Life in War Zones Remains Grim, with Cities Turned into Death Traps, Civilian Suffering ‘Pushed to the Limits’, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SC/12841
25 May 2017
7951st Meeting (AM)

Life in War Zones Remains Grim, with Cities Turned into Death Traps, Civilian Suffering ‘Pushed to the Limits’, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Endless Talks on Ending Violence Pointless as Arms Sales to Criminals, Dictators, Terrorists Continue at Same Time, Says Holy See

Despite 15 years of steadily growing international attention to the question of protecting civilians in conflict situations, life in war zones around the world remained grim, with suffering “pushed to the limits” as cities turned into “death traps”, the Security Council heard today as it held an open debate on attacks against medical personnel and facilities.

“No one is winning today’s wars, everybody is losing,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared, drawing particular attention to continuing attacks against hospitals and wide-spread sexual violence.  Such brutality had driven more than 65 million people around the globe to flee their homes, he said.  Relentless attacks on cities in Syria showed no signs of abating, while in South Sudan, attacks continued to target civilians and aid workers.  In Yemen, meanwhile, civilians were trapped and targeted by all sides.

Expressing support for Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict — co-sponsored by more than 80 States during its adoption a year ago — he nevertheless noted that that little had changed on the ground.  “What is needed now is action” to turn that text into reality, he emphasized, recommending several measures for improving the overall protection of civilians.  They included greater respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and ensuring accountability for violations, including at the International Criminal Court.

Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), drew particular attention to the return of armed conflict to towns and cities, pointing out that some 50 million people in urban areas now bore the brunt of conflict.  “At the ICRC, we see daily the realities of what happens when civilians are not protected,” she said, describing cases of children as young as three years old being killed or treated for the loss of limbs.  She urged all belligerent parties to avoid using wide-impact explosive weapons in populated places, and called upon Member States engaged in alliances and coalitions to focus greater attention on the behaviour and attitudes of those bearing arms.

Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Deputy Director for Advocacy at Human Rights Watch, cited his organization’s review, published yesterday, of 25 attacks on health facilities in 10 countries between 2013 and 2016, saying it found that little had been done to investigate those attacks or to hold those responsible to account.  Noting that the Secretary-General was mandated to name perpetrators of attacks on schools and hospitals in a list annexed to his report, he urged the Secretary-General to “immunize” the annexes against political redactions by Member States.

As delegates took the floor, many voiced support for resolution 2286 (2016) and for the Secretary-General’s subsequent recommendations for its implementation.  Roundly condemning “horrific”, “brutal” and “inhumane” attacks targeting civilians and the medical personnel working to save their lives.

“This cannot become the new reality of war,” the United Kingdom’s representative stressed, citing Aleppo and Mosul as examples of the urbanization of conflict.  Encouraging practical steps to mitigate the impact of conflict on the ground, he urged States to share best practices and collect better, more systematic data.  “We have a duty to shine a light on those who fail to comply with international law,” he added.

Striking a similar tone, Sweden’s representative noted that the Council was faced almost every day with testimonies about the most brutal and premeditated targeting of civilians as a tactic of war.  From the atrocities in Syria to the inaccessible villages of northern Nigeria’s Borno State, from South Sudan — ravaged by man-made famine — to the crisis in Yemen and attacks on medical facilities in Kunduz, there was a “global protection crisis”, he said.  States must embark down a “path of protection” that would reinforce respect for international humanitarian law while working to prevent and end conflict, she emphasized.

Delegations differed on a number of issues, however, including when and how to incorporate the civilian-protection principle into the mandate of United Nations peacekeeping operations.  China’s representative emphasized the primary responsibility of Governments for protecting civilians, warning that incorporating the civilian-protection principle into peacekeeping mandates could not be viewed as replacing national obligations.  He also underlined the importance of ensuring that humanitarian actors accorded full respect to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of hosts States, cautioning further that they must not themselves become involved in conflict.

In the context of combating impunity for perpetrators of attacks against civilians, medical personnel and other non-combatants, a number of speakers welcomed the proposed “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011”.  Hungary’s representative said her country’s Government had contributed €50,000 to the proposed mechanism.  Qatar’s representative said her delegation was advocating for the adoption of a General Assembly resolution that would formally establish it.

The Russian Federation’s representative, calling for further international efforts in response to attacks on ICRC personnel and facilities by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), drew attention to double standards and “politicization of humanitarian affairs”, pointing out the lack of international reaction to the 2016 air strike on a Russian field hospital in Syria’s Idlib Governorate.

Referring to “the relentless campaign of destruction” in Syria, the representative of the United States said “Assad’s forces do not even spare maternity wards”.  Last year’s attacks on medical facilities in Aleppo were a stain on the Council and on members who refused to stop it, she emphasized, calling upon the United Nations to be more explicit in naming perpetrators and considering sanctions or other mechanisms for ensuring accountability.

The Observer for the Holy See underlined the pointlessness of copious discussions on ending violence and conflict when untold quantities of arms were being produced, sold or gifted to dictatorial regimes, terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates at the same time.

Also speaking were representatives of Uruguay, Ukraine, Japan, Bolivia, France, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Ethiopia, Egypt, Italy, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Liechtenstein, Pakistan, Austria, Peru, Iran, Indonesia, Slovenia (for the Human Security Network), Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Israel, Switzerland (for the Group of Friends of Protection of Civilians), Romania, Jordan, Poland, New Zealand, Netherlands, Syria, Paraguay, Belarus, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Australia, Armenia, Kuwait, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Chile, Argentina, Côte d’Ivoire, Canada, Ireland, Norway (for the Nordic countries), Morocco, Portugal and Azerbaijan, as well as the European Union delegation.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 5:24 p.m.

Briefings

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recalled that over the course of his 10 years as High Commissioner for Refugees, he had seen first hand the tragic results of civilians caught up in conflict.  “Their suffering is incalculable,” he said, adding that it also represented significant wasted human potential.  Today, in Syria, relentless attacks on cities showed no signs of abating; in South Sudan, attacks continued to target civilians and aid workers; and in Yemen, civilians were trapped and targeted by all sides.  Abuse of bureaucratic restrictions was becoming more prominent, he noted, warning that “suffering is being pushed to the limits” as more cities turned into death traps.  The destruction of civilian infrastructure would affect generations to come, he added.

