The nature of contemporary conflict poses new challenges - Sri Lanka

[Video] Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UN, speaking at the 6216th UN Security Council meeting, on the 11th of November 2009.

Dr. Kohona said the nature of contemporary conflict posed new challenges to States’ commitment to civilian protection and he focused his remarks on protecting civilians in the context of Sri Lanka’s internal conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Describing that situation, he said that Tamil Tigers had incorporated civilians into their military strategy, which created huge operational challenges for Sri Lanka’s military. It's tactics included using civilians as human shields and conscripting children as combatants and forced labour.

He stressed that at no time did Sri Lanka use disproportionate force. In that context, he said the rules of military engagement might need evaluation, as terrorists disregarded the rules of war in waging asymmetric warfare.

"The terrorists' inhumane strategy was to create a situation conducive to large scale civilian casualties by herding the civilians to form a human shield and by placing heavy guns in their midst," Kohona reminded the council.

He also urged the Council to examine the causes of escalation in armed conflict, explaining that without stemming the proliferation of illicit arms, civilian safety would remain at risk. Non-State actors like terrorists had relatively easy access to illicit weapons, as there was no international regime to monitor, let alone interdict, such arms, he added.

Kohona told the council that Sri Lanka's final operation to create a safe passage for civilians, who were held as a human shield, to flee, was carried out at tremendous cost to the lives of Sri Lanka's armed forces personnel. As only infantry action was used in order to minimise civilian casualties.

Further, external actors like diaspora communities openly funded such arms purchases and received support in their host countries. Legal frameworks designed to safeguard civilian rights were being exploited to carry out illicit activities.

On engagement with non-State armed groups, Dr. Kohona said terrorists paid lip service to humanitarian principles and often ruthlessly misused them to cover further violations. He ended by urging the council to recognise the military's role in protecting civilians. The United Nations must assist Governments in that regard, he urged.

(With inputs from UN press release.)

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