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Statement by Ambassador Zhang Yishan at the Security Council's Open Debate on "the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict"

2005-12-09 00:00

I would like first to thank the Secretary-General for his report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2005/740). We would also like to thank Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland and Mr. Jacques Forster, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for their briefings. We also wish to commend United Nations agencies and, in particular, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, for their enormous efforts in the field over the years.

In recent years, the issue of the protection of civilians has attracted increasing attention on the part of the international community. Civilians are usually the main victims in any sort of conflict, with the plight of vulnerable groups - in particular women, children, refugees and displaced persons - being even more horrific. At times, they do not even have access to the most basic humanitarian assistance. The Security Council attaches priority importance to the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Over the past six years, the Council has adopted two resolutions and issued many presidential statements in connection with this matter. The outcome document of this year's High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly (General Assembly resolution 60/1) contains many references to this issue. We obviously continue to face many challenges with regard to the follow-up of the outcome document and the implementation of the relevant resolutions. The delegation of China would like to take this opportunity to highlight the following points.

First, efforts to protect civilians should be in line with the Charter of the United Nations and the relevant provisions of international law. Individual States have the primary responsibility to protect their own citizens. In accordance with the Charter and the provisions of international law, parties to a conflict should provide effective protection to affected civilians. All activities pertaining to protection, be they security guarantees or humanitarian assistance, should not violate the principles enshrined in the Charter; nor should they infringe upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States. Humanitarian personnel and agencies should abide strictly by the principles of impartiality, neutrality, objectivity and independence, in order to avoid becoming involved in a conflict or supporting a given party.

Secondly, work in the area of civilian protection should focus on the prevention of conflict, in order to simultaneously address both root causes and symptoms. The protection of civilians is not an isolated issue. Effectively preventing armed conflict is the best protection we can provide to civilians. Poverty, social injustice and ethnic disputes can trigger conflict. Policies to promote sustainable development, build a sound and harmonious society and bring about national reconciliation must therefore be pursued actively, in order to eliminate the root causes of conflict. Absent that, efforts to protect civilians will always be reactive in nature. As the body with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council should actively encourage preventive diplomacy and promote the resolution of existing conflicts, so that civilians may be freed from the scourge of war.

Thirdly, the concept of the responsibility to protect should be the subject of further comprehensive and in-depth discussions. The summit outcome document clearly referred to "the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" (General Assembly resolution 60/1, para. 138). The outcome document went on to develop the concept at length, owing to the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. The consensus opinion of the international community, as well as its justifiable demand, is that swift steps must be taken to mitigate and put an end to large-scale humanitarian crises and gross violations of human rights. The Security Council should make its own assessment of situations in accordance with reality on the ground, and should act accordingly. At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the fact that all conflicts are generally caused by a host of complex factors. A cautious approach should be taken in determining whether a Government is able or willing to protect its citizens. Arbitrary and hasty intervention should be avoided, as that may complicate situations and result in greater harm to innocent civilians.

Fourthly, States concerned should take the initiative in assuming responsibility to end impunity and bring perpetrators to justice. Promoting the rule of law and ensuring justice is conducive to the promotion of reconciliation and the realization of long-term stability. We encourage States concerned to fully utilize their domestic judicial institutions. We also believe that we should provide constructive assistance in order to avoid violating State sovereignty and respect the will of the parties concerned. In that regard, the Security Council should proceed cautiously in order to avoid adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to different situations.

In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to humanitarian workers, who risk their lives in wars and conflicts in order to contribute selflessly. Their noble efforts deserve our respect. Their safety and security should therefore be fully ensured.

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