Top UN officials stress need to boost protection of civilians in armed conflict
“All of us share a fundamental responsibility to do more to protect civilians caught up in the horrors of war,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks to the Security Council’s open debate on the issue.
He noted that in conflicts worldwide, women, girls, boys and men continue to be subjected to blatant and frequent violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, including killing, torture, kidnapping, rape and mutilation.
“Let us remember that civilians suffer such horrors not because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and become what is still euphemistically referred to as ‘collateral damage.’ Civilians suffer more and more frequently because they are deliberately targeted,” said Mr. Ban.
He highlighted five priorities regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict, beginning with enhanced compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and more consistently and effectively engaging non-State armed groups to improve their compliance with the law.
Also crucial is pro-active, well-trained and appropriately resourced peacekeepers; improved humanitarian access to affected populations; and enhanced accountability.
While protection is essential, the Secretary-General added, it is important not to lose sight of the need to address the causes of conflict, not just its symptoms.
“Humanitarian actors can contribute to the survival of affected populations. Ultimately, though, only political solutions can end and prevent the vast majority of conflicts and ensure the safety and well-being of those who would otherwise bear the brunt,” he stated.
The Council expects to hear from around 50 speakers during its day-long debate. Among them was High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who stressed that where national authorities fail to investigate credible allegations of the most serious violations, it is incumbent on the international community to “rigorously establish the facts.”
Over the last two decades, the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR) has supported more than 30 commissions of inquiry and similar mechanisms, which she said provide a solid basis to inform international action and national processes on justice, truth and reconciliation. She encouraged the Council to play a more active role in securing follow-up to their recommendations.
The Council also has an important role to play in ensuring practical arrangements to secure accountability, the establishment of facts, the identification and prosecution of perpetrators, and, importantly, the right to reparation for gross violations of human rights, she added.
“Without it, impunity emboldens perpetrators and breeds more violations that will undermine peace and progress,” said Ms. Pillay.
The High Commissioner touched on a number of situations around the world, ranging from civilian deaths in Afghanistan to ongoing violent clashes in South Sudan. She voiced concern that the killing of civilians has not stopped in Syria, where the death toll since March has now passed 3,500.
Ms. Pillay noted that while the Syrian Government has made commitments to stop the violence, “we have to see actual progress on the ground.” A human rights monitoring presence can help ensure that, she added.
“The international community must insist that the Government end the killing of civilians, release all those arbitrarily detained for their peaceful protest and finally provide full and unimpeded access to the International Commission of Inquiry, which was established by the Human Rights Council,” she stated.
Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, also voiced concern at events in Syria, where the situation falls short of armed conflict but military operations are exacting a “heavy toll.” She also described an array of other situations where violations of humanitarian and human rights law are being perpetuated.
“Equally common to most of these situations is a failure to hold accountable those responsible for such violations and to provide any form of justice or redress for their victims,” she said in remarks delivered on behalf of UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos.
“This failure of accountability has to end,” she stated. “We cannot continue to ignore war crimes and serious violations of human rights law in conflict. Nor can we ignore the need to ensure that victims see justice and reparations for the wrongs they have suffered…
“We must do more to advance the protection of civilians and ensure progress where it most matters – in the midst of conflict.”