U.N. Affirms Duty to Defend Civilians

The Associated Press
Friday, April 28, 2006; 8:24 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council affirmed for the first time Friday that the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing when national governments fail to do so.

A resolution, which was unanimously approved by the 15-nation council, endorsed an agreement reached by world leaders at last year's summit that was aimed at preventing tragedies like the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emry Jones Parry, who has been pressing for adoption of the resolution since November, said he was pleased that the Security Council had for the first time referred to the concept of the responsibility to protect in a resolution. "I think that is good news," he said.

Security Council resolutions are legally binding so the inclusion of the international community's responsibility to protect civilians from atrocities gives the world leaders' agreement added clout.

Relief agencies applauded the decision.

Oxfam International called it a historic resolution and an important moment for the protection of millions of people caught in violent and deadly conflicts.

"The Security Council has today said that in the 21st century, the world will not tolerate genocide or crimes against humanity," said Nicola Reindorp, who heads Oxfam's New York office. "It is a landmark resolution that, if implemented effectively, should save countless lives."

The resolution was the third adopted by the council since 1999 focusing on civilians caught up in armed conflicts and again stressed that deliberate targeting during fighting "is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law." It demanded an immediate halt to singling out civilians.

It also called on countries to end impunity and prosecute those responsible for war crimes, saying this was essential "if a society in conflict or recovering from conflict is to come to terms with past abuses committed against civilians affected by armed conflict."

As part of the protection of civilians, the resolution underscores the importance of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants into society. Jones Parry stressed the need to do more in this area.

The resolution condemned "in the strongest terms all sexual and other forms of violence committed against civilians in armed conflict," including trafficking of women and children by U.N. personnel, and it demanded a halt to such abuses.

At the September meeting, the 191 U.N. member states agreed that when national governments cannot protect their citizens from crimes against humanity and similar atrocities, the international community has a responsibility to step in and protect civilians being targeted.

The resolution adopted Friday reaffirms the paragraphs in the final summit document adopted by world leaders "regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

Russia, China and Algeria initially opposed the inclusion of collective responsibility when the resolution was first proposed last year. But Algeria's two-year term on the Security Council ended on Dec. 31 and supporters were able to overcome the objections of Moscow and Beijing, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations.

The United Nations has been strongly criticized over revelations of sex scandals involving U.N. peacekeepers and civilian staff involving refugees and other civilians. The council pledged to ensure that "all feasible measures" are taken to prevent such violence in U.N. operations.

© 2006 The Associated Press