Security Council Says States Have Primary Responsibility for Protecting Civilians in Conflict, Reaffirms Peacekeeping Missions Need Protection Mandate, Resources

from UN Security Council
Published on 12 Feb 2013 View Original


Security Council
6917th Meeting (AM & PM)

Secretary-General Urges Council to Take Strong Lead in Protecting Civilians;
Top Human Rights Official, International Red Cross, More Than 70 Delegations Speak

In its continued consideration of the compelling need to protect unarmed populations targeted by belligerents in armed conflict or victimized as an unintended result of the fighting, the Security Council today held that States had the primary responsibility, but reaffirmed it would continue to ensure that peacekeeping missions, “where appropriate and on a case-by-case basis”, were also mandated to play their part and had priority in tapping into resources for that purpose.

In an agreed presidential statement read out by Kim Sung-hwan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, whose delegation holds the Council’s presidency for February, the 15-member body emphasized the need for missions with protection mandates to ensure their implementation and the importance of engagement by senior mission leadership to ensure that all mission components and all levels of the chain of command were informed of, and involved in, the protection mandate and their relevant responsibilities in that regard.

Also, the Council stressed the importance of ensuring that peacekeeping missions with protection of civilian mandates develop mission-wide strategies for incorporation in the overall mission implementation and contingency plans in consultation with the host Government, local authorities, troop- and police-contributing countries, and other relevant actors.

The Council reiterated its demand that all parties to armed conflict comply strictly with their obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and stressed the need for all parties to take all required measures to avoid civilian casualties and to respect and protect the civilian population.

Opening the day-long debate, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the obligation to protect civilians in armed conflict — he has reported that 90 per cent of the victims are civilians — “does not rest solely with warring parties: we all have a responsibility to protect”, and failure to do so could contribute directly to the commission of atrocity crimes.

Syria was a “searing reminder of the human cost of war”, he said, adding that that situation was “particularly acute and intractable”. He also pointed to Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and elsewhere, where civilians continued to suffer and die as warring parties ignored their obligations to protect.

He urged the Council to take a strong and visible lead in protecting civilians and pursuing accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Where there were peacekeeping missions, he pledged that the United Nations would do its utmost to support States in fulfilling their obligations in line with the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.

“It is time for us to find a way to do better,” declared Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressing that the lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction “has been disastrous” for civilians. There would always be some disagreement within the international community on how to respond to a given situation, but when tens of thousands of civilian lives were threatened, as was happening in Syria, the world expected the Council to act.

As the discourse unfolded, many of the more than 70 speakers acknowledged the myriad obstacles in conflict-affected communities, as they grappled with the complex question of the moral and ethical responsibility to protect civilians when Governments and warring parties could not or would not meet those obligations.

Some offered prescriptions for protection norms, and, concerned at the slow pace of operationalizing the concept, advocated for more robust civilian protection mandates in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Others were more cautious, reiterating that the primary responsibility of meeting the immediate protection needs of populations rested with the Governments, themselves.

National Governments bore the primary responsibility for protecting their populations, agreed the United States’ Ambassador, however, she said, some were “manifestly failing” because of either insufficient capacity or will. In cases where Governments condoned or even perpetrated atrocities against their own people, the Security Council must press the Government to fulfil its obligations.

South Africa’s speaker said that protecting civilians from the scourge of war was at the core of the Council’s mandate. If it did not play its role in that regard, then it would have failed the international community. The representative of the Russian Federation cautioned, however, that the international community should take reactive steps to protect civilians, including use of force, only with the Council’s approval and in strict compliance with the Charter.

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Iran’s delegate stressed that the civilian protection mandates in several United Nations peacekeeping operations should not be used for Government change, or military intervention. It must be ensured, as well, that United Nations’ efforts were in support of, and not in substitution for, those of the national authorities. Nicaragua’s representative said that, in principle, the concept was a lofty one, but as everyone had seen in recent years, its implementation had been totally manipulated. Such had been the case in Libya, and the same script was now being used in Syria.

Indeed, several delegations throughout the day drew attention to what Belgium’s representative called the “unprecedented horror” unfolding in Syria. He called on the Council to assume its responsibilities to find a solution to the crisis. He regretted that it had been unable to adopt a press statement at the start of this month in support of the appeals of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for greater access to the entire Syrian territory.

Responding to the many comments was Syria’s Ambassador, who said the best ways to protect civilians lay in preventing conflict, adopting peaceful means to settle disputes and holding accountable Governments working to incite violence. Civilian protection, he said, had been used to serve “intrusive” agendas. Political propositions that did not enjoy consensus — including the responsibility to protect and humanitarian intervention — were being marketed to pave the way for intervention in the domestic affairs of developing countries.

Ahead of the debate, the Secretary-General said a few words about what he called today’s “appalling” underground nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He strongly condemned that “reckless act” as a “clear and grave violation” of Security Council resolutions, saying it was deplorable that Pyongyang had chosen the path of defiance, and he urged the Council to act and speak with one voice and engage with that country in a unified manner.

The Republic of Korea’s Minister, speaking in his national capacity, announced that the Council strongly condemned the test and decided to immediately begin work on a resolution to take necessary measures. He said the nuclear test was a flagrant violation of Council resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009) and 2018 (2013). It posed a direct challenge to the international community, and threatened peace and security, both on the Korean peninsula and north-east Asia.

Also briefing the Council today was Philip Spoerri, Director for International Law and Cooperation, International Committee of the Red Cross. Representatives of Rwanda, Azerbaijan and Brazil also participated at the ministerial level.

Statements were also made by the representatives of the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Australia, Togo, Morocco, Guatemala, Luxembourg, France, China, Russian Federation, Argentina, Italy, Liechtenstein, Israel, Colombia, Japan, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Estonia, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States), Senegal, Belgium, Uruguay, India, Indonesia, Sweden, Norway (on behalf of Argentina, Austria, Indonesia), Costa Rica, Malaysia, Bangladesh, United Republic of Tanzania, Lithuania, Netherlands, Mexico, Armenia, Venezuela, Ireland, Austria, Croatia, Nigeria, Jordan, Montenegro, Germany, Benin, Nicaragua, Chile, New Zealand, Botswana, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Hungary, Qatar, Turkey, Sudan, Georgia, Sierra Leone and Bolivia.

The representatives of Syria, Azerbaijan and Armenia made additional statements.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Head of the European Union delegation also spoke.

The meeting began at 11:05 a.m., was suspended at 1:57 p.m., resumed at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 10:22 p.m.


The Security Council met today to convene an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, for which it had before it a concept paper (document S/2013/75) from the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea, whose delegation holds the Council’s rotating presidency for February.

The paper states that the strong international normative frameworks and the key steps taken by the Council notwithstanding, civilians continue to account for the vast majority of casualties in armed conflict and the abysmal state of their protections has changed little. The situation they endure in many of today’s conflicts warrant renewed attention and action. “Normative progress during the past 14 years is of limited value if it does not translate into specific improvements in the protection of civilians on the ground,” the paper says.

The open debate, says the text, will be a valuable opportunity for all Member States and observers to discuss ways to enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It will also be a chance to translate advancement at the normative level into tangible progress on the ground by identifying, not only the positive developments made so far, but also the remaining challenges.

According to the paper, the Council will be able to renew its commitment to the protection of civilians, for which the following themes for discussion have been proposed: bolstering accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law; enhancing implementation of protection mandates by peacekeeping and other relevant missions; and ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians, including in particular, health-care providers, women and children.