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


Security Council 
4990th Meeting (AM & PM)
SC/8122
14 June 2004


RENEWED COMMITMENT TO DECISIVE ACTION FOR PROTECTING CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT NEEDED

NOW MORE THAN EVER, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD


Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland Urges New Council
Resolution Supporting Further Measures to Improve Civilian Protection


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Background

The Security Council met today to hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, for which it had before it the Secretary-General’s report (S/2004/431).  The report states that civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflicts, and sexual violence –- especially against women and girls –- is increasingly used as a weapon of war.

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Briefing by Under-Secretary-General

JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, presenting the fourth report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, said that the tenth anniversary of the collective failure to protect 800,000 defenceless men, women and children from brutal death in Rwanda provided a chilling impetus for the Council to reflect on ways to better protect vulnerable civilian populations at the height of crises and in their immediate aftermath.

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Among the elements highlighted in the report, and to which the Under-Secretary-General wished to draw attention, was the need to ensure sustained humanitarian access to civilians in need.  In 20 conflicts around the world, humanitarian access had been either denied or obstructed.  The humanitarian community had no access to at least 10 million people worldwide in need of food, water, shelter, medical care and the basic means of survival.  In the Darfur region of Sudan, in particular, the situation was currently a desperate race against time to save more than 1 million civilians threatened with starvation and disease.  Having been prevented from entering Darfur until the last few weeks, the international community was late in responding to that crisis and might need the Council’s help, especially in getting water equipment, sanitation and key non-food relief supplies into the region.  Continued attacks on civilians in the region, despite the commitment to the N’djamena humanitarian ceasefire, were also of deep concern.

The second concern was safeguarding the security of humanitarian personnel, which remained a key challenge to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners, he said.  The past 18 months had witnessed ongoing threats and horrific attacks against humanitarian personnel in many conflict situations, including Afghanistan, Chechnya, Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq, Liberia, the occupied Palestinian territory and the Sudan.  Humanitarian workers had also been specifically targeted in Somalia, where five staff from international non-governmental organizations had been killed in the past six months.  A sustained humanitarian presence to provide protection and assistance wherever needs existed was fundamental to the humanitarian mandate.  For humanitarian agencies to continue to work effectively, reinforced collective approaches to protection and security coordination were needed.  Perpetrators of attacks on humanitarian personnel must be held accountable, as affirmed by Security Council resolution 1502 (2003).

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MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria) ...

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Finally, he concluded, the major gap in the Secretary-General’s report concerned the issue of protection of civilians in territories under occupation.  In the specific case of occupied Palestine, massive, frequent and deliberate violations of the rights of the Palestinian populations living under occupation had reached unequalled levels.  Israel did not deny its violations, which included targeted killings of humanitarian personnel.  The integrity of the international community’s efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians was undermined by the dual yardstick measure applied to the situation in the occupied territories.

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FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) noted that civilians constituted the majority of victims of armed conflicts, which generated massive flows of refugees and IDPs.  An estimated 50 million people worldwide had been displaced by conflict. Among those displaced, a large number of Palestinian civilians had been displaced by the actions of the Government of Israel, which had acted outside the provision of international humanitarian law.  In that regard, it must be recalled that combating terrorism did not justify the non-respect for international humanitarian law and that the root causes of conflict must be dealt with in a comprehensive manner.  The current situation in the Middle East constituted a glaring example of the suffering of Palestinian and other civilians.  Thus, the report’s attention to the issue of restricted humanitarian assistance due to the construction of the separation wall was welcomed.

Civilians everywhere must be protected from crimes committed against them, he added.  The Security Council had recognized that need and adopted a recent resolution condemning Israeli practices and calling for cessation of housing seizures for the wall’s construction, as well as of extrajudicial killings.  Syria also wished to draw attention to the suffering of civilians on the African continent, and to welcome the progress in protection that had been witnessed.  Also welcoming the ten-point programme, to which the Under-Secretary-General had drawn attention, he said that programme should receive meticulous discussion and be followed up by practical implementation, to allow the international community to emphasize norms of international law in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  Syria attached great importance to the issue of access to vulnerable groups in conflict zones and hoped that the United Nations would promulgate legal measures to ensure such access.

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AHMED ABDOUL GHEIT (Egypt) ...

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In regard to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, he noted that 3.5 million people were almost daily subjected to military actions targeting civilians and denied essential humanitarian assistance.  The needs of the civilian population had only become more acute with the construction of the separation wall.  It must be admitted that, despite the United Nations’ past success in intervening effectively to protect civilians, the daily life of the Palestinian people stood as a glaring example of the international community’s incompetence and inability to provide protection for civilians under military occupation.

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RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) noted that, in Iraq, increasingly serious threats to security and continued fighting had resulted in more civilian deaths and injuries, while civilian detainees had been subjected to torture and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  And in the occupied Palestinian territory, escalating violence and military attacks, as well as blatant disregard for international law by Israel, had caused civilian death and suffering.  In such conflicts, women, children, the aged and infirmed continued to constitute 90 per cent of conflict casualties.

The protection of civilians in armed conflict must be all encompassing, he said.  Affected civilians should not only be assured of their physical security, but also provided with legal protection under international law.  The perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity must be held accountable for their actions and face the full penalty of law.  The international community must collectively demonstrate its resolve to punish those responsible.

Also expressing concern over the continued obstruction of humanitarian access to those in need in conflict situations, he urged the Security Council to take effective measures to protect the Palestinian civilians who had long suffered under brutal Israeli occupation.  The protection of civilians in armed conflicts required a comprehensive approach, including through regional organizations.  There must be coordinated and concerted efforts on the part of all, including the parties to the conflict, peacekeepers and United Nations humanitarian workers and other international relief personnel.

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In closing remarks, Mr. EGELAND ...

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In regard of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, he acknowledged that violence had been perpetrated against them and that the constraints posed by the separation barrier were of grave humanitarian concern.  Moreover, the recent attacks in the Rafah camp had shocked the entire international community.  International humanitarian law obviously applied in the occupied Palestinian territory and he was, thus, grateful to Pakistan for recalling that the Secretary-General had noted in his report that compliance with all aspects of international human rights and humanitarian law was necessary in all conflicts.

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