Created: Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona,
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
UN Security Council Open Debate
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
12th February, 2013, New York
Let me join the previous speakers in thanking the Republic of Korea for convening this open debate under its Presidency. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for their helpful statements.
The Sri Lanka delegation associates itself with the statement delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement by the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The concerns highlighted by the Secretary General and the five core challenges identified for the protection of civilians in armed conflict continue to demand our serious attention. Similarly, Gender based violence, including sexual violence, deliberate and collateral attacks on children, schools, health facilities, the denial of humanitarian access to trapped populations etc., are a disturbing backdrop to conflict situations, as has been the case for centuries. This is nothing new. The history of conflict, invasions and revolution are litany of violence against women and children. Today, the safety and security of humanitarian personnel has also become an increasing concern. Our discussion must take all these angles into account. If not, its value will diminish.
Just as much as the abuse of women and children in conflict situations has been widespread, in post conflict environments also, the challenges faced by women and children remain formidable. Civilization’s superficial glamour is often shattered by base violence that is unleashed on the most vulnerable in conflict situations. Conflict often creates family dislocations, shattered livelihoods and also sole breadwinners with the resulting negative consequences. Single mothers are often the result of conflict, and in some cases, this increases vulnerability to sexual harassment, exploitation and violence. We also should not forget the sad reality of child soldiers – children who have been brutally deprived of their childhood and who have been used to commit the most appalling violence against family and community. To an increasing extent the violence is unleashed on those who are closest, by returned service personnel.
It would seem that the state of civilians in conflict situations in 2012 has not qualitatively changed despite the concerted efforts made by the United Nations and the Security Council. Slow change underlines the reality that the protection task cannot be addressed only in theoretical terms or by relying solely on established standards. It requires understanding a multiplicity of different elements ranging from political factors, socio-economic realities, psychological shadows, the proliferation of small arms, and the influence of the media. Studies should be multifaceted and remedial action must be designed flexibly.
But one must remember that reports of civilian trauma may sometimes be the result of deliberately distorted propaganda. The resort to modern technology and propaganda methods by rebel groups, in particular terrorist groups and their networks of sympathizers and the agitated media, are a reality. This is another factor that needs to be kept in mind when addressing the question of violence against civilians.
Protection of civilians poses a difficult challenge in situations where civilians are used as human shields and bargaining chips by rebel groups. This has made the application of the standard principles a nightmare. Once again, the practical realities based on the experiences of States must be seriously looked at instead of a theoretical application of one size fits all humanitarian framework. The Security Council could make seminal contributions to the development of the relevant principles by making a study of these issues.
Sri Lanka has consistently supported the principles highlighted in the Council’s thematic resolutions since 1999. Sri Lanka’s commitment is demonstrated in the manner we evolved our approach to civilian protection during the conflict with the terrorist LTTE, especially at its end and in its aftermath. It adhered to a policy goal of “Zero Civilian Casualties” despite the provocations offered. I also point out the speed and efficacy with which Sri Lanka addressed the post-conflict IDP resettlement, the robust nature of its ongoing post-conflict reconstruction and development, and the pursuit of accountability and reconciliation through domestic mechanisms to address infractions of the law. All child combatants, treated as victims not as villains, have been sent back to their communities after a short period of rehabilitation, in less than three years. UNICEF played a key facilitating role in this matter.
The Government established an internal mechanism for dealing with causes for the conflict and to make recommendations. The report of this body (the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission), offers detailed observations and recommendations based on international humanitarian law principles. The National Action Plan developed on the basis of LLRC recommendations is now being implemented and coordinated by an eight member Inter-ministerial Task Force Committee headed by the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka. The National Budget has allocated 763 Million Rupees to implement the National Action Plan. Sri Lanka will continue to take all necessary measures to heal the wounds of conflict on its own, as the internationalization of the reconciliation process, would only result in stymying the progress, particularly since it is a domestically developed process. Sri Lanka must have the time and space to complete the reconciliation process that has already seen tremendous progress.
The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights includes among its eight significant thematic areas, the rights of women and children. A strong focus on violence against women, women and the criminal justice system, female migrant workers and trafficking in women and children is evident. The Government has taken firm action against reported cases of violence against women and girls during the conflict and the post-conflict period. During the conflict period (January 2007 – May 2009), 7 Security Forces personnel were reported as having been involved in 5 incidents of sexual violence in the North. This is out of a total of 125 persons accused in 119 incidents for the entirety of the Northern Province. In the post conflict period (May 2009 – May 2012) 10 Security Forces personnel were reported as having been involved in 6 incidents of sexual violence in the North. This is out of a total of 307 persons accused in 256 incidents for the entire Northern Province. The involvement of Security Forces personnel as a percentage of the total accused stands at 5.6% in the conflict period and 3.3% in the post- conflict period. Legal action has been taken by the Government in all of the above cases in which the Sri Lankan Security Forces personnel have been involved. The military has taken stringent action, including discharging offenders or imposing other punishments. Furthermore, cases have also been filed in normal criminal courts. In a majority of the above cases, the perpetrators have been close relatives or neighbours of the victim. Along with the application of the law to personnel in breach of its provisions, the Sri Lankan military continues to provide massive scale human rights training with the assistance of the ICRC.
Civil society and the media have given wide coverage to the offending incidents. In a small conservative society such as Sri Lanka, the media coverage would ensure effective social ostracisation of offenders. The GoSL and civil society organisations have also combined to cooperate in addressing these issues. The Government has established Women and Children’s Police Desks staffed with female police officers in police stations in the North and the East. Specially trained police officers function at such Desks which provide an enabling and protective environment for children, women and girls and their parents to report incidents of abuse and exploitation. This network is also linked to the National Child Protection Authority. Sexual and gender – based violence help desks are located in hospitals in the Districts affected by the conflict.
The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs is planning to establish Women and Child Development Units in all the 25 Districts in the country. These Units consist of a Child Rights Promotion Officer (CRPO), Women’s Development Officer (WDO), Early Childhood Development Officer (ECCD), Relief Sister, Counseling Assistant and the NCPA Psychosocial Assistant. Government agencies, NGOs and community organizations have been conducting awareness raising campaigns against sexual violence, including domestic violence. For example, the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs launched a successful national campaign entitled, “Stop Rape Now” in 2011 and 2012. Victims of domestic violence have been granted legal aid. These programmes are regularly conducted in the North and the East, and the plantation sector. Awareness raising and media reports on incidents of sexual abuse of children and girls have resulted in an ongoing public discourse on these issues. In a pioneering effort, to sensitize men to gender-related violence, the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, in partnership with male Parliamentarians and the military, has conducted two workshops under the banner, “Men too can make a difference”.
Equally, the Government has given special consideration to uplifting the social and economic status of war widows. Already bilateral assistance has been obtained to initiate a self-employment programme for war widows in Batticaloa in collaboration with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in India. A local NGO called the Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action and Association of War Affected Women educates soldiers, youth, and community leaders about international standards relating to war and promotes the economic and social development of women across conflict lines.
My delegation hopes that the Council discussion on Protection of Civilians will facilitate a wider appreciation of the inherent challenges and practical outcomes based on ground realities. Reality is to be found not in newspaper headlines but at the unexciting ground level. It is for this reason that my delegation has sought to share some key areas of our post-conflict experience, and encourage all to invest greater efforts in understanding the causes of conflict, in preventing conflicts and their recurrence and to respond practically and with sensitivity to situations affecting civilian populations. We also continue to emphasize that the nature of contemporary conflicts has posed new challenges to established legal principles for the protection of civilians in conflict situations.
Thank you, Mr. President