Drawing particular attention to continuing attacks on hospitals and wide-spread sexual violence, he said such brutality had led more than 65 million people around the world to flee conflict, violence and persecution — many within their own countries.  Meanwhile, “conflict-driven famines” threatened 20 million in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.  While voicing his full support for Council resolution 2286 (2016) on that issue, he noted that, although it had created hopes of a better life for civilians, little had changed on the ground.  Attacks against medical care — including doctors, hospitals, the wounded and the sick — had been carried out in at least 20 countries during 2016, most of which already had fragile or overstretched medical systems, he said, quoting the World Health Organization (WHO).  In most of those cases, no one had been held accountable.

He went on to point out that the number of reported attacks against health facilities and personnel in Afghanistan had almost doubled in 2016 compared to 2015.  Additionally, more than half of all medical facilities in Syria were now closed or only partially functioning, while more than two thirds of its medical personnel had fled the country.  “What is needed now is action” to turn resolution 2286 (2016) into reality on the ground, he emphasized.  Outlining progress in that regard, he said that Switzerland and China had gathered an informal group of States to support the resolution’s implementation.  Several other States were reviewing domestic laws and policies in order to strengthen its implementation, he added.  In some situations, parties to conflict and national authorities were discussing “de-confliction arrangements” and making credible investigative efforts, he said.

For its own part, the United Nations was improving data collection in an effort to improve its understanding of patterns and work to change them, he said.  In that regard, there were several ways to improve the protection of civilians more broadly:  ensuring greater respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law; exerting all available influence to promote that respect and ensure accountability for violations, including at the International Criminal Court; stepping up protection of humanitarian and medical missions while prioritizing the protection of civilians in United Nations peace operations; and enhancing efforts to prevent forced displacement, finding durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced people, and tackling the root causes of displacement, such as violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  “No one is winning today’s wars, everyone is losing,” he emphasized.

CHRISTINE BEERLI, Vice-President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), described a number of specific cases in which civilians had been injured in conflict zones, including several children — one of whom was just three years old.  The ICRC had provided them with prosthetics after they had lost their limbs in an air strike.  “At the ICRC, we see daily the realities of what happens when civilians are not protected during conflict and other situations of violence,” she said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s stated priorities and his proposed focus on the particular challenge of urban warfare.  Indeed, the return of armed conflict to towns and cities had been a special concern for ICRC because some 50 million people in urban areas now bore the brunt of conflict.

Urging all parties to conflict to avoid using wide-impact explosive weapons in populated places, she pointed out that they not only killed and injured civilians, but also damaged critical infrastructure and prevented people from going about their daily lives. She welcomed the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention as a core priority, and urged the Council to continue to demand and encourage respect for international humanitarian law as the most immediate form of prevention.  Today’s conflicts were increasingly fought in alliances and coalitions that developed “partnered operations”, often with the involvement of States or non-State armed groups in training, equipping and advising others, she said, urging Council members to remind all parties that Common Article One of the Geneva Conventions required them to “respect and ensure respect” for the Conventions in all circumstances.

She went on to point out that 2017 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Additional Protocols to the Conventions, and urged all States to recognize their positive impact on the conduct of hostilities.  Much more must be done to end violence against health care — by both States and armed groups.  Further action was also needed to gather more data about the reasons behind attacks.  States must focus much more on the behaviour and attitudes of those bearing arms in terms of accountability and respect for international humanitarian law, she emphasized.  There was also need to implement recommendations made by the Secretary-General and others, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Health Care in Danger Initiative, she said, stressing the need to influence behaviour on the ground at the regional and national levels.

Drawing attention to the overlooked humanitarian challenge of missing persons and their families, she said international humanitarian law required conflict parties to both prevent people from going missing and to clarify the fate of those who did.  Hopefully when the Council revisited the issue in a year’s time, there would have been favourable progress to report in three areas:  reducing the number of armed conflicts; reducing the humanitarian consequences of military operations and improving the protection of health care, especially in urban areas and “partnered operations”; and increasing early action and support for missing persons and their families.

BRUNO STAGNO UGARTE, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Human Rights Watch, cited his organization’s review, published yesterday, of 25 attacks on health facilities in 10 countries between 2013 and 2016.  It found that little had been done to investigate those attacks or to hold those responsible to account.  At least 232 people had reportedly been killed, including 41 health workers, and more than 180 injured, he said, adding that 16 of the incidents might have constituted war crimes.  However, no one appeared to have faced criminal proceeding for any of those attacks, and based on publicly available information, he said, it did not appear as though 20 of the incidents had ever been investigated.  Critical questions remained unaddressed in the five cases that had been investigated, and many had arrived at conclusions that contradicted Human Rights Watch’s own findings.

Noting that the Secretary-General was mandated to list perpetrators of attacks on schools and hospitals in annexes to his report, he said that, under Security Council resolutions, listed parties to conflict must enter into action plans to end violations.  However, no party had signed an action plan, to date, he said.  To enhance accountability, Human Rights Watch recommended that the Secretary-General alert the Council to all future attacks against health-care facilities on an ongoing — rather than annual — basis, he said.  The United Nations should also accord priority to collecting information on attacks, push States to hold perpetrators accountable and recommend avenues to for establishing accountability.  Human Rights Watch also recommended the listing of parties responsible for attacks in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, he said, underlining that the Secretary-General should also “immunize” annexes to his annual report from political redactions by Member States.  Meanwhile, United Nations country teams should, where possible, negotiate concrete, time-bound action plans on ending violations, as stipulated in Council resolutions.

The Council should impose targeted measures in the absence of action plans by persistent perpetrators, he continued.  Describing early warning as the best means for avoiding civilian harm, he said the Council had long been failing in that regard.  Following major failures in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Sri Lanka, common-sense procedures were still struggling to find a firm footing in the Council.  While the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative that had emerged after the 2012 inquiry into the Sri Lanka debacle was full of good intentions, it had failed to turn the tide on horizon-scanning briefings and to recommend that the Executive Office of the Secretary-General use Article 99 to tell the Council what it needed to know.  “The Council has all the tools it needs, yet it sorely needs to abide by the promise of the very resolutions it adopts, resolution 2286 (2016) included,” he stressed.  Otherwise, it was not only failing in its duties to protect medical facilities and civilians in the midst of armed conflict, but also condemning itself to making devalued “never-again” apologies in the future.

