Colombia participates in the Open Debate of the Security Council on Civilians in Armed Conflict
(New York, February 12, 2013)
Statement by H.E. Ambassador Néstor Osorio Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations
In his statement, Ambassador Osorio supported the idea expressed by the Security Council in the Presidency statement on the protection of civilians in November 2010, that the promotion of the peace process and the achieving of peace and sustainable development, and the respect for human rights and the rule of law, are of utmost importance to protect the civilians in medium and long terms. Moreover, he emphasized that the peace talks currently underway are founded on a solid legal basis for the State and a strong political will of the government compatible with the international obligations that we have accepted and harmonized with the aim of protecting civilians.
Thank you Mister President.
It is an honour to have you preside over this Open Debate. Your attendance shows the height interest of your government in the work of the Security Council. Allow me to thank to the Secretary-General for his statement on protection of civilians in armed conflicts and his constant dynamism in this respect. I would also like to thank Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Mr. Philip Spoerri, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, for their briefings to this Council.
Once again the Security Council tackles the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict from the perspective of the duty to observe the relevant regulations of international humanitarian law in order to reduce the impact of armed conflicts on civilians. This is an issue of particular relevance to the Colombian State, which has had been defending its democratic institutions from the attack of illegal armed groups whose strategies of war openly violate those rules.
We share the concern of the Secretary-General and the diverse delegations for the situation that civilians face in armed conflicts in some parts of the world and for the recurrent failure of the obligation to respect and protect civilians from the ones involved in the conflict in accordance with the international law.
We also agree that it should be promoted the respect for the international law by all the ones in conflict; that it should intensified the protection of civilians by the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions and other relevant missions; as well as it should be improved the access to the humanitarian assistance in coordination with States on the Council's agenda; and also that accountability should be promoted when law is violated.
Going into details, the report S/2012/376 of the Secretary-General referred to the importance of "promoting the compliance the legislation by non-State armed groups" implying that this compliance depends on the existing direct contact between the United Nations and the non-state armed actors. The practice of identifying a formula that can work or has worked in certain specific situations and raise it to a character of generality can cause difficulties. From our point of view, it is hard to predict a "unique formula" applicable to all cases. Each situation is different and must be addressed by taking into account their own special circumstances.
In the particular case of policies addressed at non-state armed actors and which main intention is that these policies adopted by the Colombian government regarding peace negotiations, under the current circumstances we consider essential to preserve the ownership of the State and our government in driving the process, without external interference.
We believe that the concern to ensure that non-state armed actors comply with international humanitarian law and other relevant laws is valid, but we also believe that this concern is fully covered as respecting cardinal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the attack.
For this reason, it is necessary to examine very carefully the recommendation that the State Members should refrain from adopting policies or other measures "that have the effect of preventing humanitarian actors working with non-state armed groups for humanitarian purposes, and in particular prevent carry out activities to promote respect for international humanitarian law. This recommendation must be based on principles of cooperation and coordination with concerned States founded on its national sovereignty.
Based on recent historical experience -and, above all, painful- and in the particular circumstances of the Colombian conflict, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos has adopted a policy that any dialogue could be done with the illegal armed groups, that have been labeled as international terrorist organizations, except with his prior explicit consent, that is, when the national government of Colombia consider it appropriate.
Of course, the Government is determined that these groups and their leaders take concrete actions to ensure compliance with the rules and principles of International Humanitarian Law, but firmly believes that this compliance does not go through independent contact of these groups with representatives of the United Nations. Colombians have already been down that road, with results that I can only describe as inappropriate.
The Colombians are grateful to the States Members of the United Nations and to the Organization itself for understanding and respect to this policy, which will remain in effect until the illegal armed groups that operate in the country decide to change their behavior and fully respect to international standards described.
The existence or absence of United Nations contacts with these groups is not a decisive factor in the life of the law applicable to armed conflicts, because what counts is the will of the parts and in defect of that, the States should have solid institutions that allow them the judgment and the assignment of the respective sentences.
Focus on the possible approaches of certain actors with illegal groups diverts the attention from the fundamental issue, this is, the lack of political will. The validity of the rights of civilians during hostilities do not require contact with non-state armed groups, but only the decision of them, either to abandon violence and pursue their goals through democratic debate, or, if they decide to continue the armed conflict, to give full effect to the International Humanitarian Law without exception, thereby avoiding with it the regularization of war because what really protects the civilians is to end with wars and conflicts. On this basis the International Humanitarian Law stops having relevance.
Our government has always welcomed and thanked the work of the International Red Cross Committee for facilitating the return of the kidnapped by illegal armed groups to freedom. In recent years, the Colombian government has managed, with the active collaboration of the International Committee of the Red Cross and in some cases with the support of friendly governments and civil society organizations, the return of several people to recover their freedom.
Another issue that is particularly remarkable for us is the recommendation to establish international commissions of inquired and fact-finding missions in the mentioned report, the "Concept Paper" and in the PRST. We understand these mechanisms by definition may only be applicable to countries within the agenda of the Security Council and otherwise only by prior arrangement with the State concerned.
My Government agrees that the alternatives raised in the report to reach the population in need of humanitarian assistance - as temporary cessation of hostilities, the humanitarian corridors and days of tranquility, must fit in to the circumstances of each conflict. A serious analysis should be warned for the International Humanitarian Law that obligates the military efforts to adjust themselves to the humanitarian imperatives, without implying that such efforts cannot control sometimes, for obvious safety reasons in the middle of a conflict, the movement of people and properties. Even the creation of favorable conditions for the full enjoyment of civil rights implies the existence of a security environment necessary to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Colombia supports the idea expressed by the Security Council in the Presidency statement on the protection of civilians in November 2010, that the promotion of the peace process and the achieving of peace and sustainable development, and the respect for human rights and the rule of law, are of utmost importance to protect the civilians in medium and long terms.
Colombia, with 200 years of democratic institutions and a modern regulatory framework, has spared no effort to enhance and complement their field, as it has been shows by the adoption of ambitious initiatives to seek peace and reconciliation. This is the case of the Transitional Justice System incorporated in the Justice and Peace Law of 2005, which allowed the demobilization and reintegration into society of over 54,200 members of illegal armed groups, the novel mechanism of repair and restitution of land devoted by the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448, 2011); or the constitutional reform which established a "Legal Framework for Peace".
Consequently, we strongly believe that the peace talks currently underway are founded on a solid legal basis for the State and a strong political will of the government compatible with the international obligations that we have accepted and harmonized with the aim of protecting civilians.