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Diplomatic Viewpoint: Thwarting the Machiavellian Use of Human Shields

The nature of contemporary conflicts has posed new challenges to the concept of the protection of civilians. The LTTE terrorist group, for example, made the Tamil civilian population under its control a part of their military strategy. During almost three decades of combating LTTE terrorism in our country, the Government took utmost care to draw a clear distinction between civilians and terrorists while the terrorists callously used the civilians as a human shield. Their objective was Machiavellian. The coerced presence of thousands of civilians around the retreating terrorists was designed to slow the advance of the Security Forces and as a means of formulating an escape strategy for the leadership. If all else failed, it was a useful foundation to later develop allegations of breaches of global humanitarian standards.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s last report on the subject in November 2010 focused on recurring and emerging concerns regarding the protection of civilians, the proliferation and fragmentation of non-State armed groups, the displacement of populations within and across borders, the predicament of women and children and the continuing impunity in certain situations.

Civilians used as human shields by the LTTE poured into government-controlled areas during the conflict.

By all accounts, the state of civilians in conflict situations in 2011 has not qualitatively improved despite the concerted efforts made by the United Nations and, in particular, the Security Council. Ad-hoc approaches do not appear to achieve the desired results. Slow change underlines that the protection task cannot be addressed solely in theoretical terms, as it requires us to be conscious of a multiplicity of different factors ranging from political realities, socio-economic factors, basic individual rights, proliferation of small arms, and the increasing sophistication of terrorists.
The use of modern technology and subtle propaganda tools by terrorist groups and their networks of sympathizers are becoming an increasing challenge in protecting civilians and require the detailed attention of the United Nations.

The Sri Lankan government provided care and medical assistance to the IDPs during the conflict.

Many a time reality is drowned by clever terrorist propaganda. The practical realities based on the experiences of Member States, particularly those which have successfully countered terrorism, must be seriously looked at instead of a theoretical application of one size fits all humanitarian framework.
Sri Lanka has seriously taken account of the principles underlined in the Council’s thematic resolutions since 1999. Its commitment is demonstrated by the manner Sri Lanka addressed civilian protection issues during the conflict with the most ruthless terrorist LTTE and in its aftermath. While adopting a zero civilian casualty policy, at cost to itself, despite the use of vast numbers of civilians as a human shield by the terrorists, subsequently, it addressed the question of IDP resettlement with remarkable speed and efficacy. The robust nature of its ongoing post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation, and the committed pursuit of accountability and reconciliation processes are noteworthy.

In the post conflict phase, the State, has invested heavily in an ambitious development program in the former conflict affected areas focusing on civilian infrastructure and livelihood development. Billions of dollars have been committed for the purpose. Sri Lanka set up special Women’s Protection Units with female Police officers and Women’s Centers in the former IDP camps and is continuing to provide counseling services in the North and the East.
The Government has given special consideration to uplifting the social and economic status of war widows. Already bilateral assistance has been obtained to initiate a self-employment program for war widows in Batticaloa in collaboration with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in India. Children have been a special focus and over 900 schools damaged during the conflict having been restored, largely using state funds. The protection of war affected women and children is a priority for the Government and every effort is being made to ensure that their lives are returned to normalcy as soon as possible. The role of the UNICEF has been vital in this respect.

The nature of contemporary conflicts has posed new challenges to the concept of the protection of civilians. The LTTE terrorist group, for example, made the Tamil civilian population under its control a part of their military strategy. During almost three decades of combating LTTE terrorism in our country, we took utmost care to draw a clear distinction between civilians and terrorists while the terrorists callously used the civilians as a human shield. Their objective was Machiavellian.
The coerced presence of thousands of civilians around the retreating terrorists was designed to slow the advance of the Security Forces and as a means of formulating an escape strategy for the leadership. If all else failed, it was a useful foundation to later develop allegations of breaches of global humanitarian standards.

Throughout the final phase of the armed conflict, from 2006 to 2009, Sri Lanka engaged with the United Nations (U.N.) and its agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and representatives of the international community and civil society – both in Sri Lanka and outside. The challenges Sri Lanka faced in protecting its civilians was a challenge to the State itself and its institutions.
Yet, the Government remained committed to its zero casualty policy. Our troops underwent training to distinguish between combatants and civilians. Assistance was obtained from the ICRC in the training of troops in human rights law. However, the inevitable casualties of a conflict imposed on the state and ruthlessly affected by the terrorists are now the basis of a massive propaganda campaign.

I specifically wish to address the question of the LLRC which some delegations have referred to. In keeping with the principle that it is first and foremost the responsibility of States themselves to investigate infractions of global humanitarian standards, the Government established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to address a range of issues relating to the conflict, reconciliation and confidence building, accountability, etc.
The LLRC was given a wide mandate that allows it to recommend measures to ensure reconciliation, restitution for victims and address the root causes to discourage non-repetition of any internal armed conflict. It has conducted an exhaustive inquiry. This independent commission is due to submit its report this month and subsequently, it will be presented to the Parliament.

The LLRC has made interim recommendations, many of which have already been implemented by an inter-ministerial mechanism. Sri Lanka will be submitting itself to the Universal Periodic Review of the HRC in October 2012 and looks forward to this interaction with the HRC. Sri Lanka takes the view that it needs to be given the time and space to deal with these issues.
An inevitable consequence of armed conflict is internal displacement. There are over 27 Million IDP’s worldwide according to U.N. reports. The State has the primary responsibility not only to provide for the welfare of its displaced civilians in terms of food, clothing, medical care and shelter, but also to ensure their safety, in keeping with the provisions of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Recognizing this fundamental issue, Sri Lanka first ensured the provision of basic needs such as housing, water, sanitation and the reestablishment of communities.

The Government then embarked on providing an array of services such as education, vocational training and livelihood support, fisheries and agricultural development, health and other services, proper administration, policing and a host of governmental functions at an unprecedented scale. 95% of the displaced are now successfully returned to their villages with the balance awaiting the demining of their land. It is estimated that the LTTE terrorists laid around 1.5 million landmines.
The local economy has shown vast potential for growth with a 22% rise in the GDP of the North last year.
As President Rajapaksa said in his address to the General Assembly in September, “I am deeply mindful that the battle for peace is every bit as important and difficult as the struggle against terror. After the eradication of terrorism, my government has turned its undivided attention to building anew, the foundations of a unified and vibrant nation, drawing upon the inherent strengths of our country.”

Reconstruction in the North and the East of Sri Lanka after 27 Years of conflict in Sri Lanka.

My delegation hopes that the Council discussion on the Protection of Civilians will facilitate practical outcomes based on ground realities – realities that differ from situation to situation. It is also hoped that the Council’s efforts will be channeled to assist countries to achieve the noble goals that we all subscribe to.
It is for this reason that my delegation has sought to share our experience, and for all of us to invest greater efforts in preventing conflicts and their recurrence and to respond practically and proportionately to situations affecting civilian populations.
All photos courtesy of M.O.D. Sri Lanka.

H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona has received many awards over the years, including the 2010 Global Citizenship Award for Leadership in Helping Humanity presented by Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW). Dr. Kohona is the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. The above article is taken from his address to the U.N. Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, November 9, 2011.
See other Diplomatic Viewpoint Articles:
Sri Lanka: an MDG Success Story
U.N. Ambassador Kohona Returns to Sri Lanka, Notes Parks Popular Again
U.N. Ambassador Kohona: Sri Lanka Refugee Situation Improving
See Stories by Jim Luce on:
Extremism | International Development | Sri Lanka | United Nations
The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti) and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) are organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

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