Statements

RODOLFO NIN NOVOA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and Council President for May, associating himself with statements to be delivered by Spain and by the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said that States must respect the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols, among other international treaties.  Emphasizing the international community’s obligation to investigate attacks on hospitals and other places for the sick and wounded in order to bring the perpetrators to justice, he said the Security Council must, meanwhile, assume its responsibility and take the decision to impose sanctions or refer such cases to the International Criminal Court.  Describing most attacks against medical facilities as coldly calculated actions, he urged those States manufacturing and selling weapons to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said there was need for an improved procedure for documenting acts of violence against hospitals and medical personnel.  Independent investigations of grave violations of international humanitarian law must be guaranteed, he said, adding that there were significant parallels between the topic under discussion and human rights in relation to the Security Council’s area of competence.  It was vital to ensure responsibility and accountability for attacks against medical facilities, and in that regard, States must cooperate in fighting impunity, using existing institutions, including the International Criminal Court, he said.  Meanwhile, the Secretary-General could play a key role through Article 99 of the Charter, he said.  Turning to the situation in his own country, he said the Government was unable to provide any health services whatsoever to millions of Ukrainian citizens who remained trapped under Russian occupation.

SHUNSUKE TAKEI, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, recalled his country’s important role in drafting resolution 2286 (2016), and said that, despite its unanimous adoption, attacks on medical personnel and facilities continued in many parts of the world, especially in Syria and Yemen.  Since prevention was the best way to avoid attacks and threats against civilians and medical personnel, Japan had been making various efforts in the peacebuilding field, including by contributing $48.5 million to the Peacebuilding Fund and leading the discussion on institution-building in the Peacebuilding Commission.  Turning to forced displacement, refugees and internally displaced persons, he emphasized the importance of the G7 countries using their respective strengths to proceed with initiatives to confront terrorism and the refugee crisis in a mutually complementary manner that would generate synergistic effects.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the United Nations Charter was clear:  “Protecting civilians must be at the centre of what we do.”  In South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, attacks on civilians remained a horrible daily reality, he added, noting that a record number of people around the globe had needed protection in 2016.  Regrettably, the rising trend of attacks on civilians was only spreading, with the urbanization of conflict — as in Aleppo or Mosul — increasing the risks.  “This cannot become the new reality of war,” he emphasized.  Encouraging practical steps to mitigate the impact of conflict on the ground, he urged States to share best practices and collect better, more systematic data.  “This Council needs to take action,” he added.  For its own part, the United Kingdom was sharing its expertise on the protection of civilians, including by helping countries enhance their military effectiveness.  “We have a duty to shine a light on those who fail to comply with international law.”

LIU JIEYI (China) described the global security situation as “grim”, noting that it had brought the vulnerability of civilians in various “hotspot” areas into focus.  States must work to address the root causes of conflict as a priority, he emphasized, calling for a “paradigm of global governance”.  A culture of peace and the promotion of national reconciliation were also critical, he said, calling on the Council to support efforts to initiate dialogue and mediation.  Governments were duty-bound to protect civilians and bore primary responsibility in that regard, he emphasized.  Meanwhile, all parties to conflict must honour their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure humanitarian access.  Where there were violations, national Governments must investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable.  Meanwhile, it was critical that the civilian-protection mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions not be seen as replacing national obligations, he said, stressing the importance of all humanitarian actors according full respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.  China also cautioned that peacekeeping missions must not themselves become involved in conflict.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) expressed concern that the number of civilian fatalities in conflicts around the world had increased as a result of indiscriminate bombings of hospitals, religious buildings and even such civilian events as weddings, by various coalitions.  Citing 108 attacks targeting medical facilities in Syria during 2016 alone, he said that, despite the adoption of resolution 2286 (2016), such attacks continued as a “method of war”.  Bolivia called upon States to ratify the Rome Statute in order to end impunity for such attacks — known coldly as “collateral damage” — which actually constituted war crimes, he emphasized.  He called for enhanced promotion of peaceful conflict resolution, including through mediation and dialogue, while ensuring respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the main challenge facing the international community was to make the protection of civilians a reality on the ground.  That concept was increasingly taken on board in the design of sanctions regimes, he noted, describing a 2015 aide memoire on the protection of civilians as a “real and complete instrument” that should be used more widely.  The Kigali Principles were also critical.  Calling for swift, full and unhampered humanitarian access, he voiced concern about the famine threatening some 20 million people in four countries, adding that France would soon hold an “Arria formula” meeting on that issue.  Turning to the question of disappearances — often the result of abduction, arbitrary detention, torture and execution, as in Syria — he emphasized that there could be no protection of civilians without punishment for human rights violations, urging States to call upon the International Criminal Court when nationally they were unable to impose it themselves.  France was improving notification and communication with its forces regarding “no strike lists”, he said.  It employed “very strict rules of engagement” on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and was training its troops — as well as those with which they were partnered — on law in armed conflict.  He recommended that the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians include an annex on specific recorded attacks against medical facilities.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) noted that about 75 per cent of all war fatalities were civilians due to the excessive use of explosives in urban areas.  They had led to large-scale forced displacement, as well as a “global protection crisis”.  Recalling Kazakhstan’s co-sponsorship of resolution 2286 (2016), he said health-care facilities and personnel nevertheless remained under fire in a number of conflicts.  The United Nations and the Council must send a strong signal to all parties to conflict by implementing the relevant recommendations outlined in the Secretary-General’s latest report, including on providing impartial medical care and unimpeded humanitarian access.  International support, meanwhile, should focus primarily on tackling the root causes of conflict, preventing conflict, peacebuilding and development.  On the civilian-protection mandate of United Nations peacekeeping, he underlined the need for operational clarity in formulating and implementing them, noting that that had not always been possible due to differing perceptions and geopolitical standpoints among Council members.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said armed conflict remained the “number one” cause of humanitarian crisis around the world, adding that the “trinity of prevention, protection and accountability” should guide international actions.  The international community should focus its efforts on strengthening policies launched by the United Nations and regional organizations.  Noting that civilians and health infrastructure were deliberately attacked in various theatres of conflict around the world — whether by armed groups or regular armies — he said that, although States bore primary responsibility for protecting civilians, the United Nations must bolster a culture of preventing such attacks.

