Briefing to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict by USG for Humanitarian Affairs

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 15 Mar 2002
Mr. Kenzo Oshima
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and
Emergency Relief Coordinator
15 March 2002
Mr. President,

I would like first to thank you for the opportunity to address the Council once again on the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

I am aware of concerns relating to the number of thematic issues brought to the Council's attention in recent years. Given the daily threat to civilians in many conflicts around the world, however, I believe that it is critical to keep this important issue high and firmly on the Council's agenda. It is important that decisive and timely action is taken to end the suffering of millions of innocent victims of warfare, including many women and children.

Take the Middle East, for example, where the escalation of violence has resulted in many civilian casualties over the past few days alone. In his statement to the Council on 12 March, the Secretary-General has indicated that " the toll of dead and wounded - particularly among innocent civilians - has risen to levels that can be described, without any exaggeration, as appalling". He specifically emphasized that the use of heavy weaponry by Israel in civilian areas has made life even more difficult and precarious for Palestinian civilians who were already subjected to severe physical and economic hardships and that it must stop. Also, he told the Palestinians that the deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is morally repugnant. Acts of terror and suicide bombings must stop. Against this backdrop, the Security Council resolution 1397 represents a crucial step in reconfirming the need to ensure the safety of civilians and ensure the respect of universally accepted norms of international humanitarian law in the context of the Middle East. Our concerns, however, remain.

Or take the Sudan, where we have collectively been dismayed by the recent pattern of attacks on civilians, humanitarian workers and facilities, including the shameful attacks on civilians gathered at or near food distribution sites. The UN has voiced its serious concern about these attacks and one of the key donors to that country - the US - has subsequently put on hold the implementation of the "Danforth-plan" aimed at increasing humanitarian access in the Sudan, until such time as the Government of Sudan demonstrates its commitment towards investigating the incidents and putting remedial measures in place. Therefore, we welcome the 10 March agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to establish an international Verification Mission to investigate reports of attacks on unarmed civilians. We await concrete results.

In Angola, where more than a third of the population - 4.6 million people currently - is displaced as a result of a conflict which has lasted for more than 30 years. Further displacement has occurred since my briefing to the Council over the past few weeks, in part by the military strategy of the Government. The declaration of a ceasefire by the Government on 13 March, therefore, is ground-breaking news. We are monitoring its implementation, and I call upon the Council's commitment and support in this respect.

Mr. President,

In this context, I would also like to remark on the serious allegations of sexual exploitation of children in refugee camps in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea just as the Secretary-General, I am deeply disturbed by these allegations.

As you are aware, the Secretary-General has directed that these allegations be investigated as thoroughly and urgently as possible, and remedial action aimed at strengthening the protection of women and children be taken as necessary. He has also reiterated the policy of zero tolerance for any such acts perpetrated by any one employed by or affiliated with the United Nations. As a result, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) immediately launched an investigation into the allegations with the aims to recommend remedial action against any individuals found to have perpetrated any such act.

The result of the investigation will be made public in a report to the General Assembly. Also, UNHCR protection personnel and senior field managers have been tasked to undertake immediate measures to enhance the protection of children in refugee camps in West Africa, and other places. Additionally, in my capacity as the Emergency Relief Coordinator, I have urged the development by relevant agencies of measures and policies to prevent transgressions against the very women and children they are serving, in close collaboration with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the Humanitarian Coordinators in the field. As a first step, the IASC, on Wednesday of this week, has created a Task Force aimed at developing quick proposals to enhance the protection of children in refugee camps from sexual abuse, immediately.

While these problems and situations, among others, continue to demand our most pressing attention, it is important not to lose sight of the progress that has been made in enhancing the protection of civilians in recent years - both by the Council and the international community more widely, including numerous NGOs.

