I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Candidate Countries Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
First of all, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important issue. I would like to thank the Secretary-General for his report on the protection of civilians which, we believe, also underlines his personal commitment on this matter. Finally, I would also like to thank Mr. John Holmes for his informative briefing.
Throughout history civilian populations have, to a large extent, suffered the consequences of conflicts. Even their deliberate targeting is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. The fact that such practices of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are still a reality today is something that deeply concerns us.
The numerous and concrete examples of the suffering of civilians that Mr. Holmes has just mentioned here today validate even further our fears and concerns. These collective challenges demand collective commitment.
The Security Council has already signaled in resolution 1674 its readiness to consider threats to peace and security of this nature and, where necessary, to adopt appropriate steps.
While we renew our commitment to the important principles associated with the protection of civilians, we should not lose sight that the primary responsibility to protect lies with individual sovereign states, which should protect their respective population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Two years ago at the World Summit, Heads of State and Government reached an historic agreement on the responsibility to protect. The EU welcomes the reaffirmation of the responsibility to protect by the Security Council in subsequent resolutions, including 1674. The international community should encourage and help States in meeting that responsibility. If a State is unwilling or unable to address its problems, then we would have to make good on our responsibility to protect by more proactive means, as provided for at the World Summit.
Humanitarian access is a crucial part of protecting civilians in armed conflict and a fundamental prerequisite for humanitarian action. The EU is therefore extremely disturbed by the numerous cases of denial or obstruction of access and calls on all parties to cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies and organizations in providing rapid, safe, and unimpeded access to civilians in armed conflict.
We strongly condemn attacks on humanitarian personnel, including United Nations and associated personnel, and in this regard fully support the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and associated personnel as well as its Optional Protocol.
Women, children and other vulnerable groups are especially affected by armed conflict. Sexual exploitation and abuse remain widespread atrocities affecting millions of victims. In this regard, the EU highlights the effective implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security. We also reiterate our full support to the zero-tolerance of sexual abuse and exploitation policy by United Nations personnel and we have adopted the same policy in our own European Security and Defense Policy Operations.
Millions of children continue to suffer in situations of armed conflict. Every day, we receive reports and accounts of children who are killed, maimed, abducted or illegally recruited as child soldiers, fall victims of rape or other grave violence. In this respect, we would like to call attention to Security Council resolution 1612, which sets an enhanced framework for the protection of children in armed conflict. The European Union is proceeding with the mainstreaming of children and armed conflict issues into its advocacy, policies and programs and has continued with its efforts regarding the EU Implementation Strategy for Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict, adopted in April 2006. I would also like to take this opportunity to recall the adoption, in February of this year, of the Paris Commitments and Principles against the illegal recruitment of child soldiers.
Still in the sphere of vulnerable groups, the EU also shares the concerns highlighted by the SG in his report regarding the risks that conflicts pose for older persons and persons with disabilities. We would like to underline the importance of the recently adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and hope that it may help to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of conflict.
The special protection needs of refugees and displaced persons also need to be adequately addressed. The EU acknowledges the efforts of the Secretary Generals Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Mr. Walter Kalin, but remains concerned by the growing number of internally displaced persons worldwide. While these people seek protection abroad or in their own country, they sometimes remain in danger at their place of refuge. Camps themselves can be targeted and are often insufficiently protected. There is therefore a need for increased and sustained physical protection in these situations.
We also note that steps to ensure the safe return for refugees and internally displaced persons can also prove useful in helping to address housing, land and property issues, which represent yet another important challenge in the area of armed conflict and protection of civilians.
The growing number of journalists being killed or taken hostage is also extremely disturbing and in this respect we would like to call attention to Security Council Resolution 1738 on the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel. We also note the efforts of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to freedom of opinion and expression in addressing this issue.
The excessive and destabilizing accumulations of small arms and light weapons are yet another element of concern that continues to pose serious challenges for international security and human safety. It would be wrong to address the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict without raising the issue of cluster munitions and their humanitarian impact. The EU played a constructive role in the recent Meeting of the State Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW). While the result fell short of the EUs own proposal to negotiate by 2008 a legally binding instrument that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and includes provisions on cooperation and assistance, the EU joined consensus on the decision because we consider that this will allow us to promote our own proposal, including in the expert negotiations in 2008.
The EU calls on Member States that have not done so to ratify and support existing conventions and resolutions forming the legal framework for the protection of civilians and to implement them fully within their national legal systems.
As regards protection, parties to conflict must comply fully with the relevant requirements of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law on the protection of civilians, especially concerning the prohibitions on physical attack, sexual and gender-based violence, the use of child soldiers and forced displacement. They must also ensure that specific measures for the protection of civilians are included in peace agreements. In addition, peacekeeping missions must be given proper guidelines on how, within their mandates, to protect civilians. In effect, protection of civilian populations is a moral imperative for the international community and it is a collective and shared responsibility.
The EU believes that the investigation of crimes under international law committed against civilians and bringing their perpetrators to justice is vital. The restoration of law and order to prevent future violence and abuses and tackling impunity should be a priority. After all, there can be no peace without justice and rule of law. In the same manner, UN peacekeeping and peace support operations, and associated personnel, must demonstrate exemplary standards of behaviour.
The International Criminal Court, International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts as well as reconciliation commissions are working to end impunity, which is an essential task and can help prevent future abuses.
The European Union views the ICC as an essential instrument for the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, whose victims are mostly civilians. We therefore remain firmly committed to the effective functioning of the ICC. We also wish to stress the importance of full cooperation with the Court, and call on States that have not yet done so to accede to the Rome Statute. Moreover, we would like to stress the importance of the work of the ICC Trust Fund in assisting the most vulnerable victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Naturally, the best way to protect civilians in armed conflicts is to prevent conflicts. The Security Council plays an important role in this regard. Timely and adequate briefings to the Security Council by the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and by other relevant actors may help the Council to act in an early and effective manner to protect civilians at risk.
Finally, the EU welcomes the Secretary Generals proposal to develop a more systematic approach to protecting civilians in the Security Council.
The protection of civilians in armed conflict is a complex challenge and perhaps increasingly so when we consider the asymmetric nature of many conflicts today. The EU is fully committed to this challenge and, in cooperation with the UN, will continue its work for the promotion of peace and conflict prevention.
* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.