Mr. Deputy Secretary-General,
First of all, Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, I want to hail your ongoing commitment, and that of your teams on the ground, to protecting civilians in armed conflicts, and I would also like to thank you for your introduction to our debate.
France naturally subscribes to the speech that the representative of the Czech Republic will deliver shortly on behalf of the European Union.
Our debate is taking place in a particular context that all have underscored. We are of course deeply concerned by the situation in Gaza. Once again, civilian populations are paying a terrible price. We urge the parties to the conflict to spare civilians: international law must be respected, particularly international humanitarian law. We condemn violence against civilians, whether they be Palestinian or Israeli. We also condemn terrorism in all its forms. For us, absolute priority must be given to the implementation of a cease-fire as demanded by SCR 1860. In this regard, we hope the diplomatic efforts under way will be successfully concluded very quickly, particularly the French-Egyptian plan. The news from Cairo seems very promising in this regard.
Generally speaking, the international community must ensure effective compliance with the rules of international law concerning the protection of civilians.
The United Nations spares no effort in this regard, particularly in the framework of peacekeeping operations. Thus it is preparing to take over the military action engaged by the European Union in eastern Chad and in the northeastern Central African Republic, which supplements the operation being conducted with the African Union in Darfur through UNAMID. We are pleased that the renewal of MONUC’s mandate late last year hinged fully on the protection of civilians.
However, the mandate entrusted to peacekeeping operations, in cooperation with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to protect civilians must translate into concrete action on the ground. Operation planning documents must systematically incorporate this aspect. This point will be one of those discussed at the seminar and the debate on peacekeeping organized by France and the United Kingdom on January 22 and 23 at the Council.
France welcomes the creation of the Security Council’s informal expert group on the protection of civilians. This group is necessary and should permit the Security Council to respond more systematically to the needs for civilian protection in cases where a peacekeeping operation is being considered or renewed.
France thanks the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and supports the updated aide-mémoire that we will adopt shortly. It must serve as a reference for us. We must also adapt its content to help us confront the challenges facing us. France regrets, however, that the aide-mémoire did not contain a separate section on sexual violence as initially planned. Indeed, sexual violence is used in numerous conflicts as a weapon of war against civilians, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan. Women are particularly affected. France calls for strict compliance with SCR 1325 and 1820 and encourages the Council to give this question the importance it deserves.
We must also pay particular attention and extend particular protection to children. The Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict, which France has had the honor of chairing since its establishment, has helped bring about the demobilization of several thousand child soldiers. We must reinforce their reintegration into civil society. We must amass the necessary resources to this end.
France is in favor of having the secretary-general’s country-specific reports deal specifically with the protection of civilians.
States have primary responsibility for protecting their people against the gravest humanitarian crimes, but the international community must be prepared to mobilize in the event that such States are unable or unwilling to do so. France is particularly attached to the concrete implementation of the concept of the responsibility to protect. It is an ambitious concept: It calls for intervening not only at the height of crises to stop the most atrocious crimes. It calls for acting in advance to prevent them. It is time to strengthen the alert and oversight mechanism in at-risk areas and situations. Let us work together in the coming months to reach a consensus on this point.
What would the protection of civilians be without the fight against impunity? Those responsible for the gravest crimes must be prosecuted and punished. France reiterates in particular its support for the actions of the International Criminal Court and calls on all nations to adhere to the Rome Statute.
France welcomes the adoption, at the Dublin Conference, of a binding text prohibiting all cluster munitions, which cause unacceptable damage to civilian populations, and the signature of the Convention on Cluster Munitions by 94 nations.
We are also concerned by forced displacements. France hails the activity of the HCR and all actors in assisting refugees and internally displaced persons. The civilian status of refugee and displaced person camps must be guaranteed. The voluntary return of these persons, provided security conditions be met and the rights of the returnees guaranteed must be encouraged. Resettlement can be seen as an alternative solution to voluntary returns.
Finally, the number of humanitarian workers killed this year is the largest on record. We must protest and fight against this situation, which is unacceptable. All attacks on humanitarian personnel must cease; host nations must ensure their security, and they too must contribute to protecting civilians.
France energetically and systematically calls for the respect of international humanitarian law and human rights everywhere. This fight is essential and it must continue, with unity and determination. France pledges to do so.