Security Council

Note: Full coverage of today’s meeting of the Security Council will be available after its conclusion.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the most effective way to protect civilians was to prevent and end conflict.  Prevention, resolution and peacebuilding were therefore — and would remain — the highest priorities of the entire United Nations system.  “Conflict around the world is unleashing relentless horror and suffering for millions of civilian women, girls, men and boys,” he said, noting that more than 128 million people around the world were in immediate need of humanitarian aid.  That staggering figure was driven mainly by conflict, with more than 26,000 civilians killed or injured in 2017 in just six countries — Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.  Civilians in conflict zones were also subjected to horrific violations of human rights, including rape and other sexual violence.

He went on to state that conflict continued to force millions from their homes for an uncertain future in which they often had only limited access to basic help and protection.  At the end of 2016, some 65.5 million people had been uprooted by war, violence and persecution.  Describing equally bleak statistics relating to the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure, air attacks and the targeting of medical and humanitarian facilities, he said conflict was also an important driver of global food insecurity.  In Yemen, for example, nearly 3 million women and children were acutely malnourished and 8 million did not know where their next meal would come from.

Nevertheless, he continued, his most recent report on the issue (document S/2018/462) outlined some reasons for hope, including a growing recognition that respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law helped to reduce conflict and to counter terrorism.  Some parties to conflict and Member States had taken steps to enhance respect for the law and improve the protection of civilians, he said, citing measures to reduce harm from the use of certain types of explosive weapons and mechanisms for tracking civilian harm in Somalia.  Afghanistan had adopted a national policy to prevent civilian casualties and 19 African nations had recently adopted a communiqué on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons, he noted.

Expressing the Organization’s strong support for those efforts, he spotlighted a new campaign based on the slogan “civilians are not a target”, launched by the United Nations and partners on World Humanitarian Day in 2017.  He noted that his own report recommended three actions:  First, all Governments should develop national policy frameworks for protecting civilians in conflict, including improving their ability to protect civilians in urban warfare and finding alternatives to the use of explosive weapons; second, Member States should support the United Nations and others in engaging with non-State armed groups to develop policies, codes of conduct and action plans to support civilians; third, States should support heightened advocacy for the protection of civilians and make concerted efforts to ensure accountability for serious violations to end the climate of impunity, including by supporting the work of the International Criminal Court.  He urged the Security Council and all Member States to seriously consider those practical measures and not to allow political differences to prevent or undermine action to protect civilians.

Briefings

YVES DACCORD, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), expressed concern over the enormous gap between civilian protection policy and action on the ground.  “We all know what reality looks like,” he said, describing the situation of children left orphaned or permanently disabled after their family homes were hit by air strikes.  Countless men, women and children suffered long-lasting consequences of armed conflict in every region of the world, each with their own tragic story.  “Our focus here today, as always, is how best to respond to such terrible suffering, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he said, urging Member States to close the gap between words and action in the true protection of civilians.  The basic message was clear:  The single most effective way to reduce suffering in war was to uphold the fundamental principle of humanity, using the tool of international humanitarian law.

Noting that the primary responsibility for upholding the law lay with States, he said Governments today often claimed they were fighting terrorists or foreign terrorist fighters — who sometimes included children — rather than a conventional enemy, and that conventional rules of international humanitarian law did not apply in such cases.  There was also a dangerous global trend of denying violations of international humanitarian law — including those committed by proxy partners — or passing the responsibility to someone else.  “This only increases the climate of impunity and ultimately causes yet more suffering,” he said.  “Let us be clear: [international humanitarian law] protects everyone who is not — or no longer — taking part in hostilities.”  Exceptional behaviour on one side, even large-scale violations of international law, could not justify an unlawful response, he emphasized, pointing out that in many of the world’s current conflicts, including those in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, belligerents received financing or other support from States.  Warning against such support, he said States must make clear that there would be no support without compliance with the law.