MICHELE SISON (United States) said parties to conflict were using despicable tactics, from starving entire cities to deliberately bombing hospitals, adding that there was a growing sense of fatigue in addressing the problem.  In order to change that attitude of resignation, the Council must change its own attitude and demonstrate its willingness to apply meaningful pressure when parties to conflict did not change course.  The United Nations must also be more explicit in naming perpetrators and considering sanctions and other mechanisms for accountability.  As for “the relentless campaign of destruction” in Syria, she said “Assad’s forces do not even spare maternity wards”.  Last year’s attacks on medical facilities in Aleppo were a stain on the Council and on the members who refused to stop it, she emphasized.  Referring to the cholera outbreak in Yemen, she called on all parties to the conflict in that country to facilitate access for humanitarian assistance.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the wide-spread attacks against civilians and the denial of access to humanitarian actors had devastating short- and long-term consequences, such as forced displacement, lack of access to basic services, poverty, loss of life and untold suffering.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s three protection priorities, identified in his report, she called for strict compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to armed conflict.  While concurring that accountability was important, Ethiopia also considered it crucial to establish and strengthen regional and national accountability mechanisms, she emphasized, stressing also the indispensable role of United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Peacekeepers must be provided with the necessary capacity, resources and training to fulfil their mandates, she added.

IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) said that “it may never have been so perilous to be a civilian in the midst of armed conflict”.  Almost every day, the Council was faced with testimonies of the most brutal and premeditated targeting of civilians as a tactic of war.  From the atrocities in Syria to the inaccessible villages of Borno State in northern Nigeria, from South Sudan ravaged by man-made famine to the crisis in Yemen, and the attacks on medical facilities in Kunduz, there was a “global protection crisis”.  “We now must start down the ‘path of protection’ that reinforces respect for international humanitarian law while working to prevent and end conflict,” she stated.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) emphasized that all parties to conflict must take the necessary measures to ensure the security of civilians.  Drawing particular attention to the “disastrous situation” caused by Kyiv’s indiscriminate attacks against hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities in eastern Ukraine, he said that civilians there were also denied medical attention and supplies as a result of Ukraine’s blockade of the area.  The Russian Federation appealed directly to the Ukraine delegation to lift the “inhumane” blockade imposed on its own people, he said.  Recalling attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) terrorists against ICRC personnel and facilities in many conflict areas, as well as their seizure of medication earmarked for civilians, he called for further international efforts in response to those actions and for enhanced priority for practical measures to uphold the relevant principles and standards.

Turning to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2016 recommendations, he said they could provide a foundation for future efforts, but they, nonetheless, contained disputed elements exceeding the provisions of resolution 2286 (2016) and standard international law.  Emphasizing the need to avoid imposing “artificial hierarchies”, he said that his delegation did not share the International Criminal Court’s “rosy view” of the investigation mechanism in Syria, the creation of which was an outright violation of the United Nations Charter.  He also drew attention to double standards and the “politicization of humanitarian affairs”, including the lack of international reaction to the 2016 air strike on a Russian field hospital in Syria’s Idlib Governorate.  Additionally, the reliability of data on the protection of civilians was of critical importance in light of unprecedented abuse of the global information sphere, he pointed out, emphasizing that the United Nations should always be guided by the imperative of thorough investigation and impartial analysis of all the information it received.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that, despite major developments in civilian protection since 1999, and the subsequent priority that the Council accorded it, that principle had not yet been translated into action on the ground and required that the United Nations adopt more effective measures.  Recalling that the Council had adopted resolution 2286 (2016) under Egypt’s presidency, he reaffirmed its unity on that issue, but pointed out that targeted attacks on health workers in conflict situations continued nevertheless.  He said 2016 had seen a huge rise in the number of such attacks, proving beyond a doubt the need for concerted international efforts to prevent them and criminalize the perpetrators.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), aligning himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians, said that Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) had sent a powerful message to the international community by calling on all parties to conflicts to give special protection to medical and humanitarian personnel and facilities, and to ensure accountability for violations.  The effective protection of civilians required two priorities, “one upstream, the other downstream”, namely, prevention and accountability.  Strengthening mechanisms of early warning and early action must be coupled with investigations of violations.  As well, perpetrators must be brought to justice, including by making larger use of International Criminal Court referrals.

RUBÉN DARÍO MOLINA (Venezuela), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the suffering of innocent civilians trapped amidst conflict was being exacerbated by deliberate attacks targeting them, as well as humanitarian personnel and facilities.  Condemning all such acts of violence, he added that they could be considered war crimes and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  The protection of civilians was the responsibility of the State.  Peacekeeping operations also had an important role to play in that task. 

Recalling the Geneva Convention, as well as its additional protocols, he said that parties to the conflict must comply with obligations pertaining to precautionary principles, proportionality and distinction.  He also acknowledged the laudable work done by the many humanitarian workers, including doctors and healthcare personnel, who, at the risk of their own lives, served in difficult conditions.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) said that it was unacceptable that, in many countries, hospitals were still being routinely bombed, raided, looted or burned to the ground, adding that “the nature of warfare might have changed; the rules of war have not”. Such violations of international law were caused not by shortcomings in the normative framework, but rather because of lack of respect for it.  Expressing his Government’s strong support for Security Council resolution 2286 (2016), he added that violations of humanitarian law must be considered war crimes and not mere errors.  To ensure the resolution’s implementation, it was important to align domestic legislation with obligations under international law.

