SC Veto Power Hindering Protection of Civilians; Humanitarian Aid Must Not Be Subordinate to Political Objectives

MSF Briefs UN Security Council on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

United Nations, April 12, 2000 — Today at a special Arria Formula meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the international medical relief agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) briefed Council members on the issue of protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict. MSF called upon Council members to clarify and address the root causes of conflicts separately from their humanitarian consequences and to ensure that civilian security is not subordinated to political objectives. MSF urged the Council to adopt new rules related to the use of veto power when considering protection of civilians.

"From our field perspective as an independent humanitarian organization, the best protection that the Security Council can give to civilians begins with a clear recognition of certain key issues: the causes underlying the need for humanitarian assistance, the conditions that require humanitarian protection, and, separately, the need for public security," stated James Orbinski, MD, MSF International Council president. Dr. Orbinski was joined at the briefing by MSF Legal Counsel Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier.

"Almost invariably, the causes and conditions of conflict are political. They must be viewed differently from their humanitarian consequences. Here, the central task in achieving protection of civilians is to clearly define problems and solutions - not to settle for vague problem definitions that mask political causes and responsibilities, nor to settle for imperfect but feasible solutions. Such clarity will not obscure or deny the political causes that create humanitarian need, and will lift the humanitarian veil that often hides political inaction," Dr. Orbinski continued. MSF cited the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica as well-documented examples of UN inaction despite field reports of escalating political crises.

"The question remains about the ability of the Security Council to commit to results and not simply to good intentions," stated Dr. Orbinski. "When considering protection of civilians the SC should adopt new rules related to the use of veto, and to the rationale behind each states' vote." MSF noted that SC veto power prevented UN action in Rwanda in 1994, and is currently hindering UN action on the protection of civilians in Chechnya.

MSF rejects the current trend within the UN to consider humanitarian assistance as part of an integrated global security strategy. "The Security Council must recognize and insist that the humanitarian must remain independent of the political," observed Dr. Orbinski. MSF strongly believes that humanitarian assistance must be considered independent of, not subordinate to, global security needs.

Today's briefing was held under the Arria Formula, a special informal arrangement that allows the Security Council to hear from experts on international peace and security issues. This briefing is being held in preparation for a meeting of the Council addressing the issue on April 19. Canada, which holds the presidency of the Council this month, is focusing on the theme of human security. MSF was joined by CARE and Oxfam at the briefing.