Expressing concern that the ICRC had recorded more than 1,200 incidents of violence against health-care workers in 16 countries since the Council’s adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of medical workers in conflict, he stressed the imperative of addressing the deplorable gap between words and actions on that issue, urging countries to review their military doctrines and operations; ensure that domestic legislation enabled health-care professionals to carry out their work impartially and safely; ensure conflict-specific training and support for health-care professionals; gather high-quality data to develop better tools and prevent violence from happening while mitigating its consequences when it did occur; and support behaviour-change initiatives and awareness-raising programmes to increase respect for health-care workers.  As for the critical issues of detention, deprivation of liberty and torture, he cited the ICRC’s new project aimed at developing professional standards and practices to improve the response in cases of missing persons and their families, as well as an “IHL in Action” campaign to collect and promote positive, evidence-based examples of respect for the law on the part of parties to conflict around the world.

HANAA EDWAR, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, noted that over the past 15 years, civilians in her country had endured armed conflict entailing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  Some 10 million had been displaced amid the destruction of essential services like water and electricity.  Noting that operations to liberate Mosul had been extremely fierce and costly, she said the fighting had taken place in densely populated areas, with the constant bombardments destroying thousands of homes and turning the city into an open cemetery.  There were no data or statistics on the numbers of dead, and “we hear that bodies are appearing in the rivers around Mosul”, she said.

Highlighting various voluntary civil society initiatives, she said young people had collected medicines and, in cooperation with military forces, delivered them to civilians.  A team led by a nurse whose sister had been killed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was leading the collection of bodies from Mosul in order to prevent the spread of epidemics in the city.  They had found a room in an old house containing 150 stacked bodies, all killed by shots to the head, she said.  While their mission was dangerous since the bodies might be close to unexploded bombs, it was essential because there were reports that 3,000 civilians were still missing in the old city.

Such efforts required the support of the international community, she stressed, urging access to justice and accountability for civilians.  National authorities, United Nations agencies and the international community must work with local actors to determine and agree the appropriate support and assistance for affected communities, she emphasized.  Humanitarian action and long-term assistance must be conflict- and gender-sensitive to facilitate social cohesion.  The successful elections, held after the liberation of areas formerly controlled by ISIL/Da’esh, offered an opportunity to move forward towards inclusive peace and justice, she said, while underlining that “we must continue to focus on people, not stones”.

Statements

JACEK CZAPUTOWICZ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland and Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, focusing on three main areas upon which the international community must act to ensure effective protection in conflict situations: prevention, protection and accountability.  “We should make an effort to make conflict prevention an overarching priority of the United Nations,” he emphasized.  “It is of utmost importance to develop and promote good practices by parties to conflict that would prevent and mitigate harm to civilians.”

Calling for special attention to the inhumane impact of improvised explosive devices and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons, he said the existing disarmament machinery of the United Nations should be used effectively, and respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be enhanced.  It was important that all States as well as non-State parties to conflict ensure they were in compliance with their legal obligations, he said, underlining the crucial need to implement good practices in that area.  An example was the “Intragovernmental Commission on International Humanitarian Law”, which aimed to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law throughout the entire judicial system.

He went on to emphasize that impunity for violations of international humanitarian laws must be ended or at least substantially diminished.  The International Criminal Court should play the leading role in holding parties to conflict accountable and restoring a sense of justice on the international stage.  The international community must implement initiatives aimed at limiting use of the veto within the Security Council in cases relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — the most horrific war-time atrocities against civilians.  The international community could not accept such actions as using food insecurity and starvation as methods of warfare, attacking food-producing factories or destroying crops, he stressed.  The Secretary-General’s words pronounced in the Council chamber in 2017 during the annual debate on the protection of civilians remained valid today:  “What is needed now is action that will turn words into reality.”

NAME TO COME (Kazakhstan), noting that about 75 per cent of all war victims were civilians, emphasized the importance of ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law and enhancing accountability.  Noting that the survival of uninjured victims depended upon operational medical facilities and personnel, he said health-care facilities were still under fire in a number of conflicts despite the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2286 (2016).  Turning to the role of peacekeeping operations, he said the mandate to protect civilians must be linked with a comprehensive political strategy.  Member States must also develop national compliance frameworks covering capacity-building, strengthening the rule of law, comprehensive security-sector reform and good governance, he added.

