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 CAte 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.
ANTA�NIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, introduced his report Protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2019/373), noting that this year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. It also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of the protection of civilians as an item on its agenda. This inclusion was in response to the organ’s deep concern at the erosion of respect for international humanitarian law. However, while the normative framework has been strengthened, compliance has deteriorated, he cautioned.
A culture of protection in the Security Council and across the United Nations has been established over the past 20 years, he said, including the deployment of specialist 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, including South Sudan, where nearly 200,000 internally displaced people are currently sheltering at sites for the protection of civilians. In the Central African Republic, the United Nations mission has supported local peace and ceasefire agreements that are monitored by civilian and military components. In addition, war criminals � including from Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia � have been tried and convicted. Security Council resolutions on the protection of medical care in armed conflict have given important focus and urgency to these issues.
But, despite these advances, grave human suffering is still being caused by armed conflicts and a lack of compliance with international humanitarian law, he warned, noting that civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict. In 2018 alone, 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. Overall, some 1.4 million people were newly displaced across international borders, while a further 5.2 million were internally displaced.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded 705 attacks against health care workers and facilities in just eight conflicts, resulting in 451 deaths and 860 injuries, he continued. Separately, 369 aid workers were kidnapped, wounded or killed. Starvation of civilians was used as a method of warfare, as well as rape and sexual violence. There is also an urgent need to reduce the humanitarian impact of urban warfare, particularly explosive weapons. Member States should do more to condition arms exports with respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law.
Progress is needed most at the national level, he emphasized, outlining action to develop national policy frameworks that establish clear institutional authorities and responsibilities for the protection of civilians in armed conflict. His recommendations also included principled and sustained engagement by humanitarian organizations and others with non-State armed groups to negotiate safe and timely humanitarian access. At the global and multilateral levels, the Security Council must be more consistent in how it addresses protection concerns within and across different conflicts and be more comprehensive when grappling with the protection challenges of urban warfare.
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.
PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that while the Security Council’s decisions impact human conditions on battlefields around the world, the absence of its decisions also takes a toll on civilians. 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 and no civilian can be excluded from protection. States must adapt to changing needs by prioritizing civilian protection; setting clearer ground rules; vetting partners; applying the highest precaution standards in weapons transfers; and setting up clear oversight and accountability frameworks.
The debate must be anchored in the experiences and needs of communities who suffer the daily brutalities of war and violence, he stressed, adding: We must also move beyond a victim mindset to understanding people and communities as agents of their own protection and experts of their own situation. They do not wait for external intervention but instead decide how best to travel in groups, ensuring the well-being of others. As such, connectivity has strengthened the possibilities for self-protection measures; everyone must adapt to this development. He urged the Security Council members and the international community not to hinder people in their efforts to protect themselves, noting that populations are often stopped from reaching safer spaces or constrained by bureaucratic obstacles.
Protective layers must be built across three interconnected spheres: individual, community and contextual, he continued. Harm can be reduced by the strict adherence to rules regulating the use of force, more stringent arms controls and the humane treatment of detainees. We cannot gloss over the issue of missing people, he cautioned. Families have a right to know the fate of their loved ones. Therefore, States must take steps to prevent people from going missing, such as registering detainees and notifying families. While the ICRC has made specific efforts to ensure that community-based protection approaches are integrated more systematically into its response, such activities can never be considered a substitute for the protection responsibilities borne by authorities. The ICRC is looking to build on its role as a neutral intermediary, by supporting community self-advocacy and organizing information sessions on legal rights. It is also broadening assistance through microeconomic projects aimed at reducing risk exposure.
However, protection in fragile settings will also require broader investment beyond the work of humanitarian actors, he pointed out. With increasingly urbanized warfare, the effects of bombing and shelling in cities are almost never limited to military targets. In densely populated areas, heavy explosive weapons have a wide area of impact and their use against smaller targets is often ethically � and maybe even legally � indefensible. Beyond civilian deaths and injuries, infrastructure is also damaged leading to the collapse of essential health and water systems. In addition, the environmental consequences of conflict are often overlooked, including vital natural resources whose damage can have implications for civilian survival and pose environmental risks. The ICRC will release updated guidelines in that regard, engaging with militaries and parties to conflict to ensure that practical measures are taken to protect the natural environment. Turning to technology concerns, he observed that data collected on affected people, including through humanitarian operations, must not become a source of additional risk. States should promote a do no harm approach backed by accountability mechanisms for the responsible use of technologies and data.
FEDERICO BORELLO, Executive Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict, said that although the Center’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, had been killed in 2005 in Iraq, her belief that civilians are not collateral damage lives on. The situation is not hopeless. Over the past 16 years, his organization has worked directly with armed actors and civilians to find solutions to civilian harm. Every Government should have a national policy that includes six key elements, including: a strong gender lens; the creation of specific capabilities to track, analyse and respond to civilian harm; a commitment to avoid using explosive weapons; making civilian protection a priority in arms transfers and security partnerships; dedicated training; and a way for civilians to receive acknowledgement, amends and accountability for the harm they have suffered. There is no substitute for high-level and public political commitments to civilian protection, he emphasized.
The Security Council authorized the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone 20 years ago with the first explicit mandate to protect civilians, he noted. Since then, United Nations missions have been an essential tool in protecting civilians and interrupting cycles of violence. No other kind of operation can bring to bear the comprehensive capabilities to protect civilians than that of a United Nations operation. However, United Nations missions are beset by recurring challenges. The Council, Member States and the United Nations can help in three main ways: providing political support; adequate financial resources; and the right capabilities, meaning the right mix of well-trained civilian, military and police capabilities. Without these essential ingredients, peacekeeping operations will continue to struggle to protect civilians.
Engaging communities in a safe, effective and meaningful way is also essential to national and multinational efforts to bring peace and stability in conflict, he stressed, adding that civilians are the best stewards of their own protection. They can devise and implement highly effective solutions, such as 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. Nonetheless, such engagement cannot be a substitute for State and non-State actors upholding their obligations under international law, he emphasized.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia and Council President for May, said the protection of civilians must underpin the Security Council’s work. However, this objective continues to be plagued by challenges. To strengthen the civilian protection agenda, the national capacities of the concerned States must also be strengthened, particularly in terms of the rule of law and good governance. Since States in conflict have limited capacity, international partnerships are crucial in addressing the root causes of conflict as well as in enabling those States to emerge from conflict into a more secure future. Community empowerment also plays an important role in developing such capacities and civilian protection programmes must be tailor-made to needs of affected communities. As such, local leaders and community members, especially women, must participate in the design and implementation of those programmes.
Indonesia has been proactive in efforts to empower Palestinian communities in allowing them to gain better access to basic needs, she noted, including the building of a hospital in Gaza which provides much-needed health care for those living under occupation. Ensuring effective implementation and compliance is also key, requiring the respect of international humanitarian and human rights laws by State and non-State actors alike. Engagement with all parties to a conflict is crucial to encourage them to implement existing legal frameworks. 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.
