FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President. I too would like to thank the Secretary General for his comments this morning, and Under-Secretary General Holmes and Deputy High Commissioner Kang for their briefings.
Mr. President, the United States thanks you and the Government of Austria for organizing this important debate and for your leadership on the resolution the Security Council has just adopted. Resolution 1894 consolidates a decade of study and effort to protect civilians in armed conflict. We also offer our deepest thanks today to the hundreds of brave UN personnel dispatched to war zones who died trying to put our aspirations into practice.
As a result of this decade of UN action, millions of civilians have been saved and helped, through political, peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian, and development efforts. This is certainly the case in such places as Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, and other countries shaken by armed conflict.
But in all too many places, the innocent have still borne the brunt of the conflict. In this same decade, the response has sometimes come too late, or fallen short. Millions of Congolese died in the last decade as a direct or indirect result of armed conflict. In Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered, and millions were driven from their homes. The plight of civilians in the eastern DRC, Darfur, and elsewhere in North and Southern Sudan remains precarious and extremely worrying. Somalia and its civilian population are devastated from decades of violence. Insurgent attacks still terrorize innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Palestinian and Israeli people continue to suffer from the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
Mr. President, far too many civilians are still threatened and victimized by violence. The perpetrators—often rebels, terrorists, extremist groups, and other non-state actors—are unmoved by the law and operate outside it. War-torn states often lack the capacity to bring perpetrators to justice and provide security for their citizens. State security forces that lack the necessary training and oversight—as well as state forces integrated with former rebels during the implementation of peace agreements—can themselves threaten civilians, as evidenced by the case of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).
International peacekeepers can and do supplement local capacity in countries shaken by conflict. Eight UN Peacekeeping Missions are now mandated to protect civilians from physical violence. But some peacekeepers lack the means to match their challenging mandates. We must do better.
On occasion the severity of the threat cannot be managed by UN Peacekeepers. What is needed is a much more sophisticated combat capability and enforcement action. It is especially important that military forces undertaking such actions abide by the Geneva Conventions, whose 60th anniversary we celebrate this year. U.S. Forces are committed to compliance with the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, even as we face an enemy that is loyal to no state, that hides amongst civilians, and that routinely violates laws.
Mr. President, the lives of innocent civilians in all the world's conflict zones demand our concern. But the situations in which civilians are imperiled differ radically. As such, the resolution adopted today addresses a wide range of actions to strengthen the protection of civilians. I would like to highlight four of them.
First, we must continue to develop the means to ensure that the Security Council has prompt access to accurate and objective information on threats to civilians in armed conflict, impediments to humanitarian access, and alleged violations of international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law.
Second, we must strengthen the tools to hold accountable those who flout the laws of war. The Security Council must be prepared to impose sanctions on those who violate international humanitarian law, whether by freezing assets, banning international travel, or restricting the flow of goods and arms. Establishing accountability and promoting reconciliation through credible and effective national courts when possible, or through international or hybrid tribunals when necessary are essential to end impunity. Those responsible must be held to account.
Third, we need to support the capacity of countries emerging from conflict to rebuild their infrastructure and institutions, including those dealing with protection and security for their citizens.
Finally, members of the Security Council, troop and police contributors, and the Secretariat all need to forge a shared understanding of what protection of civilians entails in peacekeeping contexts. Mission-wide strategies to protect civilians—involving military, police, and civilian components are critical. Peacekeepers need to be prepared, trained, and equipped to employ force effectively when required, in accordance with their mandates. In this regard, we look forward to early discussions on the recently completed DPKO/OCHA study on protection civilians, including in the forthcoming session of the General Assembly's Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.
We have the tools and mechanisms to protect civilians in armed conflict, Mr. President, but we still have considerable work to do to improve them, to develop new ones, and to summon the will to use them more consistently. We must also consider taking additional measures to enhance the safety and security of UN personnel undertaking this vital work. And we must do all of this concurrent with our efforts to prevent, halt, and end the armed conflicts themselves.
Mr. President let me thank you once again for organizing this meeting on such an important issue. We regret, however, that as we have just heard, some have sought to use this opportunity to promote other objectives. Thank you.
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