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Protection of civilians in armed conflict
The President : I should like to inform the Council that I have received a letter dated 16 June 2009 from the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, which will be issued as document S/2009/324 and which reads as follows:
“I have the honour to request that, in accordance with its previous practice, the Security Council invite the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations to participate in the meeting of the Security Council which will be held on Friday, 26 June 2009, regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”
I propose, with the consent of the Council, to invite the Permanent Observer of Palestine to participate in the meeting, in accordance with the rules of procedure and the previous practice in this regard.
There being no objection, it is so decided.
At the invitation of the President, Mr. Mansour (Palestine) took the seat reserved for him at the side of the Council Chamber.
I propose, with the consent of the Council, to extend an invitation under rule 39 of its provisional rules of procedure to Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
It is so decided.
I invite Mr. Holmes to take a seat at the Council table.
The Security Council will now begin its consideration of the item on its agenda. The Security Council is meeting in accordance with the understanding reached in its prior consultations.
Members of the Council have before them document S/2009/277, which contains the report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
At this meeting, the Security Council will hear a briefing by Mr. John Holmes.
I now give him the floor.
Mr. Holmes : ...
Yet, as detailed in the annex to the report, our access to conflict-affected populations is too often unsafe and not timely enough, and too frequently impeded. Millions of vulnerable people are deprived of assistance as a result. Enhancing access to those in need is identified as the fourth challenge in the report. Many factors interfere with access, but three constraints are the most severe and most widespread.
First is burdensome bureaucracy. Permissions and travel notifications restrict the movement of humanitarian actors, while customs and quotas on goods stifle the flow of aid. The result is that those in need do not receive the assistance they need when and where they need it.
In Gaza, for example, the criteria used by the Israeli authorities for allowing the import of goods remain unpredictable. Medical supplies can be subject to particularly long delays. Israel’s decision in March of this year to allow the unrestricted entry of all foodstuffs from Government-approved sources remains unimplemented and, despite major shelter and reconstruction needs following the hostilities earlier this year, only a fraction of the required construction materials have so far been allowed into Gaza.
Mr. Heller (Mexico) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
With regard to the situation in the Middle East, we have underscored that all parties should constantly abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law, honour their international obligations and avoid actions that may put civilians in danger. Since the end of the crisis in Gaza at the beginning of this year, Mexico has emphasized the need to put in place an international monitoring mechanism to ensure a lasting ceasefire, the opening of the border crossings, an end to the illicit trafficking in weapons and humanitarian assistance to the population.
Mr. Hernández-Milian (Costa Rica) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
Finally, I want to stress the need to improve the early warning and rapid response capacity of the Security Council with respect to any situation that could represent an imminent danger to the safety, security and well-being of civilian populations. We agree with the report that pre-emptive action can significantly contribute to that end and that the Council should make use of all the tools at its disposal, including punitive measures, to prevent the escalation of hostilities in situations such as the recent crises in Gaza and Sri Lanka. The Council’s credibility depends on its willingness to give equal treatment to the protection of civilians in all situations, even those not formally included in the Council’s agenda.
Mr. Ripert (France) (spoke in French ): ...
Effective protection of civilians clearly entails a resolute fight against the culture of impunity. The allegations of violations of the international humanitarian law must be the subject of an impartial and independent inquiry. Those investigations should involve all parties. The Gaza conflict showed that. In that region of the world, as elsewhere, all civilians, whether Palestinian, Israeli or other, must be protected.
Mr. Dabbashi (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya ) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
Despite the progress that has been made in the codification of international humanitarian law and in the adoption of general principles on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the international community can hardly be pleased with the inadequacy of that progress at the practical level. The lack of progress is a source of great concern and, in some case, of disappointment. A large gap has opened between our words and our deeds. The number of casualties in armed conflict, including under foreign occupation, has not declined, and no one can doubt the suffering of the victims of armed conflict, famine, torture and similar types of prohibited behaviour, sexist and sexual violence, violence against children, the recruitment of children, human trafficking, the problem of refugees, internal displacement and lack of access to humanitarian assistance.
A living example of this is the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million Palestinians are deprived of all the basic needs of life and of humanitarian assistance, including United Nations assistance. Gaza has become a large prison that one cannot get out of or into. The Israeli occupying authorities are not satisfied with that but have conducted military actions against Gaza for 22 consecutive days. The authorities used all means of destruction, including internationally prohibited weapons — white phosphorous most specifically. The Israeli authorities struck at everyone; they did not discriminate among civilians and military. The Israeli occupation deliberately targeted civilian installations — schools, hospitals, United Nations infrastructure, property. We all know that record, and United Nations officials have been clear in this regard.
More than 1,300 martyrs have been noted, more than a third of them children, and more than 5,300 people have been wounded. This is in addition to the almost total destruction of infrastructure in Gaza and of more than 24,000 buildings or living units.
