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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Civilians in Armed Conflict


Statement by Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson

Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations

Civilians in Armed Conflict

Sixty-second Session of the General Assembly

20 November 2007

Mr. President

First of all allow me to thank the Secretary General for his report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This report reflects the same commitment to the issue which the Secretary General has already shown through his visits to regions where some of the worst examples of brutality against civilians have been witnessed. This report is also to be commended because it does not avoid direct description of the sort of brutality inflicted on civilians, as well as the countries and regions where this is happening. I would also like to thank Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, for his briefing.

One of the positive developments in the discourse concerning security in recent years has been the refocusing on issues relating to the security of the individual. The development of the concept of human security from the early nineties and the ground-breaking recognition of the responsibility to protect have given us conceptual approaches in tune with what the Secretary General refers to as the shared fundamental values which make it imperative to recognise the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.  

This places a heavy burden, particularly on the Security Council, in its work to maintain peace and security. Its work must include not only the prevention where at all possible of conflict and the resolution of those conflicts which arise. The Security Council also has a role in addressing the very serious issues related to the millions of civilians caught up in conflicts in which they are not combattants and over which they have no control.

The massive displacement of civilians by conflict not only imposes suffering on millions (35 million of concern, according to UNHCR). It also makes much more difficult the re-establishment of peace following conclusion of the conflict. Of particular concern at present is the growing number of displaced persons and refugees from the conflict in Iraq. Iceland will continue to make its contribution through UNHCR to assisting Iraqui refugees in the neighbouring countries.  

Iceland would like to welcome the Secretary General’s unambiguous comments earlier this year on the “atrocious inhumane impact of cluster munitions”. Iceland will continue its support for the ongoing Oslo process towards a legally binding instrument of international law that should prohibit the use, development, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. This process clearly has added value to the CCW track. 

One of the most disturbing chapters in the Secretary General’s report concerns sexual violence.  Although not exclusively inflicted on women and girls, they are by far the most vulnerable and numerous group of victims. As the report states, such violence, particularly where it is a systematic tool of war, is a grave war crime. The effect of such violence not only inflicts tremendous suffering on individual women and their families, but it also destroys the fabric of societies and communities, making recovery and peacebuilding far more difficult if peace is regained. In this context we welcome the adoption of the resolution on Eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all Their Manifestation, including in conflict and related situations, in the third committee.

Rape is not an inevitable consequence of war. It can be prevented. Effective measures to reduce impunity are essential to signal to all those envisaging the use of such methods that the international community will not tolerate such crimes. The ICC and other tribunals provide the tools for decreasing impunity.

As is observed by many experts, sexual violence is not only the product of conflict. Indeed, sexual violence is incipient in all societies, and it is therefore a duty for all states to look also to their own legislation.

Providing assistance to victims in the form of medical help, counselling and protection against further aggression must also be provided. Iceland has concentrated its efforts in recent years on resettling women at risk of sexual violence from Colombia.  

Thank you Mr. President.



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