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USUN Press Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Washington, DC
June 22, 2007

Statement by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Alternate United States Representative for Special Political Affairs, on the Protection of Civilians in armed Conflict, to the Security Council

Thank you, Mr. President.

We are encouraged that this meeting provided a forum for us to jointly reaffirm our commitment to the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

We reiterate that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the parties to the armed conflict, and that international efforts should complement that function. However, in situations where parties to an armed conflict are unable or unwilling to protect civilians the international community has a distinct role to play.

I would like to touch on a few key elements of this topic that we feel require particularly close attention and warrant full Security Council support.

The recurrent use of sexual and gender-based violence is arguably one of the most significant protection challenges, due to its scale, profound impact, and tendency to be ignored. Sexual and gender-based violence must be more effectively addressed, and UN peace support missions have a clear role to play in preventing this violence and addressing its impact.

In Burma, for example, there are widespread reports of serious human rights abuses, including rape, by Burmese military personnel in conflict areas and other ethnic minority areas. The Burmese Army's strategy of forced relocation to deny support to armed insurgents reportedly has been accompanied by serious human rights abuses, including rape. Burmese refugees newly arrived in Thailand and internally displaced Burmese near the Thai-Burma border report that government soldiers in Shan, Karen, and Karenni states continue to rape women and girls there. Killings, beatings, torture, and rape by government soldiers have also been reported against Chin, Rohingya, Mon, and other ethnic minorities. The youngest rape victim was only eight years old. Other abuses of civilians reportedly perpetrated by Burmese military personnel include forced labor, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, seeding villages with land mines, using civilians to clear mines, and the destruction of homes, granaries, animals, and other civilian property.

In Darfur, as in other cases where rape has been used as a tool of armed conflict and/or of political oppression, rape by Government soldiers and/or their allied militias is widespread and systematic and is typically committed in ways that appear designed to humiliate and demoralize not only the victims but also the communities of which they are members. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in April 2007 that there was "widespread sexual violence during attacks by Sudanese Government forces and allied militia last December."

Where necessary, the protection and creation of secure environments for displaced populations should be a primary objective for peacekeeping operations. We reiterate that the Emergency Relief Coordinator and his office should be engaged in the planning of United Nations peacekeeping efforts from the earliest stages.

The protection of internally displaced persons remains one of the biggest challenges facing the UN and the international community. It is important to state that internally displaced civilians living in camps are not always protected from serious human rights abuses. We applaud the work done by the Interagency Standing Committee, under the leadership of Under Secretary General Holmes, in continuing to develop leadership and accountability in the protection sector. We strongly feel that this approach has the potential to strengthen the UN's response capacity in humanitarian assistance and protection, providing a critical point of coordination, ensuring the efficient use of resources, and maximizing impact.

Let me now turn to a few current situations of particular concern.

In Sudan, attacks on civilians and deliberate displacement have been used as tactics of war, in flagrant violation of international law. While large-scale attacks on civilians have decreased in some areas of Darfur, grave protection concerns persist throughout the region.

Under Secretary General Holmes' briefing to the Council following his mission to Sudan painted a stark picture of a humanitarian situation on the brink of even larger scale catastrophe. The situation in Darfur illustrates clearly the urgent role that the international community must play to ensure the safety of civilians-including those who are internally displaced-when traditional means of protection have broken down.

Due to the continuation of violence and tenuous security environment in Darfur, both those civilians affected by the conflict and those trying to provide humanitarian assistance are under direct threat. We continue to receive reports of attacks deliberately targeting UN and other humanitarian personnel, and we stress the responsibility of the Government of Sudan to hold those responsible accountable. We further call on all parties to cease hostilities and cooperate with the international community to advance a peaceful resolution of the crisis, including by facilitating deployment of an effective hybrid peacekeeping force, easing delivery of humanitarian assistance, and supporting a viable, UN/AU led peace process.

We reiterate the recent appeal by the International Contact Group for Somalia for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and we continue to call on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access for the delivery of life-saving aid. We expect the Transitional Federal Government to facilitate the critical work of the UN and humanitarian NGOs, and we remain committed to supporting humanitarian assistance in Somalia.

The suffering of the Iraqi people and the many innocent lives lost due to the violence in Iraq is deplorable. Multinational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are conducting military operations. At all times during such operations, the MNF strives to minimize any collateral damage and to avoid harm to the civilian population. We all recognize the profound tragedy of civilian casualties during times of armed conflict. Insurgent activity that is aimed at civilians, and that selects civilians as targets, is an entirely different matter: it is an abomination and should be summarily condemned. It is inappropriate to equate any such deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorists to the operations of multinational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan aimed at restoring security and stability for the peoples of those countries.

We also remain deeply concerned about the numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees that have fled their homes due to the violence and unrest in Iraq. We have strengthened and expanded our own programs that address this humanitarian issue and urge broad international involvement. In particular, we urge the UN agencies currently in Amman to consider increasing their presence in Iraq. UN involvement will be critical in helping this vulnerable population, including the support to the governments of Jordan and Syria to help them in providing education to displaced Iraqi children currently in their countries.

Mr. President, as we once again reaffirm our commitment to strengthening and reinforcing the protection of civilians in armed conflict, let us ensure that our words and intentions become action.

Thank you.

Released on October 29, 2007

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