The international community, represented mainly by this Council, not only has the right to take measures but has the responsibility to act if the parties directly concerned have not managed to protect civilians or have shown a lack of will to do so, or if it is proven that the parties in question are the aggressors. We do not understand how the Security Council would remain mute, would not go after the perpetrators of war crimes — the Israelis, especially for the crimes committed in Gaza, crimes that have been proven and reaffirmed in the summary of the investigation group established by the Secretary-General to look into the damage and losses to United Nations facilities in Gaza. It was published, but no measure was taken in this area, for a very simple reason: States that have the right of veto in the Council want the aggressor to be above the law and not to be subject to accountability.
We are awaiting the results of the investigation by the group that was established by the Human Rights Council to investigate the crimes committed in Gaza. We hope the international community will take measures on the basis of those results.
Thousands of Palestinians have been killed or wounded in Gaza without any mercy. Everyone has seen it. The international community has seen it. Internationally prohibited weapons were used against civilians. Justice demands that the perpetrators of those crimes be pursued by the International Criminal Court. The Security Council must understand that this is extremely important for its credibility.
This Council has been clear, in its resolution 1674 (2006) regarding humanitarian access without any impediments for people who need such assistance. The Council needs strict measures for access to civilian populations and for staff access to those people. That, in turn, requires the opening of crossing points on the part of Israel to allow the free flow of individuals, goods and funds from and into Gaza. The opening of those passage points is necessary to take into consideration the needs of the blockaded population and is extremely important for rebuilding and for erasing the traces of the Israeli aggression.
We hope that these discussions will be successful and that we will take the necessary measures, because this question is extremely important for humans and human dignity.
The President: I shall now make a statement in my national capacity.
Council members will all recall that our debate in January (see S/PV.6066) was held in the shadow of the tragic developments in Gaza. Indeed, what happened in Gaza was a stark reminder of the vulnerability of civilians in times of armed conflict. It also proved once again the need for all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. That said, Gaza has not been the only case where civilians have faced danger during armed conflict. Indeed, the issue of the protection of civilians has been particularly high on the agenda of the Council during recent years, and especially since the beginning of this year, for we have been witnessing extremely dire challenges in many parts of the world, in terms of providing a safe and secure environment for civilians.
It was in that frame of mind that my delegation studied carefully the recent report of the Secretary-General (S/2009/277), which gives a comprehensive account of the latest situation in various theatres and the difficulties encountered in protecting civilians. The report clearly demonstrates the magnitude of the task incumbent upon all of us to ensure the effective protection of civilians in times of conflict. This should be a collective and multidimensional effort, with the primary obligation and responsibility resting first and foremost with States. Yet the entire international community , including non-governmental organization s and international organizations, has a responsibility to protect civilians.
I now resume my functions as President of the Security Council.
Mr. Al-Nasser (Qatar) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
The State of Qatar condemns the targeting, killing or maiming of civilians in armed conflict or in situations of foreign occupation. We condemn all acts of reprisal against civilians or against civilian targets such as schools and hospitals. We note the observations in the report of the Secretary-General regarding the core challenges to improving the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation, and we endorse the report’s reference to the fact that those challenges are fundamentally reflected in the lack of full compliance with international legal commitments on the protection of civilians.
In our region, more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians lost their lives in January’s Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip. That was a result of the consistent targeting of infrastructure, which caused enormous damage to homes, hospitals and schools, including schools operated by the United Nations, in clear breach of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, specifically the Geneva Conventions, in particular the Fourth Convention, which includes provisions on the protection of civilians under foreign occupation.
The State of Qatar believes that hindering the provision of humanitarian assistance constitutes collective punishment of an entire innocent people. This is a phenomenon that is growing in breadth and in severity. The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are suffering because of unjustifiable constraints on and measures against the provision of humanitarian assistance. Following the Israeli aggression against the Strip, Israel, the occupying Power, has continued to refuse entry to the Strip of all goods, including necessary building supplies. The border crossings remain closed.
Education is a basic human right which is jeopardized in zones of conflict or foreign occupation. Educational infrastructure has been paralysed in the Gaza Strip since last January. The situation has prompted Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned, UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, to call upon the Security Council to provide the necessary protection for education in the Gaza Strip and to investigate the crimes committed there, including the targeting of a United Nations school.
The occupying Power’s obstruction of humanitarian operations has disrupted education in the Strip, and we call upon the Security Council to mandate its various bodies to attach great importance to the right to education in zones of armed conflict and foreign occupation, and to focus on this issue in its future deliberations.
Ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention in particular, which includes provisions on the protection of civilians under foreign occupation, international human rights law is the ideal vehicle for enhancing the protection of civilians on the ground. The problem lies in the consistent failure to implement international legal mechanisms in a fair and equitable manner and in the adoption of double standards and attitudes with respect to such situations. That in turn leads to a lack of accountability for parties that breach that law and commit such crimes, thus allowing them more latitude to pursue their violations at leisure.
Impunity for serious violations of international law has cast a heavy shadow over every initiative that held out hope for peace and stability. Repeated impunity frustrates victims, fuels their desire for revenge and allows the perpetrators to feel that they are above the law. It ultimately encourages the offender to commit further violations.
