Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

25 June 2012 - Statement to United Nations Security Council

25 June 2012


Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan
Ambassador and Permanent Representative
of Australia to the United Nations




Mr President

I would like to thank you for convening this important debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his report and his statement today, Ms Amos, Mr Sim┼Ćnovic and Mr Spoerri for their statements, and Foreign Minister Caballeros for Guatemala’s leadership on protection of civilians this morning. I would like to associate Australia with the statement just delivered by Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends of PoC.

Mr President

The situation in Syria has rightly – inevitably – been an important focus of discussion this morning. The deliberate targeting of civilians in the conflict is unacceptable and in violation of international norms of behavior and international law. Australia is firmly on the record as stating that those responsible for such actions must be held to account. We support calls for strong action in Syria under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

We also share strong concern of other situations mentioned this morning – including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan/South Sudan.

I would like to focus my remarks today, however, on the distinct body of work on protection of civilians in armed conflict that has been progressed in the United Nations in recent years. As has been said, we must rebuild consensus on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This consensus is vital. Responding to threats to civilians must be at the very centre of our efforts in the field of peace and security. Indeed, this work goes to the very purpose and identify of this organization. We must recall that the protection of civilians in armed conflict is a legal concept, firmly rooted in international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. We need to continue to find creative ways to respond to the five core challenges outlined by the Secretary-General in his 2009 report.

I would like to highlight three protection of civilians issues which require sustained attention.

First, protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations. There has been much progress in recent years on ensuring that peacekeepers know how to fulfill their mandates to protect civilians - that they have the necessary training and guidance, in addition to resources and capabilities, to undertake this task. Tools such as the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) / Department of Field Support (DFS) protection of civilians training modules are an important development. We would like to echo the Secretary-General’s recommendation that Member States utilise these modules fully. We encourage the Secretariat to continue to refine them based on feedback, to ensure they are responsive to protection needs in the field. We are encouraged to hear that operational guidance is being developed to support military and police components in undertaking their PoC responsibilities - expectations of uniformed personnel in relation to protecting civilians from imminent threat of violence are particularly high.

Australia itself continues to support the African Union (AU) to develop PoC guidance, and has assisted the AU Commission to produce a publication of the draft AU PoC guidelines in advance of the AU Summit in July 2012. Australia funds the placement of a PoC project officer within the Peace Support Operations Division of AU Commission, to promote and develop PoC principles within the AU.

Mr President

Protection of civilians is, of course, the primary responsibility of the host government. And a peacekeeping mission cannot – and should not – be there forever. PoC by peacekeeping missions will therefore be sustainable in the long term only through strengthening national capacities and institutions.

The role of peacekeeping operations in supporting host governments’ capacities to protect their civilians was the subject of a workshop Australia co-hosted with Uruguay at the International Peace Institute two weeks ago entitled “Protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations: capacity building and transitions”. This workshop – the fifth in the Australia-Uruguay series – included a specific focus on Haiti and Liberia – both topical given the work underway towards gradual transitions/reconfigurations of the UN missions in each case.

The results are being circulated to all Member States. Key outcomes included:

• Agreement on the importance of peacekeeping missions devoting sufficient attention and resources to building host government capacities – and being equipped with the right guidance, expertise and skill sets to do so.
• Recognition of the importance of security sector reform and of building rule of law and security sector institutions that are trusted by communities and responsive to their needs.
• Acknowledgement that national police forces have a particularly important role to play in relation to the protection of civilians.
• Emphasis on the importance of the role of women, who bring distinct perspectives and skills to this work.
• Recognition of the need, in relation to transitions, to begin planning for full handover of PoC responsibilities very early given the long timeframes involved in building national institutions. Transition processes need broad national ownership, should emphasise national capacity development, and need to involve strong coordination with other partners – bilateral, regional and multilateral.

Mr President

The second issue I would like to highlight is the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The UN Conference on the ATT, which begins next week, represents not just an historic opportunity with regard to the protection of civilians, but a compelling responsibility. The daily reality for many civilians throughout the world is unfortunately a life of fear suffering and economic chaos wrought by conventional weapons: illegally and irresponsibly bought, sold and used. This is the main reason Australia has pushed tirelessly within the UN for a legally binding ATT - a treaty that would obligate countries to trade conventional arms transparently and based on the highest possible common standards of responsibility.

Every member of the UN recognises in some way that the trade in conventional arms needs regulation, to prevent their diversion to the illicit market and to ensure they are not used to commit grave violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. A lasting solution for civilians can only be found in a treaty that includes small arms and light weapons and ammunition. Small arms are the worst weapons of mass destruction in terms of the number of civilians killed and injured every day. And the life of an illicit firearm can span several generations, so we can only really curb armed violence if we also curb the diversion of ammunition into the black market.

We fully recognise that the treaty will present implementation challenges for many countries - this should not be an argument against a strong outcome. Australia is supporting around 50 delegates from developing countries to participate in the Conference so that the outcome takes their interests into account. We will engage to find constructive solutions to key areas of difference. And we stand ready to provide capacity building assistance for treaty implementation.

The third issue I would like to address is the use of powerful explosive weapons in populated areas. Such weapon use, without proper regard to International Humanitarian Law restrictions, leads to unacceptable civilian casualties – civilians certainly suffer disproportionately from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This is not justifiable, and represents clear violation of limits in conflict. Explosive weapons also have long-term consequences for towns and cities, where infrastructure is damaged, humanitarian access can be hindered, and deadly remnants are left behind that can cause additional civilian suffering.

We support the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report on this. States need to do more to prevent the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated environments, including by strict adherence to International Humanitarian Law principles. We encourage greater collection of information and data on the issue. We welcome the Council’s attention to this threat in Syria. We would encourage the Council to be systematic in its approach in this area. We would also urge parties to a conflict to clear affected areas as soon as feasible after the conflict has ended.

In conclusion, Mr President, we hope the discussion today serves to strengthen the consensus on protection of civilians in armed conflict, and to enhance the Council’s work on PoC. This protection is decisive to the Council’s purpose.

Thank you.