NIELS ANNEN, Minister for State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, said it is the Council’s task to safeguard international humanitarian law and create the legal framework for the protection of civilians. Germany is using its Council term to advance the protection of civilians. For example, in April, within the framework of Germany’s twin Security Council presidency with France, the drafting of a humanitarian call for action was initiated, and a resolution on sexual violence in conflict that strengthens the survivor-centred approach was introduced. International law is weakened when violations go unpunished, he said, underscoring Germany’s strong support for the International Criminal Court. He also voiced support for Commissions of Inquiry set up by the General Assembly in 2016, the mechanism for Myanmar and the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Highlighting the importance of ensuring that these mechanisms also address the actions of non-State armed groups, he said international law must be enforced, preventing further atrocities by bringing perpetrators to justice.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that civilians account for more than 80 per cent of all casualties in conflict, bearing the brunt in Yemen, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and too many other places around the world. While progress has been made on the protection of women and girls, humanitarian workers and journalists, the Council must continue to examine where more could be done, including redoubling efforts to ensure implementation of Council resolutions and to combat impunity. Wider efforts to improve peacekeeping mission performances in general should remain a priority, he said, underscoring the need for an integrated approach in missions and across the United Nations if protection strategies are to come off the page and on to the ground. Peace enforcement operations such as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) must also be trained in protecting civilians. While the protection of civilians rests primarily with host States, civil society and local communities are best placed to understand their own environment. Strengthening that protection will depend on how the Council and the international community address justice and impunity. International mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court and sanctions regimes, are the best tools to do so. Accountability 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.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), also speaking for CAte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, underlining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States and their leadership in the protection of civilians, also acknowledged the important role played by the ICRC as the custodian for international humanitarian law. The Council’s role is to take decisive action to facilitate the necessary environment, such as humanitarian corridors, ceasefires and the development of peacekeepers with robust mandates for the protection of civilians.
Greater coordination and cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations, such as the African Union, is necessary to create an environment that would enable the protection of civilians, he continued. The comparative advantage of regional organizations can enable closer collaboration and coordination with local communities, including creating the necessary environment for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons on a voluntary basis in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement.
JOSA� SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that in too many current conflicts trapped and defenceless populations are being used by nefarious parties for their pernicious goals. Victims of modern conflict are mostly women, girls, persons with disabilities, young boys, and the elderly. In Yemen, 12 million people face starvation, most of them children. This has to stop, he stressed, highlighting that protecting civilians is not only a humanitarian task, it is critical to peace and security and sustainable development. The needs of women and children in armed conflict must continue to be at the heart of humanitarian work. Therefore, the deployment of women and child protection officers is fundamental. He also 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.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), associating himself with the statements to be delivered by the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said that the more than 160 people killed in recent fighting in Idlib, Syria, and the thousands more injured had only trees for shelter. It is the responsibility of States to ensure that the most serious crimes do not go unpunished. The mandate of United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) recognizes the importance of exploring techniques of unarmed protection of civilians, including through community engagement. The Council must be better informed of violations of international law and must also support holding perpetrators accountable. Respecting international law is the responsibility of States, he said, underscoring the importance of States’ cooperation on issues, including extradition of criminals.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that over the last 20 years the subject of protecting civilians has come to the forefront of the Council’s work and has helped save lives. Nonetheless, the number of victims of armed conflict, many of them women and children, remains unacceptably high. A particular threat stems from terrorist groups conducting mass executions and using civilians as human shields. The sobering statistics also require mobilization of the United Nations and its agencies in addressing humanitarian needs on the ground. Expressing concern for the use of drones in conflict, which have caused civilian deaths in Afghanistan, he also rejected the use of the humanitarian pretext to support terrorist motives, noting that the White Helmets group in Syria has severely hampered progress there. He also 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.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), welcoming the community-based approach in the debate, as well as the Secretary-General’s report and 10 recommendations, said that despite progress made over the past 20 years, the reality is concerning. As Council President in May 2018, Poland had convened a similar open debate, where its Foreign Minister highlighted three main points; prevention, protection and accountability. These points remain valid. On prevention, local communities have the best knowledge, which must be considered when devising responses. Drawing attention to the impacts of conflict on persons with disabilities, she said Poland has proposed a draft Council resolution aimed at mitigating such impacts.
MA ZHAOXU (China), noting that the international community has accorded great attention to the issue of civilian protection, said that it is crucial to tackle both symptoms and root causes of conflict. While the Security Council must ensure civilians are safe from war, Governments have the primary responsibility to protect them. In addition, parties to the conflict must respect international law. It is also vital that each peacekeeping mission has a clear mandate based on the needs of the host country. All United Nations entities and other institutions should demonstrate their expertise and complement each other. The non-governmental organizations must respect the host countries.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) voiced concern over the dire picture the Secretary-General depicted in his report, saying that the laws of war are not universally observed. His Government and its armed forces have rigorous programmes in this regard, sharing best practices in bilateral and coalition operations. In Syria, civilians have become victims of conflict at the hand of their Government. Contrary to the view expressed by the Russian Federation delegation, he noted the heroic efforts of the White Helmets to protect civilians. The protection of civilians is at the heart of modern peacekeeping. It is necessary to address shortcomings of such missions, he emphasized, noting his support for a performance-based approach to the deployment of personnel. As well, the United States stands behind the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, he said, adding that he looks forward to a revised United Nations policy.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) observed that current conflicts are lasting longer, with impacts on civilians as great as during global wars of the past. He welcomed the mandates given to peacekeeping operations that emphasized the protection of civilians. Policies of human rights diligence have helped United Nations forces to be accepted by local populations, he said, also highlighting the Council making civilian protection part of the work of the G-5 Sahel. However, that organ must redouble its efforts in ensuring respect for relevant international conventions, first and foremost the Geneva Conventions, as well as arms treaties and humanitarian work. His Government is committed to ensuring that protection of civilians is upheld in military operations, including that its forces must identify and ensure that health facilities are off limits. The measures taken to combat terrorism cannot be detrimental to the activities of humanitarian workers. Much remains to be done to protect women and children as well as journalists, he continued, underlining the need to ensure justice for victims through impartial and independent investigations.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), underscoring that the Council has a responsibility to act to end the suffering for civilians, stressed that the sovereignty of all States implies a primary responsibility to protect their populations. However, when the national authorities are unable to protect, the international community must step in. It is fundamental that there be appropriate care for and rehabilitation of victims of conflict. Psychological effects on victims of conflict can destroy the social fabric of society, he cautioned. Therefore, it is fundamental to guarantee accountability when atrocity crimes have been committed.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), associating himself with the statement to be made by the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said that the cycle of violence will continue to harm civilians if the Council does not adopt serious and urgent measures to combat protracted conflicts. Ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and improving implementation of mechanisms in protecting civilians is essential. Atrocities perpetrated against civilians, medical facilities, schools and humanitarian workers are all in violation of international conventions. These crimes 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. His delegation has submitted a draft resolution on the issue of missing persons in armed conflict as the Council lacks normative language on the matter, he said, adding that he looks forward to tabling the resolution for adoption during Kuwait’s Council presidency in June.
TEODOR-VIOREL MELESCANU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union, said that 2019 marks the seventieth anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. Their adoption in the aftermath of the Second World War firmly established that those who are not or no longer taking a direct part in hostilities, the wounded and sick, prisoners of war and civilians � including civilians living under occupation � must be protected, and their life and dignity upheld without adverse distinction. As the relevance of these Conventions is even higher today, all actions aiming to protect civilians should be based on their provisions. As a peacekeeping contributor for more than 28 years, Romania has a three-month training program before deployment, one in which the protection of civilians and respect for human rights are fundamental themes, he said.
