Presentation of Bernice Gonzales-Romero
Director of Advocacy and Campaigning, Oxfam International
To the Informal, Interactive General Assembly Hearings in preparation for the September 2005 UN High Level Plenary Meeting
24 June 2005
Eleven years after the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, and five years after the international community pledged at the Millennium Summit to pare no effort to give every assistance and protection to civilian populationsin armed conflict, people and communities around the world continue to live with the daily, wrenching fear of armed violence. For a woman in Darfur who is unable to leave her camp to collect firewood for fear of being raped, or an eight year-old boy in Northern Uganda who must walk five miles to sleep in the relative safety of a crowded schoolyard, or a teenaged girl in the West Bank for whom the only means of survival seems to be to pick up a gun, the international community does not feel like a place where o effort is spared to provide assistance and protection. Rather, it feels like a place where some peoples suffering is more compelling than others, where concerned words are far too often a substitute for resolute action, and where the most prominent signal of international engagement is not the delivery of aid, but rather the delivery of arms.
Oxfam International believes that we must all do better job of realizing the Millennium Summits vision of a responsive, and responsible, international community. And we share Kofi Annans vision that in order to do so we must make bold and urgent steps on a number of different fronts. We know that the two of these fronts security and development are inextricably linked.
Oxfam International therefore believes that it is imperative that the Secretary Generals vision of a new collective security consensus be accepted and elaborated upon at Septembers High Level Plenary. But if we have learned anything in the past two decades, it is that kind words are not enough. Oxfam fears that the golden opportunity of the High Level Plenary will be lost if governments do not move beyond generalities to the measurable commitments that can make the Secretary Generals vision real for the worlds poorest and most vulnerable. Id like to focus on two areas where the commitments outlined in the latest draft of the outcome document can and must be stronger: on the responsibility to protect civilians in armed conflict, and on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
Oxfam warmly welcomes the Secretary-Generals proposal that Member States embrace he Responsibility to Protect as a basis for collective action. Oxfam believes that by agreeing governments' responsibilities to protect civilians, and clear criteria for UN-authorized military intervention as a last resort, the international community could make significant strides towards ending the obscene levels of civilian suffering in today's conflict zones. If the mantra of ever again is to have any meaning at all, the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, must make a fundamental institutional commitment to the protection of civilians.
In considering whether to authorize or endorse the use of force, Oxfam believes that the Security Council should always address whatever other considerations it may take into account he five basic criteria of legitimacy outlined by the Secretary General. Under all circumstances, the use of force must not inflict suffering on civilians or damage to civilian infrastructure that is disproportionate to its military purpose, as already set out in international humanitarian law. Oxfam believes that these guidelines for authorizing the use of force should be embodied in declaratory resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly.
For these reasons Oxfam is deeply concerned that the latest draft of the Outcome Document does not clearly and unambiguously affirm the international communities esponsibility to Protect, and does not lay out those rare circumstances where the exercise of this responsibility might entail the use of collective enforcement action mandated by the Security Council. Oxfam urges governments to reconsider the language of the document, particularly paragraphs 72 and 47, in order to make these commitments clear.
Your Excellencies, the Secretary-General has challenged the world to eliminate the threat of small arms, which for many people are the worlds real weapons of mass destruction. Oxfam believes that basic security for the worlds most vulnerable people cannot be realized, nor the Millennium Development Goals achieved, without a fundamental international commitment to both serious reforming the international trade in arms, and addressing the needs of communities awash in weapons.
Oxfam welcomes the Outcome Documents commitment to develop legally binding agreements to regulate the marking and tracing, and illicit brokering of small arms and light weapons. But the Document fails to reflect the existing responsibilities of arms exporting states to ensure that the arms they export are not misused for human rights violations, breaches of international humanitarian law, or to otherwise undermine the security and development of people and their communities. In line with the recommendation of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Oxfam urges governments to incorporate in Paragraph 51 of the Outcome Document a clear commitment to an Arms Trade Treaty based on these responsibilities. Oxfam is proud to work with Amnesty International and hundreds of Non Governmental Organizations affiliated through the International Action Network on Small Arms to promote such a treaty, and encouraged that a growing number of governments have decided to join us in this struggle.
Your Excellencies, I do not need to remind you that the High Level Plenary in September will be largest gathering of Heads of State and Government in history. It would be a tragic missed opportunity if the outcome of the High Level Plenary were to make a difference only to lives of a few people here in the diplomatic circles of New York. The High Level Plenary must also make a difference for people in Kitgum and Bukavu and Bogot and Aceh people who live with the daily fear violence; people for whom New York and its rhetoric seem very far away. Oxfam urges you to renew the Millennium Summits commitment to pare no effort to give every assistance and protection, and this time to back that commitment with the bold and concrete steps without which it will mean nothing to poorest and most vulnerable around the world. We are all watching you.