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Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

(New York, June 14, 2004)

Statement by Ambassador Nicolás Rivas, Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia 



Allow me to begin by congratulating you on assuming the presidency of the Security Council this month, and in the same fashion, to thanks the Secretary General for the presentation of the report on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict" (S/2004/431) and Mr. Jan Egeland, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs for the presentation that he made on this topic.

The Government of Colombia reiterates what was affirmed in its intervention on December 9 of 2003, when the Security Council last discussed this issue in an open debate. The Democratic Security policy of President Alvaro Uribe has demonstrated that strengthening of the rule of law and the democratic institutions increases the levels of security of the population and reduces the space for illegal actors. Hence, the strong support of the Colombian people to their government.

Mr. President,

The International community has not found an effective manner to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking of small arms, and of people, among many other crimes of the organized crime against the civil populations around the world. We believe that the best way to overcome these transnational crimes is through the strengthening of the States and its democratic institutions with the firm cooperation and solidarity of the International community. United Nations and the organisms of the system, whose fundamental objective is the achievement of a just and lasting peace around the world, are called to play a determinant role in a supporting with solidarity and to respectfully accompany the Member States in their fight against these crimes that mainly affect the civilian population.

For this reason, the government of Colombia considers essential the work of this organization in the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We recognize the firm commitment of the Secretariat with this objective, and we take firm note of the report presented on this topic, with the understanding that it was made in good faith and with the imperious necessity to provide humanitarian assistance to the population in need. But in relation to certain proposals, which in theory are appropriate, it is necessary to warn that, in practice, they could produce the contrary effects than that which is desired, weakening further already weakened states and seriously compromising its capacity to protect the civilian population in the middle of the conflict. Its possible that its application will end up armoring terrorist and drug trafficking organizations as well as networks of human trafficking, specially children and women. Democratic institutions of states with legitimate governments could be seen seriously affected. For this reason, this Security Council and its Member States have the great responsibility of dealing with cautiousness and prudence, not only in this topic, but also in all the thematic debates that it decides to undertake including the actions that it agrees to pursue.

Mr. President,

In relation to the report I would like to insist that some of its proposals could give origin to vicious circles of violence and suffering instead of aiding the protection of civilians in an armed conflict. The legitimate concern of guaranteeing access to the vulnerable populations finds an effective answer through a strict application of the Geneva Conventions and its additional protocols, as well as of the measures included resolution 46/182 of the General Assembly which gave the Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs its mandate.

Innovations that do not respect the principles of humanitarian assistance, namely: humanity, impartiality and neutrality, and that in pursuit of a pragmatic negotiation disregard principles of International Humanitarian Law that cannot be subject to negotiations; as well as innovations that politicize humanitarian aid, create vicious circles of suffering for the civilian population whose problems it pretends to alleviate. To undertake negotiations with terrorist organizations, traffickers of illicit drugs and criminals in order to obtain access to a specific population, does not only legitimize such organizations but it also makes it easier for them to armor their operations from the weight of law, thus favoring their obscure and criminal military, economic and strategic objectives. The excuse of collaborating with humanitarian operations to obtain tactical and political benefits that protect their illicit businesses, is a vile deceit that these criminal organizations already undertake in order to protect their activities and intensify the war they have declared on the civilian population. It is for this reason that we have to be very careful in avoiding that legitimate worries of humanitarian access end up threatening legitimate governments, intervening in internal affairs and violating fundamental purposes and principles consigned in the United Nations Charter. This is even more valid in situations where governments work persistently with their societies and enjoy huge popular support; where the majority of the population, after several decades, begins to receive the benefits of policies that are compromised in its fight against those who threaten and affect its own existence.

The humanitarian organizations, the United Nations and all of its Member States, must keep in mind the dangers of acting on a rush in these topics. We must instead intensify our support and cooperation with the legitimate authorities of the affected States in the difficult task of overcoming the violence and the conflict. We must be clear that the own dynamic of the illegal armed organizations is the violation of the law and the international humanitarian law. This is part of their essence and its illegal condition.

