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Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

(New York, December 14, 2004)

Statement by Ambassador María Angela Holguín, Permanent Representative of Colombia 



Mr. President,

Allow me to begin by congratulating you on assuming the presidency of the Security Council and for chairing this important debate. I also would like to thank Mr. Jan Egeland, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, for his valuable presentation made on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

My Government believes that multilateralism should strengthen States. Its actions should not weaken them. It is only with strong States that multilateralism gains life. Any other way, it becomes a system of a few and the benefits of a multilateral organization that represents the interests and positions of all its Members, are lost.

The United Nations, its main organs and, Member States have to work together to strengthen States and their institutions, and support the programs carried out by Governments to respond to their populations needs, in particular in conflicts. This is the only way to reach sustainable economic, social and political development of nations.

There are several concepts, among them, humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect, that should be tackled carefully and with responsibility. The operations and actions for humanitarian assistance have to be undertaken in complete coordination and cooperation with the Government and with its consent. It is the only way in which they will be efficient and productive, and able to ensure the protection of the civilian population and the humanitarian personnel.

Mr. President,

Colombia reiterates once more its indeclinable commitment to promote, respect and protect the civilian population, in accordance with its conviction, based on the law, that the State is responsible for the protection of its population.

Following this national commitment, the Government of President Alvaro Uribe works without rest and concrete achievements start to appear. The rate of internal displacement has declined 48% and the attention of displaced population is more efficient every day. We have multiplied by eight the resources used for the attention of vulnerable population. The investment budget of the institution in charge of this attention has grown from 14 million U.S. dollars in 2002 to 120 million for 2005. The voluntary return has benefit more than 70 thousand people and we are building peace in the regions to achieve further massive and voluntary returns.

As a complement of the National Plan for the Assistance to the Displaced Populations, the Government is making a humanitarian plan that will be executed with the United Nations system and the donor community. Colombia has already appropriated resources for this Plan. This is the first humanitarian plan that involves such an active participation of the United Nations. Therefore, we have an enormous responsibility to create a constructive and effective plan, since it sets a precedent for other Member States.

1.550.000 internally displaced persons is a number that worries the Government, since we consider that there should not be any displaced persons. This is why we are taking measures and promoting policies to benefit the displaced population. The Government responds to this challenge with its national capacity and welcomes the contribution of the international community to this effort. We would like to express our gratitude to OCHA for its work and for finding additional resources to support this Plan.

Colombia expects an important response by the donor community and the United Nations system to support the projects set out with the civil society and the local and regional authorities, within an open-ended and transparent consultation process that took place during the year.

Mr. President,

Colombians know the suffering and the effects of conflicts and the terrorist threats on the civilian population. Our knowledge of this situation, is our motivation to take concrete actions to enhance and normalize the existence of the civilian population. We have, for example, a System of Early Warning, conducted by the Defensoría del Pueblo in coordination with the Vice-Presidency of the Republic, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the Procuraduría General de la Nación and the Red de Solidaridad Social. Its main objectives are to obtain information to prevent threats and attacks and to send information to the governmental institutions and authorities competent to respond to these threats.

As a complement, Colombia welcomes the generous actions of the non-governmental organizations, the ICRC and the United Nations system to ease and enhance the situation of the civilian displaced and demobilized population. The demobilized population, individually and collectively, from the illegal armed groups adds, as of November 2004, a total of 7,601 former combatants. In December there will be another 3,000 demobilized persons. This population needs special assistance and the international community can contribute to an effective transition to civil life. Their economic reintegration and education are some of the main challenges for assuring a sustainable demobilization process.

Mr. President,

In Colombia, the ICRC has a fundamental work to do and have unimpeded and safe access to the civilian population. The United Nations system (21 entities) has presence in all the country, in security conditions, including zones where military strategies are being developed, and the different agencies, funds and programs are able to undertake their activities, in accordance with their respective mandates. Colombia favors this unimpeded access that has the only objective to assist the affected population. This is an assistance that is given respecting the basic principles of humanitarian assistance.

As much as we favor the access to the population with the only objective of assisting its needs, we reject the condition that in order to have humanitarian access, dialogue with the illegal armed groups is required. We do not believe that in order to achieve effective humanitarian assistance, dialogues with such groups are needed. Theses negotiations under the umbrella of a humanitarian cause can be used with political and destabilizing goals, as is the objective of the illegal armed groups. Such a trend would mean the end of humane, impartial, and neutral humanitarian assistance.

This is why, the National Government, in exercise of its full sovereignty, is the only actor responsible of undertaking negotiations with illegal armed groups. Furthermore, the Government is entitled to request facilitators when it believes that their work can strengthen the search for peace.

Colombia is a strong State with solid democratic institutions, and an active and organized civil society. The entire nation is decided to confront the violent groups and the Government is responding to this clear mandate from the people. Thus, humanitarian assistance, in accordance with International Humanitarian Law, has to respect the dynamics of the State to overcome violence and restore peace in the territory. Furthermore, we believe that it is very important to recognize the specificities of every situation. In these issues, generalizations and one-model-fits-all mechanisms are counter-productive.

As well as we believe that humanitarian assistance has to be maintained inside its principles, we believe that International Humanitarian Law cannot be reinterpreted in a way that it deviates from its spirit and letter. In this sense, it should neither be mixed with other judicial structures.

Mr. President,

Allow me to conclude by making a call for unity among affected States, the donor countries, the United Nations system, the humanitarian organizations and the civil society to work together in the important task of delivering humanitarian assistance, in a concerted and coordinated manner.

We all share the firm commitment to protect and assist civilians affected by conflicts, terrorism, and violence. We understand the concerns of all the stakeholders working in humanitarian assistance to bring timely and efficient assistance and protection. The Government of Colombia, more that any other stakeholder, is devoted to finding a solution to the situation of the civilian population affected by violence.

Thank you.


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