Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
4312th Meeting (AM & PM)
23 April 2001
COUNCIL HEARS CALLS TO END IMPUNITY FOR PERPETRATORS OF GENOCIDE AND GROSS RIGHTS
VIOLATIONS, AS IT DISCUSSES PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN CONFLICT
The frequent denial of United Nations human rights mechanisms of access to conflict situations often resulted in the civilian victims being deprived of their right to be heard, Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Security Council this morning.
Briefing a public Council meeting on protection of civilians in armed conflict, she said gaining access to vulnerable populations was a key challenge. Access was often thought of in terms of the delivery of humanitarian needs, but to many victims, meaningful access also meant breaking the cycle of secrecy and suffering and bringing their plight to light.
Several speakers accused the Council of failing to take action to protect Palestinian civilians in the current Middle East conflict. They said their plight was the same as that of all other civilians caught in armed conflict. Despite its failure to act, demands would continue for the Council to shoulder its responsibilities towards the Palestinians, the Council was told. However, the representative of Israel rejected that position and accused some Arab countries of encouraging terrorist actions against his country and promoting anti-Semitic hate speech and propaganda.
Council members who spoke today were the representatives of Bangladesh, Ukraine, Tunisia, Singapore, Jamaica, France, China, United States, Russian Federation, Ireland, Colombia, Mali, Norway, Mauritius and United Kingdom.
The Council also heard from the representatives of Canada, Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Yemen, Jordan, South Africa, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bahrain, Australia, Syria, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Mexico, Indonesia, Israel and Nepal.
Also speaking today were the observers for Switzerland, Palestine and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, made several statements.
The representatives of Syria and Israel spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Today’s meeting began at 10:25 a.m. and was suspended at 1:30 p.m. Resuming at 3 p.m., it adjourned at 7:25 p.m.
VALERI P. KUCHYNSKI (
Ukraine, he said, strongly supported the Secretary-General in his appeal to the Council to shift the focus towards practical measures aimed at the protection of civilians. The Council had done some important work over the past 12 months to enhance such protection, including in the area of peacekeeping operations and sanctions. However, an effective approach by the Council to the issue of protecting civilians would be safeguarded only when those decisions were routinely applied in the process of consideration of specific conflict situations, whether in Africa, the Balkans, or the Middle East.
NOUREDDINE MEJDOUB (
Turning to the plight of Palestinian civilians, he said the situation clearly required that the international community undertake urgent and effective action to protect them. The Security Council could not employ a double standard, rushing to protect civilians in conflict zones in some parts of the world, while ignoring the plight of civilians in other parts. Council actions must be balanced and fair, he stressed.
WANG YINGFAN (
The Security Council, he said, had failed to promptly adopt necessary measures concerning the protection of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories. There are similar cases of failure on the African continent. In Kosovo, as well as the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the task of protecting civilians in certain areas was still very difficult. Another well known fact was that protracted sanctions had caused enormous harm to civilians.
ABDALLA SALEH AL-ASHTAL (
That was exactly the case with Palestinian civilians, he said. What was striking was that acts of killing and destruction had not been adequately addressed by the Council. The bitter irony was that all international norms and humanitarian laws applied fully to the Palestinian situation. Yet, the Council had remained unable to fulfil its responsibility. If left unaddressed, the conflict might spin out of control and affect the entire region. Would the Council move to protect those civilians? he asked. Yemen would be awaiting a response.
ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (
) said the grim realities facing millions of distressed civilians caught in armed conflict placed a duty on the Security Council to take a clear course of action. There should be some measure of attention paid, within the context of the report, to the protection of civilians under foreign military occupation. After all, an occupation was not enforced upon a civilian population through human kindness and goodwill, but by force of arms and violence. The suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in the occupied territories, which had continued for decades, was a clear case in point.
DUMISANI S. KUMALO (
Second, he drew attention to the Council’s failure, thus far, to protect Palestinian civilians caught in the conflict in the occupied territories. That failure was an indictment of the Council, and it was incumbent on the international community, including the Council, to take resolute action against States responsible for violating international human rights and humanitarian law.
AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (
), stressing the importance of effective concerted action against those who targeted civilians, whether they were regular or irregular Powers, said the Secretary-General’s report did not contain a single mention of the Palestinian people. The occupation of their territory, in both its military and civilian aspects, was an imposition by force against their will. Responsibility for the resulting violence would, thus, be assumed by the occupying Power. In view of that, there was no difference between the situation of the Palestinians and that of civilians elsewhere.
He said the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory was completely unbalanced. The occupying Power not only used military force, but also economic sanctions, assassinations without trial, confiscation of farmland, restrictions on civilian movement, and military operations against peaceful civilian demonstrations. The Palestinian situation was the only one where Council members and non-members alike had requested the adoption of measures for the protection of the Palestinian civilians.
