NEW YORK, 21 MAY 1997
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ANTÓNIO MONTEIRO, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL, TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL 3778th MEETING (Agenda on the protection for humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations)
Portugal congratulates you and thanks you, Mr. President, for organizing this open debate. We believe that protection for humanitarian assistance to refugees and others in conflict situations is a major issue involving the responsibility of the international community. Therefore, it must be properly addressed by the Security Council with the participation of the general membership of the United Nations.
We also believe it is timely for the Council to discuss this issue openly and on the record. The Council has recently been occupied with very serious crises to which this problem of the protection for humanitarian operations is central.
Also, the Council should not fail to develop thinking on its role in this field in the light of the major dilemmas faced today by United Nations humanitarian assistance, as outlined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees when she came to the Council last month. Under-Secretary-General Akashi and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reminded of these dilemmas very clearly today. We welcome their forceful statements and pledge to give full attention to the concerns and suggestions they left with us.
The protection of civilian populations and refugees involved in conflicts requiring humanitarian assistance increasingly seeks to counter threats to international peace and security. In recent conflicts, refugees and internally displaced persons have not only been one of the consequences of war but have actually been the target of hostilities which threaten international peace and security. Therefore, this question falls under either Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the Charter, and thus calls for Council action under Articles 41 and/or 42.
Later the Netherlands will be making a statement on behalf of the European Union which we fully endorse. In that statement, attention is called to the nature of intra-State conflict, which increasingly characterizes most of the crises developing in the post-cold-war era. The internal nature of such conflicts might be recalled to resist or caution against United Nations-backed international humanitarian intervention in the name of the old banners of state sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs and territorial integrity. We could dwell on the legitimacy that the Charter confers upon the Council to determine when such intervention is necessary and justified. This decision by the Council would then bypass the sovereignty and correlative principles and require all Member States to abide by it.
But we prefer instead to highlight the fact that in almost all conflicts today, from Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia to the Great Lakes, the warring parties themselves are keen on a United Nations humanitarian presence, not only because of the benefits they themselves receive from humanitarian aid provided to refugees and civilian populations, but also because of the political legitimacy they sense this presence bestows on them; and this despite the fact that an international humanitarian presence, regardless of the impartiality with which it carries out its tasks, may be seen to be an embarrassing witness to unspeakable atrocities.
The Council must clearly address three main problems: first, how to protect those who need protection most that is, the civilian population caught up in armed conflicts and the particularly vulnerable groups of refugees and internally displaced people; secondly, how to protect the protectors when they themselves are targets of attacks; and thirdly, how to counter the impunity of the perpetrators of such crimes.
In dealing with the first problem how to protect those most vulnerable the Council must not forget a crucial element: the fact that humanitarian assistance is certainly not limited to the delivery of aid, be it food, shelter or medical care. The central element of humanitarian assistance is, in fact, protection of the most basic human rights: the right to life, first and foremost, and other basic rights inherent to the dignity of the human person. That is the purpose and the essence of international humanitarian law, which all Member States, all United Nations agencies, all warring parties and all military forces are bound to respect and enforce.
This is the message that was transmitted very clearly to the Council by Mrs. Ogata when she stressed that assistance to and protection of people are based upon respect for the fundamental human rights of people. She went further and called for a security concept that puts human beings at its centre. That is precisely the approach that Portugal urges the Council to adopt, assuming our full share of responsibility for it.
This implies that, when measuring the success or the needs of a humanitarian assistance operation, the Council must take into consideration the extent to which those core rights are being protected, not just whether food convoys are reaching their destination. This also means that when considering any kind of international military intervention, through a peacekeeping operation, or another kind of operation, in order to back and support humanitarian action, the Council must spell out clearly in its mandate the purpose of protecting human rights, alongside the political and military objectives. An integrated approach to crisis management is needed, encompassing human rights in the humanitarian, political and developmental dimensions.
