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Secretary-General's remarks to Security Council open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

7 Jul 2010
Ban Ki-Moon

Madam President, Distinguished members of the Security Council, Excellencies,

I thank the Government of Nigeria for convening this debate, and I commend the Security Council for its continued engagement on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


The willful targeting of civilians, disproportionate attacks, sexual violence, forced displacement and the denial of humanitarian access remain widespread in armed conflict, often carried out with impunity.


Ongoing or recent events and conditions in Kyrgyzstan, Gaza, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere remind us that the protection of civilians remains a huge common challenge.


This Council has adopted important measures designed to put civilians first.


It has been especially encouraging to see the institutional steps the Council has taken to improve its ability to respond. The aide-memoire is bringing greater consistency to efforts to address protection concerns. The establishment of the Informal Expert Group has become a valuable forum for providing the Council with essential and timely perspectives of the humanitarian community.


But there is more that the Council can and must do. With that in mind, today I will focus on specific aspects of the core challenges I identified in my report of May 2009.


First is to maximize the impact of peacekeeping missions in protecting civilians.


I welcome the Council's efforts, in designing peacekeeping mandates, to increase the emphasis on the protection of civilians.


However, in order for peacekeeping operations to successfully implement these challenging mandates, it is essential that the Council provide them with the sustained political support they require.


The Council's engagement is vital to make certain that peacekeeping operations are adequately resourced, and to ensure that mission leadership is fully empowered to take forward this complex mandated task on the international community's behalf.


Similarly, troop and police contributors must arrive to the mission area with a common understanding of what protection of civilian mandates entail, and with the capabilities and willingness to implement them.


As we seek to protect civilians from the effects of violence, it will also be critical to manage expectations. Certainly, we would like to be able to protect all people, from all threats, at all times, but this is a very difficult task even for national governments in times of peace.


The dialogue on these issues has made positive progress within the Council, as well as within this year's meeting of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.


The recently published OCHA/DPKO independent study also offers important suggestions for bridging the gaps between mandates and action on the ground.


I count on Member States' support as the Secretariat continues to address the areas in which its performance vis-à-vis the protection of civilians must be improved.


Developments in two missions warrant particular attention.


In Chad and the DRC, we are facing the withdrawal and drawdown, respectively, of UN peacekeeping operations. While I welcome the wish of host governments to uphold their sovereign responsibilities to their civilian population, we must fully consider the effects of a premature drawdown in situations that are still fragile. Clear benchmarks should be set for the achievement of civilian protection goals. Once set, they should be achieved before peacekeepers leave.


A second core challenge is increased compliance by non-state armed groups with international law.


With non-state armed actors figuring in every armed conflict today, there is clearly a need to engage such groups on humanitarian issues.


Let us recognize the distinction between dialogue for humanitarian purposes and for political ones. This is necessary so that States can overcome their reluctance to engage for fear that doing so is tantamount to according recognition or status to such groups. It is also essential since even armed groups that violate basic international norms as a matter of routine can and should be brought into dialogue for purely humanitarian purposes, including humanitarian access.


Indeed, States and non-state actors alike must be encouraged to provide and permit greater humanitarian access. In too many cases, States lack capacity, or worse, are inclined to deny their responsibilities, deny the existence or degree of humanitarian need, and construct unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.


This brings me naturally to another core challenge: accountability.


Violent crimes are not the only ones that harm civilians. Acts of omission, including the hindering of humanitarian access, can be just as, or even more, damaging. Those who create such obstacles must also be held accountable, be they State or non-State actors. This is a crucial part of our work to rid the world of zones where humanitarian needs go unmet.


Madam President,


There have been significant advances in the normative capabilities of national and international systems. Much of this progress derives from the work of the International Criminal Court and its beneficial effects, including the integration of the Rome Statute crimes into national legal systems.


But here, too, more must be done to increase the expectation that violators will have to face the consequences of their actions.


Earlier this year, and in consultation with regional organizations, I dispatched a Commission of Inquiry to Guinea to help bring accountability for crimes committed during violence there last September.


In Sri Lanka, I have emphasized the importance of an accountability process for alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict that ended there last year. I have appointed a Panel of Experts to advise me on these issues.


Madam President,


Over the past decade, the protection of civilians agenda has advanced considerably, thanks in great part to the work of this Council. While the conduct of hostilities and their immediate consequences must remain a major focus, that alone would mean treating symptoms rather than causes.


Armed conflict, particularly the intra-state disputes that are now the norm, is often the result of a lack of good governance, competition for scarce resources, the complex interaction of factors including ethnicity, or all of these combined. Climate change, desertification and land disputes can be additional drivers of conflict. And a lack of effective security and rule of law mechanisms can exacerbate the problems.


These are the broader challenges the Security Council must address with determination to prevent and resolve conflicts. That, in the longer term, is the best way of bringing about real protection for civilians.


Thank you.