Human Rights & Democracy

EU Statement – United Nations Security Council: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

New York, 23/05/2019 - 22:27, UNIQUE ID: 190523_19
Statements on behalf of the EU

23 May 2019, New York - Statement on behalf of the European Union and its Member States by Ambassador Silvio Gonzato, Deputy Head of European Union Delegation to the United Nations, at the Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

23 May 2019, New York - Amb. Silvio Gonzato speaks at the UN Security Council


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I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia*and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.

I would like to thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia Ms. Retno Marsudi, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Mauer, and the Executive Director for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, Federico Borello.

The protection of civilians remains of utmost concern for the EU and its Member States, and we welcome the opportunity today to speak on this important topic. We also welcome the Secretary General's report, along with the practical recommendations therein.

Looking back at the state of protecting civilians over the last 20 years, we can identify a number of achievements. But it is very clear that fundamental challenges remain.

I would like to address a number of areas that are of particular concern to us, and where the EU and its Member States have taken steps to advance protection efforts.

Firstly, the recurrent failure of parties to armed conflicts to comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) continues to be one of the most critical challenges for the protection of civilians. This is not merely a catchphrase here in the Council, but impacts the lives of numerous civilians worldwide on a daily basis. Indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, the recurrence of attacks against medical facilities, schools and humanitarian workers, and the arbitrary denial of humanitarian access to people in need are all unacceptable, yet reported on a nearly daily basis. We recognise the challenges associated with the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas and their impact on civilians. We call on all parties to armed conflict to fully comply with IHL principles and rules. Promoting compliance with IHL and respect of the humanitarian principles has always been, and remains, a top priority for the EU and its member states. The EU is especially also supporting efforts to safeguard principled humanitarian assistance with respect to counter-terrorism measures and sanctions.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure respect for international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to hold those who violate it accountable. Civilian victims of unimaginable atrocities need and deserve justice. This rings particularly true as we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Within the EU, there has been an increasing number of prosecutions under national jurisdiction against those who commit grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The EU also maintains strong support for international justice and accountability, including the work of the International Criminal Court, and urges all UN Members to do the same. Let's bridge the gap between what is being said in this Council, and everyday practice.

Secondly, as a leading humanitarian donor, the EU specifically focuses on ensuring that our assistance extends beyond the material needs of persons to the broader issues of personal safety and dignity. Many of the crises of today are indeed crises of protection. That is why over the past five years the EU has provided over EUR 1 billion for protection activities.

Forced displacement is one of the most common and severe consequences of armed conflict, causing multiple humanitarian needs and protection concerns. IDPs are among the most vulnerable and access to persons of concern a particular challenge as IDPs often live in direct proximity to armed conflicts. In addition, States often lack the means and laws to protect and help them rebuild their lives, and help those left behind. Apart from strengthening protection of and assistance for the forcibly displaced, increased efforts are needed to prevent and resolve armed conflicts and other forms of violence, in order to address the root causes of forced displacement.

Third, as the report of the Secretary General highlights, persons with disabilities continue to be disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises. The European Union is a key proponent of the rights of people with disabilities. We have taken over the past years a number of measures, including the elaboration of a dedicated guidance document, to ensure that the specific needs of persons with disabilities are adequately addressed in EU-funded humanitarian assistance.

Fourth, sexual and gender based violence continues to be employed as a tactic of war, terrorism, torture and repression. It is a common and alarming trend across various, otherwise diverse, crises. The victims – women and girls, men and boys – are often those already belonging to the most vulnerable groups. We therefore welcome the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019) as a step forward in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence, in particular the strong language on criminal accountability, the role of civil society as well as a survivor-centered approach.  In this regard, the European Union reaffirms the importance of the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. During 2017-2018, the EU allocated approximately EUR 62 million to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. It is absolutely imperative that a gender perspective is incorporated in protection efforts, including humanitarian action. To this end, the EU remains committed to, among other initiatives, the 'Call to Action on Protection from Gender Based Violence in Emergencies'. Today a specific conference is taking place on this topic in Oslo. We commend the organisers for drawing attention to this important topic. We hope that the outcomes of this conference will improve prevention and protection of GBV in emergencies.

The European Union is a leader in the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the rights of the child, including their right to education. In 2019, 10% of EU humanitarian aid will support children with safe and quality education activities. The EU is strongly committed to the protection of schools and education in situations of conflict and welcomes initiatives such as the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict in this regard.

Finally, we continue to underscore that the protection of civilians must be at the core of peacekeeping mandates, in line with the Kigali Principles. Peacekeepers must protect civilians and be able and prepared to use force when those are under threat of physical violence, consistent with clear mandates, while operations must be equipped with the necessary tools in this regard. This includes but is not limited to the necessary equipment as well as the necessary training. Peacekeepers also do play a critical role to protect children in armed conflict. Well trained child protection focal points and their cooperation with civilian child protection advisors are essential to ensure effective monitoring and reporting of grave violations, but also that children associated with armed forces and groups are treated with special consideration for their status as children. In this context we would like to emphasise the importance of strengthening the recording of casualties through UN operations in order to support evidence-based advocacy with parties to conflict and to identify factors that contribute to civilian casualties.

Additionally, Member States should strive to improve the gender balance in all components of peacekeeping operations, in order to achieve a more equitable gender representation and to improve the capacity of missions to reach all segments of the civilian population. We therefore welcome all efforts in this direction, in particular the UN System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity and the recently approved Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy 2018-28 (UGPS).

Thank you.


* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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