BORITH OUCH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, said his country’s contributions to international security and peacekeeping are well documented. From being a recipient of peacekeeping forces in the early 1990s, Cambodia has become a dispatching State to such missions since 2006, deploying nearly 6,000 troops to eight countries in Africa and the Middle East. Peacekeeping operations must work strictly within the parameter of the Council’s mandate in protecting civilians. However, these operations cannot substitute for the obligations of the country concerned and the parties to conflict. In addition, communication and bonds of sincere friendship among peacekeepers, local authorities and people must be enhanced in order to win confidence and support, he said.
STEPHANUS ABRAHAM BLOK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, recalled that 20 years ago in the Security Council, his country voted in favour of resolution 1265 (1999). Then, as now, it was the conviction of the Netherlands that civilians must be protected in conflict. The Council expressed its willingness to respond to situations of armed conflict, where civilians are being targeted or humanitarian assistance to civilians is obstructed. After fact-finding, evidence gathering, investigation and attribution, prosecution is the final and most important link in the accountability chain, he said, without which, justice is not served. ISIL/Da’esh perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes should be prosecuted, preferably in the region, and if feasible, under the jurisdiction of an ad hoc or hybrid international criminal tribunal.
PAMELA GOLDSMITH-JONES, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, noted that civilians continue to account for the majority of casualties in armed conflict, and unlawful attacks against them constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Despite resolution 2286 (2016), violence against humanitarian personnel has increased, she observed, noting that in recent weeks, a shocking number of attacks on hospitals and health facilities have taken place in Idlib. Condemning these attacks, she called on those responsible to ensure fundamental protection for civilians caught in the conflict. Citing Canada’s track record around civilian protection, she said such work requires gender-responsive approaches to insecurity and threats faced by women, girls and other groups. Following the 2017 launch of the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers, Canada is leading a multi-stakeholder process to help translate political commitment into meaningful action.
MARTIN KOVA�CIK (Slovakia), aligning himself with the European Union, noted that 20 years after Council resolution 1265 (1999), civilians still account for the vast majority of casualties in armed conflicts, with women, children and other vulnerable groups remaining the target. The protection of civilians involves clear and present mandates, effective training and deployment of peacemakers and creating a safe environment for return. Slovakia will continue to support the security sector reform agenda, with parties to be responsible for protecting civilians, political dialogue and arms control. He also called for achieving universal jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in efforts to fight impunity and bring perpetrators to justice.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOGLU (Turkey), underscoring that millions of Syrians are putting their faith in the international community, noted that his country remains the main corridor for the United Nations cross-border humanitarian operations into northern Syria, with 80 per cent of all cross-border operations being conducted over its borders. This accounts for 31 per cent of all international assistance into Syria. He called for tools to be identified that could be applied on non-State parties. At the same time, signing documents with such groups risks encouraging them to claim legitimacy. All international organizations and non-governmental organizations should refrain from such practices, including the so-called deeds of commitment signed with terrorist organizations. Instead, priority should be given towards reinforcing the legal framework for the prevention and punishment of recruiting activities of terrorist organizations.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), noting he had many reservations about erroneous evaluations and incorrect conclusions in the Secretary-General’s report, stressed that his Government, following its Constitution and the Charter of the United Nations, is seeking to fulfil its obligation to protect citizens from the war waged by terrorists who came to Syria from other countries. Subsidiary bodies of the Security Council recognized the presence of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria who are supported by some foreign Governments. Pointing to progress on national reconciliation, restoration of stability and State authority in the areas previously held by those terrorist organizations, he underlined that the political process under resolution 2254 (2015) is Syrian-led. Some Governments misinterpret the Charter to justify their military aggression. The Security Council must answer questions about the grounds for the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Libya.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union, said that the development of new technologies in recent years should have improved the ability of the international community to protect civilians from the devastating consequences of war. In reality, global security has deteriorated markedly in the past decade. Unfortunately, Ukraine is an example of what happens when a permanent member of the Council violates international norms and law. The Russian-led war in Donbas turned the lives of civilians into a vortex of destruction and death, with every third-killed civilian either a woman or a child. In addition, he pointed out that the decision by the Russian occupation authorities to cease groundwater pumping at the YunKom mine endangers groundwater and rivers. Unexploded remnants of war keep multiplying in the temporarily-occupied territories and landmines have caused almost half of the civilian deaths. He also expressed concern over the unlawful decision to issue Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the temporarily occupied territories. Imposing citizenship on residents of an occupied land can be equated to compelling them to swear allegiance to a Power they may consider as hostile. The Russian Federation must respect its obligations under international law as an occupying Power.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) recalled that his delegation was a co-penholder of resolution 2286 (2016), which expressed the Council’s strong and unanimous commitment to protect health-care personnel and facilities in armed conflict, noting with regret that the number of such attacks has since increased. Regarding the women, peace and security agenda, Japan has supported the team of experts of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia and Iraq since 2014. Following the human security approach, Japan has supported United Nations Action projects to care for children born of rape and their mothers in Iraq, and to improve access to justice for survivors of sexual violence in Jordan. Japan has also supported women’s empowerment at the community level through training and cash-for-work programmes in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Palestine, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, he added.
JORGE SKINNER-KLA�E ARENALES (Guatemala) said armed conflict is increasing in urban centres, especially those involving explosive weapons. He called upon the international community to establish a protection framework for those suffering from the consequences of such weapons. Turning to peacekeeping operations, he said the implementation of mandates must receive decisive international support. Protecting civilians must be outlined in the mission’s mandate, with force used as a last resort when necessary. As a troop-contributing country, Guatemala requires detailed information about performance on the ground, as well as the impact and implementation of each mandate. Moreover, a clear and timely assessment of human and material resources is necessary, and mandates must be well-defined, realistic and achievable. Such operations must receive adequate training and resources, including the capacity to compile information about threats and analytic tools to use this information.
NAGARAJ NAIDU KAKANUR (India) said today’s challenges relating to civilian protection arise because of the inability to abide by established norms. Peacekeepers often rise to the occasion when required, he observed, citing an example from a United Nations operation in 1961. The protection of civilians is made complex by the vastly different nature of armed conflicts, the limits of peacekeeping mandates and the serious inadequacy of resources made available to missions. Moreover, the responsibility to protect civilians rests with Governments; outside agencies can only supplement � not supplant � this duty. While 8 of the current 14 United Nations peacekeeping missions include civilian protection in their mandates, this aspect is one of many they are mandated to fulfil. As such, the expectation that peacekeepers can effectively ensure civilian protection in the absence of clear mandates is not realistic.
NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal), associating himself with the statement to be made by the Non-Aligned Movement, said the primacy of inclusive politics and constant dialogue must be upheld to address the causes of conflict. While States bear the primary responsibility to protect their civilians, it is also a shared duty for the international community. National capacities to develop policy frameworks on the issue must be strengthened and sharing good practices in this regard will prove helpful. Moreover, children, women, the wounded and other vulnerable groups should receive special attention because they suffer disproportionately during armed conflict. Nepal’s own experience of a nationally-led peace process demonstrates the significance of promoting social harmony, tolerance and understanding to ensure civilian protection. Nepal takes every possible measure to train its peacekeepers in this regard, having put in place a thorough vetting process, pre-deployment and in-theatre awareness training, and robust punitive measures for those convicted in sexual exploitation and abuse cases.
