Created: Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians
in Armed Conflict – 7th July 2010
Statement by the delegation of Sri Lanka
I join previous speakers in expressing appreciation to you for convening today’s open debate and congratulate you on your assumption of the Presidency. We also thank the Secretary-General for his statement and Under-Secretary-General John Holmes and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay for their useful briefings.
My delegation believes that the protection task cannot be simply understood and addressed in humanitarian terms alone as it requires focus and action on a multiplicity of different areas ranging from politics, to human rights to disarmament. The Security Council has considered of the protection of civilians issue for over a decade. We can acknowledge that substantive results have been achieved in establishing a normative framework. The politicization and selectivity that characterizes the debate has affected credibility. This has called into question our sincerity about concerns for the plight of civilians affected by armed conflict.
Madam President, the normative framework on civilian protection cannot be applied in a theoretical manner regardless of the circumstances. Our own past experience in dealing with a terrorist group that used the civilian population forcibly as a human shield to launch attacks on the armed forces should remind all of us of the challenges. While shielding behind innocent civilians they also succeeded in marshalling the support of their sympathizers abroad to stage massive demonstrations. Unfortunately, too many well meaning persons were taken up by these cynical efforts to garner sympathy. Much of the rules of war are based on the presumption that the parties to the conflict are conventional armies of responsible States but terrorists totally disregard these laws and principles.
We also need to address the causes for the escalation of armed conflict. The proliferation of illicit arms has contributed to the spread of violence and terrorism everywhere. Unless we are able to stop its proliferation as agreed by the Council Resolution 1612 (2005), civilian safety will remain at stake and our best efforts to deal with the humanitarian consequences of conflicts will soon exceed existing capacities and available resources. Whilst measures can be imposed albeit selectively on States legitimately engaged in protecting their civilian population from terrorists, non state actors such as terrorist groups on the other hand have relatively easy access to illicit weapons. This is because there is no dedicated international regime to conduct surveillance let alone interdiction of such illicit arms trafficking. On the other hand, external actors such as diaspora communities openly fund arms purchases aimed at destabilizing States whilst receiving support and protection in their host countries and their criminal agents cross international boundaries at will unchecked. The smuggling of arms in international waters and across boundaries continues rendering such regimes as the Council Resolution 1373 rather in-effective in this area.
There is also a need to recognize the legitimate role of the military in civilian protection whilst we can agree that it is not an exclusive role. It is noteworthy that protective responsibilities are part of the mandate of UN peacekeeping forces as per Resolution 1674 (2006) and their valuable contribution in this regard has been noted. More than 2,000 Sri Lankan peacekeepers are on the ground protecting civilians in challenging operational environments.
The role of Governments in civilian protection should be respected as it is their primary responsibility to protect their own citizens especially in times of armed conflict. UN and other humanitarian agencies must support and assist Governments and in doing so be sensitive to ground realities including respect for the sovereignty of States. The principle for unimpeded access for humanitarian personnel must be respected but it cannot disregard the State’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel as terrorists do not distinguish between military and humanitarian personnel in their attacks. Calls for unimpeded access in some situations is once again a clear case of applying theory without factoring in ground realities. It must never be overlooked that as in our own experience, the military often at huge cost to their personnel had to brave the dangers of terrorism to bring civilians out of harms way. Therefore, military and humanitarian personnel must seek to work in partnership and their responsibilities towards civilians must be addressed through regular dialogue and consultation in places where civilian protection is at stake. Therefore, Madam President, we should look at capacity building measures for military personnel and peacekeeping forces to deal with civilian protection activities. The assumption that civilians can best be protected and cared for only by civilian humanitarian workers belies the training provided to our armed forces to respect humanitarian law at all times and to handle peace keeping responsibilities. These become particularly pertinent given that we are dealing increasingly with internal conflicts.
An inevitable consequence of armed conflict is internal displacement. Internal displacement poses several challenges, key among them is that armed groups use displacement to exploit civilian populations sometimes by masquerading among them. In this context, civilians have a right to be protected and the State has the primary responsibility not only to provide for the welfare of displaced civilians in terms of food, clothing, medical care and shelter but also to ensure their safety, in keeping with the provisions of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Unfortunately Madam President ground realities are not understood or considered by those who look at civilian protection in isolation and apply generalizations regardless of the specific circumstances. The Resettlement issue is also politicized. In my country, we have resettled nearly 90% of the IDP’s within one year of concluding a 27 year long conflict. Resettlement necessitated clearance of uncharted mine fields laid by the terrorist group in civilian residential areas, farmlands and roads. Whilst assistance for de-mining and resettlement is miniscule, there are those who hypocritically preach to us about the need for early resettlement.
The cost of armed conflict on civilians and the need for accountability is a matter of concern to all democratic and elected Govts including our Govt. In this context, our Govt. established a Commission of Inquiry in May this year. Quite often and quite naturally, the focus on civilian casualties is centered on the life and property damage caused in military operations while insufficient consideration is given to the thousands of lives lost in suicide attacks on civilian targets by non State actors. We have to devise means to also hold non State actors accountable and to recognize the asymmetrical nature of conflicts where democratic states are confronted by ruthless terrorist groups who pay scant attention to the rules of war and challenge conventional armies on how best to protect vulnerable civilian populations.
My delegation hopes that the Council discussion on Protection of Civilians will facilitate practical decisions based on ground realities. The challenges facing us are primarily of a practical nature requiring more international cooperation and greater coordination between the UN bodies and Member States.
In conclusion, we would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of the United Nations agencies particularly the Office of the Emergency Relief Coordinator and OCHA, and other national and international partners in providing support and assistance to the Govt. efforts towards relief rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected civilians. My delegation wishes to convey a special word of appreciation to Sir John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for the very constructive and supportive role he has played and for his excellent leadership of OCHA. We wish him well in all his future endeavours.
Thank you Madam President.