NAME TO COME (United Kingdom) said the Security Council’s core mandate — to maintain international peace and security — meant that it was also mandated to take action to protect civilians in conflict.  The harrowing images emanating from Syria, where innocent civilians were killed by the Assad regime, “should shock all of us”.  In Ukraine, the indiscriminate shelling of civilians continued, he said, recalling that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had reported attacks on dozens of schools in the course of 2017.  Meanwhile, health-care and humanitarian workers were attacked and children recruited around the world.  More than 100 humanitarian aid workers had been killed in South Sudan since the conflict there began five years ago, he said.  Emphasizing that such actions were war crimes, he urged Member States to ensure international humanitarian law was enforced and that perpetrators were held to account.  Welcoming efforts to strengthen the human rights components of peacekeeping operations and the deployment of human rights monitors, he expressed concern, however, over recent attempts in the General Assembly to weaken those components and defund human rights-related posts, stressing “this must stop”.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the protection of civilians was a common challenge spanning many of the crises on the Council’s agenda.  The protection challenges identified in the Secretary-General’s report — especially those relating to disregard for international humanitarian law — were a matter of serious concern.  Ethiopia supported his three practical recommendations, she said, noting that strengthening legal compliance by both States and non-State armed groups was critical in that regard.  Despite challenges — particularly in asymmetric environments on the ground — peacekeeping operations remained important in the protection of civilians, she emphasized, pointing out that, as a major troop-contributing country and a signatory to the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, Ethiopia attached great importance to protection.  Greater consultation with troop- and police-contributors in the formulation of peacekeeping mandates was vital to enhancing the effectiveness of mandated civilian protection tasks, she stressed.  Moreover, peace operations must be adequately resourced and equipped with the necessary capabilities to implement their civilian protection mandates fully.

NAME TO COME (United States) said the international community was being reminded today of the horrific conditions that all too many people across the globe had to endure.  The Secretary-General’s report painted a dismal picture of the condition of civilians around the world, s/he said, noting that millions of people were bearing the consequences of explosive devices and chemical weapons.  There was a moral duty to prohibit the use of chemical weapons and an obligation to uphold Council resolutions ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to people enduring conflict, s/he said, stressing the critical need for all Member States to do their part to improve humanitarian actions.  It was also necessary to develop and implement policies for holding underperformers to account, s/he said, encouraging all Member States to support the Kigali Principles.  The Council must use all the tools at its disposal, including sanctions and arms embargoes, to reduce violence against civilians, and to ensure accountability, which was essential to ending the culture of impunity.  It was not enough to say the right things and walk away from the room.

NAME TO COME (Bolivia), noting that civilians around the world were at the mercy of conflict and considered targets, said more than 50 million people in urban areas were affected by armed conflict.  Sexual violence had been a characteristic of conflict in 2017 and it had increased over previous years.  Boys and girls were the most vulnerable, he noted, condemning all acts of violence against civilians and humanitarian personnel.  Failure to enforce respect for international humanitarian law was responsible for violations against civilians, he said, emphasizing the need to refer such violations to the International Criminal Court.  Bolivia advocated the use of peaceful measures to resolve conflict, such as mediation and arbitration, he said.

NAME TO COME (China), noting that civilians bore the brunt of conflicts around the globe, called for pragmatic measures to ensure their safety.  “We must address both the symptoms and the root causes of conflict,” he stressed, urging the Council to uphold its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, encourage preventive diplomacy and help in the resolution of conflicts through peaceful political means.  “We are in a shared future of humankind,” he said, calling on all nations to ensure a common, peaceful future.  Member States bore the primary responsibility to protect civilians, and while international partners could provide support in that regard, they could never replace that primary State function, he emphasized.  Any conflict threatening civilians in contravention of international humanitarian law should be investigated fully by the countries concerned, he said, adding that the protection mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations could not substitute the primary responsibility of the countries concerned.  The Council should bear that in mind when drawing up mandates, he said.  It should also enhance cooperation with regional organizations such as the African Union, which had unique knowledge that could help host countries protect civilians populations.  Meanwhile, humanitarian operations must always remain neutral, impartial and objective while respecting the laws of host countries.