HAM SANG WOOK (Republic of Korea) called for a focus on prevention in order to protect civilians in armed conflict. His delegation has championed United Nations reform efforts so that the system can support the peacebuilding priorities of Member States in holistically addressing challenges on the ground. He underlined the importance of efforts to protect vulnerable civilians, such as women and children. Armed conflict continues to have a destabilizing impact on children, he observed, recalling that 927 children in Afghanistan were killed due to conflict in 2018. Last June, the Republic of Korea launched the Action with Women and Peace initiative focused on protecting women from sexual violence in armed conflict, and will host the first international conference under this initiative in Seoul from 2 to 3 July. Moreover, peacekeepers should be better trained for engaging with local communities, with training guidelines produced for this purpose. Mission personnel should be encouraged to strengthen their in-depth knowledge of host societies and languages.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan), recalling that 2019 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, said it is an important time to review and reflect. The rules of conduct in armed conflict are clearly codified in the Conventions and additional protocols and constitute the bedrock of international humanitarian law. Yet this law continues to be flouted whenever and wherever hostilities break, with women bearing the brunt of the atrocities. Warring parties continue to operate with impunity. In Jammu and Kashmir, the occupying forces demonstrate utter disregard for human life by systematically violating the fundamental norms of international humanitarian law and using civilians as human shields. Perpetrators are protected under black laws and honoured by the military command, she said.
RIDAS PETKUS (Lithuania) said that his country, which was once illegally annexed and occupied by the Soviet Union, understands the crimes and horrors that could be committed without any regard to the law of occupation. Georgia, Ukraine and other countries are suffering from the same illegal conduct in today’s world. The duties of the occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention are numerous. On 24 April 2019, a decree was issued to facilitate the acquisition of Russian nationality by residents from various districts in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, notably without taking residence in the Russian Federation. This ongoing extraterritorial naturalization, the so-called passportization policy of the Russian Federation in the occupied territories of Ukraine, is a clear violation of the law of occupation, he said.
ALEX GIACOMELLI DA SILVA (Brazil) said that no one disputes the evolution of the Security Council’s treatment of protection of civilians � from broad guidance to detailed and prescriptive language. Today, about 95 per cent of peacekeeping operations have a mandate on the protection of civilians. As well, considerations related to the matter form part of sanctions regimes. Yet, this architecture has not been enough to reduce the heavy civilian toll of armed conflict. It seems that no matter how advances are made, alleviating the suffering of the civilian population during warfare remains an elusive goal. This apparent paradox should not be seen as a failure, but rather a stark reminder of the human devastation that any armed conflict causes, he said.
AGUSTA�N SANTOS MARAVER (Spain) said that the recent second annual retreat on international humanitarian law, organized by his delegation, addressed the protection of civilian infrastructure in armed conflict with a special emphasis on the protection of schools and hospitals. The protection of medical personnel is a clear obligation under international law. However, according to the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, there was an increase in attacks on health facilities in 2018, leading to the deaths of 168 health workers. As such, Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) remains fully relevant. Yet, parts of it have yet to be implemented, especially those regarding investigations. A standing instrument is needed to identify best practices, lessons, trends and reports and investigations with regard to civilian protection. On 29 May, Spain is sponsoring the third conference on the Safe Schools Declaration where a focused discussion on the militarized use of educational establishments is planned, among other topics.
FERNANDO ANDRA�S MARANI (Argentina), noting that it has been 20 years since this item was first included in the Security Council’s agenda, stressed that the Council must continue to be committed to protecting civilians in armed conflict. It is imperative to recall the obligations deriving from the Geneva Conventions and the additional protocols. It is also essential that the protection of civilians take place with respect for the principles of the Charter. The use of force to respond to threats of physical violence against civilians must be done in regard to the applicable rules of the Council and the specific mandates of each mission. He expressed his support for the central vision of prevention and early warning promoted by the Secretary-General regarding the protection of civilians.
JARG LAUBER (Switzerland), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, called on the Council to prioritize the Group in decisions aimed at preventing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The increasing urbanization of armed conflict has an acute impact on civilians, particularly on persons with disabilities and journalists. Furthermore, the starvation of civilian populations is a violation of international humanitarian law. To challenge these trends, States must prioritize international human rights law and the Council must systematically demand Member States and parties to armed conflict to respect their obligations under those rules.
While welcoming national-level investigation of violations, he also stressed that, when those systems are unable or unwilling to act, accountability should be ensured through international investigative judicial mechanisms. In addition, the Council should work more systematically to establish facts promoting accountability for serious violations through ad hoc commissions of inquiry and referrals to the International Criminal Court. He called on States to ensure that counter-terrorism measures do not impede impartial humanitarian and medical activities and welcomed the emphasis on that issue under resolution 2462 (2019).
GERT AUVAART (Estonia) emphasized the paramount importance of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. More must be done to address the causes of conflict, finding avenues to promote political dialogue and creating truly inclusive societies. Education and training in international humanitarian law have an important role to play in preparing peacekeepers and other United Nations staff deployed to missions. Such education clearly supports efforts to halt and prevent violence, attacks and threats against the wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel, as well as medical facilities. There is value to be found in references to mission-specific legal issues prior to deployment that could lead to better application of international law, he said.
SAMUEL MONCADA (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said peacekeeping operations are important for the protection of civilians where there is a mandate in that regard. However, this should not be used as a pretext for the United Nations to militarily intervene in conflicts. The Council must guarantee compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, encompassing the principles of precaution, proportionality and distinction, while also prohibiting the targeting of civilian property in conflict. For their part, humanitarian agencies must respect the laws of countries in which they operate, observing the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Success requires that peacekeepers be trained to the highest standards, he observed, noting that more can be done to involve local communities in guaranteeing civilian protection. Categorically condemning all violence and threats against civilians � which in some cases can be considered war crimes � he stressed that perpetrators must be brought to justice in order to break the cycle of impunity.
RUBA�N ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBASN (El Salvador) expressed deep concern over humanitarian damage caused by hostilities in urban areas. Civilians are the most harmed, suffering from forcible displacement, hunger and denial of access to aid, as well as gender-based violence. Decrying the lack of instruments to ensure that international humanitarian law is binding in practice, he urged the Council to step up to the task in this regard. Moreover, robust national civilian protection policies must incorporate the principles of international law. He underlined the links between human rights, international humanitarian law and the export and indiscriminate use of weapons. As such, States must abstain from exporting arms and ammunition to places where they may be used to commit international humanitarian law violations. He also called for tackling the humanitarian impacts of explosive weapons with the political will required to establish common standards and exchange best practices.
NUNO VAULTIER MATHIAS (Portugal), associating himself with the statement to be made by the European Union, noted his endorsement of the Kigali Principles, which are a framework for reference and engagement. The Council must strengthen its action for the protection of civilians and call on Member States and parties to armed conflicts to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. The Secretary-General’s latest report stresses the importance of prevention for the protection of civilians, as violence against civilians is often a factor that can predict conflict. Portugal ensures its forces are trained in international humanitarian law and human rights so that they can carry out all of their tasks, including the protection of civilians.
ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda) said the Kigali Principles, adopted seven years ago, are practical and specific guidelines for all peacekeeping stakeholders for the effective and efficient delivery of mandates on the protection of civilians. They specifically address the performance, accountability and capabilities required for the effective protection of civilians. He underscored that the primary responsibility lies with host nations but that the limited capabilities of countries hosting peacekeeping missions should be noted. 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.
JAN KICKERT (Austria), associating himself with the statement to be made European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, expressed concern over the continued attacks and threats against educational institutions. Austria supports the Safe Schools Declaration, he said, encouraging other States to sign on as supporters. Noting the grave consequences of urban warfare, including from the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, he said Austria will host a conference on protecting civilians in urban warfare in October. As the protection of civilians has become an integral part of many United Nations peacekeeping missions, it is critical to ensure that peacekeepers are well prepared to fulfil that mandate. He urged all Member States to adhere to international humanitarian law and support the International Criminal Court.
VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the statement to be made by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the concept of sustaining peace urges a more holistic view of peacebuilding as part of a peace continuum � from conflict prevention to laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development. Stronger partnerships are critical to strengthening this mandate and innovative, practical tools and approaches must be explored to enhance implementation. These require an integrated approach among military, police and civilian components in coordination with national authorities, local communities and relevant humanitarian organizations. Moreover, all peacekeepers have to be properly prepared, trained and equipped to meet challenges faced in the field. Intensive pre-deployment and periodic in-mission training is vital. His country’s peacekeepers are trained as a standard procedure to assist the local population in preventing the relapse of armed conflict and ensure sustainable development.
SAPENAFA KESONI MOTUFAGA (Fiji) said the United Nations and the Security Council remain uniquely placed to resolve conflicts and build and sustain peace. When the Council agrees, the chances of conflicts occurring are reduced and thousands of lives saved. But when it fails to agree, conflicts are prolonged and civilians ultimately become the victims. Member States and others must be made constantly aware of their obligations under international conventions and their obligations relating to the civilian protection during armed conflict. They should take the lead responsibility in protecting their civilian populations, irrespective of affiliation, ethnicity and creed. Peacekeeping is about the soft skills that peacekeepers bring to missions, including the ability to understand cultures and values and interpret the signs of stress early.
JUAN RAMA�N DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), while acknowledging the significant progress made in the protection of civilians over the past 20 years, noted that such progress is insufficient. The matter merits a robust review. Civilians continue to be the target of indiscriminate attacks that are counter to international humanitarian law and restrictions on access to humanitarian assistance continue to be frequent. All parties to armed conflict must provide access to aid, which should not be held hostage to political considerations. He condemned all attacks against medical personnel, underscoring that such attacks are war crimes. Over 30 countries joined the declaration promoted by France for the protection of medical personnel in armed conflict. Accountability in this area has been scarce and reports of serious crimes must be addressed. In this regard, the work of the International Criminal Court is fundamental, he said.
SALOME IMNADZE (Georgia) said that because her country attaches importance to ensuring accountability, particularly with war crimes, it fully cooperates with the International Criminal Court. It facilitated the opening of the Court’s office in Georgia to investigate the crimes committed during the 2008 Russian Federation and Georgia war. However, the non-cooperation and refusal to allow access to the occupied regions by the occupying Power further hinders progress to address the question of impunity. Following the Russian Federation’s full-scale military aggression of August 2008, Georgia has been prevented from extending protection to the population residing in the occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, who are deprived of minimal safeguards for their safety and are stripped of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The loss of lives of Georgian internally displaced persons on the other side of the occupation line is one of the most alarming developments in recent years, she said.
GEORG SPARBER (Liechtenstein), associating himself with the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians, said the Council is obliged to ensure compliance with civilian protection laws. But, its record is mixed at best, with people in Syria having been at the receiving end of its failure to act several times. The General Assembly has played a more active role in terms of accountability by creating the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011. The United Nations Charter makes it clear that armed conflict is illegal, except in narrowly defined exceptional cases. As such, the criminalization of illegal war-making is an essential part of the conflict prevention agenda. Activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression on 17 June 2018 therefore constituted an important step forward, he said, recalling that the possibility of referring aggression situations to the Court is a powerful new deterrent at its disposal.
MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians, said the role of non-State actors, new war tactics, the absence of clear battlefields and the increasing number of parties in conflict all posed a threat to international humanitarian law. She condemned all attacks against schools and educational facilities and called for the full implementation of the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Condemning sexual and gender-based violence, she expressed support for a gender-oriented approach to emergency situations. United Nations peace operations are a powerful tool in the pursuit of sustainable peace. As such, peacekeepers must be trained and equipped to fully protect civilians. She welcomed the Secretary-General’s calls to develop national policy frameworks that protect civilians and promote stronger accountability.
MOHAMMED BESSEDIK (Algeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called for the establishment of a comprehensive, coherent and concrete approach to the issue of protecting of civilians in armed conflict. Strengthening international and domestic legal frameworks in post-conflict settings, including by improving access to education and building sustainable socioeconomic reintegration programmes, remains essential. States must adopt legislation that punishes the most serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. The protection of civilians must also adhere to the principles of universality and non-selectivity. It is deplorable that in many situations, the international community does very little or nothing for populations under foreign or colonial occupation. The United Nations still has a moral and legal responsibility to them, he added. For its part, the Council could consider the inclusion in all peacekeeping mandates of a monitoring human rights mechanism to repost violations and to take necessary measures.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that all serious violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. Moreover, victims of the indirect effects of armed conflict, such as disease and famine, need special medical care and services. Functioning medical facilities and access to humanitarian aid are also critical for protecting civilians, he noted. In that regard, Kazakhstan co-sponsored Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) and signed the October 2017 declaration on protecting humanitarian and medical personnel in conflict. Turning to peacekeeping operations, he said civilian-protection mandates must be linked to comprehensive political strategies for lasting and sustained peace. Noting that the lives of civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel can be saved by introducing new technologies to upgrade force capabilities, he said Kazakhstan will host the fifth Symposium on Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping from 28 to 31 May.
NOA FURMAN (Israel) said civilians in her country have faced decades of threats from hostile forces. Defining terrorism as the deliberate targeting of civilians through violent means, she said Israeli civilians understand the price innocent people pay in that regard. Hamas has fired more than 15,000 rockets and mortars into Israeli towns since 2007, she said, adding that the group exploits the people of the Gaza Strip as human shields. By blatantly targeting Israeli civilians, such Palestinian terrorist organizations commit a double war crime. She went on to state that, in Lebanon, Hizbullah has recruited a third of the civilian population into southern Shi’ite villages, strengthening its terror network. To these groups, international law does not exist, she said, urging the Security Council to designate Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations.
BEATRIZ NASA�EZ RIVAS (Uruguay), associating herself with the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, pointed out that there is still a chasm between what has been achieved and what civilians still face. The disheartening data contained in the Secretary-General’s report demonstrates that enormous challenges exist, she said, emphasizing the need to intensify the collective determination to pursue progress. As well as global actions, it is also necessary to foster regional initiatives, she added. Recalling the attacks carried out against hospitals and medical personnel in the course of 2018, she stressed that attacks against schools and their use for military purposes is unacceptable. Uruguay is a member of the Safe Schools Declaration, she said, adding that investigating crimes and ensuring accountability are key deterrents in the struggle to end the culture of impunity.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said the Council’s actions over the past 20 years have bolstered the protection of civilians, but civilians continue to represent most of the victims of conflict. Noting that State capacity is often insufficient to protect civilians, he said the international community must provide resources and support in this regard. As such, it is essential to strengthen the rule of law and Member States must come up with a national policy and relevant institutions, he said, adding that it is also necessary to address the lack of political will, capacity and resources. Concerning peacekeeping operations, he said civilian protection has been clarified and tools developed to make it more effective. However, it also requires appropriate financing, equipment and training, he said, appointing out that violence against humanitarian personnel or their detention or abduction continue to hamper operations. Refugee populations are especially vulnerable to violations of their rights and assistance directed to them must reach them, he emphasized.
CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand) recognized the importance of human rights monitoring, as well as evidence gathering in ensuring accountability. Where domestic mechanisms fail, the international community has a responsibility to act. We must be prepared to call out breaches of international humanitarian law where we see them, by State and non-State actors, he asserted, noting that such bodies as the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria reinforce that breaches are not without consequence. Urbanized asymmetric conflicts pose an increased risk to civilians, he added, emphasizing: Our international responses must consider the entire conflict cycle in a holistic fashion. Bureaucracy should never be an impediment to saving lives. Women, children and persons with disabilities require special protection as they are extremely vulnerable in conflict. New Zealand also deplores attacks committed against health care facilities and workers, he said.
SILVIO GONZATO, European Union delegation, said the recurrent failure of parties to armed conflict to comply with their international humanitarian law obligations persists as a critical challenge for the protection of civilians. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians, medical facilities, schools and humanitarian workers, and the arbitrary denial of humanitarian access to people in need, are reported on a nearly daily basis. Urging parties to fully comply with international humanitarian principles and rules, he said forced displacement is among the most common and severe consequences of conflict, causing multiple humanitarian needs and protection concerns. Internally displaced persons are among the most vulnerable and access to them is a challenge as they often live in direct proximity to armed conflict. In addition, States often lack the means and laws to protect them. Apart from strengthening the protection of and assistance for the forcibly displaced, greater efforts are needed to prevent and resolve armed conflicts in order to address the causes of forced displacement.
DARJA BAVDAZ KURET (Slovenia) said the Council must provide all peacekeeping mandates, placing special emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable. Recalling her country’s history of assisting victims of armed conflict, she said Slovenia remains committed to alleviating the pain of affected children, including by providing psychological and physical assistance as well as rehabilitation. Slovenia also advocates respect for treaty obligations and customary international law protecting civilians, she said. Expressing support for preventive diplomacy, she 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.
SIMA SAMI I. BAHOUS (Jordan) said her country has always been an actor for peace and an effective mediator in the Middle East. The crises and wars that the region continues to suffer have had major repercussions on Jordan as it continues to host many refugees, she added. The Government has cooperated with international donors to improve and rebuild infrastructure, and to provide food and health services, despite its own difficult economic challenges. Jordan has also provided a wide range of legal services and worked to protect women and children from sexual violence, she noted. Jordan has participated in peacekeeping operations for decades, providing field hospitals in Iraq and other affected countries in the region, she said, adding that one of its field hospitals in Gaza has provided services to 100,000 patients. Jordan, in cooperation with New Zealand, recently made calls to major technology companies to raise awareness of the spread of hatred, xenophobia and radicalism on their platforms.
TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) said the ongoing Rohingya humanitarian crisis has revealed the international community’s inability to stand by a persecuted people when they most need support. We seriously failed to save a whole ethnic minority community from persecution, he observed. Emphasizing that Bangladesh is doing everything possible to host the community safely on its own territory, he said it is also making efforts to contain the downstream escalation of the crisis at the regional or international level. He said Bangladesh seeks the support of the international community � particularly the Security Council � to take due consideration of its proposals, including the notion of creating safe zones in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. While noting that States should take primary responsibility for identifying conflict fault lines, he said the United Nations should invest more in the field. As such, the Organization must build capacities for translating early warnings into early responses through effective measures to prevent the escalation of violence against civilians. He went on to stress that Bangladesh is committed to increasing the number of its female peacekeepers in order to achieve the United Nations-set target, having received first-hand accounts from Rohingya women fleeing Myanmar about the use of sexual violence against women in conflict.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) welcomed the focus of the Secretary-General’s report on the ways in which conflict affects people differently, with its specific focus on the protection needs of women, children, persons with disabilities, the internally displaced and refugees. Efforts must be made to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and to strengthen accountability for all violations, she said, emphasizing that such violations � including attacks by both State and non-State actors against schools and medical facilities � are utterly unacceptable. The Security Council must play its role in ensuring accountability and referring violations to the International Criminal Court, she added, underlining that it must also work to ensure that any referral is accompanied by ongoing support to the Court, particularly in relation to executing arrest warrants and providing adequate financial support.
FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer for the African Union, recalled the transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union in 2002, saying it was marked by the transition from the doctrine of non-interference to that of non-indifference to human suffering. As a result, African Union peace support operations have been increasingly tasked with protecting civilians. In the context of contemporary conflicts, civilians are victims of atrocities and violations, and have become clear objects of attack by armed actors, she said, pointing out that at least 600,000 African civilians in 27 countries have been killed in the past 20 years, with millions more wounded and displaced.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) remains one of the best illustrations of the African Union’s growing commitment to protecting civilians in armed conflict, she continued. More than a decade since its deployment in 2007, AMISOM has achieved undeniable security and political gains while ensuring the protection of the Somali civilian population from terrorist threats, she added. AMISOM continues to ensure that its operations are conducted in compliance with applicable provisions of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, she stressed.
BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, stated that, while civilian fatalities in armed conflict were around 5 per cent in the early 1900s, non-combatant fatalities were more than 90 per cent in the 1990s. Recent peacekeeping mandates have explicitly included the protection of civilians, prevention of sexual violence in conflicts and strict compliance with human rights law. A major part of the problem is that today’s conflicts increasingly involve non-State armed groups who act in absolute disrespect for humanitarian law and principles, targeting the very places where civilians should feel safe, including schools, hospitals and places of worship. Sexual violence against girls and women and the abduction of children into armed groups are further consequences. With widespread impunity, he called for more robust legal mechanisms and sanctions to encourage a shift of mentality and culture.
RODRIGO A. CARAZO (Costa Rica) said little has changed since the protection of civilians was placed in the Council’s agenda 20 years ago, with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Conflict leads to displacement and other negative effects, such as denial of access to health and education. He expressed serious concern over the large-scale impact when densely populated urban zones are hit by explosive weapons. Costa Rica was among the 22 Latin American and Caribbean nations that adopted the 2018 Santiago Communique. Stressing the need to ensure the free movement of humanitarian workers, he emphasized the importance of the Council’s early and preventive action, including by enforcing codes of conduct and refraining from veto use in cases of war crimes.
HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar), associating himself with the statement to be made by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, said Myanmar is a country born with internal armed conflicts. We know too well about the cost of armed conflict and the value of peace and stability, he said, noting that the Government pushed forward a peace process with ethnic armed organizations through the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and holding of the Union Peace Conferences. A lasting peace cannot be achieved overnight. Myanmar is also cooperating with the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. The Government has adopted a strong policy of not condoning any human rights abuse, he said, citing the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all allegations of rights violations in northern Rakhine. Anyone found guilty of committing atrocity will be pushed according to law, he added. While protection of civilians is an important peacekeeping task, operations must be carried out in strict accordance with the specific mandate for the country concerned. Myanmar is committed to ending the decades-long internal armed conflict by peaceful means through political dialogue, he added.
YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), welcoming an increased focus on the problem of forced displacement stemming from armed conflict, pointed to the civilians taken hostage and reported missing during such violence as another important matter. The forcible deportation of some 250,000 Azerbaijanis from their homes in Armenia at the end of the 1980s was accompanied by killings, enforced disappearances, the destruction of property and pillaging. In late 1991 and early 1992, full-scale war was unleashed against Azerbaijan, which claimed tens of thousands of lives. A significant part of Azerbaijan’s territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region, was seized by Armenia in violation of international law. Armenia is now taking purposeful measures to prevent the internally displaced from returning to their homes. As of 1 May, 3,888 citizens of Azerbaijan were registered missing in connection with the conflict, among them 718 civilians. He stressed that denial of responsibility for crimes is a direct obstacle to genuine reconciliation.
