United Nations Security Council High-Level Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
Statement by the Kingdom of the Netherlands
New York, 27 May 2020
We would like to thank Estonia for organizing today’s open debate.
We align ourselves with the statement of the EU and the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians, and thank the Secretary-General, the ICRC President and the other speakers of this debate for their instructive and timely statements.
All over the world, civilians continue to be the victim of the devastating consequences of armed conflict.
Last year we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the inclusion of the protection of civilians as item on the Security Council agenda. A landmark year which made us take stock of our achievements as well as remaining challenges in ensuring the effective protection of civilians. While we see signs of progress, much remains to be done to bring an end to the killing, injuring, mass displacement and traumatization that civilians endure on a daily basis, and to make sure that their rights are respected.
The latest Report of the Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict provides us with a clear message and course of action for the years to come. We have the adequate policies and tools for effective protection of civilians at our disposal. What is lacking is the political will and commitment from UN Member States to turn this into a reality.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands has long been a staunch supporter of the protection of civilians agenda. As an elected member of the Security Council in 2018, we pushed for the adoption of practical solutions and instruments with real impact on the ground, of which UN Security Council Resolution 2417 on Conflict and Hunger is an example. We are pleased to see other Security Council members are taking this issue forward, most recently by addressing the horrific practice of deliberate starvation of civilians as method of warfare in a Presidential Statement. Conflict remains the most important driver of food insecurity worldwide. Deliberate starvation of civilians is unlawful and must be stopped.
The impact of COVID-19 on the protection of civilians
The current global health crisis brings new challenges for the protection of civilians in conflict situations and humanitarian crises. We are specifically concerned by the possible detrimental impact of COVID-19 on already vulnerable groups, such as women, children, refugees, internally displaced persons and persons with disabilities. The impact of the crisis must be carefully monitored and our responses adapted to be as impactful as possible under the current circumstances.
The Netherlands strongly welcomes the Secretary-General’s message and policy brief on mental health and psychosocial support as essential part of the response to COVID19. We reiterate the Secretary-General’s words that policies must support and care for those affected by mental health conditions and protect their human rights and dignity. Providing MHPSS contributes to an effective response and recovery and helps counter socially disintegrating effects of COVID19 and the measures against it.
Simultaneously, the pandemic may also create windows of opportunity for advancing the state of the protection of civilians agenda. The Secretary-General’s call for a Global Ceasefire is a noteworthy example of how the current crisis may assist in bringing an end to violence and armed conflict worldwide. It is not unthinkable that temporary ceasefires will create an opportunity for longer-term suspension of hostilities and peace negotiations. This gives us hope that this crisis will lead to increased security for some.
Additionally, we have seen multiple examples of how peacekeeping operations and humanitarian missions have rapidly adjusted to the changing circumstances in the field, and are now increasingly cooperating with national authorities to respond to the crisis. This may in the long run have a positive impact on positive engagement and confidence building between local communities and security providers.
The need for an integrated approach for the protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping
UN peacekeeping operations play a crucial role in the protection of civilians. The UN has an excellent set of policies and guidelines in place, among which the new Policy on the Protection of Civilians in UN peacekeeping. What is lacking is effective implementation.
In order to effectively implement Security Council mandated protection tasks, there is a need to take a fully integrated, coordinated and comprehensive approach to the protection of civilians. By increasing cooperation within the mission, and breaking down the walls of the different organizational silos, the protection of civilians can be greatly improved. While many efforts have been taken to work towards an integrated approach within peacekeeping operations, increased effort is required to achieve joint planning, analysis and action between uniformed and civilian components.
Furthermore, increased coordination and cooperation with the full array of actors who are active in peacekeeping environments, most notably the UN Resident Coordinator and UN Country Team, humanitarian actors and local communities, must be ensured.
In 2018, the Secretary-General launched the Action for Peacekeeping initiative to make UN peace operations fit for purpose. In a short period of time, the A4P-agenda has proven instrumental in increasing the effectiveness and impact of peace operations, improving the safety and security of mission personnel and strengthening the protection provided by peacekeepers.
In the view of the upcoming Peacekeeping Ministerial conference in April 2021, the Netherlands has proudly taken up the role of A4P champion in the area of protection. To give effect to this role, Pakistan and the Netherlands will be co-organising a preparatory conference in the beginning of next year.
The Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, which were adopted exactly five years ago, are important guidelines for the effective implementation of protection mandates in peacekeeping operations. The Netherlands will remain fully committed to translating the 18 principles into practice.
The availability of integrated, context-specific and scenario-based training for UN peacekeepers is one of the key essentials to secure the effective protection of civilians by UN peacekeepers. Additionally, tailored dialogue and engagement with local communities and accountability of senior leadership and the wider mission personnel for the delivery of protection of civilians mandates remain core areas of attention for the Netherlands.
Adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law
Strengthening compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law is indispensable for the protection of civilians. Now more than ever, we need unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to those in need. We need health care workers that can perform their duties without fear of attacks. We need essential medical infrastructure and transport to be unharmed.
During these trying times, we express our great appreciation for all the international and national aid workers who risk their lives to provide assistance for people in need. Our joint duty of care is absolute and equally should include focus on their psychosocial wellbeing as well.
The lack of respect for international humanitarian law and the absence of functioning accountability mechanisms is concerning. The Netherlands remains at the forefront of the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. In The Hague, the city of Peace and Justice, and elsewhere, we honour our responsibility to promote compliance with international humanitarian and international human rights law, and ensure accountability for serious violations.
We call on all states that haven’t done so, to join the Rome Statute and to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. Furthermore, increased support for accountability mechanisms, such as the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, is needed. The issue of accountability for attacks against civilians on the one side, and accountability for failing to protect civilians on the other side, requires continued attention.
In closing, we would like to again reiterate the exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves today. The protection of civilians remains ever so important in this situation of a global health crisis.
The publication of the Secretary-General’s report reminds us once more that the implementation of the protection of civilians agenda is far from completed. Let us take on this task together.