First, the Security Council's past consideration of the issue has in many cases resulted in a tangible mitigation of human suffering. For example, child and gender advisors have been incorporated into peacekeeping missions; recent Council resolutions have increasingly advocated for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to vulnerable populations; the Council is also considering sanctions that are more targeted, designed to limit their unintended humanitarian impact. It should be noted that the Council's consideration of the issue of protection has increased awareness within and outside the UN system of the many different steps and initiatives that can be taken to alleviate human suffering and, thereby, has expanded its "toolbox" when responding to conflicts around the world. Indeed, the principles and standards advocated and set by the United Nations system have contributed, in many places, to directly enhancing the protection of civilians.

Second, in the spirit, at least, of the 54 recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's two reports on the subject-matter, many positive initiatives are undertaken to enhance the protection of vulnerable populations on the ground:

  • In Sierra Leone, some 46,500 combatants have been demobilized and disarmed, recognizing the importance of improved security conditions for building a lasting peace. They are now ready to be reintegrated into their communities. Together with the establishment of a Special Court to try serious crimes committed in the past and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this initiative constitutes a significant signal towards peace and stability.

  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNHCR and MONUC have jointly separated more than 1,000 former combatants and their families from the larger civilian refugee population, and transferred them to a new location. These efforts are essential to preserving the civilian nature of refugee camps, and to ensuring the safety and security of refugees and surrounding host populations.
Third, the increased dialogue and partnerships among agencies through coordinated efforts are producing encouraging results. My own office, OCHA, has convened a working group of UN humanitarian agencies that is developing guidelines for aid workers on the terms of their engagement with armed groups in providing humanitarian assistance and protection. The guidelines are based on best practices and international humanitarian and human rights laws. The goal is to ensure common standards for humanitarian workers when engaging in a structured dialogue with these groups to gain access to vulnerable populations and the necessary space for humanitarian operations.

Similarly, the Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF, DPKO and DPA have convened an Inter-Agency Working Group that is looking into child protection issues within UN peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building processes. Also, an informal working group on training for peacekeepers has been convened by UNICEF, the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and a Swedish NGO to produce a training package on child protection issues, which will be used by all United Nations peace operations.

Finally we are gratified that progress has been made in the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The International Criminal Court is only five more ratifications away from its entry into force.

Mr. President,

All these initiatives highlight the progress that has been made in our efforts to improve the protection of civilians but they also demonstrate the continuing need to keep this issue on the Council's agenda.

We realize that progress in implementing the measures contained in the Secretary-General's recommendations depends on the extent to which the issue is being mainstreamed into the daily work of the organization - both within the Council and the Secretariat. In this regard, I am pleased to inform the Council of the progress made on two significant initiatives: the development of the aide memoire, and the agreement of standard operating procedures between OCHA and DPKO to facilitate close cooperation on issues related to the protection of civilians in the design of peacekeeping operations. Both measures had been requested by the President of the Council in his letter addressed to the Secretary-General dated 21 June 2001 (S/2001/614).

Aide Memoire

In an unprecedented interactive cooperation between the Council and the UN Secretariat, an aide memoire has been developed that would serve as a checklist to Council members when considering the establishment, change or close of a peacekeeping operation. The aide memoire represents the accumulated expertise of many entities within and outside the UN system, most notably the Department of Peace Keeping Operations, OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP as well as other key humanitarian and human rights partners.

It was the subject of extensive consultations, at the expert level, with the members of the Security Council. In this respect, I would like to commend Norway for its wise leadership and hospitality when guiding the informal discussions. I am also gratified by the strong working relationship and the collaborative spirit, which has been fostered by the Secretariat and the Security Council, throughout this process.

Jointly, we have strived to create a document that is both concise and informative, while, at the same time, remaining practical and applicable to the wide range of situations and requirements emerging in the course of an armed conflict. It is intended as a "living document" that would be regularly updated in a continued collaborative effort between the Council and the Secretariat.

The aide memoire identifies 13 core objectives for protecting civilians in armed conflict and the corresponding key issues for consideration in meeting those objectives. It also contains a list of references to previous country-specific and thematic Security Council resolutions and presidential statements pertaining to each of those objectives. This is intended to serve as a quick and easy reference guide for Council members when developing a peacekeeping mandate. It may also serve as a piece of institutional memory for Council members. And for the Secretariat, it will serve equally as a relevant checklist in its daily work and reporting guide us in our daily work and reporting on the protection of civilians - both in the field and at headquarters.

