Vienna, 21 February 2013 Press release

Spindelegger: “Efforts must be combined to stop human suffering inflicted on civilians”

Today, Austrian Foreign Minister Spindelegger and Norwegian Foreign Minister Eide jointly opened a European Regional Workshop in Vienna on the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law

Vienna, 21 February 2013 - “The protection of civilians in armed conflicts is a common and on-going concern of Austria and Norway and a priority of both countries’ foreign policies”, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Spindelegger said at the opening of an expert conference on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, which takes place today and tomorrow in Vienna: “Over the last sixty years, international humanitarian law has established a comprehensive legal framework for protection. In military operations as well as in training, we also see that many states strive to fulfil their obligations. At the same time, civilians continue to be killed, injured or otherwise harmed in conflicts around the world every day. Current crisis such as in Syria, Mali but also the recent history of Afghanistan illustrate this point. We must combine our efforts to stop the tremendous human suffering inflicted on civilians.”  

“With the adoption of landmark Resolution 1894, the protection of civilians was the key theme of Austria’s Presidency at the UN Security Council in November 2009. We have meanwhile also worked to improve the safety of journalists, whose role as providers of information is crucial for the fight against impunity, successfully introducing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council last September”, Spindelegger continued.  

“Many contemporary conflicts are fought between a myriad of actors, in settings where fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law (including distinction and proportionality) are not respected. Today’s complex combat situations represent new challenges for military actors trying to apply International Humanitarian Law. . The problem is not the rules, which remain fully relevant, but rather how they are applied in today’s complex battlefield. In order to address this, we want to to build on first-hand experience both from military and civil actors as well as the UN, the ICRC and other humanitarian organisations working in the field”, Norwegian Foreign Minister Eide stated.  

“Austria and Norway have thus jointly organized an expert conference which forms part of the ‘Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law’ initiative launched by Norway in 2009. After regional workshops in Jakarta, Buenos Aires and Kampala, the European workshop will now focus on the particular challenges in this region or faced by European countries in international military operations. The aim of the process is not to negotiate new legal obligations, but to agree on concrete recommendations on how to improve the respect for international humanitarian law by the parties to conflict to better protect civilians.” 

“We are happy that so many participants from all over Europe have followed our invitation to Vienna. To reclaim the protection of civilian under international humanitarian law, we will continue to build on our strong coalition with Norway”, the Austrian Foreign Minister Spindelegger concluded.  

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