NAME TO COME (Côte d’Ivoire), welcoming progress made in the nearly two decades since the Council’s adoption of resolution 1265 (1999) — which had first placed the protection of civilians at the heart of its agenda — said conflict nevertheless continued to threaten countless civilians around the globe.  Sexual violence and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the emergence of asymmetric threats, called for enhanced protection efforts.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s recommendations — among them the incorporation of international humanitarian law into national legislation — he recalled that his country had known the horrors of conflict and their effects on civilians.  Since the end of the civil war, the Government had launched programmes to raise awareness of international civilian protection standards, he said, adding that the Government was also reforming the security sector and ensuring that the armed forces fully respected human rights and the principle of reciprocal trust with the civilian population.  In addition, Côte d’Ivoire had destroyed its stocks of weapons in close cooperation with international partners.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s proposed reform of the United Nations peacekeeping architecture, he said peace operations could make positive contributions by monitoring ceasefires as human rights observers and in their support for transitional justice mechanisms.

NAME TO COME (Netherlands), noting that around 5.4 million people were suffering from food insecurity in South Sudan, said that when starvation of the civilian population was used as a method of warfare, it must not go unpunished.  In the short term, food insecurity was exacerbating civilian suffering, while in the longer term, entire generations were being raised in hunger, hampering sustainable development.  Calling on the Council to condemn starvation, he added that his country’s Government was in the final stages of amending its International Crimes Act to include the war crime of intentionally using the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

NAME TO COME (Equatorial Guinea), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union, noted that armed conflicts had become more complex, generating new challenges.  The growth in the number of terrorist groups had further increased that complexity as well as the vulnerability of civilians.  The ability of humanitarian workers to help was under threat, he noted, expressing grave concern about attacks on communities.  The use of explosive weapons and chemical weapons was extremely disturbing, he said, adding that civilians were killed and injured while homes and infrastructure were destroyed.  Many people were affected by sexual violence, food scarcity and torture, he said, noting that others were forced to abandon their homes, while still others had disappeared without a trace.  The protection of civilians should never be politicized, he emphasized, calling for the strengthening of the partnership between the African Union and the United Nations.

NAME TO COME (Kuwait) called upon countries with influence to use it to ensure protection for civilians in conflict.  The absence of lasting solutions to conflict had increased the number of displaced persons, and conflict-affected areas were frequently difficult to reach, he said.  Emphasizing the importance of upholding the obligation to allow humanitarian access to people in conflict zones, he cited the situation in Syria, calling for an end to all attacks on civilians as well as schools and health facilities.  Noting the extreme suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the occupying Power, Israel, he stressed that all people had a right to security.  Israel must adhere to international human rights law, he said, recalling also that Kuwaiti civilians remained missing nearly two decades after the Iraqi invasion.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed concern over the “damning picture” painted in the Secretary-General’s report, while stating that significant progress had nevertheless been made in recent decades.  For example, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) now had more power to protect civilians, and several peacekeeping operations now engaged early-warning systems.  Specific efforts were also under way to protect women and children, as seen in the case of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  He welcomed the commitment by the “Group of Five” (G5) Sahel Force to protect civilians in its operations, saying the Council should bolster its efforts to protect health workers.  He called on the Council to ensure that attacks against judicial workers were investigated fully and perpetrators held to account.  The Council should also ensure the full participation of States in fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry, and he expressed support for the imposition of sanctions against those committing the vile, destabilizing crime of human trafficking in Libya.

NAME TO COME (Peru) voiced concern over increasing cases of impunity following violations of international humanitarian law, saying the Council sometimes failed to rise to its responsibility in those cases.  Peru, alongside scores of other countries, had signed on to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group’s code of conduct to prevent permanent Council members from using their veto when civilians were threatened by mass-atrocity crimes.  All States were obliged to observe international law, including by training their own military forces, he emphasized.  Peru agreed with the Secretary-General that prevention was the most effective protection tool, he said, calling on all States to adhere fully to the Rome Statute and cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

