UN high commissioner highlights civilian protection in conflicts around the world

10:20, May 11, 2011      

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Reading a statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic on Tuesday stressed the importance of protecting civilians and maintaining accountability for international human rights in the recent tumult around the world.

Simonovic read Pillay's statement to a UN Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

"Since the matter was last discussed at the council in November 2010, the dramatic unfolding of events in the Middle East, North Africa, and Cote d'Ivoire have clearly illustrated that the denial of human rights -- including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights -- is a root cause of discord, unrest,violence and ultimately armed conflict," Simonovic said.

"Protecting human rights prevents conflicts and accountability for violations of human rights breaks the cycle of violence," he noted. Simonovic identified several current situations where the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has advocated for strong human rights accountability, even if there is no UN peacekeeping presence on the ground.

In Libya where rebels are fighting the government forces of Muammar Gaddafi, "it is critical that all parties to the conflict fulfill their obligations to confine any attacks to military objectives," Simonovic said.

"In a related effort to establish accountability, the Human Rights Council (HRC) mandated an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law," he said, "Supported by an OHCHR-led secretariat, the Commission of Inquiry recently concluded investigative missions to Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia." The commission, he added, will submit a report to the HRC in June. Simonovic stressed the urgency of the situation in Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad has been clashing with protesters.

"In Syria, we must prevent the ongoing, violent suppression of mass protest from plunging the country into a full-fledged armed conflict," Simonovic said.

OHCHR has dispatched a mission to Syria to investigate alleged human rights violations, and will provide a preliminary report in June, and a full report in September.

Simonovic said that OHCHR welcomes the recent report of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.

The report, which documents findings of an investigation into alleged human rights violations committed in the final stages of the Sri Lanka's civil war, concluded that both the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan Government forces broke international law.

Simonovic said the Sri Lankan government should pay attention to the report's findings.

"We urge the government to implement the measures recommended by the panel in order to bring relief to victims and advance longer term reconciliation," he said. "We fully support the recommendation to establish an international mechanism to monitor national investigations and undertake its own, as necessary." Simonovic spoke of the importance of human rights protection in countries where the Security Council has deployed peacekeeping missions as well. He praised the decision to include a human rights component in almost every integrated peace mission that the Council has mandated in recent years.

"This positive development must continue," he said. "The human rights components contribute to the protection of civilians in numerous ways, including through monitoring, public reporting, and through building the capacity of national authorities to strengthen respect for human rights and the rule of law."

The UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) is currently active in the West African country, and is receiving support from the HRC- mandated commission and OHCHR in investigating human rights violations resulting from the recent post-election conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

OHCHR is still concerned about reports of sporadic fighting in the country, Simonovic said.

He said that Alassane Ouattara, who was recently sworn in as president of country, "must urgently adopt measures to restore the rule of law throughout Cote d'Ivoire and to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the recent and ongoing violations regardless of their political affiliation."

OHCHR is also in contact with Ouattara about helping to establish a truth and reconciliation commission for the country, he added.

Source: Xinhua
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