JULIO CA�SAR ARRIOLA RAMA�REZ (Paraguay) said existing peacekeeping mandates should be adapted to include the protection of civilians. Education and training in international humanitarian law on how to stop attacks is essential to improving protection-of-civilians systems. Troops and police alike must receive general training prior to their deployment on mission. Once they have been deployed, training on mission must complement what they learned in their home countries. He voiced regret over the disdain shown for international humanitarian law, as well as the use of hunger as a weapon against civilians and as a method of combat.
MILENKO ESTEBAN SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile), noting that 2019 marks 70 years since the Geneva Conventions were established and 20 years that the Council has considered the protection of civilians issue, expressed Chile’s strong commitment to this agenda, which is guided by the international normative framework. The Secretary-General’s report provides helpful information on the patterns of violence and on the risks for such vulnerable groups as children, women, teachers, medical workers and journalists. It also provides evidence of the impacts of different weapons. In December 2018, Chile hosted a regional conference on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in densely-populated areas, where participants adopted a political declaration known as the Santiago Communique.
FABIEN STEPHAN YVO RAUM (Luxembourg) proposed that all peacekeeping missions have a protection of civilians mandate and that the United Nations quantify the scope of challenges therein, citing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as a good example in that regard. As combating impunity is crucial to preventing atrocity crimes, Luxembourg fully supports the work of the International Criminal Court. Atrocity crimes not only victimize civilians but also impact post-conflict peacebuilding, he said, a connection which must be analysed.
GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) pressed the Council to be more systematic, comprehensive and consistent in addressing protection concerns within and across conflict situations. Where peaceful means are inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations, the Council must uphold the international community’s responsibility to protect, she added. Urging States to sign the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group Code of Conduct and to support the France-Mexico initiative on veto restraint, she said Council resolutions designed to prevent or halt mass atrocities must not be blocked. She urged Council members to explore further the unarmed civilian protection methodologies employed by various organizations, pointing to community engagement as central to the success of these efforts. Uniformed components need to be well trained and equipped for protection-of-civilians tasks, she said, calling on all troop-contributing countries to endorse the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians. She also expressed support for more robust and innovative approaches to accountability, including through sanctions and independent investigative mechanisms.
ANA SILVIA RODRA�GUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Council must refrain from backing military ventures and emphasized that the responsibility to protect falls on States. International and regional organizations can assist in this endeavour but should never replace the role and responsibility of national Governments. International organizations must respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Governments and institutions, and humanitarian efforts must never be used to promote geostrategic interests. Stressing that the protection of civilians cannot be used to justify military interventions, regime change or the overthrow of legitimate political and economic orders, she fully rejected the manipulation of humanitarian assistance for political purposes, which causes severe damage to civilians. Peacekeeping operations have not always guaranteed a safer environment, she added, while the reinterpretation of mandates has often increased threats against peacekeepers and brought their neutrality into question.
NATASCIA BARTOLINI (San Marino) said the implementation of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of health care in armed conflict remains critical. The situation of vulnerable groups is a cause of great concern, with children recruited as soldiers and their schools attacked, destroyed or used as military facilities. San Marino condemns these acts and supports the development of action plans to prevent and end grave violations against children, she said. As such, it has joined the Paris Principles, the Safe Schools Declaration, the Vancouver Principles and the new campaign, #ActToProtect, all with the aim of protecting, rehabilitating and reintegrating children in conflict, she said.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said his delegation has been consistent in advancing the prevention and protection agendas, including through its involvement in United Nations peace and stability operations. In Syria, demining specialists from Armenia operate in Aleppo and a medical team provides assistance in four hospitals. International humanitarian law is incorporated into the curriculum of Armenia’s military educational institutions, he noted, also pointing out his delegation’s commitment to promoting gender-sensitive policies. Emphasizing that the international community should resolutely condemn the pursuit of military solutions to conflict, as well as manifestations of war-mongering and intolerance against neighbours, he said the protection of civilians in armed conflict is closely linked to the prevention of mass atrocities, including genocide. Such atrocities do not occur overnight, he observed, pointing out that they are detectable and predictable. Denial of past crimes, impunity, discrimination and the prevalence of hate speech are among the precipitating factors representing early warning signs, he said, stressing that the United Nations Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on Responsibility to Protect have a challenging task in detecting such risks.
MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, commended the role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in upholding international humanitarian law. Emphasizing that the Security Council must commit to international humanitarian law without politicization and double standards, he said that the surge in humanitarian needs due to armed conflict is being aggravated by a new trend of warring parties disregarding international humanitarian law. Noting that Arab States are affected by conflict and waves of terrorist actions, he said yesterday’s criticism of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is proof that some Governments do not respect humanitarian work. He went on to underline the need to include consideration of defenceless Palestinians in any discussion about the protection of civilians. Expressing concern over Israel’s closure of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, he pointed out that the occupying Power continues to violate the Geneva Conventions. The League trusts that the Security Council is able to hold violators of international humanitarian law to account, he said.
CLARE HUTCHINSON, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Women, Peace and Security, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), cited its 2016 Policy on Protection of Civilians as a coherent, consistent and integrated approach, requiring that all NATO-led operations and missions be conducted in accordance with applicable international law. NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan is limited to training, advising and assisting. It does not conduct combat operations, per the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement. The 2015 policy document, The Protection of Children in Armed Conflict � the Way Forward, offers guidance on integrating Council resolutions into the Organization’s military doctrine and exercises, which, in turn, helped the development of an Afghanistan child protection policy. Efforts to protect women and girls from conflict-related sexual violence resulted in the 2015 Military Guidelines on the Prevention of, and Response to, Conflict-Related Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. NATO nations undertake mandatory predeployment training in protection of civilians and children for all missions, she emphasized, stating the group’s commitment in that domain is indisputable.
MOHAMED OMAR MOHAMED GAD (Egypt) highlighted the importance of the Geneva Conventions in international law, emphasizing that they entered into force as a result of the painful experiences of the Second World War. Recalling that the civilian protection question was placed on the Council’s agenda in 1999 and has since become a pillar of peacekeeping mandates, he pointed out, however, that its conceptual development has not been accompanied by concrete measures on the ground. Egypt co-piloted the drafting of a resolution condemning attacks against medical personnel in May 2016, he recalled, also citing his country’s protection-of-civilians training for peacekeepers, among other national initiatives. The clear change in the nature of conflict, the spread of non-State actors targeting civilians and the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in urban areas all demand comprehensive responses, he said, stressing that they must not be limited to political solutions, but include tackling of root causes such as poverty and marginalization.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVICS (Latvia) expressed support for the Secretary-General’s recommendations. As the current president of the Arms Trade Treaty, Latvia welcomes that his report also addresses the context of arms experts and encourages all States to become parties to the Treaty and similar regional instruments without delay. Promoting the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities is essential, he said, urging the Council to prioritize this matter when addressing situations of concern, as it must remain an important component of peacekeeping missions.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the worst aspect of this issue is that most victims are women and children. According to the Secretary-General’s report, not only have civilian casualties increased in Afghanistan in 2018, but those resulting from the use of air-launched weapons rose by 61 per cent. What has been this Council’s reaction to such a violation by United States and NATO forces? Nothing, he said. When a United Nations assessment in Syria found that nearly 70 per cent of buildings in Raqqa were destroyed, the Council did not hold the United States or its partners to account. In Gaza, Israel killed nearly 280 civilians in 2018, including 56 children, yet the Council did not hold Israel responsible. On 9 August 2018, an attack by Saudi Arabia killed 52 civilians, among them 40 children, to which the Council reacted with complete silence. The conclusion is that respect for international humanitarian law erodes because criminals are not held to account. Rather, they are emboldened to commit more brutalities.