ILDEFONSO CASTRO LÓPEZ, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain, recalled how his country and four other nations, belonging to very different regions of the world, had come together last year to co-sponsor resolution 2286 (2016).  The text was unique because of the role played by civil society from the early stages of drafting.  It was also inspired by those who risked their own lives to save other people.  While there was increasing frustration in the international community at the attacks against civilians and medical personnel, for those under attacks, the problem went beyond frustration, to a matter of life and death.  The goal of resolution 2286 (2016) was to unite the Council and eventually get it to act whenever and wherever an attack took place.  But, the text was only the first step, and stronger engagement from all United Nations members was crucial, particularly from the members of the Council. “We need to lead by example,” he said.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said there had been numerous appeals to all parties to conflict to respect the principles of international humanitarian law.  Such appeals had been insufficient in the past.  Violence continued to affect civilians, wounded combatants and humanitarian workers, and humanitarian facilities were being taken hostage.  That was unacceptable.  Commending the historic adoption of resolution 2286 (2016), he added that it was necessary to address “the structural failings of the Organization”.  Permanent members of the Council must follow the example of France and commit themselves to not veto Council decisions when mass atrocities were involved.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LOPEZ (Colombia), expressing concern for civilian populations caught in armed conflict around the world, said that, because of five decades of armed conflict in Colombia, his country had knowledge of such issues.  Colombia was establishing a framework to deal with the problem, and was also involved with cross-cutting work at the national level to deal with attacks against medical missions.  For Member States to fulfil their mandates, including the protection of civilians, they should adopt relevant measures in line with international humanitarian law.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said resolution 2286 (2016) had had limited impact on the ground and that the Council had been unable to enforce its implementation.  The people of Syria had been at the receiving end of the Council’s failure to act due to vetoes cast by one or more of its permanent members.  The General Assembly should play a more active role in the area of accountability by creating the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, he said, adding that he looked forward to the early appointment of a head for that Mechanism and its financing from the Organization’s regular budget.  Liechtenstein was working with other States to activate by the end of the year the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) voiced concern that non-combatants continued to be treated as “fair game” by warring parties around the world and that “collateral damage” was still considered a regrettable but inevitable by-product of conflict. “As a result, the tapestry of armed conflict is increasingly being coloured by the suffering of civilian populations,” she said.  As a first step towards implementing resolution 2286 (2016), all parties to armed conflict must unequivocally reaffirm that health care must be protected and the perpetrators of such attacks must be held accountable.  Parties to armed conflict must further ensure the safe, unimpeded and sustained passage of humanitarian access and the protection of civilians should be prioritized in United Nations peacekeeping operations.  In addition, a clear distinction between the established norm of protection of civilians and the evolving concept of the responsibility to protect must be maintained.

KATALIN ANNAMARIA BOGYAY (Hungary), associating herself with the European Union, said the protection of civilians should be integral to all United Nations peacekeeping operations mandates.  While resolution 2286 (2016) had sent a strong signal, the situation was not improving.  War, violence and insecurity remained the biggest obstacles to development and humanitarian aid.  Perpetrators of atrocity crimes must be held accountable.  In that spirit, her Government would be contributing €50,000 for the establishment of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.  She also reaffirmed the relevance of the responsibility to protect to the discussion and voiced support for the Code of Conduct regarding the non-use of the veto by permanent members of the Council in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

EDUARDO FERNANDEZ ZINCKE of the European Union delegation, voicing strong support for resolution 2286 (2016), said he was concerned by troubling developments on the ground, including attacks on medical personnel and facilities in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan.  Greater resolve was needed to implement commitments made and to stop medical facilities and personnel from being targeted.  Intentional attacks on hospitals and on places where the sick and wounded gathered were war crimes.

Compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law must be strengthened and enhanced, he said, calling on Member States to participate in the Swiss/ICRC Initiative on Strengthening Compliance with International Humanitarian Law.  The European Union was committed to humanitarian and human rights law training and to placing the protection of civilians at the core of its humanitarian response.  Emphasizing the European Union’s support for reinforcing the protection of medical personnel and facilities as well as the sick and wounded, he urged all States to join in that effort.

JAN KICKERT (Austria), aligning himself with the European Union, the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians and the Human Security Network, expressed concern about the detrimental impact of conflict on education and medical care.  Condemning attacks on schools, teachers and students, and the use of schools and universities for military purposes, he called for the endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.  It was also necessary to operationalize the protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations, he said, noting that Austria would continue to host and support a training-of-trainers course on the matter.

ENRI PRIETO (Peru), noting his country was party to the Geneva Conventions, said that Member States should adopt measures for the protection of civilians and medical personnel in armed conflicts, as well as facilitate safe passage and prevent attacks.  Peru had been training its armed forces in terms of norms under international humanitarian law, and the peacekeepers provided by Peru had solid training in that, as well.  Attacks against humanitarian workers were war crimes and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  Calling for an end to impunity, he said his country was committed to working with other States to ensure accountability.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that, in terms of frequency and ferocity, attacks on health-care facilities, workers and patients were more prevalent in the Middle East than elsewhere.  Condemning such attacks particularly in Palestine, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, he said it was hard to understand how, in an era of precision weapons, “mistakes” could happen so often.  The Security Council must abandon its double standards when it comes to the bombing of humanitarian and health facilities and workers.  By highlighting some attacks, but remaining silent on others, the Council was discrediting its own resolutions.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said it was deeply disturbing that, in a number of cases, State authorities lacked the capacity to prevent, counter and investigate attacks on medical and humanitarian personnel.  There must be a greater focus on increasing the situational awareness and response capabilities of United Nations peacekeepers through better predeployment training and adequate protection equipment.  The United Nations should also set standards and facilitate improved medical facilities in armed conflict.  Experience had shown that Indonesian women peacekeepers were more effective in gaining the trust of communities, particularly among women and children, he said, adding that more must be done to further the roles of women in peacekeeping.

ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia), speaking for the Human Security Network, expressed grave concern about the alarming rate of attacks on medical personnel, medical facilities and patients.  In drafting peace agreements, parties and mediators should include provisions for the protection of medical personnel and facilities.  With armed conflict occurring more and more in urban areas, focus must be put on enhancing protection on the ground and civilians must be adequately protected.  All parties to every armed conflict had a responsibility to allow and facilitate humanitarian access.

