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UN Security Council Focuses on Protecting Civilians

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos in Benghazi, Libya Monday, April 18, 2011.

During a U.N. Security Council discussion Tuesday on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts, a senior United Nations official urged the council to be comprehensive and consistent.

Valerie Amos, the United Nations humanitarian chief, told the Security Council it is critically important for the council to demand compliance with international law protecting civilians and enforce such demands with targeted sanctions. She said the Security Council also has a key role in promoting genuine accountability for serious violations.

Amos spoke as the humanitarian organization Oxfam charged in a report that the international community’s record on protecting civilians has been uneven and often biased. The report’s author cited the example of more than a quarter of a million people being displaced in Colombia last year, but that Colombia did not make it onto the Security Council’s agenda.

U.N. humanitarian chief Amos told the Security Council that the deliberate targeting of civilians results in hundreds being killed, injured, maimed and traumatized every week. During the past six months, she said, there has been an unprecedented series of crises in the Middle East and part of North and sub-Saharan Africa. “I am concerned at the violence leveled against civilians in Bahrain, Yemen and, more recently, Syria, and at the loss of life and other human rights violations. In Syria, reports of the deployment of tanks and the shelling of residential areas are alarming. Of particular concern, however, was the deterioration of the situations in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire into armed conflict," she said.

The ambassadors of Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, used the Council’s discussion as an opportunity to again criticize the NATO military operation in Libya. Vitaly Churkin of Russia said it is unacceptable for U.N. peacekeepers, when carrying out their mandate to protect civilians, to be drawn into armed conflicts and take sides. China’s Li Baodong said his country is opposed to any act that exceeds the mandate of the Security Council’s resolutions.

U.S. ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the international community must remain united in the commitment to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack, to end violence against the Libyan people, and, she added, to defend universal rights. “We have a window of opportunity to translate recent Security Council cooperation on civilian protection into lasting improvements in our response to crises. We must seize it, for all of our sakes, and for the sake of the innocent men, women, and children who rely on our collective action to defend them," she said.

DiCarlo said the NATO coalition operates within the mandate of the Security Council resolution on Libya - to enforce the arms embargo and conduct a civilian protection mission.