Statement by H.E. Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, during the Security Council Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict
We will only touch upon certain aspects of the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which has been discussed at length. The topic has been on the Council’s agenda for almost 15 years. The Council regularly includes the protection of civilians in the mandates of peacekeeping operations. Moreover, the relevant provisions are contained in existing international legal documents.
However, despite the assurance of parties to an armed conflict that they are taking all precautionary measures, reports of cases of the disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force causing civilian deaths continue to reach us from war zones with alarming regularity. Such incidents include medical personnel, teachers, journalists and humanitarian staff, that is, those whom international humanitarian law categorizes as civilians and who should enjoy the unconditional protection of all parties to armed conflict. In that connection, we reiterate that guaranteeing the effective protection of civilians is possibly only by the parties to a conflict fully complying with their international commitments under international humanitarian law.
Far from being theoretical, such problems are of a practical nature, in particular given the fact that resolving such situations directly involves the Security Council. Civilian deaths as a result of the actions of those who should protect them clearly reflect a flaw in the system. Either precautionary measures are insufficient or they occur through the authorities mandated by the Security Council not fulfilling their obligation to protect civilians.
In that regard, unfortunately, we must once again note that, despite the calls of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the circumstances of the civilian deaths in Libya as a result of NATO air strikes, as reported by journalists and investigated by the Human Rights Council, have still to be duly established. It is a matter of such fundamental issues as the need for scrupulous compliance with Security Council mandates for the protection of civilians and basic ethical norms, such as due apologies and material compensation. The issue of the protection of civilians is all the more in the spotlight in view of the practice of the targeted use of unmanned aircraft or drones, including in a crossborder context.
In that connection, we are concerned both about civilian deaths and the psychological stress inflicted on civilians living under the constant threat of a devastating missile strike. That issue is already a foremost priority of human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. We call on the Security Council to remain focused on the issue. We believe that it is worth mentioning the positive experience of certain United Nations missions. For example, it seems important to examine in depth the experience of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which, we understand, has developed a special mechanism for tracking civilian deaths.
In conclusion, we reiterate our position that the international community should take proactive steps to protect civilians, in particular if it involves the use of force, only if endorsed by the Security Council and with fullest compliance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.