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Statement by Ambassador ZHANG Yesui at the Open Debate of the Security Council on the "Issue of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts"


New York, 11 November 2009

Mr. President,

At the outset, I wish to welcome you to the Security Council to preside over this open debate. I also wish to thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Ms. Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for their briefings.

In recent years, growing importance has been attached to the protection of civilians in a widespread manner, and the international community has made active efforts to resolve this issue. However, with changes in the characteristics of armed conflicts and the effects of various complicated factors, large numbers of civilians in many regions of the world are still harmed by armed conflicts. The international community still has a lot to do in relation to the issue of protection of civilians. We are deeply concerned over the threat and harm to the lives and property of civilians in armed conflicts and urge parties to conflicts to comply with international humanitarian law and the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and to protect the lives, property, and legitimate rights and interests of civilians.

Mr. President,

The issue of protection of civilians involves many aspects and is very complex; the countries concerned, the relevant international agencies of the United Nations, and regional organizations should exploit their strengths and expertise and work in a concerted way, jointly responding to the issue. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Security Council discussion of the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflicts. We should take this opportunity to review and analyze work done over the past decade and engage in serious thinking and study on how to make the Security Council do a better job of playing its due role here in terms of the following several aspects.

First, as the core of the United Nations collective security mechanism, the Security Council shoulders the onerous task of maintaining international peace and security. Undoubtedly, what the Council should focus on and deal with is the protection of civilians in armed conflict rather than anything else. The Council's responsibilities dictate that it should set out clearly-defined goals and priorities for its work and, in particular, focus its attention on the genesis of the problem. While preventing and containing conflicts, it should address the issue of civilian protection within the overall framework of the political process of peaceful resolution of disputes. Efforts to protect civilians should both be conducive to ameliorating and eliminating the harm done to civilians by armed conflicts, and be based on the overall situation to help safeguard and advance the political process of peaceful resolution of conflicts which, in turn, contributes to civilian protection by addressing the root causes.

Second, the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with national governments. The international community and external organizations may provide constructive assistance but, in doing so, they should comply with the provisions of the UN Charter, fully respect the will, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country concerned, and refrain from forcible interference. Dialogue between the UN and non-state armed groups may be helpful for civilian protection, but such dialogue should be conducted within the general framework of cooperation between the United Nations and the country in question and with the consent of its government. On the question of impunity, we support the leading role played by the domestic judicial system of the country concerned. The Security Council can play a positive role in promoting the protection of civilians, but we never approve of the use or threat of sanctions by the Council at every turn. On questions related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, prudence is particularly warranted when it comes to sanctions.

Third, through efforts over the years, the international community has developed a relatively complete system of international legal norms. The pressing task now is to ensure the comprehensive, just and effective implementation of the existing norms. In this context, the competent UN entities and international treaty bodies should continue to play their important roles. The Council has adopted many resolutions and presidential statements on the protection of civilians. The priority for the next stage should be pushing forward the effective implementation of these documents rather than rushing into making new rules.

Fourthly, for a UN peace-keeping mission to implement the mandate to protect civilians is a decision the Security Council takes on a case-by-case basis. We are of the view that a mandate to protect civilians should be prepared in light of real need, taking into full account the situation on the ground and the existing capacity and conditions of a given peace-keeping mission; a one-size-fits-all approach is not advisable. We attach great importance to the protection of civilians, but we are not in favor of indiscriminately multiplying such mandates while ignoring real conditions and physical viability. It is necessary to emphasize that the key to ensure a successful peace-keeping mission is to stick to the three principles governing PKOs, namely, established local consent, mission neutrality, and non-use of force except in self-defense. Any deviation from the above principles in implementing a mandate to protect civilians will only create more problems than solutions and could even jeopardize the whole peace-keeping process.

Mr. President,

In addressing the mandate to protect civilians, the Security Council efforts alone are far from adequate. To treat it by its symptoms while ignoring the root cause of a conflict itself will not help towards finding a fundamental solution to the protection of civilians. Today, most of the conflicts are taking place in less developed areas. The UN should mobilize world resources, provide countries involved with financial and technical assistance to help them develop their economies, extricate themselves from poverty and thereby to uproot conflicts. It's our hope that GA, ECOSOC, UNDP, World Bank and other international institutions and regional organizations will play a role to help countries involved in areas such as economic development, conflict resolution and protection of civilian protection. We also welcome NGOs to play a positive role in this regard.

China is to work with the international community to facilitate more constructive achievements in the work to protect civilians in armed conflicts through pragmatic and effective efforts.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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