National Statement by Sweden at the Security Council Ministerial-Level Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
National Statement on behalf of Sweden, Ambassador Irina Schoulgin Nyoni, at the Security Council Ministerial-Level Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Thursday, 25 May 2017, New York.
Thank you for organising today's debate. Let me also thank the Secretary-General, Christine Beerli from ICRC and Bruno Stagno-Ugarte of Human Rights Watch for their important and inspiring contributions. Let me also note that Sweden fully endorses the statements to made later today on behalf of the European Union, as well as that made by Norway on behalf of the Nordic countries
The Fourth Geneva Convention puts the protection of civilians at the heart of international humanitarian law. The UN Charter puts it at the heart of the mandate and responsibility of the Security Council.
Sadly, today, despite these protections, it may never have been so perilous to be a civilian in the midst of armed conflict. It is forty years since the adoption of the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions, which specifically strengthen the protection of civilians. Yet, almost every day this Council is faced with testimonies of the most brutal, barbarous and premeditated targeting of civilians as a tactic of war.
From the atrocities in Syria, to the inaccessible villages of Borno State in northern Nigeria; from South Sudan, ravaged by man-made famine, to the crisis in Yemen, to attacks on medical facilities in Kunduz; the Secretary-General and the Vice-President of ICRC rightly speak of a "global protection crisis". This level of preventable suffering is horrifying and, as we state repeatedly, utterly unacceptable.
It is undoubtedly so that states have the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians. At the same time, the international community, including this Council, must also do more. We welcome the Secretary-General's proposed "path to protection" and his recommendations for a more ambitious approach for the United Nations across the board. The path to protection is strongly linked to the Secretary-General's prevention agenda. And such an approach saves lives and prevents suffering; it also has the potential to save billions in humanitarian aid, which can in turn be invested in building stable and prosperous societies.
Once a year we meet here to speak about the protection of civilians in an open debate; however, we address these issues in our work every day. It is our responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians in each and every conflict. But often we fail. How can we do better?
The protection of civilians' agenda is broad. Today, I will limit myself to focusing on three issues.
Firstly – We can ensure respect for international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law. Where once civilian deaths were seen as unavoidable casualties of war, we now see civilians being actively targeted. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are seen as just another tool in the toolbox of warfare. We fully agree with the Secretary-General that the narrative that civilian deaths in war are inevitable must be reversed. If fact, they can be prevented.
International humanitarian law provides a foundation for prevention as well as reconciliation, peacebuilding and accountability. The protection and promotion of human rights contributes to addressing the root causes of instability.
We can include a gender perspective in the implementation of international humanitarian law. It would ensure that all civilians – both men and women – get the effective protection to which they are entitled, as well as impartial humanitarian assistance. Women and girls face heightened and specific risks in situations of armed conflict. Therefore, it is important that the situation and needs of women and girls in armed conflict are addressed. In addition, the particular vulnerabilities and protection needs of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) – especially children – need to recognised, considered and addressed
Secondly - We can take concrete steps forward, building on the landmark resolution 2286 and the recommendations from the Secretary-General of August last year. The legal and policy framework to protect the sick and wounded, and those endeavouring to assist them, is in place. Sweden is ready to engage. My government's Delegation on International Law and Disarmament is in the process of developing new concrete proposals to strengthen the protection of medical care in armed conflict.
Thirdly - Peacekeeping. We can ensure that cross-pillar political strategies guide all peace operations. Protection of civilians cannot be seen as optional. It must be politically prioritized within these strategies, properly resourced, and integrated across the work of missions. This requires the availability to the Council of relevant and accurate information on protection of civilians, which we believe should be included in reporting by the Secretary-General and other mechanisms, drawing on the whole of the UN system. Missions have a critical role in ensuring protection needs are identified, reported and addressed. Women's participation must be ensured in all stages of protection strategies to ensure they address the needs of the whole population. Building the capacity of UN troops and police, including in the protection of civilians, is part of a larger peacekeeping reform, which must be sustained.
Finally, as the Chair of the Security Council Working Group we would also like to highlight that the Security Council's children and armed conflict agenda has an important accountability mechanism for perpetrators of attacks on schools and hospitals. This includes its monitoring and reporting mechanism, the Secretary-General's annual report on children and armed conflict, including its annexes that list perpetrators of such attacks, and UN action plans to end such violations. To address the widespread impunity for attacks on health care, we can fully utilise this mechanism.
We have made progress on the protection of civilians within this Council and within the work of the United Nations more broadly. The legal framework is there, the resolutions adopted and agreed. We now must start down the "path of protection" that reinforces respect for International Humanitarian Law while working to prevent and end conflict. Doing so will require the full commitment and strong leadership of both the Secretary General and this Security Council.