At the outset, I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for organizing today’s open debate on the Protection of Civilians in armed conflict. I would also like to thank the Secretary General for his incisive briefing earlier in the day and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethem Pillay, and Director for International Law and Cooperation of the ICRC Mr. Philip Spoerri for their briefings.
The Right to Life is one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitutions of a vast number of UN member-states, including my own. It is, in fact, the foundation of any social order. Unfortunately, situations of armed conflict continue to wreak havoc and put lives of innocent civilians at risk.
At the same time, Mr. President, the instances where civilians are at the greatest risk today do not involve nation-states, but non-state actors and belligerents who are not necessarily combatants under international humanitarian law. This makes the task of the international community and this Council, in particular, so much more difficult as it needs to act within established principles of international law.
Civilians have always suffered the most in conflicts. Notwithstanding the development of International Humanitarian Law and UN Security Council mandates, civilians continue to suffer even today. Even more unfortunate is the fact that civilians or non-belligerents suffer a disproportionate share of the casualties as compared to belligerents. It is they who bear the brunt of violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.
Protecting civilians encompasses tasks that are both preventive and remedial. Conduct of warring factions towards civilians, challenges of impunity, weak or absent state authority, political will of the international community, and lack of the means necessary to reverse the spiral of violence together make this task that much more difficult.
India, a partner of UN peacekeeping from its very inception, has contributed through ideas and resources to global efforts towards protecting civilians. Our soldiers have been at the forefront in translating Security Council mandates into actions in challenging circumstances. Our troops and police personnel have always upheld the mandates and protected civilians. Our peacekeeping experience brings to the table, a quantum of experience in actually protecting civilians in peacekeeping missions that is unique in its relevance and in its variety and depth.
UN peacekeepers have been playing a key role in protection of civilians from the scourge of war. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the protection of civilians is, first and foremost, a national responsibility and requires institutions and conditions in which the institutions can function. Peacekeepers, in spite of their best efforts, cannot possibly “protect everyone from everything.” To do that, it is necessary to strengthen the capacities of the States and their national institutions to enable them to fulfill their responsibility to protect their populations.
Since 1999, the Security Council has provided for protection of civilians in the mandates for peacekeeping Missions. However, mere addition of words and sentences to the mandates alone will not enable peacekeepers to fulfill protection mandates.
Protecting populations is a resource intensive enterprise. It needs sufficient personnel, proper equipment and suitable capacities. Political will of the international community and its ability to provide adequate resources is critical to the success of Missions in fulfilling their protection mandates. Civilians are protected best in an eco-system of peace where all its elements work and contribute in tandem. Security Council’s efforts should therefore address multiple dimensions of a conflict in a comprehensive and proportionate manner.
Protection of civilians needs to respect the fundamentals of the UN Charter and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Member States. We must also be clear that the United Nations has a mandate to intervene only in situations where there is a threat to international peace and security.
We firmly believe in accountability of those who mandate. Their responsibility does not end with the generation of mandates. They should be held accountable if unachievable mandates are generated for political expediency or if adequate resources are not made available. It is equally important that the principles of protecting civilians must be applied in a uniform manner by all parties to a conflict.
In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to stress that Council’s responsibility to protect civilians does not end with a military or police response. Civilians require humanitarian wherewithal for survival. In this process multiple stakeholders should be involved, not just the military. An engagement between warring factions in a conflict situation in a nationally owned and inclusive political process is of paramount importance. This inclusive approach to national reconciliation, anchored in state sovereignty, is the only way to move forward to ensure the protection of civilians in an effective, pragmatic, and enduring manner.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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