The aide memoire also addresses another request by the Council: I recall that some Council members during my briefing last November asked me to consider ways of integrating the four inter-related thematic discussions, that is, the protection of civilians in armed conflict; women, peace and security; children in armed conflict; and conflict prevention. The aide memoire, in my view, will provide, at least in part, a useful framework for the consideration of these interrelated, complementary issues.

Lastly, we intend to hold workshops workshops and training sessions on the issue of protection of civilians, including practical application of the aide memoire, for our field staff, mid-level Government officials, academic institutions, and practitioners in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the coming months in order to mainstream further protection issues into the decision-making and policy development.

We look forward to your active participation in making this aide memoire a practical, lasting and effective decision-making tool of the Council.

Cross cutting mechanism

Mr. President,

As stated before, promoting the protection of civilians in the design, planning and implementation of peacekeeping operations requires closer cooperation between all parts of the UN system, in particular DPKO and OCHA. To this end, I have reached an understanding with my colleagues from DPKO on how to ensure that protection issues are given sufficient and regular attention in briefings or reports pertaining to peacekeeping operations.

OCHA will ensure through its focal point on the protection of civilians that its own expertise and analytical capacities and that of relevant partners, including from the IASC framework, is paired with DPKO's longstanding expertise and experiences in the design and operation of peacekeeping missions. In this regard, we hope that this reinforced cooperation will assist the Council with, where appropriate, in providing complementary briefings on specific protection concerns during its deliberations on the establishment, change or close of a peacekeeping operations.

"Road-Map" for the reorganization of recommendations

Mr. President,

Before concluding, I would like to update you briefly on the progress made in the reorganization of those recommendations of the Secretary-General where a consensus exists, as reflected in Resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1296 (2000). I refer to this exercise, for convenience sake, as a "road map" - it stands for the reorganization of the Secretary-General's recommendations into different themes, identifying responsible institutions for implementation, and defining the necessary steps to be taken for such implementation, including those for cooperation and coordination.

To assist in the preparation of the "road map", my Office has continued the roundtable discussions initiated last fall, with the addition of two more, which took place in February and March with the participation of all interested Security Council members. In this respect, I would like to express my gratitude to the Governments of Norway and Canada for providing the necessary financial support to these events. As before, the roundtables have contributed to raising the awareness of the importance of protection of civilians issues in matters of peace and security and have generated invaluable recommendations and "food for thought". The rapporteurs' reports from these meeting will be made available to the members of the Council shortly.

In the meantime, I would like to highlight just a few key points that emerged from these roundtable meetings. Participants emphasized the challenges posed to humanitarian operations by the increasingly blurred distinctions between civilians and combatants in conflict zones, especially in the areas of access and safety. They noted the growing toll of civilian deaths in recent years and the frequency and severity of assaults on humanitarian personnel and property. Several participants worried that this may indicate an increasing disregard for the standards of international humanitarian law. Lastly, it was emphasized that, faced with the realities of today's conflicts and despite serious challenges to the peace and security of their countries, Member states must adhere to and continue to promote the humanitarian and legal standards established over the last 50 years.

Mr. President,

While all the activities I have described reflect progress in our joint endeavor, they cannot substitute for the willingness of the Council to act decisively on each of the concerns brought to its attention. Although ultimately, the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians falls on the Governments and armed groups involved in conflict situations, swift action by the Council is indispensable where Governments do not honor these responsibilities or deliberately act in violation thereof.

In conclusion, I look forward to working closely with the Security Council on the finalization of the roadmap in the coming months and the regular updating of the aide memoire. I hope that the understanding on closer cooperation between OCHA and DPKO together with the continued collaboration with our humanitarian partners in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee will contribute further to enhancing the protection of the millions of civilians caught in conflict areas around the world. In this respect, I hope that in the next briefing to the Council on this issue, we can record even more examples of progress, and I look forward to the next report of the Secretary-General on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, in November 2002.

I thank you Mr. President.

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