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Eruption of crises drives home need to implement resolutions on protecting civilians in armed conflict, Security Council told

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Security Council
6531st Meeting (AM & PM)

Top Humanitarian, Human Rights, Peacekeeping Officials Brief Members amid Concerns over Escalating Violence, Indiscriminate Use of Force

The unprecedented crises in the Middle East and parts of North and sub-Saharan Africa over the last six months drove home the need for the Security Council to implement its five resolutions intended to protect civilians trapped in the crossfire of armed conflict, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today.

“The events of the last few months have provided a compelling reminder of the fundamental and enduring importance of the Council’s protection-of-civilians agenda,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, during an open Council debate on that theme.

However, the 15-member body’s responses to crises in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire had raised questions, she said. In the case of Libya, the Council had condemned — in accordance with its five resolutions aimed at ensuring compliance with international law and accountability for those who violated it — human rights violations against civilians, demanded that the parties respect the law, imposed an arms embargo and targeted sanctions, and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court.

It was not clear, she continued, whether similar Council measures at an earlier stage in Côte d’Ivoire would have prompted action by influential individuals and prevented a further deterioration of the situation there. In addition, while the Council’s authorization of the use of force in Libya had prevented civilian deaths and injuries, there were concerns that the move could undermine the civilian-protection agenda in future crises, she said, stressing that Council decisions must not go beyond promoting and ensuring civilian protection.

Calling for a temporary pause in the fighting around Misrata, in north-western Libya, so as to allow civilians to leave and aid workers to bring in desperately needed food, water, medicine and other basic supplies, Ms. Amos said reports of direct attacks on civilians, indiscriminate shelling and attacks on aid workers and peacekeepers in the wake of Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis must be investigated without delay.

She called on the parties to both conflicts to stop using explosive weapons in densely populated areas, while also expressing alarm over Syria’s reported deployment of tanks in residential areas. She also described atrocities against civilians in Somalia, Southern Sudan, Colombia, Gaza, southern Israel, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, saying the picture in terms of civilian protection was “stark” and would remain so unless the parties to those conflicts made determined efforts to comply with the law.

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights New York Office, delivered a statement on behalf of High Commissioner Navi Pillay, echoing similar concerns. He said that, although the world body did not have peace missions in Libya, Syria or Sri Lanka, it must establish accountability for human rights violations there. “In Syria, we must prevent the ongoing, violent suppression of mass protests from plunging the country into a full-fledged armed conflict,” he emphasized.

At the request of the Human Rights Council, he continued, the New York Office would send an investigative mission to Syria, which would present a preliminary report in July and its full findings in September. To aid victims and advance long-term reconciliation in Sri Lanka, he urged that country’s Government to implement the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts, which had concluded that Government forces as well as fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had seriously violated international law in the final stage of the country’s decades-long civil conflict. Furthermore, in defining a new mandate for Southern Sudan, the Council should take into account detailed information on the human rights situation there, and include robust language on human rights protection and promotion.

Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the United Nations was, in fact, considering the importance of civilian protection concerns when planning its role in Southern Sudan. The primary objective was to strengthen the ability of the nascent Government there to protect civilians in what was still a volatile security environment, with the help of the follow-on operation to the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS).

He said that since November, his Department had formulated a strategic framework for civilian protection that touched on aspects of the political process, as well as the need for physical protection, while seeking to help in the creation of a protective environment for civilians in the long term. The Department was also working with its various missions to put their civilian-protection mandates into operation, by improving coordination on the ground and analysing how benchmarks could help measure progress in that regard.

Many of the more than 40 delegates taking the floor today condemned all attacks on civilians during armed conflict, notably the disproportionate and excessive use of force, and stressed the need to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable. Several speakers expressed worries over human rights abuses in Syria and Libya.

Numerous representatives also said that Council-mandated action to protect civilians must ensure full respect for the United Nations Charter, including the sovereignty and integrity of Member States. Any decision to intervene must not be associated with political motives, some said, while others stressed that double standards could not be tolerated. They also asserted that the international response must be proportional to the threat, and the use of force must be a last resort.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, India, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal, United States, Colombia, South Africa, Germany, Nigeria, China, Gabon, Lebanon, France, Uruguay, Italy, Cuba, Switzerland (also on behalf of the Human Security Network), Sri Lanka, Japan, Liechtenstein, Nicaragua, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Qatar, Mexico, Kenya, Chile, Morocco, Norway, Turkey, Ukraine, Croatia, Canada, Austria, Venezuela, Botswana, Slovenia, Peru, Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Armenia, Syria and the Republic of Korea.

The Acting Head of the Delegation of the European Union also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and suspended at 1:20 p.m. Resuming at 3:10 p.m., it ended at 5:50 p.m.