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Statement by Ambassador LIU Zhenmin at the Security Council Open Debate on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict"


Mr. President,

At the outset, I'd like to thank Under-Secretary-General Egeland for his briefing. We commend the work he has done in the field of humanitarian assistance and wish him success in his future work. I also wish to commend United Nations agencies for their enormous efforts in the field of protecting civilians in armed conflict over the years.

The issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict is an old topic. International humanitarian law, including the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and its two Additional Protocols of 1977, sets out adequate provisions in this regard. While the provisions of international humanitarian law have been widely accepted, there are still many challenges in their implementation. We are deeply concerned by the fact that the lives and properties of civilians are threatened in relevant armed conflicts. We urge the relevant parties to armed conflicts to abide by international humanitarian law, render adequate protection to civilians, and avoid making damage to their lives and properties.

The important Security Council resolution 1674 adopted last April, which sets out comprehensive provisions pertaining to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and a number of other relevant resolutions and presidential statements adopted by the Council on previous occasions have established a legal framework for the work of the Council on this issue. What is needed now is effective implementation of these documents in order to improve the situations on the ground. In this context, I would like to highlight the following points.

First, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international humanitarian law, the responsibility to protect civilians lies primarily with the Governments of the countries concerned. While the international community and other external parties can provide support and assistance, and urge the parties to relevant conflicts to seriously implement humanitarian law and avoid harming civilians, they should not infringe upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries concerned, nor should they enforce intervention by circumventing the governments of the countries concerned.

Second, it is imperative to make clear differentiation between protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance. Efforts made by humanitarian agencies in the spirit of humanitarianism to provide assistance to the civilians affected by armed conflicts, often under dangerous circumstances, should be appreciated and commended. However, they should also at all times abide by the principles of impartiality, neutrality, objectivity and independence in order to maintain the humanitarian nature of their operations and to avoid getting involved in local political disputes or negatively affecting a peace process.

Third, to protect civilians, greater emphasis should be placed on prevention as well as addressing both symptoms and root causes of a conflict. Should the Security Council, which bears the primary responsibility to maintain world peace and security, manage to effectively prevent and resolve various conflicts, it would successfully provide the best protection to the civilians. A number of sudden incidents that have occurred this year have demonstrated that failure to effectively respond to the outbreak of conflicts will render any ex post facto protective measures, however ingenious, virtually ineffectual vis-à-vis the sudden onslaught of violence and conflict. The best protection for civilians is to provide them with a safe and reliable living environment by actively exploring methods to prevent conflicts and effectively redressing the occurring conflicts.

Mr. President,

While discussing the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict, the concept of "responsibility to protect" should continue to be approached with caution by the Security Council. The World Summit Outcome last year gave an extensive and very cautious representation of "the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity", and went on to request the General Assembly to continue to explore this concept. Since many member States have expressed their concern and misgivings in this regard, we believe, it is, therefore, not appropriate to expand, willfully interpret or even abuse this concept. Security Council resolution 1674 only reaffirmed in principle the relevant statement as contained in the Summit Outcome without making any further elaboration. All sides should continue to stick to the relevant agreed elements of the Summit Outcome while interpreting or applying this concept. In this context, the Security Council cannot and should not replace the role of the General Assembly or make any prejudgment

Finally, we hope that in the process of implementing the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, full consideration will be taken of the specific characteristics and circumstances of each conflict so as to adopt appropriate measures with a view to effectively achieving the objective of protecting civilians.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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