United Nations Security Council Briefing: Healthcare in Armed Conflict

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement as delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, May 3, 2016.

I thank you Mr President. We would like to thank the Secretary General; Mr Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC; Ms Joanne Liu, President of Médecins Sans Frontières for their briefings.

I also want to pay tribute to the workers of the ICRC and MSF and other humanitarian organisations for the very difficult work that they do.

The adoption of this resolution comes at a time when healthcare workers and facilities are, quite literally, under fire in a number of current conflicts, most of which are on this Council’s agenda.

In Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, hospitals and other medical facilities have been attacked by parties to armed conflict.  Healthcare workers have been killed and injured, kidnapped, harassed and intimidated for carrying out their medical duties.

Urgently needed medical supplies have been routinely blocked or removed from aid convoys by protagonists who have sought to deny access to health care in order to achieve military objectives.

This alarming trend shows no sign of abating as the attacks on medical facilities in and around Aleppo starkly illustrate.

The consequences of such actions are measured not only in the immediate loss of human life but also in the longer-term disruption to healthcare systems which are often already severely overstretched.

The destruction of one hospital can affect the delivery of healthcare services to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. These consequences endure well beyond the end of hostilities.

Today, the Council has spoken with one voice to deliver a firm response to this growing global problem. We are shining a light on behaviour that is becoming all too prevalent but should just not be happening.

The law is clear and so is our message. The wounded and sick, medical personnel, facilities, transport and equipment must be respected and protected. The delivery of medical assistance must not be obstructed. It is that simple.

The resolution unequivocally condemns attacks on health care workers and health care facilities.

It reaffirms the laws of armed conflict recognising the protected status of medical missions, the sick and the wounded.

It recalls key international humanitarian law principles of distinction, and precaution, and the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks.

It stresses the need for medical personnel to be able to uphold their professional codes of ethics, including the duty to provide impartial care.

It demands that parties to armed conflicts facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel, their equipment, transport and supplies to all in need.

Let us be clear. These legal requirements already exist. Some are among the oldest rules of international humanitarian law. The problem is one of respect and compliance.

On the practical side, the resolution emphasises the importance of education and training in applicable international humanitarian law, and its integration into the practice of armed forces. It also stresses the need to end impunity and urges States to take action to ensure accountability.

As Mr Maurer has pointed out, modern warfare as we are seeing played out in Syria and elsewhere, makes it all the more important that international humanitarian law is respected. New Zealand fully endorses his call for principled pragmatism in its application.

Importantly, the resolution requests the Secretary-General to brief the Council annually on the implementation of the resolution. New Zealand hopes to see the participation of relevant organizations and civil society at those briefings. As Ms Liu has told us our work is obviously only just beginning. We expect her and the ICRC organisation to hold us to account.

Today’s resolution is also significant from a working methods perspective. Five elected members cooperated in developing the text. Close consultation with all Council members and openness to negotiate enabled its unanimous adoption. Key stakeholders, including the ICRC and MSF were also closely engaged in the process. We are grateful for their support.

Lastly, let me pay tribute to my deputy Carolyn Schwalger and her team for their leadership on this initiative.


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