The recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East and the post-electoral crisis in Cote d’Ivoire highlight the need to protect civilians during armed conflicts, top United Nations officials said today as they stressed the key role of the Security Council on the issue.
“The events of the last few months have provided a compelling reminder of the fundamental and enduring importance of the Council’s protection of civilians agenda,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, told Council members.
“Moreover, they have underscored the need to ensure that the commitments therein… translate into concerted Council action in response to violations of the law, as we have seen in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Somalia.”
Ms. Amos made her remarks during an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Other UN officials addressing the meeting were the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, who spoke on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
On 17 March, the Council adopted a resolution authorizing Member States to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya, and since then several countries have carried out air strikes as part of their efforts to implement the resolution.
Also earlier this year, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) undertook all necessary measures, as directed by unanimous Security Council resolutions, to protect its assets and fulfil its mandate, particularly with regards to protection of civilians during the West African country’s recent political upheaval.
These actions came in the wake of a presidential statement adopted last November, when the Council renewed its call on parties to conflict to take steps to protect civilians affected by hostilities, demanding they put an end to practices such as sexual violence, forced recruitment and other violations of international humanitarian law.
In her remarks to the meeting, Ms. Amos focused on the need to ensure more effective protection for civilians. She cited violence in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, as well as the situations in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.
“The deliberate targeting of civilians or other flagrant disregard for well-being in violation of international humanitarian law during hostilities results in hundreds killed, injured, maimed and traumatized every week,” Ms. Amos said. “This initial failure to respect the law is almost always the precursor to further violence, suffering and trauma inflicted upon civilians, including massive displacement within and across borders.”
Ms. Amos also highlighted the plight of civilians in other conflicts who continue to be killed or injured as parties fail to comply with their obligations in the conduct of hostilities.
Listing cases such as Somalia, the DRC, Sudan, Colombia, Gaza and southern Israel, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Ms. Amos said the Security Council has a responsibility to promote compliance.
“First, by using all available opportunities to condemn violations and to remind parties of, and demand compliance with, their obligations,” Ms. Amos said. “Second, by applying targeted sanctions against the leadership of parties that routinely violate their obligations to respect civilians.
“And third, by promoting accountability, including by mandating commissions of inquiry to examine situations where concerns exist regarding serious violations, with a view to identifying the perpetrators and ensuring their prosecution at the national level, or referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.”
In his remarks to the Council, Mr. Le Roy said that UN peacekeeping operations have been working closely with those countries which provide troops to serve as peacekeepers to improve the blue helmets’ understanding and implementation of protection of civilian mandates. This includes through measures such as providing guidance to missions on developing comprehensive protection strategies and training scenarios.
However, noting that the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping operations is often carried out in extremely challenging environments, and in many cases with tremendous political complexities, Mr. Le Roy said such efforts must be complemented by the Council’s sustained political support.
“Ultimately, protection of civilians is assured by stable political outcomes, and the Security Council’s role in ensuring that parties stay on the path to peace is always critical,” Mr. Le Roy said. “The Council’s unflagging support in these situations is a sine qua non if we are to take forward our mandated tasks and improve the lives of civilians whom we are deployed to support.”
In her statement to the Council’s meeting, delivered by Mr. Šimonovic, Ms. Pillay said recent events illustrated that the denial of human rights – including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights – is a root cause of discord, unrest, violence and ultimately armed conflict.
“Protecting human rights prevents conflicts, and accountability for violations of human rights breaks the cycle of violence,” she said. “In recent years, almost every integrated peace mission has included a human rights component, appropriately reflecting our shared conviction that the maintenance of peace and security depends upon respect for human rights – this positive development must continue.”
Ms. Pillay also commended the Council for its “swift and decisive” actions to promote the protection of civilians and noted her office’s readiness to assist the Council with information on the human rights situation in places where the Council establishes or renews the mandate of a peace mission.