International humanitarian law constitutes sometimes the last resort against arbitrariness [fr]
The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of
international peace and security
Statement by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
Security Council - 1 April 2019
First of all, I to express to you, Sir, my support for the German presidency, wish it every success and underscore the powerful, as well as operational, symbolism represented by the consecutive French and German presidencies. For together with our friend Mr. Heiko Maas, we wanted for the Security Council to act so as to safeguard what we refer to as humanitarian space, or the ability of humanitarian workers to carry out their work safely and effectively in accordance with the principles of impartiality, flexibility and independence.
The first condition necessary for ensuring the sustainability of that space is respect for international humanitarian law. The 1949 Geneva Conventions, whose seventieth anniversary we will commemorate on 12 August, bear the mark of the history of our two countries — France and Germany — and the tragedies that have punctuated our shared history and that of our continent. As Mr. Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), mentioned earlier, the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols Additional, of which we call for the universal ratification, are today violated in many conflicts. Certain parties go so far as to intentionally integrate their violation into their military strategies. Humanitarian workers and medical infrastructure are being deliberately attacked to deprive people of any relief and to secure their surrender. That was the topic of the Arria Formula meeting that we convened this morning. We are also witnessing the use of starvation and sexual violence as weapons of war, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers, which is intended to achieve the same goal — to win faster by maximizing the human cost of the conflict.
Improved compliance with international humanitarian law requires in particular three types of action to which the Security Council can contribute: first, ensuring access for humanitarian aid to populations in need; secondly, developing preventive measures; and, lastly, combating impunity.
First, humanitarian personnel must have access to civilians, which means that they must be protected from all forms of violence and threats. It is unacceptable that in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, for example, humanitarian workers and aid convoys are targeted. We must also take measures to ensure that humanitarian personnel are not unduly prosecuted for activities conducted in strict compliance with humanitarian principles. That is a key element with regard to the credibility of our collective commitment to combating terrorism.
Secondly, the Council shoulders the responsibility for preventing violations of international humanitarian law. That is what we do when we place the protection of civilians, including women and children, at the core of peacekeeping missions, such as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Sanctions are a deterrent tool that must be used more systematically against violations of international humanitarian law, in particular against those responsible for sexual violence. Moreover, France stands particularly ready to make attacks against humanitarian personnel a designation criterion in sanctions regimes, such as is now the case concerning the Central African Republic.
I had an opportunity to remind the Council of the imperative of protecting children associated with armed forces and groups. I am pleased that the Dominican Republic and Djibouti have endorsed the Paris Principles and the Paris Commitments since the call for their universalization at the open debate of the Security Council in October 2017 (see S/PV.8082). The Security Council must also ensure that the non-United Nations forces it supports conduct their operations in strict compliance with international humanitarian law, which, for example, is made possible by the human rights compliance framework of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel, which the Security Council has supported with the goal of limiting the impact of the Force’s operations on civilians.
It is also up to States to lead the way. With regard to France, international humanitarian law is the rule of conduct for all its operations, and it is integrated as soon as the planning phase, as currently illustrated by Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, where we maintain close dialogue with the ICRC. International humanitarian law is an integral part of our security and defence cooperation, in particular through the training provided to military and civilian staff in national regional schools in Africa, including in conjunction with the ICRC.I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, as guarantors of the Geneva Conventions, play an essential role in the fight for the dissemination and implementation of international humanitarian law.
Thirdly, let me address the fight against impunity. We must do everything we can to strengthen national capacities and ensure systematic, impartial and independent investigations and, where national mechanisms are insufficient or inadequate, support the use of international mechanisms. In that regard, France reiterates its call for the universalization of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and congratulates Malaysia on its recent accession.
A unit has been set up in France that is specifically responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. International cooperation, in particular among European judicial authorities, the Commission of Inquiry and 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, led to the arrest in February of three former members of the Syrian intelligence services, as part of a Franco-German investigation, and the issuance of international arrest warrants against senior officials of the repressive Syrian apparatus. It must be possible to systematize that type of cooperation.
Our discussions today prove the need for international mobilization to safeguard and strengthen the humanitarian space. That is why Mr. Heiko Maas and I have decided today to launch a call for international mobilization for humanitarian action, to be known as the Humanitarian Call for Action, which we hope will lead to the adoption of a declaration of commitment by States on the margins of General Assembly at its next session.
Conflicts are becoming increasingly long and complex, while their impact on civilian populations is as severe as in the era of major global conflicts. In the face of that situation, international humanitarian law constitutes a remedy, and sometimes the last resort, against arbitrariness. It is up to us to remind ourselves that its application is not a moral option, but a legal obligation.