Despite a sharper United Nations focus on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, civilians continue to suffer devastating “collateral damage,” as well as targeted violence, increasingly in the form of sexual abuse, forced displacement, terrorism and extreme economic deprivation, requiring ever-evolving protective mechanisms, the Security Council was told today.
“In the five years since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1296 (2000) there have been new challenges to the safety and well-being of civilian populations, and the tools that we have at our disposal to address these concerns need to be developed accordingly,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his latest report on the matter, which the Council discussed today.
In his report, Mr. Annan points to the conflicts in northern Uganda, the Darfur region of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as examples of the forced displacement and violence against women. The occupied Palestinian territory and Colombia were cited as examples of complex situations that include terrorism, and Nepal and Myanmar as cases of economic suffering resulting from armed conflict.
“Whatever the nature of the threat to the protection of the civilian population, compliance with international humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law and international criminal law by all parties concerned provides the strongest basis for ensuring respect for the safety of the civilian population,” Mr. Annan said.
The report says that improvements in the design of peacekeeping missions, supported by mandates that address the specific protection needs any given environment will better shield civilians.
Jan Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that efforts by peacekeeping missions to provide physical security for civilians needed to be augmented by concrete measures to facilitate a secure environment more generally.
“Year in and year out, we are unable to undertake adequate humanitarian programmes in severe emergencies because no coherent and systematic attempts are made to end the conflict,” he warned. “We become an expensive plaster on an open, unhealed wound. The band-aid approach costs lives and ultimately costs the international community dearly in both moral and financial terms.”
In the day-long discussion that followed Mr. Egeland’s presentation, involving some 40 speakers, participants generally agreed on the urgent need for stronger action from the Security Council to protect civilians. A number of speakers voiced concern that the Council has been sending mixed signals regarding war crimes as well as the enforcement of its own resolutions.
In that light, some drew attention to the continued impunity for militias in Darfur, which they said was “seriously challenging” the Council’s credibility. They pointed out that the Council’s own resolution had committed the 15-nation body to respond to situations where civilians were being targeted or where assistance to them was being obstructed.