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Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Security Council, on 12 February 2013 during the Council’s thematic debate on the Protection of Civilians

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start with Syria. At my latest briefing to you, 60,000 people had already been killed. That figure is probably now approaching 70,000. The Security Council is at its best when it acts with a unified voice. The lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction has been disastrous and civilians on all sides have paid the price. We will be judged against the tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes. This Council, as well as those of us in key positions within the UN, will be rightly asked what we did.

One immediate action that the Council could take is clear: refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. This would send a clear message to both the government and the opposition that there will be consequences for their actions, and could have a very significant preventive effect.

In contrast, this Council has achieved political consensus regarding the situation in Mali, and I welcome the Council’s provision for UN human rights monitoring there. Protection of human rights is key to stabilizing the situation. My Office is deploying human rights officers in the country, and the first arrived in Bamako at the end of last week.

As the situation evolves, attacks and reprisals risk driving Mali into a catastrophic spiral of violence. I call on all parties to the conflict to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, and to prevent retaliation.

Mr President,

The Council is increasingly making use of human rights components in peacekeeping and special political missions, often in response to concern for the protection of civilians from human rights abuses. Human rights components provide fundamental support to the overall mandate of peace missions through strong, impartial and independent human rights monitoring and reporting. Through this, they bring critical information to the Council and support local authorities in directly addressing human rights concerns.

In Afghanistan, the Council’s decision to provide a strong human rights mandate to UNAMA allows the international community to have an authoritative account of the protection of civilians’ challenges, and the responsibility of all parties for protecting them. Currently, according to UNAMA, insurgents’ indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices account for 53 per cent of all civilians killed or wounded. I call again on all anti-government groups in Afghanistan to cease targeting civilians and stop the use of IEDs and other illegal tactics.

In Eastern DRC, the human rights component of MONUSCO has reported to the Council on recent large-scale and serious violations. To end this cycle of violence, I encourage this Council to include an accountability element in its interaction with all parties in the DRC and neighbouring countries.

Given the ongoing conflict in Somalia and recent events in Central African Republic, independent and stronger human rights monitoring is essential also in those countries. Human rights information will allow the Council to measure progress against its mandated objectives in those countries.

I also urge the Council to provide for a stronger human rights monitoring capacity in the peacekeeping mission in Abyei. This would help the mission and the international community to respond proactively to the fragile situation in the border area.

The recent expulsion of a human rights officer by the South Sudanese Government without any valid justification sets a dangerous precedent which does not facilitate the missions’ efforts to protect civilians. I join Special Representative Johnson in asking the Government to reconsider its decision.

Mr President,

I wish to thank the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General for their leadership in launching a follow-up process to the Petrie report which reviewed UN action in Sri Lanka. The report highlights systemic failings that extend across responses to many situations and indicates that important recommendations of the 1999 UN independent inquiry on Rwanda have not been implemented. It is time for us to find a way to do better.

In that context, my Office looks forward to working towards addressing this. Let me highlight four areas where there is need for improvement:

First, early, credible information on human rights and international humanitarian law violations can make it easier for the Council and the wider UN system to reach consensus and make informed decisions. While information technology facilitates early warning, it cannot replace impartial, reliable and timely expert monitoring and reporting on respect for international law. Far too often, before monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, the UN waits many months until we deploy staff on the ground. Sometimes access is denied expressly to prevent reporting. The UN’s protection of civilians cannot be held hostage to delayed deployments or a lack of access. We must have the capacity and structures to monitor from headquarters when needed and to provide Member States and policy makers with the best available information.

Second, the UN can strengthen its sense of common purpose and management. The Petrie report points to the problematic tendency of the UN entities to compartmentalize our approach to a situation rather than providing Member States with a holistic analysis. Compartmentalization not only leads to duplication, but can also side-line human rights concerns.

Third, the UN should offer a wider range of tools for intervention on the ground. Small and discrete models of field operation with a short life-span can be deployed quickly at limited cost and in close consultation with the regional States and national authorities. Such deployments provide a non-intrusive means of UN action that may be attractive where States wish to support an early UN response to serious protection of civilians concerns, so long as it is light and limited. The use of large peacekeeping operations can be deployed later where needed.

Fourth, both the Rwanda and Petrie reports are clear in stating that the single most important element for UN protection of civilians is early political consensus among Member States acting through the UN. I hope that we in the Secretariat can better support Member States in their efforts to reach early consensus.

Mr President,

Effectiveness, integrity, courage, accountability is what the people we try to protect are expecting from us. This is what should guide our interaction when dealing with the killing of many. There will always be some disagreement within the international community on how to respond to a given situation; but when tens of thousands of civilian lives are threatened, as currently in Syria, the world expects the Security Council to unite and act.

Thank you.