Speech at the MFA Day of International Law

Stockholm, 1 februari 2018. Check against delivery.

Colleagues, friends,

I would like to wish you welcome to International Law Day at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs 2018.

I am happy to see so many people here today. This international law day is an annual event. It is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of international law to Swedish foreign policy. But also to engage with experts in this field – from civil society and academia. It is an opportunity for principle and practice to meet.

This afternoon we have two panels discussing two different topics.

The first topic is Sweden and international law in the UN Security Council. I am happy to welcome a distinguished guest, Dr Helen Durham, Director for International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Over many years of close cooperation, Dr Durham has helped to shape our thinking and our action in support of international humanitarian law. The work we have done together on a gender perspective on IHL has been particularly important.

The second topic is how protection of medical care can be strengthened in armed conflicts.

The first panel will be held in English and the second in Swedish.

There are many crises and security threats in the world today.

Since the end of the Cold War it has perhaps never been as difficult for the UN Security Council to live up to its task – maintaining international peace and security.

The Security Council is central to the rules-based international system. But this system is increasingly questioned and challenged.

Let me be clear: for Sweden, it is of fundamental importance to protect this system. The rules-based system is essential for the safety of the world, but also for the safety of Sweden.


We are now halfway through our two-year membership of the Security Council.

Sweden's tenure on the Council is firmly rooted in the priority we give to international law, human rights, gender equality and a humanitarian perspective.

We have worked hard to establish ourselves as a credible and influential member with a principled stance on international law. Achieving results requires sound and active diplomacy combined with political courage.

I would like to give some examples of how Sweden has stood up for and promoted international law, human rights and gender equality.

My first point concerns the promotion of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Security Council's mandate is to maintain international peace and security. This mandate must be based on ensuring respect for international law, including IHL, and human rights. This is a cornerstone in achieving peace.

Early warning mechanisms and relevant and independent information from the field are crucial in order for the Security Council to work effectively. This means assessing risks and addressing, preventing and responding to conflicts and threats to international peace and security.
This is why Sweden is working to improve information-sharing between UN bodies and the Security Council. We maintain close contacts with the ICRC and other humanitarian actors to ensure that relevant information on IHL is available to the Council.

Delivering on a priority to integrate international law into Sweden's work on the Security Council means integrating an international law perspective in the Ministry's day-to-day work on Security Council issues. Our international lawyers are part of deliberations on every text and every item on the Security Council agenda.

Let me give you some concrete examples:

One of the best examples of the importance of law in conflict prevention concerns the Gambia.

As President of the Security Council in January 2017, we were extensively involved in the Council's contribution to peaceful developments in the Gambia's post-election crisis one year ago.

The situation was as follows. A newly elected president who was prevented from entering the Gambia, a former president who refused to resign and regional troops on their way in to support the newly elected president. A potentially volatile situation for the Security Council to handle which raised important legal issues, such as the rules governing military intervention and the right to invite foreign forces.

A unanimous Security Council adopted a resolution that expressed support for the democratically elected President as well as full political support for the regional and sub-regional efforts to ensure a peaceful change of power.

A possible outbreak of violence was prevented. One year later, we hardly remember how close the situation came to evolving in the wrong direction.

Yemen is currently the scene of one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. Sweden is working to foster more forceful engagement on the part of the Council to secure humanitarian access and de-escalate the situation.

We were instrumental in formulating a Presidential Statement in June 2017 which demanded that the parties respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians, civilian objects and medical care, and do not recruit or use children as soldiers.

In November, I visited both Myanmar and Bangladesh, where I met some of the members of the Rohingya community who had fled from Myanmar. Many of them now live in an extremely dire and vulnerable situation. The humanitarian situation is acute.

There have been many different descriptions of the atrocities in Myanmar. From Sweden's point of view, I have been clear that the situation gives every indication of crimes against humanity – the violence in Rakhine state is systematic, widespread and coordinated.

In the Security Council, Sweden has initiated several meetings on Myanmar, and we actively contributed to a presidential statement on the situation as well as to establishing that the Council needs to continue to monitor the issue closely.

The violations in Myanmar must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable. Impunity is not an option.

My second example is Sweden's work on women, peace and security.
This is central to Sweden's feminist foreign policy.

UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security states the key role of women in international peace and security.

It has been a top priority for Sweden to advance the role and participation of women in peace and mediation efforts.

Sweden has systematically strengthened the Council's resolutions and statements by including references to women's participation in decision-making. In 2017, all (100%) of presidential statements adopted in crisis situations by the Council made reference to women, peace and security.

We also need to do more to combat sexual and gender-based violence. We must recognise that sexual and gender-based violence in conflict is a security challenge and a threat to development. Sexual violence in conflict is a tactic of war. It is a threat to security and durable peace that requires an operational security and justice response.

In the Security Council, Sweden has contributed to efforts to strengthen the prevention of, and accountability for, sexual and gender-based violence. For example, a separate listing criterion for sexual and gender-based violence was introduced in the Central African Republic sanctions regime last year.

By raising its voice in the Security Council against all kind of sexual exploitation and abuse in a UN context and strongly supporting the Secretary-General in his initiatives to fight such acts, Sweden has also contributed to making the Security Council take a clearer stance against sexual abuses committed by UN staff.

Together with others on the Council, Sweden has also given priority to work on strengthening the protection of civilians and the protection of health care. Here we see violations of the most basic rules of IHL. The ICRC rightly pointed to the use of an ambulance in the horrific attack in Kabul last Saturday as an example of this. Our second panel will focus in more detail on this. This is a priority for us in the coming year.

Turning to an area where the Council faces serious challenges, I would like to comment on accountability, which is my third and final example of the work Sweden is doing. This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues to obtain support for in the Security Council.

The obvious case in point is Syria: so far, systematic violations of humanitarian law and chemical weapons attacks in Syria and Iraq have largely been committed with impunity. As far as Syria is concerned – despite general agreement on the importance of accountability – a number of serious attempts to move forward have been thwarted. This is highly regrettable.

The EU continues to believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the ICC. Until that is possible, we should prepare the ground for accountability in the future.

While the Security Council has been blocked, we have managed to move forward in other parts of the UN system. The UN Human Rights Council has established a Commission of Inquiry for Syria, and the UN General Assembly has established the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on International Crimes Committed in Syria.

Information collected by these organs could be used in other states and by international tribunals and courts, as we have seen here in Sweden. A number of individuals have been convicted of war crimes in Swedish courts based on our application of universal jurisdiction.

To conclude:

2018 will be a demanding year: the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East region, the Horn of Africa, the increasingly noticeable effects of climate change – the list is long. But we are addressing these challenges.

We enter our second year on the Council with determination, and with the aim of achieving concrete results. But also for helping the Council to fulfil its mandate to maintain international peace and security. In these troublesome times it is even more important to protect our global norms and institutions.

When the world becomes insecure, it is not possible to detach and withdraw from the international arena. The Swedish Government will continue its international work for a safer world – based on international law and with more cooperation. This will also make Sweden safer. We continue the struggle for sustainable peace and security in tempestuous times.

Thank you.