MOHAMMAD J. SAMHAN (
United Arab Emirates
He said the media must play a major role in disseminating the truth about specific conflicts and violations of human rights. The United Arab Emirates was, therefore, concerned at the ignorance of the Security Council with regard to the situation of the Palestinian people, who were suffering military violence and economic sanctions that were depriving them of their livelihood. Such actions on the part of Israel were contrary to all international standards.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that his delegation shared the belief that protection of civilians in armed conflict was a matter of immense importance. The interest shown by the Council was appropriate and necessary, and he hoped that it would continue until sufficient and serious protection of civilians in armed conflict was ensured in all cases, without selectivity or inaction caused by political considerations. His delegation was perplexed that the reports of the Secretary-General failed to make any mention of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory or the grave and serious breaches of the Fourth Geneva Conventions being committed by the occupying Power.
There could be no serious consideration of the subject of protection of civilians in armed conflict without giving the necessary attention to the case of foreign occupation, he said. The specific case of Palestine should have been taken into consideration, beginning with the issue of the Palestinian refugees. It was very difficult for the Council to remain credible or claim success in dealing with the protection of civilians in armed conflict at a time when it had repeatedly failed to respond to the needs of Palestinian civilians for protection. He expressed deep appreciation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur, and the Commission of Inquiry. They had strongly underlined the need for a protection mechanism for Palestinian civilians in their recent reports.
The current focus of the Palestinian delegation was clear, he said. It could be summarized in one word: compliance. Compliance with relevant instruments of international law and human rights law and compliance with the Council’s resolutions. There was also a need to avoid selectivity. That included ending what had become a culture of impunity in one specific case. Without that, the Council would be speaking honourable and strong words, but they would remain just that – words.
HASMY AGAM (
In any meaningful discussion of protection of civilians, the Council could not but address the issue of the immediate need for protection of Palestinian civilians in the Arab occupied territories, including Jerusalem, he said. Several speakers today had described the situation there, and a number of the Secretary-General's recommendations were applicable to the situation in question, including "deployment in certain cases of a preventive operation, or of another preventive monitoring presence" and "the limited and proportionate use of force, with attention to repercussions upon civilian populations and the environment".
He strongly believed that the presence of a United Nations or international force would be a tangible manifestation of the Council's concern about the protection of civilians in conflict situation. Indeed, such a presence would be an important confidence-building measure, which would contribute enormously to the search for a lasting solution. Security for the civilian population in that area should be for all, not just for one group of people, and if the authorities of the occupying Power could not or did not wish to provide protection, then it was incumbent on the Council to do so.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD (
) said Rwanda and Srebrenica were painful reminders of what the Council could have done, but had failed to do, in meeting its obligation to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Its recent failure to protect Palestinian civilians also reflected the paralysis afflicting the Council. While the Council could be faulted for not doing enough, it could also be criticized for not doing anything at all, as in Kashmir, where 70,000 innocent civilians had lost their lives over the last 10 years at the hands of a repressive occupying force.
JASSIM MOHAMMED BUALLAY (
) said the discussion on the protection of civilians in armed conflict could no loner be neglected. Most of the time, there were wars and conflicts among societies that lead to civilian casualties. That was why the scourge of war had led those that suffered from them to adopt international conventions that protect civilians. Despite the fact that the Council had recognized the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to the situation in the occupied territories, the situation of the Palestinians had not been mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report. That was due to the Council’s inability to put an end to the conflict, on the one hand, and to provide for the victims, on the other hand.
The international community had to work to ban the use of children in armed conflict, he said. There was a need to remove civilians from conflict situations and to provide proper facilitates for civilians who had been displaced. Many civilians who were supposed to be in temporary shelters often ended up being there permanently, and that led to illness. Some of those civilians were living in situations that could be considered inhumane. How could the international community say nothing? That could not be tolerated. He asked if the cause of the problem was financial or political.
MIKHAIL WEHBE (
) expressed regret at the increasing suffering and anguish of civilian populations caught in armed conflict to the point where they accounted for more than 75 per cent of war casualties. More than half a century after adoption of the Geneva Conventions and accession by the majority of Member States, the instruments had failed to prevent brutal attacks against civilians.
The Secretary-General’s two reports on protection of civilians in armed conflict should be discussed in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, he said. Syria had hoped that the scope of trouble spots and violations against civilians covered in the reports would include the serious violations committed by Israel against the Palestinians and all other civilians in the occupied Arab territories. It was hoped that the reports would, in the future, not disregard a problem that had been on the Council’s agenda for a very long time.
