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Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Address by Ms. Navi Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, New York, 12 February 2014

Madame President,
Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

Thank you for this opportunity to address you.  I will base my remarks on the experience gained over the past few years by my Office and the human rights components in peacekeeping operations.

Nine peacekeeping operations currently have an explicit mandate to protect civilians. My Office has worked together with DPKO to develop policies, guidance and training on protection of civilians, building on the wealth of often innovative approaches that have been developed in the field.

In the DRC, the human rights component has dispatched multidisciplinary protection teams to volatile areas. In Mali, human rights mobile teams have been deployed to areas at risk, and human rights call-centres were set up during the elections. In Afghanistan, civilian casualty monitoring has provided the basis for influential advocacy such as the joint 8 February report of UNAMA and OHCHR.

Human rights officers have also advised on UN military preventive deployments; contingency plans; and sheltering and escorting civilians. They have also provided a critical bridge with local communities, human rights defenders and women’s groups, for alerts on risks of gross human rights violations. The Human Rights Due Diligence Policy has also contributed to preventing and addressing violations.  All these approaches are strongly grounded in human rights functions.

Our experience confirms that timely and well-resourced human rights monitoring, advocacy and reporting is essential for the effective implementation of ‘protection of civilians’ mandates. In South Sudan, beyond the physical protection of more than 80,000 civilians in UN bases, it is clear that human rights investigations, monitoring, advocacy and reporting are key concerns now more than ever.

Together with UNMISS we are preparing a comprehensive public human rights report.  OHCHR is also providing technical support and advice for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by the African Union.

In the Central African Republic, while regional peacekeeping efforts are ongoing, my Office has been focusing on much-needed fact-finding, public reporting and promotion of accountability through deployment of a rapid response monitoring team;  increased human rights capacity within BINUCA; and support for the Council’s Commission of Inquiry. There is an urgent need to stop the terrible violence in the Central African Republic and to hold perpetrators accountable. I note that the ICC prosecutor has decided to open a preliminary examination.

I welcome the Council’s continued attention to the situation in the Central African Republic, and in particular your efforts to ensure accountability.
The Secretary-General’s action plan, Rights Up Front, which places human rights at the centre of the response to potential or emerging crises, is strengthening UN efforts with regard to both South Sudan and the Central African Republic, including those of my Office.

Madame President, despite these developments, I see a number of areas in which greater support from the Security Council and States would be welcome.

First, we need to be clearer about what we mean by ‘protection of civilians’ in peacekeeping. Over the years, the Council has greatly contributed to the protection of civilians by issuing fully-fledged human rights mandates, and mandates to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. However, the link between these two mandates, and their mutually reinforcing nature, has not always been clear.

Protection of civilians in peacekeeping should be norm-based. Implementation should be firmly anchored in the broader human rights protection mandate of the missions. To this effect, my Office has worked with DPKO and DPA to develop a joint policy. Its aim is to ensure that human rights officers, military and other mission components will work better together to respond to the risk of human rights violations, including in situations of imminent physical violence against civilians.

I urge the Council to emphasize this link when issuing mandates, and to ensure that human rights components are appropriately resourced. My Office is currently seeking to strengthen our headquarters support to these components, to facilitate speedy deployment of well-trained human rights experts in crisis situations.

Second, we need greater support for human rights access. It is indispensable for the effective protection of human rights that we establish facts and understand underlying causes and conflict dynamics. Sound and compelling human rights information and analysis must be at the core of strategies to protect civilians. Access by human rights personnel to remote and at-risk areas is also critical for deterrence. Our experience in Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo shows the value of close cooperation between human rights, military and other peacekeeping personnel to rapidly assess developments in remote locations; engage in preventive advocacy with potential perpetrators; and protect civilians.

Third, we need continued support from the Council in particularly difficult situations — when protecting civilians requires bold action and swift decisions, and mission personnel are intimidated, expelled or attacked because they do their job.

Fourth, impunity allows gross human rights violations to thrive. It undermines the fabric of societies, and prevents the development of lasting solutions. States must do more to ensure that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are investigated, and perpetrators held accountable. In post-conflict situations, where capacity is often minimal at best, this requires sustained efforts. This may include mobile courts; specialized chambers; internationally supported tribunals; vetting; robust technical assistance to strengthen the criminal justice system; or a combination of these elements.

I encourage the Council and States to squarely face the magnitude and responsibility of, and resources needed for, this task, in the clear knowledge that accountability is crucial to the protection of civilians. I also call on the Council to more systematically condemn violations; to remind parties of their obligations; to demand compliance; and, if necessary, to apply targeted sanctions.

Finally, let us not forget that there are armed conflicts in which civilians suffer greatly, but where no peacekeeping operation is deployed. I am particularly concerned about the situation in Syria, including the use of sieges as a method of warfare and its tremendous impact on the civilian population. At least 240,000 Syrians, including women and children, remain trapped and struggle to survive.

Both the Syrian Government and the anti-Government groups are failing to fulfil their obligations under international law. There must not be an assumption that those who remain in Old Homs and other besieged areas are combatants. In addition, attacks against individuals who are hors de combat due to sickness, injury, capture or surrender, are prohibited. All parties to the conflict must urgently facilitate unimpeded access to humanitarian relief, and immediate action needs to be taken to ensure safe passage for all those who wish to leave.

I also reiterate my call to the Council to refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court, as a clear message to all parties that there will be consequences for their actions. The lack of consensus on Syria, and the resulting inaction, has been disastrous, and civilians have paid the price. I am appalled by the latest reports of yet another massacre, this time in Maan in the night of 8 February, killing dozens of civilians. Perpetrators of such atrocities must be brought to justice.

Madame President, throughout my mandate, I have welcomed every opportunity to brief the Council and States about human rights issues, in order to contribute to informed decisions and effective responses. And since the Brahimi report, I have seen tremendous progress in the emphasis that peacekeeping operations have given to human rights. I encourage the Council and Member States to continue putting human rights, including the protection of civilians, at the centre of their considerations on peace and security, and to support our efforts to address the challenges I have raised.

I recognize that this may seem a daunting agenda, but I am encouraged by the knowledge that this work is already underway: we have a firm foundation on which to build.