We must ensure that all those involved in United Nations humanitarian and military operations are aware of all these dimensions and receive the proper training for carrying out the tasks involved. And since the most vulnerable groups of civilians in need of protection namely, refugees and displaced persons are women and children, due consideration must be given to the gender perspective and to the specific needs of protecting children, as the representative of UNICEF so forcefully explained to us this morning.
The second problem how to protect the protectors has emerged as a particularly pressing and alarming one, as we have seen increasingly in many recent conflicts. Not much has been done to address properly this problem despite the many calls for military support for humanitarian relief operations. One might say that United Nations Member States have not been willing to risk the lives of their military, just the lives of their aid workers.
A special tribute, an expression of gratitude and encouragement, is due to those brave and generous women and men who work for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Food Programme and all other United Nations agencies, as well as to those working for humanitarian and human rights non-governmental organizations, who continue to carry out those activities despite the hardship and the serious personal risks involved. They need support. They need collective Security Council action, not collective inaction. They need us officials, Governments and political leaders to do our job.
Peacekeeping operations in some cases have been used by the Security Council to provide a military component to facilitate humanitarian relief. In general, this has met with success, even in cases where the humanitarian community initially feared the corrupting implications of such military backing. Bosnia is certainly such a case.
In other situations the Council has authorized the deployment of an international military presence to protect emergency humanitarian assistance at the initiative of some Member States. The most recent example is Albania, and so far it has achieved positive results. This shows how important and desirable regional initiatives are, provided their authors seek and obtain proper endorsement from the Council.
But what happens when no State is prepared to act, when the Council cannot be prompted to take an initiative despite the seriousness of the situation? Can we continue to leave humanitarian actors alone in the field facing the extremely dangerous security situations which often arise from unresolved political issues? We cannot, of course. That is why we support the proposals made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, among others, calling for the establishment within the Secretariat of a rapid-deployment capability. We call on the Council to discuss this specific proposal and to seek the views of the Secretary-General on how this could be rapidly put into practice.
The third problem facing us is how to fight the impunity of all those responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, be it against those who are being protected in conflict situations or against those who are providing the protection. The punishment of the perpetrators of such violations is both the main deterrent against the spreading of a pattern of further violations and the least that can be done out of respect for the victims. Those on the ground, as well as their political and military leaders, should be held accountable at the national level and, when appropriate, before international courts. In addition to whatever individual responsibility criminal proceedings may establish, political leaders must also pay a political price.
The same concerns justify the need for the Security Council to consider at the earlier stages of conflicts the imposition of selective sanctions targeted to really hurt the warring party and its supporters, measures such as arms embargoes, travel restrictions and the freezing of assets, among others, which would be considered on a case-by-case basis depending on their effectiveness. Punishment requires evidence of the violations and of the individual responsibility of the perpetrators. Investigation by international monitors is therefore crucial. The Council must hold warring parties accountable for cooperating and facilitating such international missions.
Allow me to stress that my delegation believes it would be important to have the community of non-governmental organizations participating in this debate. The United Nations, and all our Governments, cannot act in the humanitarian and human rights fields without the dedicated and persistent action of non-governmental organizations. We therefore hope that non-governmental organizations will be able to attend our open discussions on this matter in the future and offer their substantive input.
The revitalization of the Security Council after the cold war places a particular responsibility on all of us who serve on this body. We cannot afford to limit ourselves to react whenever the CNN factor, combined with the effects of the global village and of mobilizing shame, press our Governments into belated action.
Humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered in a political and military vacuum. It will never alone ensure a lasting solution to a conflict. Humanitarian assistance is all about protecting people trapped by armed conflict and protecting their fundamental rights. International peace and security are at stake if those fundamental rights are grossly violated. Humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered if its purveyors are threatened. The Security Council must place these concerns high on the agenda when dealing with specific conflicts and devise a long-term strategy to deal with them and incorporate it in effective preventive action.
Finally, let me say that Portugal believes it would be useful to reflect this debate in a presidential statement by the Council. We are ready to cooperate with your delegation, Mr. President, to work towards such an outcome.