8534th Security Council Meeting: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict - Part 2

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23-May-2019 04:00:00
Civilian experiences and needs in conflict are critical to creating protection and accountability frameworks, speakers tell Security Council at 8534th meeting.

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Legal Concepts Covering ‘Endless Categories’ Will Only Weaken Council’s Efforts, Russian Federation’s Representative Cautions

Along with holding perpetrators to account, the experiences and needs of civilian communities who suffer the daily brutalities of armed conflict must be incorporated into measures that protect them, speakers told the Security Council during an open debate today as it marked the twentieth anniversary of placing “the protection of civilians” on its agenda.

“We must […] move beyond a victim mindset to understanding people and communities as agents of their own protection and experts of their own situation,” the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the Security Council today. People in communities who suffer the daily brutalities of war and violence do not wait for external intervention, but instead decide how best to travel in groups, ensuring the well-being of others.

He also acknowledged that while the Security Council’s decisions impact human conditions on battlefields around the world, the absence of its decisions also takes a toll. “Too many actors take the absence of political convergence amongst you as a free ride for military operations without any limitations and without accountability,” he warned. There must be clearer support for respecting international humanitarian law; no one is above the law, he emphasized, adding that States must adapt to changing needs by prioritizing civilian protection and setting clearer ground rules, among other measures.

The Executive Director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, stressing that civilians “are the best stewards of their own protection”, said that engaging communities in a safe, effective and meaningful way is essential to national and multinational efforts to bring peace and stability in conflict. Civilians have devised and implemented highly effective solutions, including communities demanding and obtaining armed escort for women leaving their homes to gather firewood; community leaders persuading warring parties into an agreement to a daily ceasefire; and girls returning to the classroom thanks to community advocacy with armed actors.

The Secretary-General, introducing his report on the matter (document S/2019/373), highlighted the establishment of a culture of protection in the Council and across the United Nations, including the deployment of special advisers in peace operations to protect children and all civilians from acts of sexual violence in conflict. Indeed, Security Council-mandated United Nations peace operations have protected and saved countless civilian lives in many conflict zones. Yet, he also observed: “While the normative framework has been strengthened, compliance has deteriorated.”

He urged Governments to develop national policies which establish clear institutional authorities and responsibilities for the protection of civilians in armed conflict. At the global and multilateral levels, the Security Council must be more consistent in how it addresses protection concerns within and across different conflicts. “For, as bleak as the current state of protection is, there is considerable scope for improvement if we each do our utmost to promote and implement the rules that bind us to preserve humanity in war,” he stressed, adding: “This is the best way that we can honour the twentieth anniversary of the protection agenda. We have the rules and laws of war. We all now need to work to enhance compliance.”

More than 80 delegations participated in the ensuing debate, with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Council President for May, underscoring that community empowerment also plays an important role in developing conflict prevention and resolution capacities in States with limited resources and skills. She called for the pursuit of innovative and practical ways to protect civilians, including updating and strengthening the skillsets of United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian actors. Based on Indonesia’s experience in that regard, the mastery of soft skills — people-to-people skills — has proven to positively contribute in building local community trust, she said.

Rwanda’s representative spotlighted the Kigali Principles, adopted seven years ago, calling them practical and specific guidelines on the protection of civilians. Although the primary responsibility lies with nations hosting peacekeeping missions, any limited capability of those host countries should be noted, he said. In that way, peacekeeping should aim to bridge the capability gap in effective protection of civilians while building the capacity of the host country and facilitating solutions to conflicts.

Germany’s delegate, recalling his country’s twin Security Council presidency with France in March and April, highlighted the introduction of a resolution on sexual violence in conflict that strengthens the survivor-centred approach. Pointing out that it is the Council’s task to safeguard international humanitarian law and create the legal framework for the protection of civilians, he said that international law is weakened when violations go unpunished.

Echoing that stance, Kuwait’s delegate observed that atrocities perpetrated against civilians, medical facilities, schools and humanitarian workers are carried out by parties who see international humanitarian law as “nothing but ink on paper”. The Council must use its tools, including fact-finding missions and sanctions committees, to hold perpetrators to account and ensure justice.

The representative of the Dominican Republic spotlighted how victims of modern conflict are mostly women, girls, persons with disabilities, young boys, and the elderly. He underscored the need to protect persons with disabilities and collect data that would help provide them the protection they require. Protection of the rights of young people, including young peacebuilders and human rights defenders, must also remain a priority.

However, the representative of the Russian Federation cautioned against the development of new international legal concepts and endless categories of people who require protection. This will only weaken the Council’s work in protecting all civilians everywhere within the current international legal standards, he stressed.

During the all-day debate, many speakers highlighted the importance of accountability for crimes against civilians and called for the enforcement of international law.

The representative of Slovenia, expressing support for preventive diplomacy, called for stronger prevention and better responses to large-scale violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Ensuring accountability and fighting impunity are key to the protection of civilians and remain a major challenge, she pointed out.

The Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States stressed that in any discussion about the protection of civilians, consideration must be given to defenceless Palestinians. In addition, the Security Council must commit to international humanitarian law without politicization and double standards, she said, observing that the surge in humanitarian needs due to armed conflict is being aggravated by a new trend of warring parties disregarding international humanitarian law.

Accountability, said the representative of the United Kingdom, is essential for building sustainable peace and rebuilding trust. When the Council receives reports on attacks on schools and hospitals, it must be ready to say who is responsible. “If we do not speak up for other countries’ civilians when they are attacked, who will speak up for ours,” he asked.

Also speaking today were the foreign ministers of Romania, Cambodia, Netherlands and Canada, as well as representatives of South Africa (also on behalf of Côte d'Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea), Belgium, Poland, China, United States, France, Peru, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Ukraine, Japan, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Lithuania, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland (on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians), Estonia, Venezuela (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), El Salvador, Portugal, Austria, Thailand (speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Fiji, Mexico, Georgia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Israel, Uruguay, Morocco, New Zealand, Jordan, Bangladesh, Ireland, Costa Rica, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Paraguay, Chile, Luxembourg, Australia, Cuba, San Marino, Armenia, Egypt, Latvia, Iran, Kenya, Senegal, Philippines, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Norway (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Ecuador and Saudi Arabia.

Observers for the European Union, the African Union, Holy See, State of Palestine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also delivered their statements.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 7:10 p.m.

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