The protection of civilians is not a concession, nor a favour, but an absolute priority [fr]
Protection of civilians - Speech by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations -Security Council - 19 th January 2016
At the outset, I would like to thank Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson; Ms. Eveline Rooijmans, Humanitarian Policy Advisor at Oxfam; and Ms. Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for their statements and their commitment.
I would also like to thank you, Mr. President, for convening this essential meeting. This first open debate of 2016 on the protection of civilians has never seemed more timely and necessary.
Permit me to underscore three points that will allow me to explain why.
First, the briefings we heard show that the protection of civilians is being tested as never before. The Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, which is an integral part of international humanitarian law, was inspired by a draft preamble by the French and Finnish delegations, which was ultimately not retained, on “the eternal principles of that law which is the foundation and the safeguard of civilization”.
Evoking the protection of civilians in 2016 is to return to that origin at a time when the unbearable images of starving civilians come to us from the siege of Madaya. As we know, the regime is using the heinous tactics of siege and starvation there and in many other places. Those reprehensible acts must end in order for a dialogue among Syrians to begin. At the same time, in Syria, Daesh continues to carry out summary executions and abduct women and children. In the face of such unspeakable acts, France will always call for mobilization, as it did on Friday, during an open meeting on the situation of besieged cities in Syria (see S/PV.7605).
Sadly, it would take too long to recall all the dire situations in Yemen, South Sudan, the Sudan, the Lake Chad basin and in many other crises, but we must recall that the protection of civilians, which is above all the primary responsibility of each State, is neither a concession nor a favour by the parties concerned, but rather an absolute obligation. Attacks that deliberately or indiscriminately target civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel must be unconditionally put to an end in their various theatres.
Strengthening respect for international humanitarian law, where the protection of civilians is a key component, is at the heart of the thirty-second International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. France supported that initiative and would like to thank the Conference for its unwavering commitment throughout the four years of consultations among States. France reiterates its commitment to that issue and its willingness to actively continue with those consultations.
Secondly, bearing that in mind, I would like to emphasize that the protection of civilians remains for France both a moral commitment, but also something without which there can be no lasting peace and security. In is thus a key challenge for the Security Council.
Let me give some examples, among many. In Mali, the intervention of French forces, in coordination with African and Malian forces, helped to put an end to the jihadist stranglehold over the population. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali was then able to deploy with a robust mandate to protect civilians, which helped stabilize the country and restore the rule of law.
In the Central African Republic, the intervention by the African-led International Support Mission for the Central African Republic, supported by French forces, helped avoid mass atrocities. France commends the efforts made by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, which provided its support to the creation of the Special Criminal Court and arrested persons suspected of serious crimes. Its mandate reflects its innovative approach to supporting essential action for France in its fight against impunity, namely, in the International Criminal Court.
By contributing to the stabilization of situations that remain fragile, its actions show the connection between the fight against impunity and the protection of civilians. France reiterates its support for the International Criminal Court in its task of trying the most serious crimes in places where the willingness or ability for justice to be served is lacking.
Thirdly, given those challenges, more than ever we must maintain the protection of civilians at the heart of the Security Council’s agenda through an approach of constant improvement.
The Secretary-General’s plan of action for the protection of civilians and the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (see S/2015/446) have stressed that. Although we must never forget that the protection of civilians is a State responsibility, it is inseparable from peace.
In that regard, France supports tangible action, such as strengthening the capacities for action of the human rights and protection of civilians components of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of early warning systems, the training of police and gendarme contingents and the list could go on.
However, efforts will be effective only if peacekeeping is exemplary in practice and does not let down the people they are in charge of protecting. To that end, France fully supports the two priorities of the Secretary-General, the first of which is the zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse and exploitation. Recent allegations of sexual abuse committed in the Central African Republic have shown that it is vital for the United Nations, as well as for contributing countries, to respond quickly and without concessions to the perpetrators of crimes if they are confirmed. France is determined, for its part, and within the framework of the ongoing legal proceedings, to shed light and impose exemplary penalties if necessary.
With regard to the due diligence policy, the United Nations must be prepared to reassess its support for some armed forces when the protection of civilians is ignored and human rights violations have been proved.
We also share the recommendation of the High-level Panel to strengthen the investigation and information efforts when a military or police mission fails in its protection mandate.
The year 2016 opens with immense challenges for the protection of civilians. We have to be specific and resolute in our pressure on the parties to enable true progress for the civilians on thе ground in Syria and to reinvigorate the political process established by resolution 2254 (2015). With regard to our on presence on the ground, the Security Council mission is preparing to visit Burundi again to promote an inclusive inter-Burundian dialogue at a time when the worst tensions seem to be increasing at an alarming rate and the Arusha Accords must remain more than ever the guide for the actors concerned. We have to be specific and show resolve in ensuring the absolute protection that we owe to health and medical personnel and their facilities. This is also vital because since October 2015 three Médecins Sans Frontières facilities have been bombed in Yemen, as well as one of its hospitals in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
The protection of civilians, which is the priority concern of my statement, must, now more than ever, remain at the heart of the Council’s priorities and its agenda in 2016. That is why we must take inspiration from the exemplary commitment, courage and professionalism of the International Committee of the Red Cross, non-governmental organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam, as well as so many other volunteers on the ground. The stakes are high and crucial in themselves. Similarly, the credibility of our entire Organization is at stake.