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Statement by Ambassador Zhang Yishan at the Security Council’s Open Debate on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”
June 21, 2005

At the outset, I should like to thank Under-Secretary-General Egeland for his detailed briefing.

In recent years, the question of the protection of civilians in armed conflict has attracted increasing attention on the part of the international community. Innocent civilians, particularly vulnerable groups such as women and children, have always been the principal victims of armed conflict. The Security Council has considered the question of the protection of civilians on many occasions and adopted relevant resolutions and presidential statements. Other United Nations agencies have also made tremendous efforts. Many humanitarian agencies have played positive roles in easing the suffering of civilians in armed conflict.

However, it is a matter of concern that tens of thousands of civilians in conflict situations find it difficult to guarantee their basic living needs such as food, drinking water and medicine. Attacks targeting civilians happen in various forms in some conflict regions. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, and incidents of deliberate attacks on civilians take place frequently. Refugees and displaced persons are in dire situations. Obviously, the international community has a lot of work to do to protect civilians. Some principles should be followed in carrying out that work. In that connection, I wish to emphasize the following points.

First, the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the Governments concerned. Governments and parties to a conflict should comply strictly with international humanitarian laws and should effectively honour the corresponding obligation to protect civilians. United Nations agencies and peacekeeping operations should stress international humanitarian law in their publicity campaigns and enhance the awareness of parties to a conflict with regard to their responsibilities to protect civilians, and they should make sure that the peace agreements incorporate articles on protecting civilians. On the other hand, humanitarian assistance personnel and organizations should stick to just, neutral and objective principles and avoid supporting any party to a conflict and affecting the local peace process.

Secondly, the fundamental and most effective approach to settling conflicts and protecting civilians is to focus on prevention and to deal with both the symptoms and the causes of the conflict. As the organ with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council should continue to take effective measures to strengthen preventive diplomacy and to promote settlement of existing conflicts so as to save civilians from the miseries of war. In many situations mandatory means can only further complicate the problems and result in more casualties among innocent civilians. The international community should help countries and regions in conflict to formulate preventive strategies, eliminate causes of conflict, promote national harmony and reconciliation and achieve long-lasting and harmonious development.

Thirdly, in practice, the difference in situations of armed conflict in different regions should be taken into consideration, and the various situations should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Universal use of one modality should be avoided. The conflicts in the world have different causes, natures and directions of development. So do the phases of the peace process. It is difficult to use a single programme to deal with all the problems of protecting civilians. The protection of vulnerable groups such as women and children also requires concrete analysis of the realities of each region. It is impossible to use one protection mechanism to deal with all the situations. We should take particular care with regard to conflict situations not on the Security Council’s agenda. The Council should carefully analyse and produce a mandate before taking any new actions. Whether an existing or a newly established mechanism is involved, it is necessary to avoid imprudent action.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to those workers who are making selfless contributions at the risk of their lives in war. They not only deliver food and medicine to people in difficult situations; they also bring them hope of survival. We condemn attacks on humanitarian assistance personnel, urge that all parties effectively implement Security Council resolutions, severely punish the culprits and guarantee the safety and security of international humanitarian personnel.

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