This is why the government of Colombia has expressed on several occasions, including in this same room last December, our concern about dialogues that are not authorized by the government of the Receptor State, even if they have a commendable purpose. We consider that this implies, adding to what has already been stated, the risk of putting in danger the security of the humanitarian personnel, because many of these armed groups repeatedly violate agreements and, just as they do not respect the international humanitarian law, neither will they respect immunities granted by treaties on personnel and assets of the United Nations. This is why the position of the people and the government of Colombia towards these types of dialogues is vertical: commitments imposed by the International Humanitarian Law are to be complied, but never to be negotiated. The calmness and peacefulness of the world depend greatly on this precision and this rightness.

On the other hand, entering into political negotiations corresponds only to the governments. The establishment of political negotiations by humanitarian organizations with illegal armed groups violate the basic principles of neutrality, impartiality, and transparency of the humanitarian work, while at the same time give such groups an undue status that tend to put them as equals with legitimate democracies and governments.

Once again, we point out our conviction that the irreplaceable and definite way of protecting the whole population is with the end of armed conflicts. This is why the Colombian government has asked the Secretary General to exhort the illegal armed groups that operate in Colombia to an immediate cease of fire and hostilities that could open a door to a peaceful solution to the problems of violence we live today. The main duty of United Nations is to search, demand and support efforts towards this purpose.

The best way of assuring the adequate protection of civilians threatened by armed conflict is to recover the legitimate authority of the democratic state, reassuring the territorial control by its institutional Armed Forces. The Colombian example is clear. Since the beginning of the current government, the numbers of displacement, massacres, and attacks against populations, have decreased in a significant way. Between 2002 and 2003, forced displacement decreased in 48%, massacres in 37% and attacks against towns in 80%. The threat of a humanitarian crisis has been contained. This demonstrates that the principal ally of the United Nations for the aiding of civilians under risk must be the Government of Colombia, for which we show the best disposition in order to secure the starting of pertinent programs.

Mr. President,

The affirmations contained in paragraph 41 of the Secretary General's report, in what concerns to my country, are inexact and we do not understand their origin. The President of Colombia has expressed in multiple occasions the will of our nation to work with the United Nations in different scenarios. The Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs recently realized a visit to the country, regarded by the Secretariat as "fruitful" since an agreement was made between the government of Colombia and the United Nations for the collaboration to assist the victims of the conflict. Equally, a coordinated focus to examine and resolve the topics of access to the civilian population in need was established. This latter, with an understanding of the difference between having access to aid the victims of violence by the illegal armed groups and having access to establish dialogues with such organizations. We also have to understand that real displacement and artificial displacement are part of the military strategy of these illegal armed groups used for multiple purposes, among them to establish contact with international organizations in order to achieve political status.

It is also important to note that in the Colombian situation, the illegal armed organizations have territorial presence, but not control, which reaffirms the inconvenience of establishing dialogues to achieve humanitarian access under the argument that such organizations exercise territorial control.

Equally surprising, is the affirmation made in paragraph 41, according to which there is an adverse impact for the humanitarian work when armed non-state actors are considered terrorist groups. The international community is the one that gives them such denomination, not an arbitrary decision of our government. Today, terrorism is a clearly determined phenomenon, whose devastating effects are known worldwide. From there stems the global commitment to decisively fight this scourge. Not calling terrorists by their name goes against recent history. The United Nations has the responsibility to assist States in fighting terrorism through a leadership in agreeing policies and instruments to that effect.

Finally, we do not think that it is the competence of the United Nations to certify the "good conduct" of terrorist organizations, drug traffickers, or criminal organizations for the purpose of engaging in future peace negotiations. That would strengthen the idea that violence against the civilian population pays and brings benefits, as long as some minimum requisites are met to allow humanitarian assistance. What is duly right, and what our country expects, is a decisive support of the United Nations in the legitimate efforts of democratic governments to eradicate terrorism, solve conflicts and establish peace.


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