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Annan backs new report calling for protection of civilians in armed conflict

Annan backs new report calling for protection of civilians in armed conflict

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today voiced his strong backing for a new report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict – an endeavour he called “critical to the credibility and authority of the international community.”

Speaking at a seminar of the International Peace Academy in New York on the “Responsibility to Protect” report, Mr. Annan said the title itself embodied the idea he had put forward in a 1999 speech to the UN General Assembly on safeguarding the sanctity of life. “As your report notes, I sought to develop the idea of two notions of sovereignty: one for States, another for individuals,” he told the seminar. “This idea was rooted firmly in the UN Charter which affirms the sovereignty of States even as it challenges us to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

The Secretary-General pointed out that when the sovereignty of States conflicted with the sovereignty of individuals, “we as an international community need to think hard about how far we will go to defend the former over the latter.” He stressed that human rights would have little meaning “if a principle guarded by States were always allowed to trump the protection of citizens within them."

Looking at the current context, Mr. Annan noted that the terrorist attacks of 11 September had shifted the debate – and the action – away from military intervention on behalf of others to intervention in self-defence. He acknowledged prevailing concerns about what this new environment may mean for human rights. “How much freedom do you give up for security and safety?” he asked. “And if you give up too much, do you in the end have security and safety?”

For its part, the UN’s future mission would be defined by a more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, Mr. Annan stated. “This will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath the surface of nations or communities,” he said. “We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the State or nation its richness and character.”