SC: Open Debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict

Statement on behalf of of Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway by Ambassador May-Elin Stener in open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, 22 May 2018.

| Security Council

Mr President,

I have the honour of speaking on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and my own country, Norway.

We would like to express our gratitude to Poland for holding this open debate. We would also like to thank Secretary-General Guterres and Director-General Daccord for the valuable information provided in the briefings. Practical measures to increase compliance with international humanitarian law are of great importance to civilians caught in conflict.

They can no longer wait for possible future action. The lack of respect for IHL obligations has long-term devastating effects on individuals and communities. How people are protected, or not, during armed conflicts,  has great impact on the prospects for peace and reconciliation, reconstruction, re-establishment of basic services and civilian structures,  and the return and reintegration of displaced people.

I would like to mention a few examples of practical initiatives and measures taken to increase compliance with IHL and the protection of civilians, supported by the Nordic countries. They are all examples of partnerships between states, practitioners, civil society and humanitarian organisations.

First, ICRC has systematically addressed the attacks on health care through the Health Care in Danger Initiative. It is an excellent example of building a community of action in the field, coupled with advocacy and cooperation at global level with states and other international organisations. We encourage all states to support the implementation of the recommendations coming out of the initiative.  MSF, Geneva Call, the World Medical Association, and the International Council of Nurses, all play a key role in awareness-raising while also sharing knowledge and best practices.  We urge all states to support the efforts of WHO to establish a single, standardized surveillance system to collect and disseminate high quality data on attacks on health care. As we mark the two-year anniversary of the adoption of UNSCR 2286 earlier this month, we call for its implementation.

Second, in June 2015, 37 states came together in Oslo to launch the Safe Schools Declaration. It includes a practical commitment to implement  the Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.  This is part of our commitment to protect children during armed conflict. Civil society organisations within the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) played a key role.  We are encouraged that 74 states now have endorsed the declaration, and that states, international organizations and civil society are committed to its implementation. We urge all states to join and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.

Third, dialogue with parties to conflict is key to enhance the protection of civilians. States that are in a position to influence the situation on the ground should lead by example in this regard. We would also like to highlight the work done in conflicts by ICRC, Geneva Call and others to engage armed forces and non-state armed groups in order to make them understand their obligations and to act accordingly by changing their practices. The “deeds of commitment” used by Geneva call to engage armed groups to protect civilians are great examples of practical measures, based on knowledge and experience from the field.

Fourth, the obligation for states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and the  Convention on Cluster Munitions  to  clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles is a very concrete and efficient contribution to protecting civilians after conflict.  A total of 29 states and 1 other area are no longer suspected to be contaminated with landmines since the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted in 1997. Close partnerships between civil society and states who were concerned about the use of such indiscriminate weapons made this possible.

Fifth, we should support call from the UN Secretary General to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, and to develop policies on the use of these weapons to avoid civilian harm. The OCHA report on existing policy and practice is an operational approach to this issue. We should aim for a clear international standard of practice We stand ready to contribute in developing practical measures and guidance on the basis of lessons learned.

Sixth, those who commit atrocity crimes must be held accountable in order to prevent future violations. All states have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute individuals who perpetrate atrocity crimes. In cases where states are unable or unwilling to prosecute, the Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

Finally, essential to protection of civilians is the recognition that women and girls are under particular threat in armed conflicts and that participation of women in preventative actions will greatly increase the effectiveness of these actions.

Thank you.