Over the past years we have seen encouraging progress in efforts to enhance protection measures in armed conflict. Despite progress, the situation for civilians remains grim. This comes true when witnessing the unprecedented series of crises in the Middle East and North and sub-Saharan Africa the last months. Norway would like to emphasise six points which are critical for the debate on protection of civilians.
First, the key to protection of civilians is that all states and parties bear the primary duty to protect civilians. Protection of civilians is a broad agenda firmly anchored in the responsibility of states to protect their own citizens, and the complementary responsibilities by the international community to assist countries to fulfil their obligations.
Second, the UN Security Council has a responsibility to authorizing international protection when states fail and betray their obligations to the extreme of widespread and indiscriminate killing of its own people.
We welcome the Council’s decisiveness to take necessary measures under Chapter VII to protect civilians in both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. Norway has clearly supported the UN SC resolutions 1970, 1973 and 1975 and contributes to the implementation of two of these resolutions. But we want to emphasise that these measures are of last resort, and were authorized after a series of other preventive measures i.e. condemnation of violence committed, targeted sanctions and by promoting accountability through international commissions of inquiry and referral to the ICC.
Recent actions taken by the UN Security Council, in particular UN SC resolutions 1973 and 1975 have raised concerns regarding intentions, impartiality and possible ramifications for the broader agenda of protections of civilians. For us, it is essential that such mandates are strictly implemented to protect civilians and do not go beyond this point.
The international community should work towards common positions without double standards, and be able to take appropriate actions when it is necessary. We urge the Security Council to continue responding strongly, swiftly and consistently when international law and human rights are gravely violated. The grave situation in Syria should not be an exception from this rule.
Third, it is important to emphasise that the common positions on the protection of civilians agenda which have been developed by the international community over the last decade, needs to be upheld and further enhanced. The updated Aide-mèmoire, the adoption of UNSC resolution 1960 which establishes a monitoring and reporting mechanism on conflict-related sexual violence and the new strategic framework for protection of civilians in peacekeeping missions are important steps forward.
Fourth, it is essential to ensure that humanitarian principles are not compromised and that humanitarian assistance is not used for military and political purposes. Constraints on humanitarian access must be systematically monitored and properly addressed. Today’s armed conflicts usually take place in densely populated areas, with extensive civilian losses and damage to civilian buildings and infrastructure as a result. In our view, IHL also includes the conventions which prohibit the use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Norway supports the UN Secretary General’s call for more work by the international community to better understand the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to develop mechanisms for improving civilian protection in this regards.
Fifth, it is vital that the parties to a conflict bear the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute alleged violations of humanitarian law conducted by forces under their command. The culture of impunity must end. All parties must be held accountable under law. That is why we believe it is important to consider the key recommendations mentioned in the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on accountability with regard to the situation in Sri Lanka during the war in 2009. We welcome this report which reiterates the need for accountability in Sri Lanka. Credible allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations by both parties to the conflict should immediately be investigated properly.
Sixth, we witness today the essential role played by the free media in areas affected by armed conflicts. Thanks to media reporting, the killings, rapes and lootings in Walikale territory of the DRC were brought to the world’s attention. Journalists can be instrumental in preventing mass atrocities. UNSC resolution 1738 calls on all governments to protect journalists in armed conflicts and to end violence and attacks against journalists. This resolution must be fully implemented, and a stronger focus on monitoring of such violations is necessary.
Let me conclude by reaffirming that Norway is fully committed to the agenda of protection of civilians in armed conflicts. It is important that common norms continue to be developed and implemented.