United Nations peacekeeping missions must have clear and achievable mandates, as well as the resources and capability to carry them out, he continued.  Commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions, international courts and tribunals played crucial roles.  When States failed to bring perpetrators to justice, referral to the International Criminal Tribunal was a complementary means to avoid impunity.  The Council should strongly, systematically, consistently and promptly respond to all violations of international law in situations of armed conflict.  Silence, tolerance and impunity were not options.

PASCAL BUFFIN (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, expressed outrage at the intensity of attacks targeting medical personnel.  It was not just a matter of ethics and morals.  The repercussions on health-care systems resulted in a greater impact on pregnant women, children and the elderly.  Also at stake was the commitment to international humanitarian law.  There had been a slow deterioration in that area because of the impunity of parties to armed conflict.  Punishing violators of international humanitarian law was critical to ensure the prevention of further crimes.  The devastating effect of armed conflict on education and the lives of children and young people should also be taken into account, given that attacks against schools had risen in many areas.  Attacking schools not only took away innocent lives, but also undermined the education and future of the survivors.

JÜRGEN SCHULZ (Germany), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said it was troubling that both States and non-State armed groups were fragrantly violating international humanitarian law.  The Council must find ways to enhance compliance and ensure that perpetrators were held accountable.  It was the responsibility of the Council, the United Nations and every troop- and police-contributing country to ensure that peacekeeping missions had the necessary capabilities and resources to keep civilians safe.  If the international community failed to protect civilians in conflict, then it failed in the purpose for which the United Nations had been created, he said.

MINNA-LIINA LIND (Estonia) said that obstacles were often put in place to prevent access to medical treatment in areas of conflict.  As well, there were a growing number of violations of international humanitarian law.  It was the responsibility of States to protect their people.  There should also be respect for both the civilian population and medical workers.  Estonian defence personnel did not violate international law in their own country or when on Mission, as they received advanced training.  In terms of impunity, it was important to have accountability, particularly through the work of the International Criminal Court.

DAVID ROET (Israel) said nowhere had attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure caused more damage than in Syria, where the regime had led a brutal campaign against its own population that included the destruction of hospitals and removal of essential medical aid from humanitarian convoys.  Iran was an accomplice to those crimes, he said, adding that Israeli medical teams and first responders had treated countless Syrians, “no questions asked”.  In the north of Israel, hospitals often performed life-saving procedures under threat of Hizbullah, while in Gaza, Hamas exploited international humanitarian aid and, during the 2014 conflict, set up a military command centre in a hospital.  While Israel supported resolution 2286 (2016), the issue of human shields should not have been omitted from the text.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), speaking for the Group of Friends of Protection of Civilians, underscored the need to reverse the “despicable trend” of increasing, deliberate attacks on medical facilities, personnel and their means of transport, as well as the wounded and the sick.  “The number of deaths of humanitarian and medical workers to date this year, one of the deadliest on record, should horrify us all,” he said, urging States to implement the Secretary-General’s recommendations on realizing resolution 2286 (2016).

Condemning attacks against schools and drawing attention to the related Safe Schools Declaration, he also said that States must make greater efforts to systematically collect and analyse data and to enhance reporting on incidents, including civilian casualties.  In addition, all States should ratify the Rome Statute in line with the principle of complementarity and to enable the International Criminal Court to investigate in instances where national justice systems were not be able or willing to do so. “Through such measures, we can deter future crimes by closing the impunity gap,” he said.

ION JINGA (Romania), associating himself with the European Union, said the situation on the ground reflected a cruel reality.  In Syria, attacks on medical facilities persisted, even after the 30 December 2016 ceasefire, making a significant impact on vaccinations and other health services.  The reverberations from the attacks would be felt long after the conflict ended, he added.  In Yemen, where 13 health workers had been killed and 31 wounded since the start of hostilities, fewer than half the country’s medical facilities were in operation, he said, noting that 15 million people lacked access to basic medical services.  Describing resolution 2286 (2016) as a “benchmark” in international efforts, he emphasized that after the outrage, it was time to act, and that resolution would represent the start of a political effort to protect medical facilities and personnel.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the intentional destruction of infrastructure critical to the survival of civilians, such as schools, hospitals and water supplies, had become the strategy of choice in many recent conflicts in the Middle East.  It was the international community’s obligation to protect civilians and critical infrastructure from such “brutality and barbarity”, he said, emphasizing that heightening public awareness of such defiant violations was part of that obligation.  Furthermore, copious discussions on ending violence and conflict were almost pointless when, at the same time, untold quantities of arms were produced, sold or gifted to dictatorial regimes, terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates.

SAMAR SUKKAR (Jordan), expressing her sympathy over the terrorist attack in Manchester, said her country was in full compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which was evidenced by the behaviour of Jordanian peacekeeping personnel.  Noting that the social repercussions of the ongoing conflict in Syria were having an impact on neighbouring countries, she said was cooperating with various United Nations agencies in dealing with the problem of refugees.  Turning to the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, she emphasized the crucial need to end all practices that violated the rights of Palestinian prisoners.

BOGUSŁAW WINID (Poland), associating himself with the European Union, said States should adhere to international treaties to protect civilians in armed conflict, notably the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.  National legislation to protect medical care in armed conflict and introduce guarantees for medical personnel to act freely should also be reinforced.  It was of utmost importance to introduce safety measures, such as mapping the location of medical personnel, facilities and equipment.  Endorsing the recommendation that States and conflict parties should avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, he pressed States, after the conflict, to introduce accountability measures and sanctions as a way to leverage compliance from parties.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), associating herself with Spain and the Group of Friends of the Protections of Civilians, noted that, since the adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) a year ago, doctors and nurses continued to become casualties, hospitals had been levelled and international humanitarian law was routinely violated with impunity in some parts of the world.  All Member States — not only those involved in armed conflict — had a responsibility to take action, she emphasized, noting that her own country was building a strong understanding of international humanitarian law within its defence force, and its troops were required to prevent and report violations.  The Council should continue to demand compliance with international law and take decisions that did everything possible to protect civilians caught up in conflict, she said.

