Statement by H.E. Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations
Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
New York, 10 May 2011
Thank you, Mr. President, for organising today’s open debate. I would also like to thank USG Amos, USG Le Roy and ASG Simonovic for their interesting presentations. Austria aligns herself with the statements by the European Union and the Human Security Network.
The protection of civilians (PoC) in situations of armed conflict has been a priority during Austria’s membership in the Security Council, including during our Presidency in November 2009 which led to the adoption of SC Resolution 1894. I can assure you that Austria remains strongly committed to this issue and continues to work with interested member states and the Secretariat to enhance the UN’s protection capacities.
Austria also welcomed the initiative under Brazil’s Presidency of the Security Council to address all three protection clusters on the Council’s agenda in one debate, thereby ensuring that the protection efforts of the UN system are being dealt with in a coherent manner. The last years have brought about substantial improvements in the UN’s ability to prevent and react to serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, among them the creation of an SRSG on sexual violence in conflict (SC Res. 1888), the expansion of the listing criteria to sexual violence and killing and maiming of children (SC Res. 1882) or the decision to establish monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements for conflict-related sexual violence (SC Res. 1960). We believe that comprehensive consultations such as in February can enhance the coordination between the existing protection frameworks and mechanisms, and ensure coherence of efforts by all UN actors at both headquarter and field level.
Unfortunately, the events in Libya and in Côte d’Ivoire in the last months have once more shown that the protection of civilians is much more topical than we would hope for. The Security Council bears its responsibility in ensuring the compliance of all conflict parties with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. With the adoption of resolutions 1970 and 1973 on Libya, as well as resolution 1975 on Côte d’Ivoire, the Security Council has sent a strong signal that serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are not tolerated and necessarily entail action by the Council.
Mr. President, as stated in Resolution 1894, the Security Council also has a role in ending impunity. Thus, the Council needs to ensure that perpetrators of serious violations against both the civilian population as well as humanitarian workers are prosecuted vigorously. We call on the Council to consistently use the tools at its disposal which include among others the referral of situations to the ICC as was recently done with the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by resolution 1970, mandating commissions of inquiry as proposed in the Secretary-General’s last report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2010/579) or imposing targeted sanctions. We welcome the Secretary-General’s announcement to undertake a review of the UN’s experiences in establishing commissions of inquiry in order to identify how such mechanisms might be used more consistently.
Austria shares the concern of the Secretary-General over the threat posed to civilians by explosive weapons. We fully support the recommendations outlined in his 2010 report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and particularly his call for “more systematic data collection and analysis of the human costs” of explosive weapons use. Deployed in populated areas, these weapons cause unacceptable human suffering for women, men and children of all ages. They also destroy civilian infrastructure that is vital for their communities. Even years after their initial use, explosive remnants of war continue to endanger the lives and wellbeing of civilians. As recent reports about cluster munitions use in Libya and during the Thai-Cambodian border conflict suggest, much more needs to be done to alleviate the long-term humanitarian impact of these terrible weapons. Austria therefore urges all States to accede to and strengthen relevant international instruments, such as the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and Additional Protocols II and V to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
UN peacekeeping operations are one of the UN’s most effective tools to protect civilians affected by armed conflict. In the course of the last months, we have witnessed important progress made both in the development of guidance for missions with protection of civilians’ mandates and in the steps taken by peacekeepers to address threats against civilians in various crisis situations.
Austria welcomes the efforts made by the Secretariat to improve the implementation of protection mandates by peacekeeping operations as requested in Resolution 1894 and in the 2010 report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. The finalized strategic framework for drafting comprehensive protection strategies provides a solid basis for all relevant missions to proceed with the development of their own strategies which will ensure a coordinated and coherent approach to the protection of civilians in the field. In addition, the Resource and Capability Matrix can serve as a useful tool in the planning of missions and can help to ensure that protection mandates are matched with adequate resources. Appropriate pre-deployment and in-mission training is key in order to increase the awareness and responsiveness of peacekeepers to protection needs. Austria attaches utmost importance to the finalization and dissemination of the training modules on the protection of civilians for peacekeeping personnel and encourages troop- and police-contributing countries to make use of and provide feedback on these materials.
Mr. President, the events in Walikale in August 2010 and other incidents of widespread sexual violence in situations of armed conflict indicate yet another challenge facing peacekeeping operations on the ground: They need to have the capacity to interact closely and communicate effectively with local communities and the host government in order to carry out their mandate, identify new risks for the civilian population and prevent an escalation of violence. In this regard, Austria would like to reiterate the importance of taking into account gender sensitivities and making full use of all components available to the mission, including public information, civil affairs officers, community liaison interpreters and radio.
Austria further believes that a consistent approach by the Council to the protection of civilians includes an accurate assessment of the achievements and the remaining challenges in the field. We therefore strongly support the Secretary-General’s recommendation, in line with Resolution 1894, that peacekeeping and other relevant missions should develop specific benchmarks against which to measure and review progress in the implementation of protection of civilians’ mandates. They should do so in particular in the context of the drawdown of a mission. In this regard, lessons learned from MINURCAT could serve as a basis for further developing this practice.
Mr. President, I would like to make a few remarks relating to reporting on PoC as well as the Council’s approach to PoC issues. Systematic monitoring and detailed information on protection concerns in the Secretary-General’s country-specific reports are the basis for timely and decisive action by the Security Council. In this regard we welcome the development by the Secretariat of guidance for UN peacekeeping and other relevant missions on PoC reporting as requested in Resolution 1894. Also, we support the Secretary General’s intention to develop indicators in relation to the monitoring and reporting on achievements in protecting civilians in armed conflict which will be an important tool for measuring progress and as a consequence, adjusting the Council’s actions.
Finally, we would like to underline the importance of the Secretary-General’s recommendation for ensuring that pressing protection issues are consistently and comprehensively dealt with by the Council. Austria believes that innovative approaches such as for example informal interactive debates as where held during Austria’s membership with regard to Sri Lanka can be found to address situations that necessitate the Council’s attention without formally being on its agenda. Discussions and briefings in the informal Expert Group on the protection of civilians are an important tool that should not be limited to forthcoming mandate renewals but continuously be used to ensure that the Council’s deliberations are informed in a comprehensive manner.