Global Policy Forum

Reflections on the Protection of Civilians in


By Guy Tousignant, Care International

Care International
April 12, 2000

[Comments on the Report of the UN Secretary General to the Security Council S/1999/957]

I. Introduction

Ambassador Van Walsum, distinguished Council Members and colleagues. The Secretary General's comprehensive Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict represents an important step on the road towards security for scores of millions of people uprooted by armed conflict. On behalf of CARE International, I applaud the prominence that the Security Council is giving to the protection of civilians in armed conflict in its mandate, and thank you for inviting non-governmental organizations to offer our views on the recommendations laid out in the Secretary General's Report.

With me today is Brenda Cupper of CARE Canada, a former country director in Bosnia and Indonesia, Marge Tsitouris, director of CARE USA's Emergency Group, and Sandra Tully, CARE International's liaison to the UN here in New York. Ms. Cupper has just returned from East Timor and would be able to provide useful insights during our question and answer session. Marge Tsitouris has coordinated CARE's emergency response efforts in Kosovo, Central America (post Hurricane Mitch), and Rwanda, among others. As a former Force Commander and second of mission in Rwanda from August, 1994 to the end of UNAMIR II, I also witnessed the plight of one million internally displaced persons and over two million refugees. I certainly share the view of Ambassador Holbrooke that internally displaced persons should receive more help and I congratulate Francis Deng, the Representative of the Secretary General for Internally Displaced Persons, for bringing their plight to the attention of the international community.

1. Ensuring Fundamental Rights to Economic and Social Development

In general, our experience confirms the comments of the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the increasing "civilianization of conflicts". We believe that the Secretary General's recommendations, if implemented, will help to prevent hostilities, save lives, and lessen human suffering. At the same time, we think the report needs to go further. Most importantly, we believe that the problem of protection should be defined more broadly.

The Secretary General's report covers actions at all stages of a conflict and includes a wide range of activities related to both legal and physical protection. It is my understanding that this meeting is to address recommended measures 12 to 40 that deal with physical protection. I trust, nonetheless, that the distinguished members of the Security Council will allow me a brief comment on legal protection.

We believe that the Secretary General's report which urges member states to ratify the major instruments of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, has taken too narrow a view of the rights-related consequences of conflict. In our experience, the most frequent violations of non-derogable rights are not summary and arbitrary executions and torture but violations of basic economic, social and cultural rights. CARE believes that economic and social development are essential tools in the prevention of new conflicts and the recurrence of old ones. Therefore, the protection policy ought to include concrete initiatives for providing economic and social incentives for peace and stability, and we trust that the General Assembly in its deliberations would also see a need for a broader definition to the problem of protection.

Recommendations 16 and 17 refer to the problem of hate media and are, in my view, very important. In Rwanda, I was a great admirer of Baroness Chalker's efforts to provide UNAMIR with the capacity to objectively inform all the parties and prevent the open incitement to violence. While I recognise the constraints and concerns relating to national sovereignty and freedom of the press, I welcome the initiatives of the Secretary General to explore appropriate responses to "hate" media that seek to incite violence against civilians.

2. Free, Unimpeded, and Unthreatened Access for Humanitarian Assistance

We ask that the Security Council focus special attention on Recommendation 18 which underscores the need for civilian populations in armed conflict to have unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance. In the past year, CARE has faced such barriers in Sierra Leone, Sudan, East Timor, West Timor, and Kosovo.

CARE staff have repeatedly found themselves forced to negotiate with all parties to a conflict in order to fulfill their humanitarian mandate. The Security Council should call on concerned parties to cooperate with all credible and independent non-governmental agencies seeking to provide humanitarian services. Most importantly, the United Nations must make it clear to all belligerents that they will be required to account for their actions in violation of human rights, humanitarian law, and humanitarian principles. Only when perpetrators believe that they can no longer act with impunity, will the disastrous and tragic toll on civilians and aid workers begin to diminish.

We support Recommendations 20 and 21, which address the special protection needs of women and children. I would like to give you one small example of why we feel these recommendations are so important. Madalina Nalvalale is a 12-year-old girl from Angola and several years ago her village was attacked. As she and her family fled the fighting, her mother and father were killed and she was shot. Doctors had to amputate her left leg. She now lives in Kuito with her grandmother who has no job or source of income. She speaks eloquently of the suffering she has endured but also conveys a quiet determination and hope for the future. There are thousands of girls like Madalina around the world.

We would also like to highlight the alarming campaigns of violence aimed at women. Time and time again, in places like Bosnia, Kenya, Tanzania, the former Zaire, and Sierra Leone, we have been obliged to seek to protect and assist refugee women and girls at severe risk of exploitation, violence, and sexual abuse. We urge the Security Council to support efforts of war crimes investigators to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women.

In addition, CARE urges that women be given a greater share of decision-making positions in the process of peace agreements and peace-making. For example, despite their injuries and grief, women in post-war Bosnia spearheaded peace-building efforts across the ethnic divide in the western Republika Srpska and the region known as Una-Sana Canton. In most conflict zones, one can usually find groups of women trying to reach across the divide and working on initiatives to support peace. The international community must support such initiatives.