LISE H.J. GREGOIRE-VAN-HAAREN (Netherlands) said that, although the Council had adopted the landmark resolution 2286 (2016) last year, there had been no change on the ground.  The international community must not condone attacks against medical personnel and health infrastructure, not only because the safety of medical missions lay at the heart of humanitarian action, but also because such attacks would lead to a more general erosion of respect for international humanitarian law.  Expressing concern about the direct and indirect effects of attacks on medical facilities in Yemen and what they meant in terms of access to health care for Yemeni children already facing a cholera epidemic on top of severe malnutrition, she called on States to use their influence on the parties to the conflict in that country to engage constructively in strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) emphasized the need to avoid being “selective” and exploiting the civilian-protection issue to advance other agendas.  Such interference had been catastrophic for civilians, and it was strange to see some international actors taking liberties while accusing others of violating international human rights law, he said, asking how the United States, United Kingdom and France could claim to respect international law while attacking other States and destroying their health infrastructure.  Those three States had lost all legitimacy and credibility when talking about human rights.  He asked how Saudi Arabia could be a member of the Human Rights Council while spending billions of dollars to murder Syrians and spreading cholera in Yemen.  How could Qatar preside over the dialogues among civilizations while ceaselessly committing crime after crime in Syria?  Armed terrorist groups had invaded and occupied hospitals and clinics in that country, thus destroying what used to be the most renowned medical institutions of the Middle East, he said, adding that the “White Helmets” were a cover for terrorist activities.  Turning to Israel, he said the occupying authorities had refused to build a hospital for locals in the occupied Syrian Golan.  Israel was striving to manipulate public opinion by pretending it was helping wounded Syrians, when it was really providing them with logical and military assistance instead.

JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay) said that an effective system for the protection of civilians in armed conflict was the responsibility both of the Council and all States — regardless of whether those countries were parties to the conflict.  Paraguay contributed troops to six peacekeeping missions.  Specific training on the protection of civilians, in line with the Kigali Principles, was provided to personnel.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s initiative to develop and disseminate best practices and lessons learned on the topic, as well as their inclusion in national policies and in peacekeeping mandates, he went on to deplore the practice of starving civilian populations as a tool of war, restrictions on humanitarian access, the prevention of asylum and the principle of non-return.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) said that translators and interpreters in conflict situations were often an overlooked but highly vulnerable group.  Recalling that the General Assembly had recently adopted a text acknowledging their important role in the maintenance of international peace and security, he stressed that such personnel were subject to grave danger as they worked to help establish dialogue between conflict parties.  While some statistics on attacks on translators and interpreters had been compiled, a database had not been established.  Pointing out that translators and interpreters in Iraq were 10 times as likely to be killed as regular troops, he said that, while they did not fall under the umbrella of civilians, interpreters and translators were not “regular fighters” so long as they did not engage in direct hostilities.  They were “special individuals in need of special protection”, he said, calling for the development of an international instrument dedicated to their protection.

JERRY MATJILA (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, warned that, if the Council was unable to play its role in the protection of civilians “then it fails in its responsibilities towards the international community it serves”.  While the primary responsibility rested with States, all parties should fully comply with their obligations under international law, as stated in resolution 2286 (2016).  The United Nations should strengthen its cooperation with regional organizations, including the African Union.  Underlining the importance of protecting the wounded and the sick, as well as medical personnel, medical facilities and equipment, he reiterated that the selective application of the protection of civilians mandate undermined the credibility of the international community in pursuing that goal.  The Council should also condemn at all times any wilful impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), citing a lack of political will to implement existing norms, said there must be unanimity in strongly condemning threats, attacks and acts of violence against medical personnel, health-care facilities and the sick and wounded.  Failure to do so would result in long-term consequences for both civilians and health-care systems in conflict-affected countries.  His Government had established the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative that, among other things, focused on security conditions in the northeast, facilitated the work of health personnel and eased the movement of medical equipment and supplies.

FERIDUN H. SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) called upon all stakeholders to uphold commitments to the World Humanitarian Summit.  Highlighting some of his country’s actions, he said Turkey’s assistance had helped to strengthen health systems in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, in addition to the medical services provided in Turkish hospitals for those affected by the conflict in Yemen.  Turning to Syria, he said that his country’s efforts included its “open-door policy” for urgent medical evacuations, free health care for more than 3 million Syrians inside Turkey, and support for vaccination campaigns for Syrian children carried out by United Nations agencies.  Turkey also supported Security Council-mandated cross-border shipments of humanitarian assistance, he said, noting, however, that attacks against medical staff, their equipment and facilities had become worse, and that most involved the regime.

JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed alarm at the increasing violence against civilians and humanitarian personal.  Terrorist groups were indiscriminately targeting hospitals, he said, adding there had also been an increase in the number of heavy-artillery and aerial attacks on urban areas with high concentrations of population.  Small arms and light weapons continued to cause violence, he said, emphasizing the vital need to ratify all the main international instruments dealing with such arms and their ammunitions.  Emphasizing that protecting civilians was a legal obligation, he said that any security force, local militia or other armed groups violating that obligation must be brought to account.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said that, as a major troop contributor, his country took a pragmatic approach to the protection of civilians mandate in both practice and preparedness.  There needed to be a greater emphasis on strategic analysis and assessment of threats to civilians so that the Council could clearly set out its expectations regarding the implementation of peacekeeping mandates to protect civilians.  Therefore, it was imperative to have meaningful coordination and consultation among the Council, troop- and police- contributing countries, United Nations secretariat and country teams.

ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said that conflicts in her region reflected great disdain for international humanitarian and human rights laws.  There should be no delays in implementing resolution 2286 (2016).  “The cost is always paid by innocent civilians,” she said, adding that the destruction of hospitals in Syria, coupled with other acts of violence and threats against medical workers constituted a grave breach of international law.  The perpetrators needed to be brought before courts and must not enjoy impunity.  Her delegation was working with partners to ensure that the General Assembly adopt a resolution establishing the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which would assist in investigating violations in Syria.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that, in the current year, the international community had already witnessed frequent and direct attacks against civilians, the arbitrary denial of consent to humanitarian access, and utter contempt for human rights in South Sudan, Yemen and Syria.  The United Nations scorecard on the protection of civilians was one of the litmus tests of the Organization’s effectiveness and credibility.  Members of the Council must support timely and decisive action aimed at preventing or ending the commission of atrocities, consistent with the Accountability Coherence and Transparency Code of Conduct and the French-Mexican initiative on veto restraint.

