«PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT» / Statement made by Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral, PR of Portugal / Security Council (New York, 11.22.2010)
I wish to thank you, Mr President, for convening this debate on a issue to which Portugal attaches the utmost importance.
I also wish to thank the Secretary-General, as well as Ms. Valerie Amos, Mr. Alain Le Roy, Ms. Navanethem Pillay and Mr. Yves Daccord for their very useful briefings.
Portugal naturally shares the views that will be expressed by the EU regarding this issue, but let me underline some aspects of particular significance to my country.
We meet here today one year after the adoption of Resolution 1894, which is rightly considered to be a benchmark of the UN normative system and the best reflection of the Security Council’s long commitment to the issue of civilian protection in armed conflict. This resolution is also an essential development as it underlines the importance of addressing the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations mandates in a proper way.
The UN is now endowed with the necessary tools with which to act, in an effective and accountable manner, in protecting civilians in situations of armed conflict throughout the world where they are called to take action.
The main responsibility to protect civilians lies obviously with States. But it is also clear that, in some cases, States need international support to carry out that responsibility. UN Peacekeeping operations and UN Missions, as well as UN agencies in general, are crucial in strengthening and helping national capacities to exercise this fundamental responsibility.
We are conscious that the changes in the very nature of present conflicts – where armed groups roam unchallenged within the borders of often vast countries sowing violence and death, and avail themselves of the porosity of boarders to further their criminal intentions – add significantly to the complexity of the tasks of the peacekeepers and to their capacity to enforce compliance with international humanitarian law and respect for fundamental human rights. Albeit all the difficulties, the protection of civilians, be they those directly targeted or the accidental victims of conflict, must be of paramount concern and we strongly support the Secretary-General’s recommendation for its enhancement. Civilians do continue to account for the majority of conflict related casualties and are constantly exposed and fall victim of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
It goes without saying that we acknowledge the hugeness and complexity of the task facing the peacekeepers and the UN agencies and missions. Nevertheless, we should strive to increase their effectiveness in protecting civilians in conflict situations.
Allow me to mention, in this context, what we believe to be three important issues: the lack of accountability and impunity, the need to strengthen UN peacekeeping operations and missions and, finally, the need for an increasingly integrated approach to peacekeeping.
Portugal believes that the lack of accountability and the impunity that benefit many parties to armed conflict throughout the world is extremely disturbing. This situation obviously encourages perpetrators as well as it discourages victims to denounce violations and to seek redress. Furthermore it renders the tasks of the peacekeepers even more difficult in protecting civilians in situations of conflict. We believe that the United Nations and the Security Council must show its strong resolve as far as impunity is concerned, addressing ways and means by which its action can be more effective in bringing to justice those responsible of deliberately targeting civilians and violating their fundamental rights.
The report of the Secretary General points to some improvements that have been made in this regard, both by the action of international institutions such as the ICC, and by national institutions.
Concerning the ICC, and its specific role in addressing the most serious crimes, we encourage all efforts to strengthen the Court and reinforce its credibility, through enhanced cooperation among parties and the promotion of the universal vocation of the Rome Statute, especially now that the Kampala Review Conference successfully contributed to a larger international consensus around it, through the agreement on the crime of aggression.
Nevertheless, as the Secretary General underlines, still much more must be done in this field.
This means, of course, a much more effective translation and application of rules and principles on the ground, by those rightfully entrusted to do so. It is clear that the normative framework we currently have is adequate; what seems to lack often is the political will to implement it effectively.
My second point, Mr. President, is the need to strengthen UN peacekeeping operations and missions. This requires clear, specific situation or country oriented mandates, as well as training and resources, so to successfully fulfill our responsibilities towards those who suffer the most. Allow me to stress training: Peacekeepers should be well acquainted with the origins and reasons underlying the conflict as well as the social, economic, ethnic and cultural patterns of the country in order to carry out their tasks in as efficient way. Recent experiences show the importance and usefulness of engaging with local communities and benefiting from their wealth of knowledge of specific situations and conditions, as well as contributing to reinforce the sense of ownership by the people. But one must bear in mind also, and act accordingly, that these communities might be singled out as objects of reprisal to warring factions.
Finally, Mr. President, the growing complexity and the diversity of mission mandated tasks demand an integrated approach to UN peacekeeping. There is a growing understanding of the concept of Protection of Civilians in armed conflicts and in this sense the guidance given to UN Missions on how effectively protect civilians is particularly important.
We commend the work that has been conducted within the UN towards achieving a shared understanding of this concept and developing a strategic framework for mission-wide strategies on protection of civilians. Training modules and the identification of resources and capacities required to perform the tasks are also of the utmost importance, as are scenario-based exercises for senior mission leadership as describe in the progress report of New Horizon initiative. But, in order to perform efficiently, adequate capacities have to be deployed on the ground, with clearly defined and achievable tasks and objectives, in order to avoid capability gaps that would hamper the Mission.
Let me assure you that Portugal will stay fully committed and actively engaged in all efforts pertaining to strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. We look forward to work closely with you and the other members of the Council on this endeavour from the outset of our tenure next January.