He asked what was more important to the Council than the destruction of homes while the occupants were still inside. What was more serious than the use of missiles to strike terror into the hearts of children? What was uglier than the ethnic cleansing operation by Israel against Palestinian and other Arab residents of the occupied territories? The Council’s inaction and total silence was incomprehensible.
He demanded to know the humanitarian justifications for the Council’s failure to do more? Would it exercise patience and care until all Palestinians were liquidated? The failure to protect the Palestinians constituted encouragement and support to the aggressor and endangered international peace and security. The prosecution of war criminals should include those responsible for the forced transfer of some populations and their replacement with others -- Israeli settlers in the present case. Israeli war criminals must be prosecuted for the massacre of Palestinian civilians.
MOKHTAR LAMANI, Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that the protection of civilians required an approach that integrated all the aspects reflected in the Secretary-General’s report, since modern conflicts had developed an intrastate dimension in addition to the inter-State aspect.
Referring to the Middle East situation, he said that a State’s killing of civilians under the pretext of protecting their own civilians, who were living in illegally occupied territory, undermined the efforts of the international community to restore peace and prosperity in that region for the benefit of all.
MOHAMMED A. ALDOURI (
Respecting and strengthening the principles of the United Nations Charter would ensure protection of all people in the world. The culture of protection must take into account those principles. It was a paradox that, at a time when the Council was dealing with the protection of civilians in armed conflict, there was continued oppression and flagrant violation of international law by the Israeli authorities. Members of the Non-Aligned Movement had been trying to convince the Council to take action to protect Palestinian civilians, but the United States was opposing this.
YEHUDA LANCRY (
) said his country shared the Secretary-General’s belief that international standards of protection should be given the force of law. In the Middle East, however, opposing forces were at work. In the territory of the Palestinian Authority, convicted terrorists had been released as part of the Palestinian effort to stoke the flames of confrontation and encourage violent terrorist activities. Even more distressing, official organs of the Palestinian security apparatus were now also engaged in the terrorist campaign.
In Lebanon, similar freedoms were granted to violent terrorist groups, he said. Israeli residents of communities within range of Hezbollah’s weaponry had learned to live with the persistent threat of rocket attacks and the reality of long days and nights in bomb shelters. The Governments of Lebanon and Syria had not only granted Hezbollah free rein, but actively encouraged and supported their activities, permitting arms transfers from Iran to Hezbollah to pass through their territory.
In light of the actions of those Member States, Israel deeply regretted that an issue of such importance to all individuals of conscience, which affected the lives and well-being of so many innocent civilians around the world, had been appropriated by several Member States to launched biased attacks against Israel.
Supporting the Secretary-General’s focus on the misuse of information, he said Israel had repeatedly drawn attention to the role of Palestinian media incitement throughout the period of the current violence, and its contribution to fostering a culture of violence and hatred of Israel and Jews. The Egyptian press had also been a major source of anti-Semitic diatribes. In Syria and other Arab nations, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials, calls for jihad and the murder of Israelis and Jews remained the order of the day.
Right of Reply
Mr. WEHBE (
) said that in advancing unsubstantiated accusations against Syria, Israel’s representative had forgotten that Israel always tried to cover up its crimes by apportioning blame to others by any means. The Council had heard many statements by Arab and other ambassadors condemning aggression and other violations by Israel. They were in addition to the numerous United Nations resolutions that went unheeded by Israel. They had all called for an end to Israeli aggression and demanded protection for the Palestinian civilians.
Israel must cease practicing genocide if it feared genocide, he said. Israel’s daily activities were there for the whole world to see. Israel occupied Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese territory, yet it blamed others. Israel and Hezbollah had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April and had traded secrets and information. Israel must withdraw from the Shab'a Farms, whether that belonged to Syria or Lebanon. Israel itself had conceded they were not Israeli territory.
He said his country was not ashamed of its defence accord with Lebanon and would continue to stand with that country, as it had done during the Lebanese civil war that had threatened to transform Lebanon into another Kosovo. Israel must realize that security could only be realized through peace, which could, in turn, only be achieved through Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied since 1967. Did he expect President Assad to welcome Israeli occupation and aggression with rose petals? Nobody really thought so.
OREN DAVID (
) said that he regretted that the Syrians did not respect the lessons they were espousing. Syria itself was the occupying Power in Lebanon. Israel had fulfilled its responsibility by withdrawing from southern Lebanon. Syria must respect the territorial integrity of Lebanon. Syria was a major supporter of Hezbollah, thereby endangering the lives of innocent Israeli civilians. It was also responsible for two decades of genocide. The Syrian representative had better check his selective memory before taking up the important time of the Security Council.
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For information media - not an official record