SC: “PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS IN ARMED CONFLICT”
H.E. Karel J.G. van Oosterom
Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations
New York, 12 February 2014
Thank you Madam President,
Thank you for organizing this important debate. The Netherlands aligns itself with the statement made by the EU. I would also like to thank High Commissioner Pillay, Under Secretary General Amos, Under Secretary General Ladsous and Director General D'Accord for their valuable contributions to this debate.
However strong the legal basis of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, a continued lack of clarity surrounding the concept and operationalization remains, as Lithuania mentions in its excellent note for this debate. In the past 5 years I have had the privilege to visit Afghanistan a number of times. I saw there what it takes to bring Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict into practice.
There is a close relationship between the Responsibility to Protect populations against mass atrocities and our duty to Protect Civilians in conflict situations. Enhancing our collective understanding of both principles and their relationship strengthens the implementation of both PoC and R2P.
Conceptually, the Responsibility to Protect and Protection of Civilians are indeed distinct. R2P is focused on four specific crimes: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In conflict and non-conflict situations. PoC is much broader in scope as it aims to protect the general safety, dignity and integrity of all human beings in conflict situations.
Yet, they are also closely related as they share a similar normative foundation: Protection of individuals is a primary responsibility of the state, and prevention and early warning is key to PoC as well as R2P. The international community plays a supportive role in both principles.
I would like to focus my comments today on three issues: prevention, protection and accountability.
On prevention I would like to state the obvious: The best way to protect civilians in any situation is to prevent a conflict from happening. In our view, the search for peace and security is closely linked to justice and human rights. The means of pacific settlement of conflict, as defined in article 33 of the UN Charter, are crucial.
Over time a whole array of methods for the peaceful settlement of disputes has been developed and it is encouraging to see that these methods are being used more and more often. Let me give two examples: The Netherlands strongly supports the UN as a global actor in the field of mediation, including through substantial funding for DPA. And when it comes to judicial settlement of conflicts, the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, both housed in the Peace Palace, are global icons of the pursuit of peace by means of law and of conflict prevention.
Another crucial element of prevention of conflicts is early warning. My government fully supports the initiative of the UN under the Rights Up Front Action Plan, which is closely linked to the Responsibility to Protect. Conflicts in the last 50 years practically always started with human rights violations. Such violations therefore function as an early warning signal of potential conflicts, and the UN and Security Council should act accordingly. We believe that interaction between countries on the Security Council and other UN members could be improved to strengthen early warning and early response.
On protection, the first step is that International Humanitarian Law should be respected by all parties to a conflict. Knowledge of IHL is crucial. This is why in January in Kenya, The Netherlands organized together with Spain and in cooperation with AFRICOM, training for military and civilian representatives from 11 African countries, on awareness of gender and sexual violence in peacekeeping.
Second, peacekeeping mandates must be clear on the protection of civilians, and implementation must be a priority. An integrated approach and a common vision of the SRSG, are key but not sufficient in themselves. A shared understanding of what it takes to keep the peace and to protect civilians if violence erupts, must lead a mission. New concepts, such as civilian harm tracking, the appointment of civilian harm mitigation advisors and ways to make amends, are being tested. In our view, the results warrant further assessment and use.
Missions must be better prepared and outfitted for this part of their mandate. And we must all chip in. The Netherlands is sending a peacekeeping unit to eastern Mali to gather information and build situational awareness for MINUSMA. And we have deployed experts in Protection of Civilians and Sexual and Gender Based Violence in various missions.
Third, the Security Council should act decisively when civilians are at risk. In South Sudan, the Council was united and swift. It is crucial that the UNSC adopts the resolution on humanitarian access in Syria.
We are gravely concerned about the situation in Homs and call for access for humanitarian organizations to all besieged areas in Syria. Parties to the conflict must allow all civilians in areas caught up in fighting to leave for safer areas, if they wish to do so. But people should not have to leave their homes and separate from their families and loved ones in order to get access to food and other basic needs.
The Netherlands supports initiatives aimed at the voluntary restraint on the use of the veto by the permanent members of the Council in situations of mass atrocities.
I come to my last point, accountability. Perpetrators of crimes must not go unpunished. And accountability is crucial in view of the preventive effect it has. The deployment of fact-finding missions and Commissions of Inquiry are some of the means at hand to establish whether violations of international humanitarian law have taken place. In our view, the Council should refer the situation in Syria to the ICC in anticipation of this. The Netherlands supports the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre. We do this with the conviction that, even though the world seems unable to stop the tragedy unfolding further, the foundation must be laid for bringing the perpetrators of atrocities in Syria to justice when sufficient stability returns to the country.
And if such evidence exists, the first responsibility to act lies with the state. If necessary, the international community must prevent further violence, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. The Council can use its ability to impose sanctions more consistently, or refer a situation to the ICC. The mere threat will send a strong signal to perpetrators, but only if there is a pattern of following through on such threats.
By learning from experience we can sharpen the concept of Protection of Civilians in practice. In our view, The Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians should intensify its work, and its interaction with rest of the membership. Protecting Civilians in Armed Conflict is a fundamental objective that we must all work tirelessly to achieve, together.
The Kingdom of The Netherlands stands ready to be a partner in that effort.