Vienna, 19 November 2009 Press release

Plassnik: "End to impunity for crimes against women and children"

Special Envoy pays tribute to UN resolution 1894

Vienna, 19 November 2009 - "The pictures we see on television are much alike, be they from Gaza, Georgia, eastern Congo, Darfur or Afghanistan: The suffering of the civilian population in armed conflicts provokes a feeling of powerless and helplessness. And once again defenceless women and children are the first victims of this violence. This has to change," said Ursula Plassnik, the Foreign Ministry’s Special Envoy for International Women’s Issues, today.

With reference to the UN Security Council, which is currently chaired by Austria, Plassnik said that resolution 1894 was an indication of the seriousness with which Austria took its responsibility as a member of the highest decision-making body in the international community. "We are resolute supporters of the need to improve protection for the civilian population. This makes an appreciable contribution to the global legal culture and to more efficient protection mechanisms," emphasised Plassnik. The Special Envoy went on to thank Foreign Minister Spindelegger and his team for the "necessary and urgent signal".

Plassnik continued: "Peace work consists of many mosaic stones, with humanitarian international law and the insistence on its observance at its core. Security Council resolution 1894 passed under the Austrian chairmanship has added a new and important stone to this mosaic."

Plassnik pointed out that this resolution "is in line with the basic principle of our commitment within the highest UN body, which is guided by a belief in human security and the supremacy of the law, whose implementation needs to be promoted at all levels."

"Sixty years ago the Geneva Convention laid the foundation stone for a global culture of protection. The reality, however, is alarming. Whereas only 5 per cent of the victims during the First World War came from the civilian population, according to the Red Cross they account in today’s conflicts for up to 95 per cent. Resolution 1894 roundly condemns the misuse of the population in crisis regions as `human shields´. This is an extremely urgent international problem," said Plassnik.

"It is no secret that we would like stricter guidelines for the prosecution of crimes against civilians. War crimes against the civilian population must be punished - by international courts if the national authorities fail to do so. Under the Austrian chairmanship an important foundation, a genuine reference document, has been established. The aim is clear: An end to impunity for crimes against the civilian population, the first victims of which are usually women and children."

"The UN and EU peacekeeping missions," continued the Special Envoy, "are important elements within the framework of this unanimously adopted resolution. They must ensure that resolution 1894 is fully implemented in the future. During the discussion in the Security Council, France has already suggested that the guidelines be implemented as far as possible in the extension of the MONUC mandate in eastern Congo."

"Austria," concluded Plassnik, "is acting in accordance with an established tradition. I recall the snowball effect a few years ago of our initiative against cluster munitions, in which Austria played a pioneering role. It also contributed in a similar fashion to UN resolution 1325 calling for the involvement of women in conflict resolution and peace processes."

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