Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here today and to join this important discussion together with my fellow panelists.
As the Ambassador said, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions as well as the 20th anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of the protection of civilians as an item on their agenda.
It is a moment for critical reflection: to recognize all that has been achieved to date but also the challenges that lie ahead of us.
We have seen significant progress over the last 20 years – as documented in this study recently published by OCHA: “Building a Culture of Protection: 20 Years of Security Council Engagement on the Protection of Civilians,” which you all have in front of you.
The importance of protecting civilians, and the critical role of the Security Council and the United Nations in doing so, has become firmly established. To use the Council’s own words, protecting civilians has become, and I quote, “one of the core issues” on its agenda.
The protection of civilians has permeated the deliberations and decisions of the Security Council. A comprehensive protection framework now exists, based on international law and Security Council practice, including its nine landmark resolutions on protection of civilians. This has translated into strengthened protection for civilians on the ground.
For instance, the inclusion and prioritization of the protection of civilians in the mandates of multiple peace operations, beginning with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone in 1999, have been among the most significant actions by the Security Council.
Since then, United Nations peace operations have protected and saved countless civilian lives, such as in South Sudan, where nearly 200,000 internally displaced people are currently sheltering at protection of civilians sites.
Allow me to provide a few more examples.
In Afghanistan, as a result of civilian casualty recording by the United Nations, pro-Government forces have adopted measures to minimize harm to civilians.
Specialist advisors have been deployed to peace operations in such countries as the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan, reinforcing the protection efforts of humanitarian agencies.
Monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children in conflicts and engagement with warring parties has led to the demobilization and reintegration of thousands of children.
Millions of civilians have received cross-border humanitarian assistance in Syria.
Individual combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya and elsewhere, have been listed by United Nations sanctions committees for violations against civilians.
The Security Council has also sought to support accountability for perpetrators of serious crimes in the Central African Republic, Iraq and Sudan.
Finally, recent Security Council resolutions on the protection of medical care and food security have brought important focus and urgency to these issues.
But for all that has been achieved, important challenges remain.
As the Secretary-General noted in his latest report on the protection of civilians, civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, and are routinely subject to attacks, violations and other harm.
In 2018, the United Nations recorded the death and injury of more than 22,800 civilians in just six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
In the words of the Secretary-General, the “central challenge” is that of enhancing respect for the law in the conduct of hostilities, and strengthening accountability for its violation.
In some cases, mounting allegations and evidence of violations show that respect for the law is questionable at best.
In others, warring parties do assert respect for the law. Some have put in place procedures and mechanisms to minimize the impact of fighting on civilians. These must now be implemented effectively and become standard practice across all armed forces and theatres of operation.
We also need to see greater progress on bridging the gap between allegations of serious violations and their actual investigation and prosecution.
As we look to the future, the Secretary-General’s protection of civilians report recommends action in three areas.
First, States need to develop national policy frameworks that establish clear institutional authorities and responsibilities for the protection of civilians in the conduct of hostilities, including the practice of civilian casualty tracking.
Second, principled and sustained engagement by humanitarian organizations with armed groups is needed to promote compliance with the law and to negotiate humanitarian access.
Third, we need to ensure broader accountability for serious violations. This means raising awareness of violations against civilians and calling for action when they take place.
It also means advocating for State support, such as financial and technical assistance, to establish and implement accountability processes in conflict-affected States, such as we have seen in the Central African Republic, and at regional and global levels.
The Secretary-General has called on the Security Council to be more consistent in how it addresses protection concerns in conflicts; and more comprehensive in how it addresses protection challenges in urban warfare. These are messages we should all support and promote.
The Secretary-General has also called on the Security Council and Member States to actively engage in implementing all the actions I have just outlined. OCHA is ready to work with interested Member States in taking this forward.
As the United Nations office responsible for coordinating humanitarian action in crises, we are all too aware of the devastation that conflict has on people’s lives, and we will continue to take every opportunity to call for stronger promotion and implementation of the laws of war. People’s lives depend on it.