Thank you for calling this open debate, and we welcome the latest revised Aide Memoire on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. We also thank USG Holmes for his compelling briefing earlier today. The plight of civilians caught in current conflict areas underscores the importance and immediacy of the subject for the Council and the international community. As the issue of the protection of civilians is wide-ranging, in the interests of time I will focus my comments of areas of importance for New Zealand.
First and foremost, as the Aide Memoire affirms, it is the responsibility of parties to armed conflict to ensure the protection of civilians in conflict areas. It is a distressing reality that steps necessary to protect civilian populations are not being taken by parties to conflicts. Even more deplorable is the fact that civilians are not simply being caught in the crossfire, but in many cases are actually the targets of attacks.
New Zealand continues to be appalled at human rights violations and abuses directed against civilian populations. The crises in Darfur, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe are of particular concern, with human rights abuses occurring widely, often with apparent impunity. Targeted attacks against civilian populations, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers, summary executions, and forced removal of civilian populations are causing, in some cases, extreme humanitarian distress. New Zealand stands with the international community in expressing its deep concern at these situations. We fully support UN peacekeeping and other relevant missions and actors in their efforts to protect civilians in armed conflict zones in Africa.
The ongoing crisis in Gaza throws into sharp relief the plight of civilian populations caught in fighting by protagonists who show little regard for their safety. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into towns and full-scale military campaigns being conducted in heavily populated cities inevitably mean that the civilian population pays the heaviest price. The protection of civilians begins with the need for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, as called for by this Council in Resolution 1860. Full access must be allowed to relief agencies to assist the people of Gaza who have borne the brunt of the suffering. These are practical, immediately possible actions that simply require political will on the part of both protagonists.
The security situation in Afghanistan remains of concern with ongoing insurgent attacks against the Government of Afghanistan and NATO-ISAF forces. NATO-ISAF has stated clearly the importance of avoiding civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible. New Zealand plays an active role in the protection of civilians, through its Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan province. The PRT provides daily security to the people of Bamyan, and facilitates development assistance programmes.
New Zealand is deeply concerned at the increasing trend of attacks deliberately targeted at humanitarian workers in conflict zones. Many of these attacks involve humanitarian workers in UN-mandated assistance missions. We must do more to ensure the safety and security of these unarmed civilian workers. New Zealand urges all parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law, in particular the duty to respect and protect humanitarian assistance personnel. We welcome the inclusion in the Aide Memoire of the section on humanitarian access and safety and security of humanitarian workers.
New Zealand is proud to be among the first countries to have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Convention places at its centre the people that are most affected by cluster munitions – the victims and communities trying to rebuild after armed conflict has disrupted their lives.
In conclusion Mr President, New Zealand strongly supports practical and concrete action to enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and we urge the Council to keep these issues at the forefront of its work.