OCTOBER 14, 2010: UN on Protection of Civilians

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Needs Greater Adherence to Geneva   Convention Protocols, Assembly’s Legal Committee Is Told

SOURCE: United Nations General Assembly

Sixty-fifth General Assembly
Sixth Committee
12th Meeting (AM)

Lines between War and Peace, Civilians and Armed Groups Said to Exist No Longer

As the Sixth Committee (Legal) began its deliberations on the status of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, delegates expressed grave concerns about the accountability of Member States and urged greater compliance to all provisions in the Conventions and Additional Protocols.

The representative of Malawi, on behalf of the African Group, said that purported respect by States for international humanitarian law did not reflect the reality on the ground. Various conflicts in Africa continued to result in a high death toll, along with other "various forms of misery". With more than 10 million internally displaced persons in the majority of East and Central Africa countries, the ratification of the Additional Protocols, which were "fundamental landmarks", would be a significant example of the international community's interest in the protection of victims during armed conflicts.

Monaco's representative said the line between war and peace no longer existed, nor was there a clear distinction between civilians and armed groups. With civilian populations becoming "blind victims of armed conflict" and children being recruited as combatants, traditional humanitarian law no longer sufficed to protect victims. In order to protect civilians in all areas of their lives, global efforts were needed on both national and international levels.

The delegate of Libya said that the Geneva Conventions, among the "most important documents" of international humanitarian law, as well as the efforts to incorporate the Additional Protocols, had not prevented occupying authorities from "acting as they see fit" in documented activities defined by international law as war crimes. He urged that Member States move forward and implement the Additional Protocols without double standards, and that those who violated these tenets be subjected to the law regardless of who they are.

Speaking for the European Union, the delegate of Belgium said that because violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflict often resulted in civilian victims, "enhancing their protection must be our common goal". Because international humanitarian law was one of the strongest tools in doing so, he stressed that the proper training of armed forces was crucial in efforts towards compliance with international humanitarian law during armed conflict.

Argentina's representative said that in order to apply and promote international humanitarian law, information and knowledge of its obligations needed to be disseminated. The universal acceptance of the Additional Protocols would contribute to a broader understanding of international humanitarian law. She also urged that the role of the Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission be accepted as an impartial fact-finding mechanism investigating serious allegations of war crimes.

Other speakers on the Additional Protocols were the representatives of Sweden for the Nordic countries, and Chile for the Rio Group of countries.

Also speaking were the representatives of Belarus, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier, the Committee concluded its discussions on the rule of law, with the representative from Algeria decrying the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups in cases of hostage taking. He said that such payments only further endangered people, undermined the rule of law and encouraged the practice even more.

Also speaking on the rule of law was the representative of Malaysia.

The debate on the principle of universal jurisdiction for certain crimes was also concluded today. Israel's delegate said that no hasty consideration of this "highly sensitive issue" should be made, and that the principle be exercised only as a last resort, in deference to States with primary jurisdictional links and only after all other relevant venues had been pursued.

Others speaking today on universal jurisdiction were the representatives of Iran, Chile, Brazil, Sweden, Venezuela, Sudan, Malaysia, United Kingdom, India, Liechtenstein, Lesotho and Nigeria.

The Permanent Observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke.

The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, 18 October, when discussion on the Additional Protocols is expected to be concluded, and two new items will be taken up: one on measures to enhance the protection, security and safety of United Nations missions and representatives, and the other on the Charter of the United Nations and the strengthening the role of the Organization.

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