Croatia -- Statement at the UNSC Debate on the Protection of civilians in Armed Conflict
NEW YORK, N.Y. 14 January 2009
At the outset, I wish to express our gratitude to the French Presidency for the opportunity to discuss the important issue of the protection of civilians during armed conflict in the Security Council. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank USG John Holmes for his very comprehensive briefing.
Croatia associates itself with the statement of the European Union to be delivered later by the representative of the Czech Republic.
In light of the forthcoming 60th Anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, which lie at the core of international humanitarian law, this debate comes at a timely juncture. Yet, sixty years on, civilians continue to account for the majority of victims of actions by parties to armed conflicts, often deliberately targeted and subjected to appalling human rights violations in contemporary conflicts worldwide.
In this regard, Croatia shares the deep concern for the suffering of civilians in many areas around the world, from the conflict areas of the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the current situation in and around Gaza, to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and Zimbabwe. In the case of Gaza, we continue to appeal to all parties to exercise maximum restraint in avoiding civilian casualties and to put the interests of civilian populations first, especially by guaranteeing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance and supplies, and the full respect of resolution 1860 (2009).
Situations of particular concern are those which continue to be characterized by indiscriminate violence and attacks against women and children. Increased use of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict including as a tactic of war demand more effective implementation of Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008). The struggle against impunity is an integral element of the protection of civilian equation and we must ensure that the policy of zero-tolerance towards sexual violence and abuse becomes a reality in all aspects of the Councils work. This calls for robust efforts on the part of UN country specific mandates to overturn the pervading sense of impunity in countries like Cote DIvoire and the Sudan.
As we recently learnt from the High Commissioner for Refugees, conflicts remain the major cause for the increasing number of refugees and IDPs in the world. Their conditions are often exacerbated by serious security problems, and grave breaches of international humanitarian law by combatants in the conduct of hostilities, often characterized through sexual violence and impeded humanitarian access. Croatia places great importance on the security situation in and around refugee camps. Given that in the DRC and Sudan, such places remain the primary recruiting ground for child soldiers, more efforts are needed to mainstream child protection advisors in both DPKO and DPA missions.
Although the Council has established a broad framework of thematic resolutions on this issue, greater systematic follow-up by the Council is required. In particular, Croatia advocates the need for a more consistent approach at the country-specific level. Even in cases where mandates include measures for civilian protection and respect for international humanitarian law, most notably MONUC and UNAMID, the results have been very mixed to date. The failure to effectively implement these measures is often attributed to the absence of a systemic understanding of what types of activities fall under the umbrella of protection within peace keeping mandates. Only when the Councils intent is translated into clear and actionable guidelines, can protection-oriented initiatives on the ground be fully achieved by adequately trained personnel armed with requisite resources.
While the primary responsibility lies with the State for protecting its own civilians, world leaders at the World Summit in 2005 recognized the responsibility we all share to protect vulnerable communities from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The international community has already demonstrated its preparedness to take collective action when national authorities manifestly fail to investigate, prosecute and adequately punish violations of international humanitarian law. We should not be seen wanting in translating these words into action. For its part, Croatia believes that the International Criminal Court has a key part to play when states fail to uphold these inherent responsibilities. It is our conviction that the obligation to cooperate with the Court, arising from both the Rome Statute and from decisions of the Security Council, must be strictly adhered to.
Furthermore, the full implementation of smart sanctions and other targeted measures by the Security Council on individuals, or parties to conflict carrying out widespread or systematic violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including sexual violence, should not be overlooked.
We have learnt from the Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women in an earlier debate last October that, some important progress has been achieved in mainstreaming a gender perspective into the overall peace and security architecture. Indeed, Council thematic debates and discussions of country-specific conflict situations on its agenda which have addressed the protection of women and children have produced positive results. The watershed recognition of all sexual violence against civilians as a security threat in resolution 1820 (2008) and the need for a systematic response, has created an important momentum towards the protection of civilians which we must be careful not to lose in the ensuing work of the Council. As part of this systematic response, Croatia further believes that in line with the Secretary Generals recommendation, the Council should dispatch more missions to assess situations where sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war.
Alongside the protection of civilians, another critical humanitarian challenge continues to be that of access of humanitarian assistance. The interests of civilian populations must be placed first, especially by guaranteeing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance and supplies. Croatia is also deeply concerned by the continued dangers and security risks faced by humanitarian personnel at the field level, as they operate in increasingly complex situations. Croatia commends the courage and commitment of those who operate under great personal risk, especially locally recruited staff. We urge all humanitarian personnel on the ground to adhere to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.
As a strong supporter of the Oslo Process from its initiation, Croatia joined other signatories to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions in December. The conclusion of a legally binding international instrument that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions represents an important step towards enhancing the security of civilians of conflicts in many regions worldwide.
In conclusion Mr. President Croatia views the latest updated version of the Aide Memoire to be annexed to the Statement of the President as a welcome step, and expresses its gratitude to OCHA for all their efforts in compiling the latest text in consultation with the Council. It represents an important catalog of Council precedents on key issues which will allow the Council to be more systematic in its approach to integrating the protection of civilians into all relevant aspects of the Councils work. Given the current trends in contemporary conflicts, Croatia would like to see the Aide Memoire updated on a more regularly basis. Finally, Croatia in line with the EU lends its support to the establishment of an informal experts group on the protection of civilians.
Croatia reiterates its continued commitment to the protection of civilians and looks forward to working with Council members and the international community to greatly improve their situation worldwide. (...)