I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey and Croatia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.
Civilian populations have, in one way or another, suffered the consequences of each and every conflict throughout history. Even their deliberate targeting as a means to further military objectives is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. But the fact that such practices of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against the most vulnerable have managed to spill over into the 21st century is something that deeply concerns us and Mr. Egeland has just given us numerous and gruesome examples.
Todays discussion on the protection of civilians is therefore very timely, not only because we see examples of violations unfolding as we meet here, but also because we, as member States of the United Nations, are currently engaged in the process of reforming the organization and rethinking the way it handles situations of armed conflict. The European Union has endorsed the Secretary Generals important proposal concerning a responsibility to protect. Protection of civilian populations is a moral imperative for the international community and it is a collective and shared responsibility. The Security Council has already signaled in resolution 1296 its readiness to consider threats to peace and security of this nature and, where necessary, to adopt appropriate steps.
While we renew here our commitment to these principles, we should not forget that the primary responsibility to protect lies inherently with individual sovereign states. However, when a state is unable or unwilling to protect its civilian population and crimes such as genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes or massive and grave human rights violations occur or threaten to occur, the international community must respond.
While small arms and light weapons take a large toll in todays conflicts, especially in Africa, one of the most brutal weapons used systematically in places such as Darfur and the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is rape and sexual slavery of women and children, including among refugees and internally displaced populations. The European Union condemns sexual and gender-based crimes in the strongest terms and expects that the recent referral of the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court and the forthcoming investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC will address these crimes. A persistent climate of impunity facilitates the types of crimes referred to earlier. The case of Darfur should therefore serve as a signal of the determination of the international community to uphold the rule of law, to end impunity and to bring perpetrators to justice, there and elsewhere.
I wish to take this opportunity to welcome the Security Councils Presidential statement of 31 May 2005 condemning all acts of sexual abuse and exploitation committed by UN peacekeeping personnel. In this context, the European Union urges all partners to swiftly and fully implement all recommendations adopted in the report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping operations (C-34) and looks forward to the swift establishment of the group of legal experts and the conclusion of their work on the legal ramifications of some of the proposed recommendations.
I already mentioned briefly the situation of refugees and internally displaced people. While they seek protection abroad or in their own country, fleeing armed conflict or specifically targeted threats, they sometimes remain in danger at their place of refuge. Men are killed, women and girls raped. Camps themselves can be targeted and are often insufficiently protected. There is a clear need for increased and sustained physical protection in these situations. In cases where states will not or cannot provide such protection, the international community must provide assistance. In this context I would like to repeat our call for improved humanitarian access in all areas where delivery of aid is desperately needed.
Here, the role of regional organizations has to be highlighted, and in this context, the European Union commends the African Union for its leadership in the Darfur region of Sudan, where its monitoring mission has shown demonstrable results in terms of reducing occurrences of violent crimes in the areas it patrols. The European Union actively supports the expansion of the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS) and has recently announced an extensive assistance package.
While occurrences of direct and intentional targeting are increasing, civilians also continue to suffer from the indirect consequences of armed conflict, including the destruction or purposeful misuse by parties to the conflict of health or education infrastructures, such as hospitals and schools.
When I had the honor to address the Council during its recent open debate on peacebuilding, I mentioned the protection of civilians as one of the many activities that need to be part of any comprehensive and coherent peacebuilding strategy. While the protection of civilians is now included in the mandate of every peacekeeping operation, it has to remain on the agenda when a given situation transitions to a longer-term peacebuilding phase. The future Peacebuilding Commission will clearly have to play a central role in this respect.
In conclusion, Mr. President,
Five years after the adoption of resolution 1296, we are compelled to recognize that the situation concerning the protection of civilians in armed conflict has not greatly improved. Without prejudging the Secretary Generals assessment in his next report due at the end of this year, it seems that there is a clear need to strengthen the protection framework of civilians in armed conflict, possibly by adopting a new resolution.
* Croatia continues to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process