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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2014

UN Security Council - Protection of Civilians

Statement delivered by H.E. Mr Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand, 12 February 2014

Madam President -

New Zealand applauds the fact that Lithuania continues the tradition of elected Council members paying particular attention to the Protection of Civilians issue. The updated Aide Mémoire, adopted with today’s PRST, is a useful achievement. But we must be realistic - it is only a modest step. There are already many generic statements from this Council on the Protection issue. New Zealand believes that, at this time, the real challenge is finding ways to mainstream those thematic statements into the real-life situations on the Council’s agenda; and that we can meet that challenge by carefully assessing where the gaps lie between Council decisions and actual practice, and determining how to close those gaps.

In short: We urge that the effort of those who sit at this Council table be focused on protecting real people in real conflict situations – and on achieving results. It only adds to the tragedy in Syria that, today, we are debating the issue of protection in the abstract instead of applying the energy of this Council to a real life protection crisis that calls out for attention – and it’s an agonised call, at that.

Moreover, Madam President, other real life situations demonstrate that conflict can easily re-emerge in countries where there is already a UN peacekeeping or special political mission. Experience is showing that such Missions need much clearer guidance on fulfilling their protection mandates. Events in South Sudan, with tens of thousands of civilians sheltering in UN compounds and nearly a million people displaced, underline the importance of Peacekeeping Missions being better prepared – and better mandated – for implementing practical protection roles. 

Madam President –

New Zealand is convinced that protection works best when combined with prevention - which means this Council must be better informed of emerging protection challenges. Early warning is one element of this: regular briefings focused on emerging civilian protection challenges should be treated as essential, not just as a “nice to have”. But, having been warned, are we prepared to act? Sometimes, even early warning is not enough. Finding the political will to act is equally critical – in which regard the Council must be congratulated for its prompt December action on South Sudan. But it’s worth reflecting how much the protection needs of civilians in Central African Republic and Mali might have been better achieved if this Council had sent missions to those countries much earlier in the evolution of their conflicts. Smaller, lower level missions were sometimes used to good effect in that way in the past.

Given its tremendous responsibility to civilian populations in danger – sometimes, mortal danger – capacity bottlenecks at this Council should never be a reason for a delay in action. The Council must ask what aspects of its current practice carry the risk of delay, and how these can be remedied, thus allowing it to respond to an emerging threat to civilians, even if it's already dealing with crises elsewhere.

Madam President –

It may be that UN peacekeepers could be better trained and equipped to fulfil protection of civilians mandates. Peacekeepers might need relevant enablers, including air assets, to enhance situation awareness, mobility and force protection. DPKO’s finalisation of tactical-level training material on protection of civilians is welcome, and its adoption by training centres and TCCs will further develop the capability of peacekeepers. But, as we've previously said, in addition to training and resources, actually implementing a protection mandate also requires common political will. Generating that willingness, and coordinating POC activities across multi-dimensional missions, is a complex task; and so, New Zealand supports a strong POC coordination capability.

Madam President –

New Zealand is convinced that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is one of the key factors threatening the safety of civilians - and indeed, the safety of the peacekeepers sent to protect them. Peacekeepers should be mandated to assist in tracking illicit transfers of small arms, and in implementing restrictions on their movement in their areas of operation. That would have real impact on the protection environment. 

And, looking forward, Madam President, we must acknowledge that, when protection of civilians fails, all too often that failure is accompanied by grave war crimes and atrocities.
Where states cannot or do not fulfil their obligations to ensure accountability for breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law, international mechanisms, including the ICC, play an important role in preventing  impunity. As we’ve seen so recently, there are important questions about when, and in what circumstances, such mechanisms should play their role; and so, Madam President, the debate on Rule of Law, which your country, Lithuania, has scheduled for 18 February, will be an ideal opportunity for the linkage between protection and accountability to be explored; and New Zealand will welcome the opportunity to contribute to that discussion as well.

Thank you.

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Page last updated: Thursday, 13 February 2014 13:15 NZDT