SOSPETER KARANI IKIARA (Kenya), noting that civilians continue to account for most casualties in armed conflict, said this has become a constant problem in many conflict-affected regions, according to successive reports of the Secretary-General. Concrete and specific efforts must be made to ensure the dignity of those distressed by war, he said, pointing out that today’s conflicts are increasingly non-conventional and characterized by armed insurgencies. Civilians are used by armed groups and terrorist organizations, both as human shields and as potential recruits, he added. Underlining that national and international responses require anti-insurgency and counter-terrorism measures that conform strictly to obligations under international humanitarian law, he said this is a challenge that all Member States must address boldly and sustainably.
ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal) said that in order to be effective and efficient, the protection agenda must enjoy better coordination among the Security Council, the Department of Peace Operations and the Department of Peacekeeping Support. Troop-contributing and host countries are also essential in ensuring smooth mandate implementation. Just as important is providing peacekeeping missions with clear mandates and being clear on exactly what is expected of soldiers, he emphasized. Senegal is setting the standard on this and has taken a proactive stance in training soldiers to preserve the highest moral authority over nefarious forces, he added. He went on to underscore the role of non-governmental organizations and local communities in ensuring that civilians are the protected. Use of host- country languages can also help facilitate mandate implementation, he noted. The protection of civilians is linked with security-sector reform, he said, emphasizing the need to support host countries in that regard. Senegal supports mechanisms that conduct independent investigations into atrocity crimes, he added.
ARIEL RODELAS PENARANDA (Philippines) said much is expected of the mandate to give priority to the protection of civilians in peacekeeping, with the emphasis on protecting children and combating sexual exploitation and abuse. It is the standard by which the performance of United Nations peacekeeping is measured, he said. Predeployment training should draw on existing policy, guidance and training resources, he added, encouraging fellow Member States to host Centres of Excellence regionally to deliver training packages to troop- and police-contributing countries. He said more women should be deployed in peacekeeping operations, particularly in positions of command.
MOHD SUHAIMI AHMAD TAJUDDIN (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said innocent civilians should never be made victims. As modern peacekeeping missions are multidimensional � ranging from peacebuilding to providing secure environments, human rights monitoring and the rebuilding of State capacities � the link between the protection of civilians and peacekeeping mandates is central. The credibility of United Nations peacekeepers depends largely on their willingness to act when civilians are at risk to threats, he said, stressing that the failure of peacekeepers to act or follow orders should be brought to the Council’s attention. He expressed support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve performance and agreed that peacekeepers should receive pre-deployment training in line with United Nations standards.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Deputy Observer for the State of Palestine, said the failure to uphold international law and implement Security Council resolutions relevant to the protection of civilians has allowed the growth and spread of a culture of impunity. The worldwide pursuit of humanitarian action cannot stop the bloodletting, she noted, emphasizing that the protection of innocents requires enforcement measures to hold perpetrators accountable within the full extent of the law, including international criminal law. Without consequences, without a cost, modern history has shown us that these violations will never cease, she said. In that context, the question of Palestine is a litmus test for the international community, the credibility of the Security Council and the rules-based order, she said, stressing that the Palestinian people have suffered grave breaches of humanitarian law and massive human rights violations as Israel, the occupying Power, continues to act with absolute impunity. The consequences have been tragic and severe, she observed, pointing out that someone, somewhere � actually, thousands in so many places around the world � suffers gravely because of this negligence.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), stressed that the State has the primary responsibility to protect its civilians. Protection of civilians in armed conflicts must be guided by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, including respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the State. Turning to peace operations, he said the importance of training cannot be overemphasized and should start at the national level in troop- and police-contributing countries. The best way to protect civilians is by preventing conflicts altogether. There is a lot of wisdom and plenty of lessons learned in peacebuilding and preventive diplomacy which we all can benefit from, he said. Calling for the strengthening of ASEAN-UN cooperation to assist Member States in training and experience sharing, he said the region is fully committed to continuing its peace operations.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said that Viet Nam has experienced many wars for its independence and sovereignty. We experience first-hand the suffering of the people, he added, calling on all parties to armed conflicts to strictly comply with their obligation to protect civilians. Stressing the importance of making peace operations more sensitive and responsive to local dynamics, he said the participation and inclusion of local people in peace processes fosters a genuine sense of ownership. Since 2014, Vietnamese peacekeepers have been sent to various conflict zones in Africa. He underscored the importance of pre-deployment training in international humanitarian law and adopting a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence and abuse.
MOHAMMAD YOUSSOF GHAFOORZAI (Afghanistan) said for his country, the meaning of protection is broad and comprehensive, entailing both physical protection and human security. According to UNAMA’s quarterly report, Taliban attacks resulted in almost 700 civilian casualties between January and March 2019. Afghan security forces are operating with utmost professionalism, adhering to strict rules of engagement and coordinating closely with international forces on counter-terrorism operations to avoid and prevent harm to civilians, schools, medical facilities and other public infrastructure. These precautionary measures are based on presidential degrees and other directives from security institutions, he said, noting also that the Government signed with the United Nations a joint action plan to protect children.
MARI SKARE (Norway), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, stressed that civilians are not a legitimate target. Attacks against schools and hospitals must end; these facilities must never be used for military purposes. While protection of civilians is embedded in United Nations peacekeeping mandates, violence against civilians is an underreported crime. There is a lack of support to victims, and perpetrators go unpunished. Norway, Iraq, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, ICRC and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will host a conference on 23 and 24 May to improve coordination and mobilize resources for the humanitarian response to sexual and gender-based violence. We must listen to those affected, she stressed, emphasizing that people with disabilities are particularly at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. Women’s participation and rights must be a priority, she said, urging Governments to help the United Nations’ improve its capacity to prevent and solve conflict, conduct mediation and revise peacekeeping intelligence policy. Along with supporting national efforts to pursue justice, the Council must maintain the issue of medical care on its agenda and strongly underline the seriousness of both attacks on medical care and the denial of access, as well as consider the protection of medical care in mission mandates.
AMA�RICA LOURDES PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador) said the protection of civilians must be a top goal of the Council, expressing regret that the situation remains unchanged and civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict. Her delegation attaches great importance to the Geneva Conventions. Welcoming that nine peacekeeping operations incorporated the protection of civilians as a main mandate, she underlined the negative impacts of using explosive weapons in the populated areas and in that context drew attention to the Santiago Communique adopted by countries in her region. Indeed, crimes against civilians should not go unpunished. A lack of accountability destroys the credibility of the international community, she said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s approach to adopt effective and systematic measures.
KHALED MOHAMMED H. ALMANZLAWIY (Saudi Arabia) said his country continues to urge the international community to take a united approach to protect civilians and keep them far from armed conflict. Some conflicts recruit children, depriving them of their fundamental right to life. The changing nature of conflicts requires international attention and action, he said, noting that the theft of food stuffs in Yemen continues to subject civilians to the threat of famine. He called on the Council to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the search for long-term solutions to the world’s many conflicts, and to take action against the Houthi militia, which is supported by Iran and targets civilian areas.
Taking the floor a second time to clarify a reference to the Srebrenica massacre, the representative of the United Kingdom called it an act of genocide.
Source: UN News Centre