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Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts

(New York, December 10, 2002)

Statement by H.E. CAROLINA BARCO, Minister of Foreign Relations of Colombia 

 

I wish to begin by expressing the appreciation of my country to the Secretary General Kofi Annan for the inspiring words he gave us at the start of this session in the presentation of the third report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. I also want to thank the Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr. Angelo Gnaedinger, for his most worthy contribution to this debate.

My delegation is pleased to acknowledge the participation by distinguished delegations of countries not members of the Security Council whose ideas and recommendations will help guide the work of the Council and contribute to the text of the Statement that is intended for adoption al a later point as a final outcome of this debate.

Excellencies,

The nature of wars has changed dramatically in the last century and, in particular, in the past decade. In the First World War, five per cent of the victims were civilians; in the Second World War, the figure reached fifty per cent; and in the conflicts of the final decade of the XX Century, it was over ninety per cent.

We are living not just through a terrible humanitarian crisis, but also a crisis in the humanitarian global legal regime. Armed conflicts have been debased. Today, terrorism has brought this debasement to its maximum, and its actions are brutal and unimaginably cruel.

We are here and now, at the United Nations, to preserve universal public assets: the dignity of each and every human being, the right to life, the right to live without fear. These public assets can only be preserved by us all, and with the collaboration of all. That is the dimension of our shared responsibility. This is where the UN becomes pertinent and becomes clear the urgent need to strengthen it and ensure that it has the capacity to deal with these new threats.

The new wars and terrorism make abundantly clear that the problem is no longer one of crimes being committed against civilians in armed conflicts, but even worse, that the armed conflicts of our time deliberately target unarmed civilians, civilian facilities and civilian means of transportation. The victims are defenseless civilians.

When the first Report on this subject was presented to the Council we did not have a clear vision of it. September 8, 1999, was very different from September 11, 2001. In that earlier year other reports commissioned by the Secretary General, such as the one on "The fall of Srebrenica", and the one on the appalling genocide in Rwanda left no doubt that civilians were the true targets of so much atrocity. These two occurrences should have been sufficient to always remind us that the great humanitarian tragedies can be avoided, or at least lessened, if we learn form our failures and omissions.

As a matter of fact, the Security Council already has recourse to appropriate tools for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, as contained in Chapter VI and VII of the Charter, as well as in a number of resolutions adopted in recent years for the prevention of conflicts; children in armed conflict, the illicit trade in small arms and the fight against terrorism, among others. On this day I would like to highlight in particular resolution 1235 in which the Council focused on the protection of women and her role in the prevention of conflicts and in peacekeeping.

Excellencies,

Colombia is in full agreement with the Secretary General when he states in the section on the rule of law, justice and reconciliation of his Report that the restoration of law and order is fundamental for any country to be able to overcome a period of conflict and achieve lasting peace. And, moreover, that it is necessary to strengthen the institutions for security and justice in place to promote the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.

Likewise, we agree with him when he says that there can be no long-term solution to the problems of security until a State has a well-trained, well-equipped and justly paid army and national police force, within a framework of a fully functional criminal justice system.

Colombia associates itself with these ideas because they reflect the supporting elements of the policy on democratic security being implemented by President Alvaro Uribe Velez. This is an integral policy with strategies aimed at rescuing and consolidating the democratic content of the concept of security; with a view to the reinstatement of public order and the promotion of economic and social development. It is moreover a policy to ensure the presence of the State in every corner of national territory; to guarantee democratic debate and to provide the security needed by individuals for their personal development and the full exercise their fundamental rights.

The clear determination by the national Government to achieve these objectives has produced a truly encouraging effect. Colombians today appear more willing to assume their role as citizens for the recuperation of national security and their association with the State in the reinstatement of the rule of law.

Our objective is to continue producing results, in the certainty that the support of society as a whole is the best road to confront those isolated groups that have been trying to destabilize our country for decades.

The spilling over effect of some internal conflicts, or their internationalization as a result of associated criminal activities, shows that a national problem cannot always be overcome or resolved by treating it as purely national. It becomes necessary to look at with a sense of shared responsibility, if we are to deal with effects such as the worldwide problem of illicit drugs. This is all the more so in times of terrorism, which is a global threat o the community of democratic nations.

Allow me, therefore, to reflect briefly on one important aspect that the Secretary General has reported as arising in recent years in connection with the protection of civilians. It concerns the commercial exploitation and illegal financing of conflicts and terrorism. Colombia believes that there are three activities belonging to this commercial exploitation and illegal financing which must be known and fought against.

1. The prosperous criminal industry of illegal drugs, in all its stages, which is much more profitable than the bloodstained trade in diamonds and other resources fuelling armed conflicts.

2. The growing industry of kidnapping, which seeks to obtain large ransoms in money or properties, and is sometimes used as a weapon for political blackmail in substitute of popular support for violent groups.

3. Finally, the practice of extortion as a criminal alternative to kidnapping.

All these activities are targeted on defenseless civilians. Often in support of attacks on vital infrastructure, such as water supply systems, power transmission lines, bridges or traditionally untouched places such as churches and cultural centers. Besides, they are the cause of death and destruction, anxiety and physical damage, either irreparable or very costly for the precarious well-being of millions of civilians. Civilians are more at risk in these cases than the people trained to protect them.

We, the peoples of the United Nations, face here a formidable challenge. This noble institution was created, among other reasons, to "...preserve the coming generations from the scourge of war" and to "...reaffirm faith in the fundamental rights of man, in the dignity and value of the human person". Its achievements are undeniable in this area. Today a culture of Human Rights and respect for life is alive, and it is up to us to defend them against the new modalities of violence and terrorism. We shall not spare any sacrifices or efforts in continuing to proclaim and protect these universal public assets.

With this goal in mind, it is urgent that the global Anti-Terrorist legal regime and particularly Resolution 1373, be most rigorously and entirely complied with. In this way, the certainties destroyed by September 11 will begin to be gradually regained. Barbarity shall not be allowed to impose the cruelty of its methods.

Our commitment against all forms of barbarity must absolutely prevail. Our ideals must prevail in order for us to concern ourselves not just with protecting civilians in armed conflicts but to prevent in a timely way the occurrence of intra- and inter-state conflicts. And to continue without pause in the campaign to eradicate the scourge of terrorism.

Colombia accepts that there is a shared responsibility in the very noble task of protecting human dignity. It is a responsibility that our country is fully determined to assume.

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