Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Protection des civils dans les conflits armés - Débat du Conseil de sécurité - Communiqué de presse (extraits) Français
Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
Security Council
27 May 2008

Security Council

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council
5898th Meeting (AM & PM)



Presidential Statement on Civilian Protection Follows Day-Long Debate;
Emergency Relief Coordinator Supports Creation of Informal Expert Group on Issue



The Security Council met this morning to debate the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


JOHN HOLMES, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the mural on the wall of the Security Council Chamber by Norwegian artist Per Krogh served as a vivid reminder that millions of ordinary people were still trapped in the horror of war and conflict, hoping desperately to rise from the chaos that still surrounded them, into more peaceful times. It was also a reminder to the Council, the Member States and the United Nations of their responsibility to prevent war, secure peace and, in its absence, to ensure the protection of civilians.


Civilians continued to account for the majority of casualties in armed conflict, often in flagrant violation of the rules of international law governing the conduct of hostilities, he said. In Darfur, for example, civilians remained the principal victims of attacks by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Janjaweed militia. Last month, in Somalia, hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured and thousands more had been forced to flee their homes. Israeli civilians remained subjected to physical and psychological suffering caused by indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks launched from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In Gaza, Israeli air attacks and ground incursions continued to result in unacceptable Palestinian civilian casualties. Non-State groups in Colombia continued to perpetrate killings, mass displacements, hostage-taking, sexual violence and forced recruitment of civilians. In Sri Lanka, hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured this year.




DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) said the issue of humanitarian access would require further attention, so a way could be found to ensure that those in need of life-saving assistance received it, and those who provided it did so in a secure environment. The Council should look into the Secretary-General’s proposal for establishing mechanisms to enable humanitarian agencies to have some working-level dialogue with all parties to armed conflict. That would enable the establishment of “de-conflicting” arrangements for agreement on routes and timing of humanitarian convoys and airlifts to avoid accidental strikes on humanitarian operations. The dialogue would also promote humanitarian corridors and days of tranquillity.

Further, he said the blockade should be lifted in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, so that OCHA could establish contact and dialogue with all parties to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. The protection of civilians in armed conflict had to remain a United Nations priority, with all States cooperating on finding a common solution for ensuring that protection. The Council could best address the issue by establishing partnerships with regional mechanisms. A strengthened dialogue between the Council and regional organizations would also contribute to tackling common security challenges and ensuring speedy action on the ground.

Finally, he said the deeply regrettable killing of two humanitarian aid workers earlier this month, one in Somalia and another in Chad, underlined the dangerous and volatile environment aid workers endured in giving assistance to civilians caught in armed conflict.

JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said that today bore witness to Governments’ disregard for the pressing needs of their populations. In an unprecedented development, some were even the authors of those needs. Some Governments, in disregard for the rulings of the international courts, made a mockery of international law and justice. As Mr. Holmes had said, there were many and diverse obstacles to the protection of civilians. He had highlighted the many limitations to humanitarian access, such as recently in Myanmar, as well as the prevention of the deployment of peacekeeping operations, such as in the Sudan, where the Government was the main impediment. Other sources of concern included human shields by terrorists and the use of force by private security companies and multinational forces, such as in Iraq. Also, children were the direct victims of the escalation of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.


ALEJANDRO WOLFF ( United States) said that, while the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lay with the parties to conflicts and the national Governments concerned, the United Nations should support and reinforce that role. In regard to assuring humanitarian access, he supported the return of the United Nations Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) and planning for a United Nations peacekeeping operation there. In Gaza, he said, the United States was contributing nearly $148 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, while Hamas attacks exacerbated the situation. The Israeli Government, he stressed, must take all appropriate steps to protect civilians.

Condemning sexual violence, he urged all Member States to take concrete steps to end both the use of rape as an instrument of conflict and the impunity for perpetrators. His country would pursue a resolution addressing the role of women in conflict during its Council presidency next month. In the area of protracted refugee situations, comprehensive and innovative approaches to both resolution and livelihood problems were needed. Meanwhile, his country was actively providing protection to those in need, and he called on other States to uphold the right to asylum and the need for durable solutions for refugees.

In the area of cluster munitions, he agreed that the harm such weapons could cause to civilians must be reduced. However, rather than a treaty emerging through the Oslo process, he supported an agreement through the Convention on Conventional Weapons. His Government believed such weapons could not be completely eliminated, as that would put the lives its soldiers and its partners at risk. The most important principle in the area of protection of civilians was maintaining the distinction between combatants and civilians, and preventing the deliberate targeting of the latter.


GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) said the protection of civilians was one of the highest commitments, both legal and moral. Council discussions had advanced the issue -- several working groups had been established and resolutions and presidential statements had been adopted. Most of those texts underscored the Council’s commitment to protect civilians, condemned all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and stressed the need to combat impunity, safeguard access for humanitarian assistance and protect the safety of humanitarian aid workers. The Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit had endorsed the principle of the responsibility to protect.

