Pakistan's call to strengthen measures to mitigate civilian suffering in armed conflicts

New York, 19th January 2016

Pakistan has condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians by both state and non-state actors in ongoing armed conflicts and called for strengthening accountability measures to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law.

Speaking in a debate in the Security Council, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi drew attention to the fact that civilians have become an ever-rising majority of victims in ongoing conflicts, which have been expanding in scale and intensity in an era widely portrayed as one of mega-crises.

She told the UNSC that the suffering of civilians caught in the line of fire in conflict situations is unspeakable. “Tens of thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly, have become tragic victims of conflicts, not of their making”, she said, and added that “civilian casualties have mounted and with that the need for humanitarian assistance.”

Pakistan’s envoy told the 15-member world body that “millions have been dislodged from their homes, driven out by bloody and unremitting conflict and unending turmoil or persecution.” Many who managed to flee have seen their perilous journeys of escape become journeys of death, she declared. Others, Ambassador Lodhi said who had managed to survive, arrived on alien shores only to confront “unwelcoming hosts and escalating xenophobia”.

She said while a normative framework is in place and the international community keeps urging all parties to abide by international humanitarian law defiance remains rampant, especially, but not only, by non-state actors.

She said recent examples showed that starvation had been used as an instrument of a siege strategy and indiscriminate bombing campaigns had been undertaken with no regard to the loss of civilian lives. The destruction of hospitals and attacks on medical workers has been the most egregious example of such impunity.

All of these practices presented formidable obstacles to humanitarian access to affected populations, and had resulted in avoidable death and destruction.

Appreciating the acknowledgement in the Secretary General’s report that Pakistan's counter-terrorism operations “involves better advance planning to limit the effect on civilians”, Ambassador Lodhi reiterated that these were law enforcement actions, not a situation of armed conflict.

"We, of course, strongly condemn the deliberate targeting of civilians in conflict situations," the Pakistani envoy said. "We have even temporarily relocated civilians to protect them from deliberate targeting by terrorists in areas where law enforcement operations are going on."

Deploring that terrorists were not bound by any consideration of humanity, she said they have not even spared school children as the cowardly attack on a school in Peshawar showed a year ago.

"Even so, the response of states to combat terrorism must be measured, well planned and carefully targeted to protect civilian lives and uphold human rights. Anything less would play into the hands of terrorists," Ambassador Lodhi added.

Ambassador Lodhi told the Security Council that as one of world’s top troop contributing countries, Pakistan has proudly and conscientiously undertaken the task of proactively protecting civilians, when mandated by the Council, including in current Missions in the DRC, Darfur, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and Liberia.

“We have demonstrated that this can be done by a robust deterrence posture and without resort to the actual use of force, she said. Action by Pakistani troops in UNAMID (in Darfur) offered an example of active protection of civilians while adhering to the principles of peacekeeping.

In conclusion Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said that the goal of protecting civilians is best served by preventing the outbreak of armed conflicts in the first place, addressing the root causes of conflicts, and finding inclusive political solutions to disputes. This, she asserted, is the strategy that would lead us to sustainable and enduring peace and security.