NAME TO COME (Russian Federation) expressed regret over attempts to politicize the humanitarian sphere of international relations.  Some parties had replaced constructive dialogue with a deluge of pre-emptive judgements and accusations, while others even stooped to anchoring their allegations in misinformation gleaned from such dubious sources as the so-called White Helmets organization.  “Researchers” provided information based on secret sources and demanded to be believed without any evidence to back up their claims, he said.  Meanwhile, double standards were commonly seen in media reports on such situations as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.  Calling attention to misinformation about the situation in Ukraine, he said the conflict unleashed by Kyiv had led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and injury to almost 9,000 others, while Ukraine’s bombing of civilian areas was supported by Western allies.  As for the work of humanitarian actors, he emphasized that it must be built on the principles of the United Nations Charter and the basic principles of international law, including the sovereignty of States and non-interference in their domestic affairs.  Expressing concern over attempts to employ a “wilful interpretation” of international norms, he recalled that one Council member had dreamed up the concept of “humanitarian intervention” and used that invented principle to defend its own military aggression.  No such defence could exist and the Council must never support such erroneous interpretations, he stressed.  On the notion of voluntarily foregoing the right of veto, as commonly proposed by some delegations, he reminded Member States that the veto was not only a right but a great responsibility.  It was also the backbone of the Council’s collective decisions, stimulating its members to arrive at compromise solutions.  Indeed, there were many cases in which the veto’s use had prevented the United Nations from being implicated in “dubious escapades”.

NAME TO COME (Sweden), commending the Secretary-General for his action-oriented approach, said that when prevention of conflict failed ,international humanitarian and human rights laws should provide a safety net for civilians caught up in armed conflict.  As the protection needs of women, girls, men and boys often differed, creating links between protection, empowerment and participation could help avoid the narrow perception of women as primarily objects of protection.  Also highlighting the urgent need to advance the commitments made in Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of health care in armed conflict, s/he called for solidarity across the international community in addressing the needs of migrants and refugees.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, aligned his remarks with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, and said he welcomed the fact that for the first time the dire situation of civilians in Ukraine, affected by the Russian military aggression, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, was referred to in the Secretary-General’s report.  Ukraine was disheartened that the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict was as topical an issue today as it was in 1999.  Noting the upcoming celebration of Africa Day on 25 May, he noted the importance of ensuring lasting peace on the continent, the site of most armed conflicts.  As long as some Member States, including one well know permanent Council member, did not care at all about the implementation of the International Court of Justice’s rulings, the Council was doomed to go in circles around the issue of civilian protection.  The solution was for every Member State to commit to do its part in following established norms of international law.

NAME TO COME (Argentina) deplored the fact that civilians were increasingly the target of armed conflicts.  The Council must protect civilians and there must be respect for international law and humanitarian law.  It was necessary to fight against impunity and to strengthen the mandates of peacekeeping forces on the ground.  Peacekeeping missions had to comply with international humanitarian law and they needed clear mandates and adequate resources to carry out them out.  Legislation and measures against terrorists should not obstruct humanitarian efforts.  Argentina deplored the fact that it was necessary to reiterate that medical staff could not be the targets of attacks during armed conflict.

MIKHEIL JANELIDZE, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said respecting international law was at the heart of resolving the Russia-Georgia conflict and addressing its humanitarian consequences.  While Georgia was committed to this principle, its disrespect by the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, was the major impediment to the conflict’s settlement.  Ten years had passed since the Russia-Georgia war, where the Russian Federation had violated the United Nations Charter and the main principles of international law, as well as up to 39 Council resolutions.  The Russian Federation had yet to fulfil its obligations under the European Union-mediated 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement.  Those factors had contributed to the creation of the environment that put the lives and basic rights of civilians living in and along the occupied territories under danger.  It was urgent to allow humanitarian access to civilians.  Another priority, preventing and finding durable solutions for forcefully displaced persons, was important for Georgia.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said the inability to abide by established norms was perhaps the reason for the dismal situation regarding the protection of civilians.  While national Governments were responsible for protecting civilians, very little was being done to strengthen societal capacities and mechanisms.  That should be primary, he said.  Moreover, it was unrealistic to expect United Nations peacekeepers to ensure the protection of civilians in the absence of clear Security Council mandates.  Those who decided the resources made available to peacekeepers had a responsibility as well.  He went on to say that an evolving normative architecture for the protection of civilians — one that was politically attuned, but not politicized or seen as instrumentalized — should be considered.  Only then would it be possible to move forward with cohesion on the issue.

