United Nations Security Council: Protection of Civilians annual open debate

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Delivered by Permanent Representative, H.E. Ms. Carolyn Schwalger

Thank you Mr President.

Thank you to our briefers from OCHA, the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, and Ms Boketa of Women for Women International.

This annual debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict is one of the most important topics on the Council’s thematic agenda.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where conflicts continue to have a devastating toll on civilians. Our daily news feeds have stories of civilians targeted in conflict zones, from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Ukraine to Syria. Civilian deaths, psychological trauma, sexual violence and family separations are but some of the wounds that will take generations to heal.

Today’s debate takes place against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression has caused unbearable heartache and resulted in 12 million Ukrainians fleeing their homes. The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now within the realm of possibility.

In conflict, civilians pay the highest price. As the Secretary-General’s report notes, in 2021, the UN reported over 11,000 civilian deaths across 12 armed conflicts. Healthcare personnel, medical facilities and civilian infrastructure were directly targeted, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

As our briefers have noted, we continue to see attacks on healthcare workers (219 deaths in 2021 alone) and a lack of respect for international humanitarian law. This is unacceptable. Even war has rules.

Listening to our briefers, I took away three key areas where we need to redouble our efforts to reverse these terrible trends.

Firstly, we need greater determination from this Council to discharge its responsibility to maintain international peace and security. You must call out aggression, unprovoked and unjustified wars when they occur. You must avail yourselves with all the possible tools to prevent conflict, defend fundamental international norms and seek negotiated political solutions.

Secondly, we need all Member States to demand universal compliance, from both State and non-State actors, with international law. And, we must ensure those who are responsible for violations of international law and international humanitarian law face justice by deploying the accountability mechanisms we have at our disposal. The erosion of international rules must not be allowed to become our new normal. Council resolutions which were agreed to protect civilians must not become rhetorical commitments.

Thirdly, the UN Security Council should prioritise protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping operation mandates. Member states should provide trained personnel and resources to support those mandates. Early warning of threats to civilians and mechanisms that provide for timely and effective responses must be a baseline requirement in peacekeeping missions. Improved integration with the UN’s peacebuilding architecture would better protect civilians at all stages of conflict.

During New Zealand’s last term on the UN Security Council, we worked with four elected members to secure the unanimous adoption of resolution 2286, in response to the horrific escalation in attacks against medical facilities and personnel in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and beyond.

It was an important reaffirmation of our collective commitment to uphold international law in the face of such atrocities. It was also a demonstration of the important role elected members play in advancing the protection of civilians in the work of the Council.

Thank you Mr President.


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