Official Records of the Security Council . Corrections should be submitted to the original languages only. They should be incorporated in a copy of the record and sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned to the Chief of the Verbatim Reporting Service, room C-154A.