NAME TO COME (Uruguay), noting that selective and disproportionate attacks against civilian infrastructure were often intentional, which made it all the more unjustifiable, stressed the importance of prioritizing protection of health and medical facilities.  Noting various incidents that had taken place in the two years since the adoption of Council resolution 2286 (2016), he said it was vital to carry out independent impartial investigation on such incidents.  The international system had a variety of mechanisms which were not being used optimally, including the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which had resources, a permanent infrastructure and a group of experts.  However, since its creation, the Commission had faced serious challenges because it required the consent of States of concern.  Accountability was another important aspect of deterrence, he said, calling on the Council to ensure that by using tools such as sanctions and referrals to the International Criminal Court.

NAME TO COME (Brazil) said that prevention should be interpreted in broad terms, ranging from addressing exclusion, intolerance and other grievances to placing genuine emphasis on the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Conferring primacy to prevention also meant that military action must remain a measure of last resort, s/he stressed, adding that it was crucial to develop an understanding of what force could and could not accomplish.  There was no evidence that civilians were more efficiently protected through the military.  In the exceptional circumstance that it was authorized by the Council or the Assembly, military action should be judicious, proportionate and limited to the mandate.  Even when troops might not be wearing blue helmets, they were acting on the authority and legitimacy of a blue text, he said.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that targeted attacks, sexual violence, forced conscription and indiscriminate killings collectively painted a bleak picture of the human costs of modern-day armed conflict.  Civilians had become the principal objects of attack and the Geneva Conventions were being violated.  Such crimes continued to be perpetrated in the State of Palestine and Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, she said.  Violations could be mitigated by the consistent use of the entire range of means for promoting compliance with international humanitarian law and ensuring accountability.  Military training must include familiarization with the principles of international law governing armed conflict and a full understanding of the legal implications of commands issued and obeyed in combat conditions.  Moreover, the lack of political will to fully respect humanitarian law and other applicable rules represented the primary impediment to protecting civilians during armed conflict.  Civilian protection should also represent a priority for United Nations peacekeeping operations and, as one of the leading troop-contributing countries, Pakistan’s “Blue Helmets” had contributed to many success stories in Africa.

NAME TO COME (Colombia) said that armed conflicts and terrorism were claiming ever more victims, underscoring that “even the barbarity of war” must have rules.  Continued security deterioration and atrocious situations must compel the Council to assume greater political commitment.  Colombia had shouldered the important responsibility to protect its civilians with effective support from the United Nations.  “This has not been an easy task,” he added.  Following over five-decades of conflict, Colombia learned first-hand that international humanitarian law was an indispensable tool to move forward.  During the armed conflict, Colombia had adopted a series of international instruments to strengthen the protection of civilians.  He particularly noted the benefits of United Nations collaboration in dealing with widespread landmines and explosive remnants of war.  

TORE HATTREM (Norway), speaking also for Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, said that the lack of respect for international humanitarian law obligations had long-term devastating effects.  In that regard, he listed examples of practical initiatives and measures taken to increase compliance and the protection of civilians which had been supported by the Nordic countries.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had systematically addressed attacks on health care through the Health Care in Danger Initiative and he encouraged all States to support implementing its recommendations.  In June 2015, 37 States had gathered in Oslo to launch the Safe Schools Declaration, which included a practical commitment to implement guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.  He noted that 74 States had now endorsed the Declaration and urged all to join and implement it. 

He continued to say that dialogue with parties to conflict was critical to enhancing civilian protection and States which could influence the situation on the ground should lead by example.  Moreover, the obligation for States parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions to clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles was a concrete, efficient contribution to protecting civilians.  In that regard, 29 States and one other area were no longer suspected to be contaminated with anti-personnel mines since the Mine Ban Treaty had been adopted, an achievement made possible through close partnerships between civil society and States.  He also advocated support for the Secretary-General’s call to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and to develop policies on the use of such weapons to avoid civilian harm.  His delegation stood ready to contribute in developing practical measures and guidance based on lessons learned.

NAME TO COME (Germany), emphasizing the need to bridge the gap between words and actions, recalled pictures from Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine, saying that human suffering was a daily reality in those countries.  If Germany were elected to the Council, it would try to place conflict prevention very high on the Council’s agenda.  Regarding the fate of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, he said much of their suffering could have been prevented had the Council paid attention to that situation earlier.  “We saw it coming,” he recalled, calling urgently upon the Government of Myanmar to start a structured dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence.  While noting that peacekeepers often stood between civilian populations and their tormentors, he stressed that protection mandates must be stronger.  New York and Geneva should work more closely, he said, adding that they sometimes seemed not only to be on two different continents, but on two planets.