The time has come to translate our commitments into concrete action on the ground. We would like to stress the importance of the Security Council’s acting to implement the recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding panel in its investigation of a series of Israeli attacks on United Nations facilities and staff in the Gaza Strip, including schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East . We also stress the urgent need to examine one of the relevant recommendations that a thorough and unbiased investigation be made of all violations of international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip.
We reiterate our call on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities and meet its obligations to protect civilians in armed conflict, and to ensure respect for the instruments of international law and the Security Council’s own resolutions, which provide the legal basis for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including under foreign occupation. The rule of law is a fundamental issue in armed conflict. We need to recognize that respect for international law constitutes the true beginnings of world peace and stability.
The President: I give the floor to the representative of Israel.
Mr. Carmon (Israel): ...
I would like to turn to the recent report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians (S/2009/277), a document that contains a number of deficiencies and inaccuracies that must be addressed here. We were dismayed to find that the report does not acknowledge the Hamas terrorist organization’s actions against civilians of my country. It does not note that for eight consecutive years those terrorists subjected the southern part of my country to a ceaseless barrage of rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel, terrorizing, maiming and killing Israeli civilians.
Israel’s civilians — men, women and children — are not accidental casualties. Hamas, in the old terrorist tradition, deliberately targets Israeli civilians and has proudly acknowledged that strategy on a number of occasions. Those actions, which provoked last winter’s military campaign, should have warranted at least a brief mention in the report, but they did not.
During those months, the majority of the international community acknowledged the perilous humanitarian situation of the citizens of southern Israel. The very least OCHA should do in a report entitled “The protection of civilians in armed conflict” is to acknowledge that humanitarian problem. If the authors of the report do not consider the daily bombardment of Israeli civilians an issue related to the protection of civilians, then what is? We demand a clarification of that omission.
Moreover, the report ambitiously verges on drawing judicial conclusions concerning international humanitarian law, although it is unclear on what mandate, expertise and procedure those are based. The report makes no mention of Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of its implementation of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) own operational standard procedures in the aftermath of any military operation. As part of its normal practice, the IDF has conducted five in-depth investigations concerning the recent conflict. These reflect Israel’s democratic oversight, which ensures rigorous attention to Israel’s laws, as well as those of the international community.
Not only does the report omit any mention of Hamas’s terrorism perpetrated against Israeli civilians, but its weak treatment of Hamas’s terrorism practised against Gaza’s civilians is inexplicable. It is troubling that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the report finds only that concerns exist as to whether Hamas used civilians as human shields. In that regard, it is worth noting tha Not only does the report omit any mention of Hamas’s terrorism perpetrated against Israeli civilians, but its weak treatment of Hamas’s terrorism practised against Gaza’s civilians is inexplicable. It is troubling that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the report finds only that concerns exist as to whether Hamas used civilians as human shields. In that regard, it is worth noting that the most recent report on children and armed conflict (S/2009/158) found that Palestinian families were too terrified of Hamas retribution to speak publicly against the group’s use of Gaza’s children. It is regrettable that the current report on the protection of civilians does not see fit to mention that fact. Moreover, while clear evidence exists of Hamas’s cruel misuse of civilian infrastructure, contrary to the most basic humanitarian values, the report shies away from addressing that practice in an appropriate manner.
The report is fundamentally flawed. It is flawed for its omissions, it is flawed for its errors and it is flawed for its selective use of language. With those and other deficiencies, the report does not help civilian protection, which the report acknowledges is increasingly challenged by asymmetric conflicts involving States with obligations, on the one hand, and non-State armed groups, on the other. In spite of that recognition, the report fails to seriously address the actions of non-State parties who have made a mockery of the concept of protection of civilians.
Many States around this table, as well as in the wider membership of the Organization, know exactly what terrorism is all about. They have paid the terrible price levied by terrorism and have decided to confront this phenomenon. Like Israel, they have felt the importance and urgency to protect their own citizens, which is the primary obligation of any responsible State. They also know the difficulty of confronting this new enemy, which considers innocent civilians to be legitimate targets. None of those States would tolerate a politicized, unjust and biased treatment of its struggle against terrorism. Neither does Israel.
Let me stress that the issues contained in this statement have been addressed to our Secretariat colleagues in the past two weeks, highlighting the deficiencies of the report. We understand that we were not the only ones to have done so, to say the least. We also understand and trust that coordination within the Secretariat will improve in the future and that misrepresentations will not be repeated, thus avoiding futile politicized semantics, wrong accusations and deliberate omissions.
In conclusion, Israel will continue to seriously address the issue of the protection of civilians in a constructive manner. For Israelis, as victims of terrorism, the protection of civilians is not a theoretical exercise; it is a reality that we have been grappling with for over 60 years. It is unfortunate that, on a daily basis, terrorism presents us with the dilemma arising from the need to uphold human rights while protecting civilians on all sides. Israel takes the issue to heart, whomever it concerns and wherever they may be. We expect substantial improvements in future reports so that the international community can engage in a relevant, accurate and in-depth debate on this important issue.
The President: There are still a number of speakers on my list for this morning. I intend, with the consent of all members, to suspend the meeting until 3 p.m.
The meeting rose at 1.25 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.