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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


Security Council
4660th Meeting* (AM & PM)
SC/7591
10 December 2002




SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS

IN SITUATIONS OF ARMED CONFLICT IS KEY TO SUSTAINABLE PEACE

Practical Action Called for; Human Rights Day Discussion
Covers New Challenges to Ensuring Safety of Non-Combatants


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Background

As it met to consider the protection of civilians in armed conflict this morning, the Security Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General (document S/2002/1300), the third such report since September 1999.

According to the report, civilians, rather than combatants, continue to be the main casualties of current conflicts, with women and children constituting an unprecedented number of the victims, with more than 2.5 million people killed and over 31 million displaced in the last decade.  The upsurge of global terrorism may significantly increase the scale of suffering.

In the 18 months since the last report, the Secretary-General states, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has worked towards a more systematic presentation of both the situation of civilians in armed conflict and steps to be taken to ameliorate it.  During the same period, three global issues have emerged that will seriously challenge the capacity of Member States to protect civilians:  sexual exploitation; commercial exploitation; and terrorism.

In that light, practical actions to protect civilians are described in three key areas:  secure humanitarian access; the clear separation of civilians and combatants; and the swift re-establishment of the rule of law, justice and reconciliation during the transition.

To improve humanitarian access to civilians in armed conflict, the report states that all parties to a conflict, including non-State actors, must understand their obligations and responsibilities to civilians, with clearly defined conditions for access in any terms of engagement.  Humanitarian and United Nations agencies should coordinate contact in that regard, with the aide-memoire used to guide access negotiations.  Contact between warring parties on humanitarian access issues should be structured; framework agreements are the best option when no peacekeeping mission is present.

To facilitate the separation of civilians from armed elements, the report notes the necessity of government commitments to remove camps for displaced persons from border areas and to separate combatants.  Rapid deployment of United Nations assessment teams to assist those efforts is also needed, as is security support from States hosting refugees.  The aide-memoire is important to ensure that government responses to perceived security threats meet international legal standards.

In the interest of promoting the rule of law, justice and reconciliation, the report states that resources must be provided to reform national institutions as soon as possible after the end of a conflict.  Similarly, early and adequate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants must also be ensured, with attention to reconciliation at the community level.

It is also important that laws and regulations inconsistent with international legal standards be repealed, in particular those regarding the right to return, property rights and housing rights, and that impartial mechanisms be put in place for the return and restoration of property.  Finally, international tribunals and the International Criminal Court must be supported, to bring to justice perpetrators of grave violations of humanitarian and human rights law.
To counter gender-based abuses in conflict situation, the report notes efforts on the part of the United Nations system and recommends measures to be taken by Member States to strengthen the culture of protection in humanitarian crises.  It notes that issues relating to women and children in armed conflict are specifically dealt with in other reports of the Secretary-General (documents S/2002/1154 and S/2002/1299).  Reports by the expert panels on the illegal exploitation of resources were also valuable regarding the relation of such exploitation and harm to civilians (documents S/2002/1146 and S/2002/1115.

Regarding terrorism, the Secretary-General states that the threat must be condemned without reservation and fought with focused energy.  However, States must respond to acts of terrorism in a way that respects the need to protect civilian life and property.  To pursue security at the expense of human rights will ultimately be self-defeating, he says.  In addition, because of the added complexities caused by terrorism, the United Nations will need to formulate clear guidelines for its future work on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in areas where terrorist organizations are active.

Statements

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FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said the item under discussion was of utmost concern to the peoples of the world.  The decision by the Council to keep the item at the top of the agenda showed the importance the Council attached to the issue.  Women and children made up an unprecedented number of victims of current conflicts.  The Middle East was the most flagrant example.  A record number of acts perpetrated against the Palestinian populations by the Israeli occupation forces had been witnessed lately.  Israel was perpetrating a crime of genocide.  Israel had exploited the international umbrella for combating terrorism after 11 September and continued to attempt to eradicate elements of resistance against occupation by classifying them as terrorism.  The report had referred to the tragedy of the Palestinian people, which it described as a crisis of access to, among other things, medical services and education, because of curfews.

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WANG YINGFAN (China) commended the Secretary-General and the United Nations for recent efforts to protect civilians and promote awareness of the issue.  He encouraged United Nations agencies to further improve coordination and improve the road map on the issue.  In addition, he said, it was important that the roots of conflict be addressed.  The responsibility for protecting civilians, he added, was primarily with States and parties to conflicts.

Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration efforts were important in the effort, as well, he said.  In addition, he said that Israel should allow greater access of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, who were being severely affected by that conflict.  Negotiations towards a lasting peace should also be seriously pursued to end the suffering in the Middle East.

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IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) ...

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On the issue of terrorism, he said that unresolved conflicts and the non-completion of peace-building efforts had proved extremely dangerous.  Describing the situations in Afghanistan and the Middle East in those terms, he said that, in addition, Palestinians had long been denied the protection of international humanitarian law, which must be applied universally.  In all those efforts, and in stemming the illegal exploitation of resources during conflicts, there needed to be political commitment from the entire international community.

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AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) ...

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The disregard of international humanitarian law was responsible for much harm that had occurred to civilians during conflict, he said.  Despite the recognition of the importance of that challenge, the international community was still not taking up its responsibilities.  A primary example was the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, where the suffering was increasing due to the occupying Power’s impeding of humanitarian aid, as well as its other practices, which Egypt fully condemned, particularly since the right to resist such occupation was recognized.

He said Africa and the occupied Palestinian territories should thus get more attention in regard to the matter at hand, as should the situation of vulnerable populations such as women and children, during armed conflict

AARON JACOB (Israel) ...

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He said terrorism posed unique challenges to efforts to protect civilians from the ravages of conflict, as it blurred the fundamental distinction between civilians and combatants, not only in the objects they targeted, but also in their non-combat operations. They routinely situated themselves in the midst of civilian areas for the express purpose of defending themselves against possible preventive action.  Restoring respect for the distinction between combatants and civilians was critical to efforts to fight international terrorism and to protect civilians from its deadly effects.

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NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said the Secretary-General's report contained direct references to the humanitarian situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories.  He hoped future reports would reflect in a more accurate fashion that dimension.  There was an international consensus on the existence of a humanitarian crisis among the Palestinian populations arising from the policies of Israel, the occupying Power.  Those policies led directly to injury and death of civilians, and widespread destruction of homes, enterprises, agricultural crops and physical infrastructure.

He said the policies that related to access were another problem.  Those policies included extended curfews and isolation of population centres.  The Palestinian community was being destroyed.  Those actions all involved serious violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the first Additional Protocol thereto.  The international community was duty bound to take measures, including bringing war criminals to justice.

He said Israel had a duty to take measures to prevent aggression against its citizens in Israel proper.  But Israel was present as an occupying Power in Palestine, and colonizing the Palestinian territories through settlements.  Those "colonials" were not civilians:  their presence constituted the core of a war crime committed by the forces of the occupying Power.  Israel must be forced to end its current crimes.  The Council had failed over many years to provide protection for the Palestinian people.

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*The 4658th and 4659th Meetings were closed.

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