2005.12.09: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

H.E. Ambassador Choi Young-jin, Permanent Representative, at Security Council

Mr. President,

1. In the era of globalization, the nature of conflicts has radically changed. Classic interstate wars have virtually ended. Seeing no profit, nations avoid war. Instead, we witness a marked rise of intrastate conflicts based on ethnic, religious and cultural differences. In these intrastate conflicts, the proportion of civilian victims has increased drastically. According to a study, civilians made up just 5 percent of the casualties during World War I, while in World War II, it increased to 50 percent. They now constitute a staggering 90 percent. In the new kinds of conflicts prevalent today, civilians are harmed in various ways, including by forced displacement, forced conscription, violence, indiscriminate killing, starvation, disease and loss of livelihood.

Mr. President,

2. My delegation would like to emphasize three issues that we believe are important to protecting civilians more effectively from armed conflict: focusing on vulnerable people, taking a regional approach, and ending impunity.

3. First, we should keep in mind that the most vulnerable people in armed conflict are women and children. Indeed, acts of sexual violence against women continue to be committed in many conflict situations, while children are frequently recruited or abducted and used as soldiers. In view of the serious, lasting social impacts of these egregious crimes and the physical and psychological harm they inflict upon their victims, effective protection measures are urgently needed.

4. Second, we note that violence against civilians in a given country directly affects the surrounding region through refugee flows, environmental degradation and the proliferation of illicit arms trading. Meanwhile, the role of neighbouring countries is crucial to ensuring humanitarian access to civilians in regions of conflict. Protection of civilians in armed conflict therefore requires further strengthening of regional cooperation. We welcome the efforts of regional organizations such as the African Union to protect civilians while peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts are ongoing. Regional organizations should be further supported to facilitate these efforts.

5. In this regard, we welcome the inclusion of the concept of the responsibility to protect in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit. The UN should continue to discuss ways to put it into practice. It goes without saying that national authorities have the primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. But when national authorities fail to exercise their responsibility to protect, the international community should use various means to help them meet this responsibility, including through measures taken by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

6. Third, to deter the recurrence of crimes against civilians, the culture of impunity must be brought to an end. In this regard, the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone has great significance. Also crucial to ending impunity is providing assistance for judicial capacity-building in war-torn societies, with a view to ensuring that law and order are restored.

Mr. President,

7. In our globalized world, threats are interconnected. No state can protect itself by acting alone. Today’s topic is the protection of civilians in armed conflict ?is an emerging security concern that requires coordinated multilateral responses from the international community. Building upon the progresses already made, we should redouble our common efforts to achieve a more secure and orderly world in which every human being is respected and protected under the rule of law.

Thank you.