United Nations Security Council Open Debate on protection of civilians and healthcare in armed conflict
Statement delivered by Carolyn Schwalger, Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 25 May 2017
I thank the Secretary-General, Mr Ugarte and Ms. Beerli for their briefings and to Uruguay for organising this debate.
New Zealand also aligns itself with the statement delivered by the Vice Foreign Minister of Spain.
As we have heard today, millions of civilians living in areas of armed conflict around the world face grave dangers.
All too often parties to armed conflict are placing military advantage ahead of international humanitarian law.
This fact, combined with the increasing trend for hostilities to take place in urban settings, has devastated civilian populations. In some cases their suffering has been exacerbated through the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid and violent attacks on medical facilities. The use of indiscriminate explosive weapons in populated areas is a distressing illustration of the disrespect for international humanitarian law demonstrated by some parties to armed conflict.
Explosive weapons in populated areas have destroyed hospitals, schools, places of worship and vital infrastructure. Millions of civilians have been displaced, and those who remain struggle to access essential services, including medical care.
The consequences can be catastrophic, and will be felt long into the future.
Given these negative global trends, we welcome the Secretary-General’s leadership on protecting civilians in armed conflict, and his “Path to Protection”. We are pleased that he is focused on this critical issue.
We are convinced that there is more that the UN can and should be doing to prevent conflict. We commend the Secretary-General’s determination to mobilise the UN system towards this goal in a holistic manner.
We also welcome his focus on protecting the medical and humanitarian mission, and tackling the challenges associated with the mass displacement of civilian populations affected by conflict.
We sit here a year since resolution 2286 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council, with a historic number of co-sponsors.
New Zealand was pleased to work with four other Security Council members to develop this response to attacks on health care workers and facilities.
Resolution 2286 reiterated the international community’s conviction that hospitals must not be considered military targets.
That the wounded and sick, and those medical personnel that care for them must receive appropriate protection.
That international law must be upheld, and those responsible for serious violations be held accountable.
The resolution also demands safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and their supplies to all people in need.
And yet since that resolution was adopted, we have continued to witness outrages that shock our collective conscience.
Rather than providing care to those wounded in conflict, doctors and nurses continue to be counted among the casualties in significant numbers.
Hospitals have been levelled.
Central tenets of international humanitarian law are routinely violated with impunity in some parts of the world.
All Member States, not only those who are parties to armed conflict, have a responsibility to take action. Violations of international humanitarian law must continue to be condemned, and violators brought to justice.
We encourage all Member States to implement the recommendations made by the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 2286 in order to better protect the wounded, medical personnel, and medical facilities in armed conflict.
For New Zealand’s part, we continue to build a strong understanding of international humanitarian law at all levels within our Defence Force.
We are using practical and innovative tools to ensure that all members of the New Zealand Defence Force have ready access to a concise code of conduct, whether they are in an office or out in the field on active duty.
This includes fundamental provisions of international law pertaining to the protection of civilians and the medical mission.
But we take this one step further. Our troops are also required to prevent violations, and where they do occur, to report them.
Resolution 2286 established a reporting architecture which will ensure that the question of attacks on the medical mission will continue to receive regular attention by the Security Council.
The Council should continue to demand compliance with international law and take decisions which do everything possible to protect civilians caught up in armed conflict.
Together with the Secretary-General’s Path to Protection and action on this issue by all Member States, we hope that some relief will be brought to the millions of innocent civilians suffering in armed conflicts around the world.