Speech: Acting within the core Security Council mandate to protect civilian populations affected by conflict

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Thank you Minister Czaputowicz for convening this debate, and thank you also to the Secretary-General, to Director-General Daccord, and to Ms. Edwar for briefing the Council today. And I would in particular like to thank Miss Edwar for reminding us of the human suffering, the human tragedy of war, and I salute your determination to focus on people and not on stones.

Mr President, the core mandate of this Council is to maintain international peace and security. As recognised by this Council, large-scale human suffering can fuel conflict and threaten that security. Therefore, aside from the clear moral reasons for doing so, it is within its core mandate that this Council should act to protect civilian populations affected by conflict.

However, despite our many efforts, attacks on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure continue to take place. The Secretary-General raised the bombings in Syria. The harrowing images from Eastern Ghouta of homes bombed to rubble, and of innocent civilians – many of them children – killed indiscriminately by the Syrian regime and its backers, should shock and appal all of us. Attacks on civilians and the preventing of humanitarian aid and medical supplies from reaching them, have been a weapon used by the regime.

In Ukraine, despite repeated calls by the European Union and others to immediately stop ceasefire violations around critical civilian infrastructure, notably the Donetsk water filtration station, the indiscriminate shelling continues. And the Education Cluster, co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, reported that in Ukraine, parties to conflict damaged 42 schools in 2017, representing an increase from 26 schools the previous year.

These attacks damage the very foundations of the systems that are essential to sustain some of the most vulnerable societies throughout periods of conflict and reconstruction.

Mr President, sadly, around the world, healthcare workers are threatened and killed. Their facilities are looted and destroyed, affecting communities’ access to healthcare for years to come. Schools also face attack, and the teachers and boys and girls within them are the target of recruitment, of sexual violence, and other abuses. Those who dedicate their lives to providing essential aid to civilians affected by conflict are also targeted. In South Sudan, more than 100 humanitarian workers have been killed since the conflict began five years ago.

We, the members of this Council, and we, the international community, must do more to protect civilians who are affected by conflict. The intentional targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime. International humanitarian law is our framework. As Yves Daccord said, it is our fundamental principle of humanity. We must ensure that it is enforced and perpetrators are held to account.

Let me highlight three areas where the protection of civilians could be improved through the application and enforcement of international humanitarian law.

Firstly, concrete steps must be taken to integrate the protections provided by international humanitarian law into national policies and programmes. We urge states to engage constructively in the inter-governmental Strengthening Respect for International Humanitarian Law Initiative which can help States share best practice and overcome challenges to the practical implementation of international humanitarian law. The UK has recently endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, and in line with this, and international humanitarian law, we will continue to take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of schools, their teachers, and students – including particularly girls, whose access to education is disproportionately affected by attacks. And we urge others, likewise, to endorse the Declaration and take such action. To strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law by the United Kingdom, nationally, we ensure that all of our military personnel receive robust training throughout their careers. And we are proud to share our expertise with other countries to strengthen compliance, including through making more effective military justice systems.

Secondly, effective monitoring and reporting of compliance with international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law in situations of conflict is critical to raising awareness of protection issues, and can provide the necessary evidence base for timely political and legal action. The UK strongly supports technological advancements for monitoring and reporting of violations, including the World Health Organisation’s real-time Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare. We also support effective international criminal justice systems, which have an important role to play in bringing the perpetrators of atrocities to justice when States are either unable or unwilling to do so. As the Secretary-General said, we must end the climate of impunity.

And third, UN peacekeeping missions play a vital role in protecting civilians in some of the most fragile regions in the world where the application of international humanitarian law is critical. We welcome efforts to support the strengthening of human rights components in UN peacekeeping operations as well as the deployment of UN civilian human rights monitors to countries affected by conflict. Worryingly, we see at times the General Assembly seeking to weaken mandates agreed by this Council and its Fifth Committee by defunding human rights posts. This must stop. We welcome the efforts of the Secretary-General to mobilise all partners and stakeholders in support of more effective UN peacekeeping through his “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of peacekeeping missions – including through better long-term planning, the right troops and equipment, the increased participation of women, and a clear framework for monitoring and evaluating performance within missions – will further improve their ability to protect civilians.

Mr. President, today, millions of innocent civilians are suffering due to appalling violations of international humanitarian law. This leads to enormous suffering and destroys the social fabric of communities, which in turn threatens peace and security. We must ensure that these violations are not ignored, that perpetrators are held to account, and that we make it ever more difficult in the future for would-be violators to get away with such actions unseen.

Thank you Mr President.

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