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Statement by H.E. Ambassador LIU Zhenmin at the Open Debate of the Security Council on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts"
20 November 2007


Mr. President,

The Chinese delegation welcomes the participation and statement of Secretary-General Pan Ki-moon. We wish to express our thanks to Under-Secretary General Holmes for his briefing and our appreciation for all his efforts and the large amount of work he has carried out in the field since he took office. We also commend the relevant bodies of the UN for their work in the humanitarian field over the years.

"The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts" has been a classic item for the United Nations since its foundation. The international community has established for this purpose a comparatively complete international humanitarian legal framework with comprehensive provisions contained in relevant international legal instruments, including the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and the two Additional Protocols of 1977. The Security Council has been considering this issued for nearly a decade and has adopted numerous resolutions and presidential statements. All the above has provided guidance to the practical work of protection of civilians in armed conflicts.

However, with the change of characters of conflicts and emergence of new factors and as a result of the inter-linkage of complex historical, political, territorial, religious and resource-related issues, we are still witnessing the sad situation in which large numbers of civilians are affected, harmed and devastated by armed conflicts. We strongly urge parties to conflicts to strictly abide by the international humanitarian law and the relevant Security Council resolutions and fulfill their corresponding obligations to protecting the life, property and legitimate interest of civilians. In order to improve the work of protection of civilians in armed conflicts, it needs to enhance international cooperation and to give full play to the role of the international bodies, the Government concerned and the humanitarian bodies. There is need to emphasize the issue of protection, as well as humanitarian relief; and need to ensure compliance to international law, as well as to attach importance to conflict prevention. Therefore, I wish to emphasize the following points:

First of all, the Security Council should continue to fulfill its primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with the UN Charter and play its unique role in the protection of civilians. It is necessary to intensify efforts in preventing and resolving conflicts and in peace building so as to provide a secure environment for the civilians, which is, in the end, the most effective protection. This requires the cooperation between the Security Council and other relevant UN bodies, and only when the Council functions within its spheres of competence can it play its proper part in this integrated undertaking.

Secondly, it is necessary to always bear in mind the need to respect the role of Governments in the protection of civilians and to let them play this role. Governments bear the primary responsibility to protect their civilians. While the international community and outside forces can provide help, the provisions of the Charter must be followed in doing so and care must be taken not to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country concerned. Even when outside support is necessary, the will of the country concerned must be fully respected and forcible intervention avoided. The internal judicial organs of the country concerned should also be allowed to play a bigger role in ending impunity.

Thirdly, humanitarian relief work should be carried out in a judicious and effective manner in accordance with the principles of fairness, neutrality, objectivity and independence. Humanitarian relief is very important in the protection of civilians and constitutes an indispensable link in efforts to address any conflict situation. However, it is necessary to ensure the credibility and humanitarian nature of humanitarian relief work, which should comply with international humanitarian law and should not replace or interfere in conflict resolution and political process. We find it deplorable that certain bodies use humanitarian relief as the pretext to engage in illegal activities in conflict regions.

Fourthly, the concept of "the responsibility to protect" should be interpreted and applied in a prudent and accurate manner. The Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit contains detailed elaboration and provisions on "the responsibility to protect" and stipulates explicitly that this concept be discussed by the General Assembly. The Security Council should not become a forum for extrapolating this concept or engaging in other similar legislative activities because that is a task of the whole membership of the United Nations. At present, this concept is not yet mature and many member states have considerable concerns regarding it. The relevant discussions should be held within the framework of the General Assembly, and the Security Council should not prejudge the result of such discussions.

Fifthly, the Security Council should continue to address the protection of civilians in the context of specific conflicts. Each conflict has its own causes and characteristics; and efforts to address humanitarian problems including the protection of civilians cannot be separated from the peace process and political situation of the specific conflict. The protection of civilians cannot be addressed in isolation, nor the superficial symptoms our sole concern. Since the country-specific consideration mechanism of the Council has been effective, in order to avoid duplication of work, we are not in favor for the Security Council to establish a special working group on the protection of civilians.

Finally, we are willing to work together with other member of the Security Council to strive for more constructive results in the protection of civilians in armed conflicts through pragmatic and effective efforts.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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