NAME TO COME (Turkey) said that in recent years, almost 70 million people had been forced from their homes and millions more had been denied access to such basic rights as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement.  “We possess the adequate tools to address challenges against international peace and security,” he said, emphasizing that the international community must act to translate its legal commitments into practical action.  Unfortunately, certain members of the international community had failed to implement those commitments in the face of terrorist threats, he noted, stressing the essential need to examine ways to further improve and coordinate the joint fight against terrorism.  They included refraining from signing documents with non-State armed groups because such actions only encouraged them to use such documents as propaganda tools.  Turkey was concerned that children continued to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict, he said.  “It goes without saying that the lack of education and poverty are among the main drivers of radicalization.”  While States had the main responsibility to protect civilians, the international community had a shared duty to do so as well.  Turkey would continue to provide assistance to those in need in Syria, and would also mobilize its resources to help the 3.5 million Syrians within its borders, he said, while noting that the Council’s response in addressing issues in Syria and Palestine was lacking.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) emphasized that protecting civilians in armed conflict was a universal obligation under international humanitarian law, not a policy decision by States.  Preventing mass atrocities was the most effective way to protect civilians tool and it was encouraging that 116 States had joined the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct on such crimes.  He expressed hope that more States would subscribe to that important commitment, especially those interested in serving on the Security Council.  Regarding Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, he said there was little indication that the Council would address the question of accountability for the ongoing crisis.  The International Criminal Court had been created for precisely such situations, he pointed out, commending its Chief Prosecutor for intention to explore the option of investigating the forced displacement of the Rohingya as a crime against humanity.  The Council should use its competence to refer the situation to the Court, but so far, it had shown an unfortunate inclination to separate the justice dimension from the humanitarian crisis.  That would not work, he said, emphasizing that the Council must address mass atrocities in order to do its work effectively.

NAME TO COME (Hungary), aligning him/herself with the European Union as well as the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, noted that the line between internal and international armed conflicts was increasingly blurred, bringing into question the interpretation of the rules of international law.  Calling on the Organization to use its entire available means for early warning and political mediation to prevent the outbreak of conflicts and reverse the escalation of hostilities, s/he added that ensuring accountability for serious international crimes and empowering victims should be essential components of civilian protection efforts.

NAME TO COME (Spain), associating him/herself with the European Union, said that Council resolution 2286 (2016) was unique in its scope, the role it granted to civil society, and its co-sponsorship by 84 Member States, which showed the high degree of support for its objectives.  Lamenting that the degree of compliance was not equally satisfactory, s/he added that while the ICRC’s Health in Danger initiative offered a road map, it was necessary to do more from a multilateral perspective.  “How can we create the necessary political will to achieve a behavioural change in the different parties to a conflict,” s/he asked. It was also vital to protect education facilities in armed conflicts, given that attacks against schools and universities had increased in recent years.

NAME TO COME (Iran), associating him/herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that at least 26,000 civilians were killed as the result of armed conflicts in just six countries, namely, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen.  Attacks against civilians and their infrastructure, medical facilities and the humanitarian convoys had increased since the adoption of Council resolution 2286 (2017), especially in the Middle East, he noted, highlighting the “massacre of unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza” as the latest in an old pattern followed by the Israeli regime.  Further, he said, over three years of the Saudi-led aggression against an already impoverished Yemen had resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian situation.  That aggression was continuing under the watch of the Council, he said.

NAME TO COME (Guatemala) said that protecting human life and safeguarding all civilians was at the core of the Organization’s goals and numerous Council resolutions.  Regarding flagrant attacks against civilians in violation of the Geneva Convention and other protocols, he said national and international frameworks must be designed to ensure greater compliance with international law and end impunity.  Regarding peacekeeping operations, he said that while one of their primary aims should be to protect civilians, some of their mandates were not in line with operational challenges on the ground.  They were not backed with financial and human resources, he said, stressing that they must be revised to reflect challenges on the ground.  It was also necessary to make the prevention of armed conflict a priority, he added.

MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, said Member States must reaffirm their commitment to the values and principles of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Violators of those norms must be held to account by national authorities, who were primarily responsible for prosecuting them.  Slovakia was a longstanding supporter of security-sector reform, which was crucial for the protection of civilians and the prevention of human rights abuses, he said, adding that there also was an urgent need for unconditional protection of the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers and the infrastructure used to deliver assistance.  He noted that 20 years since the Council’s engagement on the protection of civilians and its first landmark resolution, the international community must redouble efforts to fully and universally implement the recommendations put forward in numerous reports of the Secretary-General.

NAME TO COME (Belgium), associating him/herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, noted that in the past year, the Secretary-General had demonstrated the need to strengthen respect for international law and provided new recommendations.  Emphasizing that States had the primary responsibility to monitor international law and universal jurisdiction, s/he said non-State armed groups musts be convinced to abide by the tenets of international law.  The intergovernmental process must be used to strengthen international humanitarian law, in the observance of which had been openly eroded.  Noting that the protection of civilians was at the heart of the mandates of most peacekeeping operations, s/he said that such mandates sometimes did not ensure such protection.  Training was necessary to change that situation, s/he said, stressing also the need to combat impunity.  It was also the obligation of all to strengthen the protection of medical staff in conflict zones, s/he added.

NAME TO COME, European Union, said that it was not necessary to read official documents or reports to be made aware of the protection crisis, because everyday news reports showed that civilians were disproportionately suffering the consequences of conflict and instability.  The international community was morally obliged to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.  Within the Union there had been an increasing number of prosecutions under national legislation against those who breached the norms of international humanitarian laws.  “Let’s bridge the gap between what is being said in this Council and everyday practice,” she said.

Highlighting the alarming trend of using sexual- and gender-based violence as a tactic of war, s/he stressed that a gender perspective must be integrated into protection efforts, including humanitarian action.  Condemning the use of sieges and starvation as tactics of war, s/he added that “politics have no role to play in the delivery of lifesaving assistance.”  The Union opposed the use of bureaucratic impediments, including delays in permits or visas, as well as the criminalization of principled humanitarian activities under the pretext of countering terrorism.  Peacekeeping missions could play a pivotal role by having the protection of civilians at the core of their mandates, in line with the Kigali Principles, s/he stressed.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that a strong link between accountability and prevention must be achieved.  Serious violations of international humanitarian law and relevant Security Council resolutions must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.  Early warning and early action mechanisms for prevention were also instrumental in raising awareness and adopting an atrocity-prevention lens for possible conflict situations.  In that regard, his delegation fully supported the long-term holistic approach outlined by the Secretary-General in his latest report.  He also recalled that, two years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016), its urgent and full implementation was needed because attacks on hospitals and humanitarian convoys continued unabated.  In the context of conflict, safe and unimpeded passage must be guaranteed for health facilities and personnel.

NAME TO COME (Estonia), aligning him/herself with the European Union, recalled Council resolutions 1894 (2009), which prioritized the protection of civilians in the context of peacekeeping operations, and 2286 (2016), which emphasized the protection of medical care in conflict situations.  More needed to be done to address the root causes of conflict, he said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s reform agenda and the sustaining peace concept.  Turning to the role of peacekeepers, he said that training them in international humanitarian law could help support efforts to halt violence.  Further, references to mission-specific legal issues prior to deployment could lead to better application of international laws.  Estonia had taken every measure to ensure that its military personnel did not violate international law when carrying out their duties.

NAME TO COME (Chile) said that today’s debate could not be more timely amid the suffering of millions of women, children and men suffered in armed conflicts around the world.  The cycle of violence was not inevitable, he said, emphasizing that preventing conflict was the best way to protect civilians.  That could be done in various ways, including by supporting institutions as well as ensuring inclusive and sustainable development.  Another commitment to conflict prevention could be made through the prevention of illicit arms sales.  Chile agreed with the reports of the Secretary-General, which highlighted the need to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law, he said, emphasizing the importance of protecting medical and humanitarian personnel and preventing the forced displacement of civilians.  Accountability was also an essential element for the delivery of justice, he added.