He noted that the Council’s role had grown in several areas, including in combating sexual exploitation, protecting women and children, and controlling small arms and light weapons. Additionally, measures had been taken to build national and judicial capacities and mandates to protect civilians had been given to peacekeeping operations, which he highly valued. Despite those gains, in several areas in Africa, particularly in Somalia, as well as in Asia and Palestine, action was long awaited. Then there was the tragic situation in the Gaza Strip, where deliberate military attacks persisted against vulnerable civilian populations. The impact of mines and cluster bombs spread in civilian areas continued unabated, as did detentions, compulsory migrations, displacements, collective punishment, measures to eradicate cultural identity and demolitions, including of refugee camps. All those actions were criminal according to the provisions of international law. Despite that, there was a general attitude, an “old position” in the Council, which prevented it from acting. That only led to more human tragedy.


MARTY NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that the intensity of violence directed at civilians was frequently shocking. However, the most tragic situations occurred when the world became immune to the suffering of civilians, or consciously decided to ignore it. The lives and sanctity of civilians must be prioritized during conflicts, and the parties must respect the letter and spirit of international humanitarian law. A comprehensive focus on gender and cultural diversity was also needed, as well as an approach that was sensitive to the needs of local populations.

He said that ending the cycle of violence on the ground was key to protecting civilians, and he expressed particular concern over the continued civilian casualties among Palestinians caused by the indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. In addition, he called for a total ban on cluster munitions. With the growing complexity of conflicts, regional organizations and private donors had an important role to play in the protection of civilians. Violence against humanitarian workers was also a crime and must be prevented through the application of international law.


NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said that protection of civilians should be strengthened, but with strict compliance with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. It was easy to call for a mechanism to protect civilians in peacekeeping missions, but it was the Palestinians, Somalis, Iraqis and the Afghans who were in dire need of protection and assistance. It was an area that required sincere intentions and political will.

The occupiers who had been putting obstacles in front of humanitarian assistance and who had been bombarding civilians must be condemned, he said. Women, children and vulnerable groups required special protection. His country had done much work to develop instruments to protect civilians, for which purpose it was important to prevent conflict when possible. An example of such prevention, through genuine dialogue and impartial mediators, had taken place recently in his capital and had included the Lebanese political parties.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that protecting civilians in armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation, must be a priority mission of the United Nations, and the Council had clear responsibilities in that regard. The basis and guiding principles for such efforts were the rules of international law, particularly humanitarian and human rights law. The need to protect civilians, promote their welfare and safeguard their human dignity was at the core of the spirit and purpose of those laws. Despite such legal safeguards, however, armed conflicts continued to claim the lives of innocent civilians. The reasons why lay primarily in the lack of respect for international law and the international community’s failure in many circumstances to ensure respect for law and to hold violators accountable for their crimes, with a view to ending those crimes and ensuring protection of civilians and promotion of their human rights.

Regrettably, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Palestinian people had been denied the protection to which they were entitled as a civilian population under occupation, he said. There, civilians remained highly vulnerable and exposed to the occupying Power’s lethal military force and massive, systematic and grave human rights violations. Palestinian civilians, including children, continued to be killed, wounded and maimed in Israeli military assaults, which were indiscriminately launched in civilian areas, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and which, in addition to the widespread casualties and destruction it caused, had terrorized and traumatized the population. The international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for its violations and crimes had regrettably reinforced its lawlessness, permitting it to continue using military force and collective punishment against the defenceless Palestinian people under occupation. As Israel continued breaching its legal obligations, the Council -- if it could not compel Israel to abide by the law -- had a duty to determine and undertake appropriate measures to protect the civilian population. To continue doing nothing in the face of such crimes was unacceptable and, as had been witnessed over the years, the consequences “are more than tragic”.


BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said that, despite the legal developments, civilians still paid the highest price during armed conflicts and a gap existed between the texts and their implementation. Mr. Holmes, addressing the Council last November, had referred to the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Gaza, describing it as having reached an intolerable level. The situation had worsened. The continued siege and closure of the crossing points had transformed the Gaza Strip into the largest prison in the world, depriving the Palestinian people of the most basic needs and impeded access to assistance. Further, there had been a huge imbalance in the responses of the United Nations and the Security Council with regard to the prevailing tragic situation in Gaza and other situations. No one could deny that the occupying Power persisted in its attacks against civilians without any deterrent because of the hesitancy of the international community to condemn the siege and call for an immediate halt to those policies and practices.

The Charter had not granted States the right to use the pretext of self-defence to violate the rights of civilians, including those under occupation, he said. Instead, the Charter had imposed clear commitments. The Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan was not much different from that of the Palestinians, and he detailed the parallels, calling on the United Nations and Security Council to pressure Israel to, among other things, immediately release prisoners of war. He called on the Council to deal with the Palestinian occupation and the Syrian Golan with the same seriousness and objectivity, free from double standards and with an in-depth study of the reasons for the suffering of those civilians, namely the Israeli occupation.


As for problems in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mr. HOLMES still believed that the situation in Gaza was tragic and he still appealed to Israel to relax restrictions there, which constituted collective punishment that should be brought to an end. At the same time, it was clear that indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza should stop. The particularly cynical and unacceptable attacks against the crossing points by Hamas from and within Gaza should be prevented, because they simply could not be seen as helping the local Gaza population.

Noting that the representative of Myanmar had questioned the reference to access issues in the natural disaster context in his briefing, he said it seemed to him to be “slightly perverse” not to mention the problems of access in Myanmar, which he had said were outside the scope of today’s debate, but which merited further consideration in due course.

* *** *
For information media • not an official record

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter