The protection of civilians in armed conflict was the focus of a day-long debate in the Security Council today, with many participants stressing the need to translate words into action to help vulnerable people caught in the throes of war.
Drawing the participation of some 40 countries, the debate reflected the Council's continued interest in a subject widely seen as a matter of vital importance for the Organization. In their discussion, the delegates were aided by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report, which examines current trends in several areas of particular concern to the international community. Mr. Annan's previous report, released in September 1999, contained 40 recommendations for action.
Leading off the debate, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette conveyed Mr. Annan's hope that this meeting would help to move "from words to deeds, and from intention to implementation." The Secretary-General was travelling today on his way to an African summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
"The Secretary-General's new report urges the speedy ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, and calls for reliable funding of the International Criminal Tribunals and in particular the Special Court for Sierra Leone," Ms. Fréchette said, noting that there had been "remarkable progress" in efforts to end the culture of impunity for combatants who attacked civilians.
The Deputy Secretary-General called for renewed efforts to gain access to vulnerable people in conflict situations and stressed the importance of separating civilians from armed elements in refugee camps. "There, as elsewhere, mixed communities often find themselves under the control of unaccountable armed elements, who may further terrorize already vulnerable civilians, divert needed aid to fighters, and establish bases for cross-border attacks, all of which threatens even greater destabilization and even regional wars."
The Council also heard a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who pointed out that her Office's experience represented "an important pool of practice for this Council." She cited in particular UN reports by special rapporteurs, field offices and fact-finding missions. Mrs. Robinson also drew attention to the key role of the UN in promoting responsible behaviour by businesses in conflict areas. "My Office is committed to supporting efforts by corporations to analyze the potential impacts of their presence in zones of conflict and to ensure that systems are in place to avoid unintended consequences," she said.
Echoing a widely shared sentiment, the current president of the Security Council, Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom, called on the participants to offer concrete proposals for effecting change and on "steps that will make a difference."
"It is important that something solid and valuable emerges from today's debate," Ambassador Greenstock said, reiterating the need to concentrate on "what the Security Council can do in practical terms."