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UN Security Council: Protect Civilians in Armed Conflict

Council Should Turn Its Talk Into an Effective Response to Civilian Suffering

(New York) - The United Nations Security Council should make sure that its existing commitments to protect civilians during armed conflict are actually carried out, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to council member states.

On June 26, 2009, the Security Council will hold a debate to discuss its work on civilian protection, in which all UN members can participate. The Security Council has made numerous commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict, especially women and children, but often has failed to follow through and engage effectively, or sometimes at all, Human Rights Watch said. As a result, its efforts to end civilian suffering during armed conflict have been grossly inadequate.

"It's not enough for the Security Council to say something should be done about the appalling damage wars cause to civilians across the world," said Steve Crawshaw, UN advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The council needs to do something about it."

In its letter, Human Rights Watch identified the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Chad, and Sri Lanka as examples of nations in which the Security Council has failed to take meaningful action to address and prevent civilian suffering during armed conflict. Persistent problems needing attention in those countries include: sexual violence, lack of justice and accountability for abuses, continuing violence toward internally displaced people and refugees, and violations of international humanitarian law.

The Security Council's ability to develop coherent strategies to protect civilians often suffers from a lack of information, Human Rights Watch said. To resolve the problem, the council should: ensure that the reporting requirements contained in Security Council Resolution 1820 on sexual violence and armed conflict (2008) are honored by UN field missions; require that human rights reporting by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN agencies is made public; and regularly invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to brief the council with information from the ground.

Political considerations have also been a problem, leading council members to ignore civilian protection at times instead of making them a priority, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Security Council has set up this debate about the issue," Crawshaw said. "Now it should take the next step and make it a priority to remedy existing gaps in civilian protection."

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