Violence against civilians is being perpetrated on a massive scale [fr]
Protection of civilians in armed conflict
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 23 May 2019
I would first like to warmly thank the Indonesian presidency for organizing this vital debate on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the inclusion of the protection of civilians on the Security Council’s agenda and to welcome the presence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, who is presiding over our work. The contributions of your country and troops to peacekeeping and to the United Nations efforts to protect civilians are invaluable, Madam President. This debate is an excellent opportunity for all of us to take stock of the Security Council’s action and the progress that is still to be made in this area. The Secretary-General’s report (S/2019/373) and his ambitious recommendations should serve as our guide in that endeavor. I would also like to welcome the other Ministers present at this meeting and to thank the Secretary-General,Mr. Peter Mauer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Mr. Federico Borello, Executive Director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, for their informative briefings.
Let us be clear about the facts. Conflicts last longer and are becoming more complex, and their impact on civilians is as severe as it was during the era of major global conflicts. In Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Yemen, Burma, Afghanistan and Iraq, violence against civilians is being perpetrated on a massive scale. To counter that trend, the Security Council has adopted specific measures to protect civilians over the past 20 years. I would like to underscore two basic points, much of which my colleagues have already discussed, and discussed well.
First, it is the mandates given to peacekeeping operations that have the goal of protecting civilians at their core. Thanks to the Secretary-General’s efforts, the protection of civilians is implemented by all of the missions’ components, military, police and civilian, including their human rights divisions. Those components are working in an increasingly integrated way. With casualty tracking, the performance measurement of peacekeeping operations takes the protection of civilians fully into account. We should build on that achievement by providing operations with the means to act with robust mandates and adequate resources.
My second point concerns the human rights due diligence policy, which is aimed at ensuring that peacekeeping actors are exemplars and encourages the acceptance of United Nations forces by local populations. That policy has taken on a new form in the human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel). In a very innovative fashion, the Security Council has made the protection of civilians an integral part of the operationalization of the G-5 Sahel Joint Force. We welcome the technical assistance provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights enabling the G-5 Sahel countries to fulfil their obligations, and the financial support of the European Union. The necessary resources will have to be mobilized over time to support that kind of protection framework. The United Nations has an increasingly important role to play in that regard where regional peace operations are concerned. Accordingly, and without presuming to be exhaustive, France believes that the Council must redouble its efforts in at least five areas.
The first priority is ensuring compliance with the relevant international conventions, foremost of which are the Geneva Conventions, whose seventieth anniversary we are celebrating. I am including human rights conventions under the same rubric, in particular the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the various treaties on arms control. In that regard, France remains fully committed to the universalization of the Arms Trade Treaty, which has become a major pillar in the protection of civilians. France urges major arms exporters and importers to take a responsible approach to supporting the Treaty, which is key to curbing such weapons’ uncontrolled spread and their deadly consequences for civilians.
The second priority is protecting humanitarian and medical personnel and infrastructure. Just since the beginning of this year, the Office of Mission Support has reported more than 300 attacks on medical infrastructure or personnel. In Syria, along with the most recent strike on a health-care centre in Kafr Nabl this past Sunday, a total of 19 hospitals were targeted by a single offensive by the regime and its supporters in Idlib. That is clearly unacceptable. In that regard, let me recall what Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, said at an Arria Formula meeting on 1 April, in the context of the French and German joint presidencies of the Security Council,
“Our responsibility is to find the operational means to ensure the protection of the men and women who embody the spirit of the 1949 Geneva Conventions on a daily basis.”
At the national level, France is committed to ensuring that the protection of humanitarian and health personnel is integrated into military operations, starting at the planning stage. The use of force can be authorized to protect them from hostile acts. With regard to humanitarian aid workers, our armed forces list health-care facilities in theatres of operation in order to protect them against targeted operations.
Learning the rules of the protection of humanitarian and medical personnel is also a key part of our training programmes, including in Africa, based on the training currently conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross at the Libreville Staff School. In Mali, the legal advisers of Operation Barkhane have conducted awareness-raising exercises for the Malian forces as part of regular training in the area of the law of armed conflict for several years. In accordance with resolution 2462 (2019), on countering the financing of terrorist acts, which was adopted during the French presidency of the Council, we are exercising great care to ensure that the measures implemented to combat terrorism do not adversely affect the activities of humanitarian personnel. In that regard, we will continue to be especially careful to ensure that such personnel are not unduly prosecuted for activities carried out in strict compliance with the principles of humanitarian law.
The third priority is to make the protection of children and women on the ground more effective. Much remains to be done in that major area. It calls for the deployment of child protection and women’s protection advisers within peace operations. It also requires the universal endorsement of the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, also known as the Paris Principles, the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers.
The fourth priority that should guide us is ensuring the effective protection of journalists in situations of armed conflict, in accordance with resolutions 1738 (2006) and 2222 (2015). In its multipronged efforts in that regard, France sensitizes French and foreign journalists to high-risk situations.
The fifth priority concerns the fight against impunity and the necessary prosecution of violations. First of all, civilians will be protected only if those who target them are punished. The Council must make more systematic use of individual sanctions against those responsible for violations of humanitarian law and human rights law, sexual violence and serious violations against children. Secondly, justice must be done for the victims. In that regard, we must strengthen national capacities, ensure systematic, impartial and independent investigations, and in cases where national mechanisms are insufficient or inadequate, resolutely support the use of international mechanisms. They must be provided with the necessary resources, be able to rely on the full cooperation of States and include the involvement of local communities.
On the twentieth anniversary of the inclusion of the protection of civilians in armed conflict on the agenda of the Security Council, clarity and determination are therefore more important than ever. That is why Mr. Le Drian and his German counterpart Heiko Maas decided on 1 April (see S/PV.8499) to launch the international initiative Humanitarian Call for Action, so that the Council’s resolutions can be transformed into concrete actions on the ground. As the German Minister said earlier, France and Germany hope that the Humanitarian Call for Action will lead to the adoption of a declaration of commitment by States on the margins of the next session of the General Assembly to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law. We owe it to the civilian populations whom it is our duty to protect.