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United Nations Security Council: Evaluation of Decade-Long Progress in the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

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The United Nations Security Council took under consideration the report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2009/277), which notes that, since the subject was placed on the Council's agenda 10 years ago, further efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians remains crucial as actions on the ground have not yet matched the progress in words and the development of international norms and standards.

According to the report, old and new conflicts alike persist amid "sometimes appalling" levels of human suffering owing to the fundamental failure of the parties involved to respect fully their obligations to protect civilians. That failure demands a reinvigorated commitment by the Security Council, Member States and the United Nations to the protection of civilians and the promotion of respect for the principles of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, upon which the concept is founded.

In practical terms, the report states, that commitment requires determined action to meet five core challenges: enhancing compliance with international law by parties to conflict, particularly in the conduct of hostilities; enhancing compliance with the law by non-State armed groups; enhancing protection through more effective and better resourced peacekeeping and other relevant missions; enhancing humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability for violations of the law.

The Secretary-General stated that the last 10 years have provided a "tantalizing sense" of the potential of the civilian-protection agenda. "The task before us now is to take the necessary steps to fully realize that potential and meet the five core challenges identified in the present report," he adds, noting that the Council has the tools required to take forward the recommendations appearing throughout the report.

The Secretary-General said that, in practice, that entails consistent application of the aide-memoire on the protection of civilians; regular meetings of the expert group on the issue prior to establishing or renewing peacekeeping mandates; consistent condemnation of violations of the law by all parties to conflict, without exception; ensuring compliance, including targeted measures, mandating commissions of inquiry and referring situations to the International Criminal Court; and timely deployment of peacekeeping missions or additional temporary capacity with robust protection mandates.

The Secretary-General closed by saying that "At the open debate in November, I would urge the Security Council and Member States to seize the opportunity of the tenth anniversary of the protection of civilians to reinvigorate their commitment to this agenda and, above all, to work with the United Nations and other relevant actors in a comprehensive and determined effort to make the protection of civilians more systematically and consistently a reality for all those caught or trapped in the conflicts of today, or those of tomorrow."

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Susan Rice, representing the United States said that the Secretary-General's report cited many encouraging developments, as well as challenges, and the Council should review his recommendations carefully in order to improve the protection of civilians during armed conflict. Protection must be a core principle in all peacekeeping operations. In Afghanistan, the international coalition continued to fight the Taliban and Al Qaida while causing as few civilian casualties as possible. The United States, Rice said, deeply regretted every civilian death and would continue to review its rules of engagement while making the reduction of civilian casualties a priority.

All nations must abide by international humanitarian law, Rice said, adding that the United States is committed, together with the international community, to defeating violence, consistent with its values, legal obligations and ideals. All nations had a responsibility to protect their civilian populations, and United Nations Member States had a responsibility to protect when individual countries were unable or unwilling to do so, said Rice.

Rice concluded by saying that special note must be taken of the most vulnerable groups, including women and children, emphasizing the importance of redoubling efforts to address sexual violence. The United States, said Rice, looked forward to the report on the implementation of the resolution on women, peace and security, the provisions of which must be implemented - There must be clear consequences for such crimes. Regarding the continuing recruitment of children, Rice said that the Secretary-General's recommendations on humanitarian access would be useful in ensuring their well-being., yet more robust mandates were needed to ensure the protection of civilians, but they must be clearly defined.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
 

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