III. Urgent Need for Stiffer Enforcement of Principles and Recommendations in the Secretary General's Report

A. Targeted Sanctions.

There is an ongoing dialogue within CARE regarding the concept of sanctions, but as an alternative to full-scale sanctions, we consider that targeted sanctions may be an important tool, as per Recommendations 22-25, for those individuals and groups who deny access to basic humanitarian assistance and contravene humanitarian law and principals.

CARE International opposes the imposition of full-scale economic sanctions to bring non-compliant states within the law. Experiences in Haiti, Iraq and Serbia have shown that broad-spectrum sanctions can have the contrary impact of tightening the vise on the poorest and most powerless of the population, and compounding the humanitarian emergency that prompted the sanctions in the first place. When such sanctions prohibit funds for rehabilitation, they virtually ensure that the civilian population can do little more than survive. We believe that the lack of economic and social services will only contribute to future instability and conflict.

We, therefore, encourage the Security Council and its members to redesign existing sanctions and to thoroughly examine other measures that they may have at their disposal. Examples of such measures may be restrictions on arms sales, limitations on senior roles within the UN system, denial of accreditation within fora of UN Agencies and the like.

We especially urge Member States to engage national and international law enforcement agencies to put a stop to the activities of governments and private parties that break sanctions through illicit trade. For example, we urge the Security Council to step up efforts to effectively regulate the trade of gems and other raw materials that fuel the wars in places like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. At the same time, care needs to be taken to ensure that the means used to enforce sanctions do not themselves cause unnecessary hardship to innocent civilians.

B. Landmines.

In the same vein, we strongly support Recommendations 26 and 27 relating to arms embargoes as well as the need to ban landmines. Regarding landmines, we urge the Security Council and its Member States to focus greater attention on the removal of landmines and above all putting the focus on allowing families to return to their homes and lead a productive life. Progress in demining has been excruciatingly slow in many countries where CARE is working, such as Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Cambodia, Somalia. In Kosovo, almost 500 civilians have been maimed or killed in the last year by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

C. Police and Military Peacekeepers

We urge the Security Council to act immediately on Recommendation 28, i.e. develop the capability of the UN to deploy rapidly. Speed is crucial if we are to be more effective. With respect to Kosovo and East Timor, both Dr. Bernard Kouchner and Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello have consistently asked for more civilian police. The shortage of appropriately trained civilian police in both these crisis areas seriously undermines efforts to physically protect civilians. The Security Council member states must lead the way in committing qualified civilian police and in persuading other member states to do the same.

Regarding Recommendation 29, we agree it is important for UN peacekeepers and UN personnel to be well-versed in humanitarian principles and law and the role of non-governmental organizations. The bitter experiences in Bosnia and Kosovo have underscored the need for brief, but intensive training in the problem of ethnic conflict, the volatility of bigotry, and basic skills for defusing and arresting those who would incite hatred and violence.

We would like to highlight recommendations 33, 35, and 37. We strongly support the separation of combatants and armed elements from civilians in camps. As we learned from the illicit presence of the Khmer Rouge in refugee camps along the Thai border two decades ago, and once again in the camps harboring Interahamwe in the great Lakes Region, the presence of armed elements is destabilizing and dangerous to all civilians concerned. Over the last twenty years, we have all seen camps serve as places to recruit and organize combatants. As Commander of UNAMIR five years ago, I saw this reality at close range, which underscores the importance of Recommendation 37 to me. There are best practices here. For example, the international community should set up smaller camps a safe distance away from the border. More broadly, if internally displaced people or refugees can integrate themselves into host communities, they are likely to feel more secure and psychologically healthier. It follows that the international community needs to provide significant resources and support to host communities as well as to refugee populations.

Finally, the implementation of the recommendations in a decisive, fair and consistent manner is absolutely critical. While there may be difficulties in implementing some recommendations, we must strive to provide the same physical protection in East Timor as West Timor, as in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Such an approach would enhance the effectiveness and the authority of the Security Council; and not being fair and consistent would have the opposite effect. Although the Secretary General's report reflects an in-depth analysis of the needs of civilians in armed conflicts, significant damage could be done if substantive policy changes and concerted action do not follow.

We urge the Secretary General and the Security Council to draft a clear plan for implementing those recommendations in the report on which consensus is reached. We also urge that the implementation plan lay out a scheduled course of activities, be measured by clear milestones, and identify all of the constituencies who should be involved in implementation.

While the Security Council can count on CARE International to continue to serve those civilians affected by armed conflict, we should point out that the combined efforts of all the UN and NGO humanitarian community will never be a substitute for economic and political solutions. Too often, NGOs are regarded as providing a humanitarian band-aid while the international community moves more slowly to address the political and economic issues underlying the crisis.

In closing we would like to mention one necessity that is central to the ability of non-governmental organisations, such as CARE, to address the needs of civilians in conflict situation. That is the need to protect humanitarian workers, including NGO personnel. We support the Secretary General's call for the development and ratification of an appropriate protocol to the 1994 Convention which would extend the scope of legal protection to all United Nations and associated personnel. And "associated personnel" should include NGOs working in partnership or association with the UN.

CARE International is grateful for this opportunity to share some of our experiences and thoughts with you, and we pledge our full support as you consider your next steps.

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