Today we mark the tenth anniversary of the attack against the Canal Hotel. Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, lost his life there, as did 21 other United Nations staff. Like preceding speakers have done, I too would like to pay tribute to all of those who have fallen in the service of the United Nations and to express my condolences to their bereaved families and friends.
I thank the Secretary-General and the various speakers for their presentations today. France aligns itself with the statements to be made by the observer of the European Union and the representative of Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians.
The protection of civilians requires unwavering attention on the part of the Security Council and must be at the core of its activities. The Council has a role to play in ensuring respect for international law by the parties to a conflict. While the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with States, the Council and the international community have a vital role to play to ensure that States and non-State armed groups do not shirk their obligations. Civilians are the main victims of armed violence, totalling roughly half a million deaths per year.
The Arms Trade Treaty, which has to date been signed by 82 States, represents real progress in that respect. Once it has entered into force, the Treaty will ensure that States are held accountable and ensure that arms transfers no longer contribute to the commission of atrocities. That is more than ever necessary because we have seen that on the ground indiscriminate attacks against civilians and targeted attacks against humanitarian workers have become increasingly frequent. We note that the humanitarian domain is no longer a safe haven and that the number of obstacles to humanitarian access has increased.
That is the case in Syria in particular, where the regime is systematically denying access to civilian populations in areas besieged by it as long as combat is ongoing, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. Here I am thinking in particular of the civilians trapped in Qusayr and in the old city of Homs. Across the country, despite the fact that the number of people in need is increasing day by day, totalling more than 6.8 million, the Syrian authorities continue to refuse access by humanitarian actors to all those in need.
The Government continues to place bureaucratic obstacles in the way of the work of humanitarian actors. Visas are not issued, and the number of non-governmental organizations authorized to act are too few. The Government’s requirements for the delivery of aid are increasingly numerous, and attacks against humanitarian and medical personnel are a constant threat. Several members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been killed. Ambulances and hospitals, along with their staff, have become targets.
That is also the case in the Sudan, where access to the civilian population remains difficult, if not impossible, for humanitarian actors. There are a growing number of obstacles, in spite of the appeals made by the Council for 10 years now, because blocking humanitarian aid has become somewhat of a Government strategy.
Such arbitrary denials of access prevent lives from being saved and compound the numerous violations of international humanitarian law. We must put an end to this arbitrary and appalling trend. The Council has the tools to do so and must not hesitate to use them.
The Security Council must be able to react quickly to put an end to situations where civilians are threatened.
That is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Council provided the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with a robust mandate to support the national authorities in combating the numerous violations of human rights committed in the eastern part of the country, in particular sexual violence.
The protection of civilians is a fundamental aspect of MONUSCO’s mandate. In the context of the Framework agreement signed in Addis Ababa, resolution 2098 (2013) is aimed at providing heads of mission all means necessary to ensure the protection of civilian populations threatened by non-State armed actors. It also authorizes the deployment of an Intervention Brigade that can carry out offensive actions against such groups. MONUSCO is also tasked with supporting and coordinating efforts in the area of security sector reform, so as to enable the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure, as soon as possible, the protection of civilians with its own rapid-reaction forces.
In Mali, the intervention of French forces made it possible to put an end to the attacks carried out by terrorist groups that were threatening Bamako. The Council followed up by authorizing the deployment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), whose robust mandate for the protection of civilians allowed for the stabilization of the country and the holding of presidential elections under good conditions. We must now continue our efforts to support national reconciliation in Mali so that the country can finally find lasting peace.
In South Sudan, the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to protect civilians is more important than ever, as sectarian violence has led to the displacement of more than 70,000 people since January. That is a major concern, especially in Jonglei state, where violence has led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
Finally, we must also take action in the Central African Republic. As we heard in the Council some days ago, the security and humanitarian situation in that country is dire and violations of human rights widespread. Civilians are the main victims. We must stop the crisis from worsening or the Central African Republic could become a source of instability in the heart of Africa. The Council must therefore support the efforts of the African Union, which decided in July to deploy a strengthened stabilization mission. We must also strengthen the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic so as to provide it with the means to shed light on human rights violations committed throughout the country. Human rights observers must also be deployed.
Allow me in conclusion to underscore that the Council’s reaction must also include actions to fight impunity for those who perpetrate acts of violence against civilians. Justice is required for lasting peace, the reweaving of the social fabric and reconciliation among communities. In Darfur and Libya, the Council did what it had to do by referring the atrocities committed to the International Criminal Court. Despite the obstacles in its path, the Court remains the guarantee of effective and impartial justice. That should be the case in Syria as well today.
For more than two years now, turning a deaf ear to the international community’s appeals, Bashar Al-Assad has been murdering his people. More than 100,000 people have died, mostly civilians. Given the seeming impunity reigning in the country today, the Council must send a clear message to the effect that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be brought to justice. The Syrian National Coalition has taken a stance in favour of a referral to the ICC; we should take it at its word and seriously consider the possibility of a referral to the ICC that would finally neutralize the perpetrators of crimes in Syria.
Learn more on Protection of civilians in armed conflict.