The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol was held in the sunny city of Durban, South Africa.


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Statements and Speeches

Statement by Mr. Mahlatse Mminele, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the United Nations, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

19 January 2016

Mr President,

South Africa wishes to congratulate you and your delegation for assuming the Presidency of the Security Council and we thank you for organising this timely and continuing relevant debate.

Mr President,

States bear the primary responsibility to protect their citizens in accordance with their legal obligations under international law. However, the international community today , is increasingly being challenged by the changing nature of conflicts that have become assymetrical and which are motivated by the goal of targeting the civilian population who are the most vulnerable in times of armed conflict.

This debate is useful in evaluating our reaction to these circumstances and ascertaining whether the available tools in our arsenal are effective or not in responding to our collective responsibility. It is therefore critical that in responding and countering this extreme violence we must ensure that we ourselves are not the perpetrators of the suffering and death of the very civilians that we are trying to protect.

In adding our voice to today's timely debate, my delegation wishes to make the following three points:

(i) The protection of civilians could best be achieved by the Security Council strengthening and investing greater efforts in preventing and finding political solutions to conflicts. Palestine, Libya and Syria are glaring examples of the untold suffering civilians experience as a consequence of this Council's inadequacy to find political solutions to these conflicts. A selective application and abuse of protection of civilians' mandates undermine the credibility of the international community in pursuing this goal. Furthermore, opting for a military solution, including, by arming members of the opposition, blurs the distinction between 'civilian' and 'combatant ' and subsequently make the pacific settlement of disputes a less attractive alternative.

(ii) We wish to underline that whilst it remains the primary responsibility of States to protect civilians within their borders, armed opposition groups must also bear responsibility for ensuring that unarmed civilians are protected. The Council should ensure that failure by both State and non-State actors to uphold that principle should not go unpunished. Ensuring accountability for the most serious crimes, in particular those of international concern, is a very important aspect in ensuring the credibility of the protection of civilians and is key to delivering global justice. Strengthening accountability is, therefore, an essential element in enhancing compliance by the parties to armed conflict with their international obligations.

(iii) South Africa holds the view that Peacekeepers should be deployed in support of political or peace processes. However, should political or peace processes be obstructed and the non-military protection tools be inadequate, Peacekeeping Missions with an explicit mandate to protect civilians must play their part in the protection of civilians including through the use of force. The deployment of MONUSCO's Force Intervention Brigade is a credible example of the success that could be achieved through the use of force against those who obstruct the peace.

(iv) As highlighted in the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report, the three principles of UN Peacekeeping, should not be 'an excuse for failure to protect civilians or defend the mission proactively" and there should be flexibility in interpreting these principles to ensure that peacekeepers enforce their mandate. This would however require that peacekeeping missions are adequately resourced and provided with the requisite mandate and capabilities to implement their mandate. Additionally, the UN, through the use of Chapter VIII could rely on the comparative advantage of regional arrangements in advancing the protection of civilians in conflict situations as demonstrated in Somalia and Darfur.

In conclusion, Mr President,

Preventative measures, the promotion and protection of human rights and support for development within a stable environment, ultimately is the best long term strategy for the protection and indeed prosperity of civilians under the responsibility of states.
It is my delegations hope that this thematic discussion will result in concrete actions, particularly by this Council which is entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security.
I thank you.