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Open debate: Protection of civilians in armed conflict

Statement by the
Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship
Amb. Susana Ruiz Cerutti


At the outset, I would like to recognize, like others before me, that today we are commemorating International Humanitarian Day. Argentina would like to pay tribute to those who have died while trying to help others.

I would like to thank the participation of the Secretary General, of the High Commissioner Navi Pillay, of Mrs. Valerie Amos of OCHA, and of Mr. Philip Spoerri of the ICRC.

Argentina considers it is necessary that the Security Council remains committed to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, to promoting full respect of international law –in particular humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law-, and with the fight against impunity.

In his last report, that dates from 2012 (S/2012/376), the Secretary General indicated that “the abysmal state of the protection of civilians has changed little”. Although we have the hope that next report shows a positive evolution, the Security Council continues to receive information on situations where the lack of distinction between combatants and civil population leads to civilians dead, wounded or displaced, and to situations where there are serious impediments of different kinds –and even attacks- to humanitarian assistance. 

In light of that, it is imperative to remind the obligations arising from the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, their 1977 Protocols, the 1899 and 1907 Hague  Conventions, human rights law and refugee law, as well as from customary international law.

But it is also necessary to translate those obligations into tangible improvements on the ground. In this regard, I would like to make some points:

The first basic challenge is promoting compliance with the norms. In may 2013, Norway, in cooperation with Argentina and other countries, organized a Global Conference on the Protection of Civilians under International Humanitarian Law (“the Oslo Conference”), with the participation of around 300 participants, including 94 States.

The conclusions of the Conference are in line with those of the Secretary General’s last Report regarding the need to promote compliance with international humanitarian law by States and other parties to an armed conflict.

In this regard, it is important that States remain committed to the dissemination of international humanitarian law. In Argentina, IHL has been included as one salient branch of international law in the programmes of study of several law schools, as well as in the training courses for the armed forces. Also, one of the workshops organized in the framework of the Oslo Conference took place in Buenos Aires in 2011. One of the objectives of those workshops was to promote, through practical recommendations, compliance with IHL.

It is also necessary to ensure compliance with international human rights law and refugee law, as States, regardless of the existence or not of an armed conflict, must respect all legal norms aimed at the protection of civilians.

Regarding action by the Security Council, my delegation wishes to underline the need that peace-keeping operations comply with international humanitarian law and to recall, in this regard, the Secretary General’s Bulletin on the applicability of IHL to UN forces (ST/SGB/1999/13). It is also necessary to continue to include protection activities in the mandates of UN missions in the field. Those mandates have to be clear and such missions need to be provided the necessary resources in a timely and effective manner.

Argentina, in cooperation with the ICRC, has developed training courses for the armed forces, with an emphasis in those that form part of Argentine contingents of UN peace-keeping operations. Also, the Commission on the Application of IHL (CADHI) has drawn up a manual of international law of armed conflicts for the conduct of armed forces in operations, which compiles the norms of international humanitarian law.

As regards humanitarian assistance, parties to a conflict must do every effort to ensure the effective and timely access of humanitarian assistance, including cargo and materials. Such assistance enjoys special protection by IHL, and it is of grave concern that there are many cases of bureaucratic impediments and even the mere denial of access.

Fact-finding is another crucial aspect. Impartial mechanisms are essential for determining the facts on violations of humanitarian law and human rights law. In addition to ad hoc fact-finding commissions –including those established by the Human Rights Council- we would like to highlight the role of the International Fact-Finding Commission, created by virtue of Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Argentina would like to highlight that the Security Council, through Resolution 1894 (2009) and PRST 2013/2, recognized the possibility of resorting to the Commission.

On the other hand, Argentina recognizes the fundamental importance of strengthening accountability of those responsible of atrocities. In my country, due to its tragic experience of the 1970s, national administrations since the return to democratic rule in 1983, adopted important measures aimed at ensuring accountability for the violations of human rights that took place during dictatorship. In the last decade, many judicial cases were re-opened. To date, there are 1053 prosecuted persons, of whom 475 have already been tried in accordance with due process as provided for in the National Constitution. Of them, 430 have been sentenced and 45 aquitted.

As regards the international community, this Council established two ad hoc international tribunals, and today we are facing an international justice system for the most serious crimes that has a permanent tribunal as its center: the International Criminal Court established by the 1998 Rome Statute. Argentina firmly supported its creation and is a Party to the Statute since 2001.

Due to the fact that the primary responsibility to prosecute lies in the States, it is important that Parties to the Rome Statute adopt the necessary norms to that end. Argentina enacted, in 2006, its Law for the implementation of the Rome Statute. It tipifies the acts criminalized by the Rome Statute and establishes a regime for judicial cooperation with the Court (surrender and judicial assistance) and for execution of sentences.

Cooperation of all States with the Court is crucial, in particular regarding arrest warrants. The Security Council, who committed itself to do a close follow up of its referrals to the ICC through PRST/2013/2, should put in place a mechanism to fulfill that commitment as soon as possible.

I would like to end this intervention by reiterating that, in accordance with international humanitarian law and the resolutions of this Council, attacks of any kind directed to civilians and other protected persons, the recruitment as well as the recruitment of child soldiers and the obstacles to humanitarian assistance, constitute violations of international law. I would therefore urge the full respect of obligations arising from the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions, the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols, international human rights law, refugee law and the decisions of this Council.

Thank you

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