Civilians are the target of unacceptable violence [fr]
Protection of civilians in armed conflicts
Statement by Mr. Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 27 May 2020
I thank Estonia for this debate and welcome the participation of the President of Estonia. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his report, the President of the ICRC Peter Maurer and Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for their interventions.
Civilians are the target of unacceptable violence. From Afghanistan to Libya, from South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, the DRC, Yemen to Iraq, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured and millions forcefully displaced. COVID-19 has exacerbated the vulnerability of those most vulnerable in conflict zones, in particular refugees and displaced persons. Together with Tunisia we will continue our efforts within the UN Security Council to support the SG’s call for a cessation of hostilities, to facilitate the fight against the pandemic.
This Council has developed tools to address protection of civilians in a more systematic and effective manner.
First, the Security Council has repeatedly condemned violations committed by all parties. We regret that the Security Council has not been able to condemn violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law taking place in Myanmar or in Syria. It’s absolutely necessary that the Security Council renew the crossborder mechanism and that populations in need including in the North East be able to receive aid through the most effective and direct routes.
Second, the Security Council has mandated Peacekeeping operations to protect civilians. They are carrying their mandate in a more robust and innovative manner. MINUSCA has developed three “surge teams” composed of both police and civilian personnel specialized in protection of civilians that can be deployed in hotspots. MINUSMA has set up "temporary bases" close to the populations to strengthen social cohesion.
Protection of civilians has become key when assessing the performance of UN missions. Unfortunately, women and girls continue to be subject to appalling sexual and gender based violence and children to be recruited by armed groups. It is paramount that UN missions be given sufficient capacity and human resources to respond to their specific needs.
I will now turn to four challenges.
First, the issue of attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel is particularly worrying in the context of COVID-19. Parties to armed conflicts must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect humanitarian and medical personnel and units, and to ensure humanitarian access.
The Humanitarian Call for Action presented by France and Germany last September, addresses this issue through different concrete engagements. France is planning to launch a national plan of action aiming at strengthening international humanitarian law training of state and non-state actors. We encourage all Member States to endorse the Humanitarian Call and welcome the endorsements of the Call by Chile and the Maldives, bringing the number of signatories to 45.
Second, the question of the use of weapons which is addressed in the Secretary-General’s report.
Much of the harm and destruction in current conflicts appears to be the result of violations of international humanitarian law provisions including, but not limited to, the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
France is engaged in the ongoing negotiations towards the development of a political declaration to improve the protection of civilians. To that end, this political declaration must address the issue of the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons. But it shall not stigmatize explosive weapons themselves. It must affirm that the core challenge is to improve the implementation of international humanitarian law principles: by promoting appropriate policies and practices for the conduct of military operations in urban contexts and by encouraging States to exchange good practices.
France is also engaged in efforts to address the possible challenges associated with the development of lethal weapons systems featuring autonomy. Substantial progress has been made through the work of the dedicated governmental experts. This includes the adoption of 11 guiding principles reaffirming that international humanitarian law continues to apply fully to all weapons systems.
Third, the protection of journalists in armed conflict has to become effective. We commend the four Groups of friends on protection of journalists and their efforts to support implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.
Finally, we must redouble our efforts to support justice for victims. The arrest in France of Félicien Kabuga, one of the high profile remaining fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda two weeks ago is a reminder that those responsible for mass atrocities can be brought to justice.
France will also continue to support fight against impunity of perpetrators of atrocities committed in Syria, through national proceedings and support to the Commission of Inquiry and the IIIM.
I thank you.