Swedish statement at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
National statement delivered by Ambassador Olof Skoog on behalf of Sweden at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 22 May 2018, New York.
Thank you, Madame President,
And I thank you, and the Polish Presidency, for organizing today's important debate. Let me also thank Secretary-General, António Guterres, ICRC Director-General, Yves Daccord, and Ms. Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Al Amal Association for their important contributions today. Sweden aligns itself with the statements to be made later this morning on behalf of the European Union and by Norway on behalf of the Nordic countries as well as the statement on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect.
In last Thursday's debate on upholding international law my delegation asked rhetorically, 'how can it be that we succeed in using the tools of international law in most areas, yet fail in this most critical one – protecting the life and dignity of our fellow human beings?'
The briefers this morning have eloquently and powerfully outlined the consequences of that failure. They are not abstract – they are lives shattered and futures erased as a result of reckless and unacceptable disregard for international law and the civilians it is there to protect.
And we, the 15 around this table have a particular responsibility, individually and collectively, to reverse this trend.
The Secretary-General told us again this morning that preventing conflict and sustaining peace was his first priority. We welcome his efforts over the last year and fully support this agenda. Prevention is the most effective tool to ensure the protection of civilians, it is a first line of defence.
But when prevention does not succeed international humanitarian law should provide a safety net for those civilians caught up in armed conflict. We commend the Secretary-General for his action oriented approach to enhancing respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law and promoting good practice.
Despite our efforts, unspeakable crimes continue to be committed. The use of rape, sexual and gender based violence have reached new and horrific levels. Widespread constraints on humanitarian access by parties to conflicts and deliberate attacks against medical personnel and humanitarian workers, cruelly deprive civilians of this assistance they so desperately need.
The protection needs of women, girls, men and boys often differ. Integrating a gender perspective into the implementation of international humanitarian law and in our targeted humanitarian responses is essential. Experiences from Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan, confirms the need to integrate a gender perspective across UN missions' operations; to include references to gender in the Council's decisions and statements; and, to collect and analyse gender-and age disaggregated data. In addition, creating a link between protection, empowerment and participation can help support sustainable peace and avoid the narrow perception of women as primarily objects of protection, as Hanaa Edwar said this morning.
The disproportionate suffering of children as a result of armed conflict needs to be highlighted. Boys and girls are killed and maimed, recruited as soldiers, as human shields or even as forced suicide bombers. Schools and health care facilities are destroyed impeding children's access to their human rights. It is essential that we protect children today to prevent new cycles of violence and conflict tomorrow. The Children and Armed Conflict agenda is an important accountability mechanism. Its reporting and motoring of grave violations against children in armed conflict are important elements, not only for ending impunity but also for engagement with parties to conflict.
As Chairman of the Council's Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, Sweden will continue to insist on action on this agenda in this council.
The Secretary-General spoke about the need to break the vicious cycle between conflict and food insecurity, we welcome the ongoing work of the Council on conflict and hunger which we hope can lead to the adoption of a resolution in the very near future.
I want to focus on three issues at the heart of the protection of civilians' agenda.
Firstly, there is an urgent need to advance commitments set out in resolution 2286 on the protection of health care in armed conflict and on turning the recommendations of the Secretary-General into action on the ground. In Syria alone, 112 attacks against medical facilities and workers took place in 2017. In addition, to 645,000 medical items were removed from inter-agency cross-line convoys. In Yemen, health infrastructure has deteriorated drastically during the conflict and we are witnessing the breakdown of public institutions, including health care services that have to make-do with very scarce supplies. In Afghanistan, women make up the largest group of those unable to access healthcare services as a result of violence.
The international community, including this Council, can and should act to protect medical care in armed conflict. International law must be respected and violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, must be addressed. We need concrete steps to improve monitoring and reporting mechanisms, as well as data collection. We are currently looking in to how UN peacekeeping missions and military practice could be improved to more effectively protect health care. Together with the ICRC and the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish government will launch a project aimed at enhancing the ability of armed forces to meet their obligation to ensure the protection and respect for health care in armed conflict while performing their duties.
Secondly, we welcome efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians' mandate of UN peacekeeping missions. While the primary responsibility for the protection of civilians undoubtedly lies with the host nation, UN missions have a crucial role to play. In this regard, we need to build on positive experiences and best practices. We welcome the newly agreed accountability policy clearly stating the responsibility of senior leadership for strategically employing the protection of civilians' mandate in the work plans of the missions.
Thirdly, at the core of both the Secretary-General's and the President of the General Assembly's agendas are the global compacts for refugees and migrants. The number of people displaced by conflict continues to rise and today's levels of force displacement are unprecedented. Safeguarding respect for International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law and International Human Rights Law in these compacts will be crucial.
In practical terms, close coordination and solidarity across the international community is essential to effectively address the needs of migrants and refugees.
We support the recommendations in the Secretary-General's report, and are committed to implementing them. Today ICRC and Miss. Edwar has asked us to do more, so it is high time to step up. Waging war in violations of the rules seems to come with very small costs; the cost is carried by innocent civilians. We must strive to create a world where no one, neither governments nor armed groups believe that they can violate the rules we have all agreed on to protect civilians caught up in conflict, without consequences. This Council has a unique role to change the game, it is one we cannot abdicate from nor ignore.