NEW YORK, 29 SEPTEMBER 1998Let me say first that Portugal fully subscribes to the statement that will be delivered later by the Presidency of the European Union.
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ANTÓNIO MONTEIRO, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL, TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL 3932nd MEETING
I would like to thank you, Sir, for convening this open debate, which will allow the Security Council, for the second time, to address the problem of protection for humanitarian assistance to refugees in conflict situations, one of the most delicate and complex issues the international community faces today. We are grateful to the Secretary-General for having provided a very good, comprehensive and well-structured report, which my delegation considers to be thought-provoking and a good basis for future action.
We welcome the remarks made this morning by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette. We welcome, likewise, the participation in this debate of representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, and hope to see them and other, similar departments, agencies and organizations more often in the debates of the Security Council related to their work.
More than one year after our first debate, I believe that no doubts remain about the legitimate and crucial role the Security Council can play in the field of humanitarian assistance to civil populations. As either a cause or a consequence of conflicts, humanitarian crises are a component of international peace and security. Given the dimension and complexity of the problem, our approach and action have to be coordinated with all the relevant organs and agencies of the United Nations this is a collective effort that engages the entire system as well as with other international, regional and humanitarian organizations.
The mandates of the peacekeeping operations authorized by the Security Council should therefore, from the very beginning, contain the necessary and appropriate provisions for the safety of refugees, internally displaced persons and the humanitarian personnel bringing relief to them. The Council is paying increasing attention to the question of the unimpeded and safe access of humanitarian assistance to refugees and other civilians in need. To this end, the Council must keep closer contact with other organs and agencies of the United Nations and needs timely and accurate information, including from humanitarian organizations, under the appropriate procedures.
As the Secretary-General rightly points out in his report, the protection of humanitarian assistance in situations of conflict poses, above all, a question of compliance by all the actors in the conflict and we mean here State and non-State actors alike - with all the relevant instruments and provisions of international law. Since a central element of humanitarian assistance and the very essence of humanitarian law is the protection of the human being and, in fact, of his basic human rights, whenever a party to a conflict denies safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance, that party is violating a fundamental right - the right to assistance - and is not abiding by its responsibilities and obligations under international law. The international community, the United Nations and, in particular, the Security Council must take a firm stand on violations of this nature. Our reiterated appeal for compliance must be reinforced with a clear indication that there will be no "business as usual" with perpetrators and that sanctions may be imposed on them.
States, which are responsible for the safety of refugees and all other civilians, as well as for their safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance, are also primarily responsible for bringing to justice the perpetrators of such violations. The international community should raise its common voice against the culture of impunity and be more consistently committed to supporting the efforts to prosecute those who have violated international humanitarian law and to bring them to trial at the national level or before international courts, whenever appropriate.
Portugal welcomes the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and, in this context, we consider particularly important its provisions stating that attacks against humanitarian personnel are war crimes and establishing the accountability of non-State actors, including individuals, under international law and international jurisdiction. This is certainly one of the major achievements of the Statute. We must ensure that the creation of this Court will prove to be a major instrument to roll back that culture of impunity and to deter the perpetration of such violations.
When we address the major issue of protection for humanitarian assistance, we should focus our attention on the situation of the United Nations and associated personnel and the personnel of humanitarian organizations who carry out their tasks, often at the risk of their own lives. I wish here, on behalf of my country, to pay tribute to all those men and women.
It is important to strengthen all relevant international instruments of protection through the increasing accession of States to them. In this regard, we regret that, four years after its adoption by the General Assembly, the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel has not yet come into force. As it has done for several years at the Commission on Human Rights and in the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Portugal reiterates here its appeal for the ratification of this Convention. In our opinion, the Convention is also applicable to all civilians involved in humanitarian missions.
Notwithstanding progress made in international instruments of humanitarian law and human rights, attacks against humanitarian personnel have been increasing. This appalling situation calls for drastic action. The Council must draw lessons from recent experience as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and be innovative in considering the elaboration of a mechanism to facilitate or protect humanitarian relief and assistance. Perhaps the Council can consider, in this context, the possibility of deploying military units to protect humanitarian personnel. Better coordinated and more efficient action by the United Nations, involving all agencies dealing with humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations, could address this problem.
The report of the Secretary-General provides us with a good set of recommendations. It is now up to the Security Council to keep the issue of the protection of humanitarian assistance high on its agenda and address it in all its implications when dealing with a particular conflict situation. Humanitarian activities are a component of a comprehensive and coordinated approach, and the Council cannot avoid its responsibilities in this field.
As a member of the Council, and even after it ceases to be one, Portugal is ready and will continue to cooperate with all delegations, departments, programmes and agencies of the United Nations to protect refugees and all other civilians affected by conflict situations. We must ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance to all those in need and protect the humanitarian workers who bring them relief.