As the United Nations Security Council discussed measures to protect civilians in armed conflict, UN officials today stressed the urgency of finding practical ways to improve the safety of individuals and provide for them after the fighting has ended.
Speaking at the outset of the Council's meeting, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the question is among the most urgent, and most important, for the Council and for the UN as a whole in addressing the effects of fighting around the world.
"Civilians account for the vast majority of victims of armed conflicts today," he noted. "Millions of them are directly targeted, displaced from their homes, subject to appalling human rights abuses, and denied assistance in times of war."
The Secretary-General stressed that strengthening the protection of civilians is a key to achieving a sustainable peace. "The question is whether we show the will and the determination to make protection an inescapable duty for all parties in conflicts," he told the meeting chaired by Foreign Minister Carolina Barco of Colombia, which holds the Council's rotating presidency.
Noting that today is Human Rights Day, the Secretary-General also emphasized the "unambiguous linkage" between improving the security of the individual person and securing and sustaining peace and preventing violent conflict, calling for practical measures and a clear path from policy to implementation. "We need to move forward and develop a more systematic approach to this issue," he said, urging a solid structure through which analysis and policy, and an awareness of best practices, can be translated immediately into action that makes a difference in people's lives.
"The protection of civilians does not stop with a ceasefire, but must continue in the immediate post-conflict phase," the Secretary-General said. "Ensuring that they receive needed humanitarian assistance, ending and reversing forced displacement, tackling the scourge of landmines and small arms, and beginning processes of justice and reconciliation: these are not only worthy efforts in themselves, but they are also the building blocks for peace and recovery."
In his statement to the Council, Kenzo Oshima, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted that the world body had been raising awareness of the vulnerability of civilians in armed conflict as a number of long-standing conflicts had been making progress toward peace. The establishment of the culture of protection, however, was still a distant goal, as civilians remained the main victims of current conflicts.
The Council’s “aide-memoire” of last March was a centrepiece of a new strategy for civilian protection, Mr. Oshima said, and had already proved useful in Sierra Leone and the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What ultimately mattered, however, was the implementation of the recommendations made in such conferences and reports. Such momentum must be matched with action, he stressed.