ZOHRAB MNATSAKANYAN (Armenia), calling for a comprehensive and consolidated approach on the part of the entire United Nations system, welcomed the recent “One Humanity” report in that regard.  Noting that the civilian population of Nagorno Karabakh and the bordering regions of Armenia had been consistently exposed to serious humanitarian risks, he recalled that the 2016 aggression against it had been accompanied by grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including barbaric acts commensurate to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Ceasefire violations also continued to date, he said, adding that risks of escalation in the conflict must be averted.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that actions, such as the appalling incidents of attacks on civilians over the past year, had become tactics of war and weapons to achieve victory.  ISIS continued to perpetrate them in Iraq.  As well, Israel’s continued occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories and its settlement expansion were violations of international law, he said, recalling that resolution 2334 (2016) had designated the settlement activities as illegal and demanded that they come to an end.  While Kuwait had hosted three international donor conferences on Syria and had presided over a number of related meetings, he expressed regret that “these have not been enough”.  He also commended coalition efforts to preserve the territorial integrity of Yemen.  Priority must be afforded to the protection of civilians in all United Nations peacekeeping mandates, he said, adding that durable solutions to the current crisis of forced displacement were also needed.

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica) said that the Secretary-General’s report reflected a “frightening reality” suffered by millions of people.  Deliberate attacks against medical facilities and personnel were war crimes according to international law, and it was unacceptable that conflict parties were interrupting the supply of drinking water, food, gas and medications.  Civilian populations should not be used as cannon fodder for achieving military aims.  He also voiced support for the establishment of an independent mechanism to bring the perpetrators of violence in Syria to justice.

KORNELIOS KORNELIOU (Cyprus), aligning himself with the European Union, expressed alarm that more than 2,500 targeted attacks had been carried out against patients and health-care workers in the last four years.  His country had been one of the co-sponsors of resolution 2286 (2016).  The protection of civilians must be at the core of the Council’s agenda, not only in peacekeeping missions explicitly mandated for the protection of civilians, but an integral part of a comprehensive approach encompassing all aspects of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.   He also noted that Cyprus had hosted the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for the last 53 years.

M. SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia) said that the hope that resolution 2286 (2016) would act as a deterrent against violent attacks on health-care personnel and facilities had not been fulfilled.  In April alone, there had been 12 attacks reported against hospitals and medical facilities in Syria.  The Council now had the obligation to mainstream measures to prevent attacks against the wounded and sick, as well as health-care personnel.  Those with influence over parties to a conflict should use all available tools at their disposal, whether diplomatic, political or economic, to leverage protection of medical personnel and facilities.  While it was necessary to open channels of dialogue, given the bleak outlook for civilians, and particularly children, accountability must be addressed urgently.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) called for accountability for crimes committed against civilians in Syria with Iran’s support, adding that such attacks were also being committed in Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.  In addition, Israel needed to lift the “devastating” blockade imposed on the occupied Palestinian territories.  Drawing attention to the importance of including a gender-responsive approach in all humanitarian planning and strategies, she pointed out that the provision of health care to women in conflict situations was a major part of her country’s foreign aid.  In addition, her country, as part of a coalition, had already rebuilt some 40 hospitals in Yemen, and had received about 1,500 Yemenis in the United Arab Emirates for medical treatment.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), associating himself with the Human Security Network, described schools and hospitals as “zones of peace”.  The closing of such facilities as a result of conflict — as well as their use as weapons storage facilities — threatened civilians in a number of ways, he said, adding his support for the preventive, protective and accountability-related measures outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.  The protection of health facilities must be included in all ceasefire agreements, while all national legislation should be brought in line with international law, especially the Geneva Conventions.  In addition, he advocated the development of a registry on health facility statistics.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), voicing support for the protection priorities outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, noted that the protection of civilians by peacekeeping operations required close cooperation among local actors, troops and civilians in the field, in line with the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations recommendations and various reports of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.  As well, parties to conflicts must make every effort to ensure timely humanitarian access.  Medical and hospital personnel must not be targeted, he stressed, calling for an end to impunity for grave violations committed against civilians and spotlighting the preventive role that could be played by impartial accountability mechanisms.

FEH MOUSSA GONE (Côte d’Ivoire), commending humanitarian actors, particularly those who had lost their lives in the commission of their duties, called on the international community to mobilize urgently in order to strengthen and protect international humanitarian law and significantly mitigate the scale of violations.  Defence personnel must be trained in all aspects of law with particular attention paid to the protection of civilians.  His country had been carrying out such reforms in its security sector, with the support of the United Nations.  The goal was to make the army an institution that embraced all principles of international law.  Furthermore, States must end impunity and prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes before the appropriate judiciary.

MICHAEL GRANT (Canada) said attacks on medical facilities were so commonplace that, in some conflicts, hospitals had been fortified or moved underground.  Noting that his country and Switzerland were co-chairs of an informal group of States in Geneva promoting the implementation of resolution 2286 (2016), he said the Council must clearly condemn direct and indiscriminate attacks and demand that parties to conflict comply with their obligations.  Canada’s obligations were embedded in the Canadian Armed Forces doctrine and predeployment training.  Other countries should consider signing international treaties relevant to the protection of civilians, including the Arms Trade Treaty.  The Council, meanwhile, must use the tools at its disposal for ensuring accountability more consistently.

TIM MAWE (Ireland), aligning himself with the European Union and the Human Security Network, said that the large number of people in humanitarian need today was caused not by the mere existence of conflict but by conflict parties violating their duties and obligations.  Not only were parties to conflict reneging on their obligations to ensure the protection of hospitals and other civilian facilities, they were engaging in deliberate and repeated attacks.  Recalling that 17 aid workers had been killed in South Sudan this year, he added that the politicization and militarization of humanitarian aid was unacceptable.  Because of the particular challenges faced by women and children, Ireland was supporting a civil society-led study to explore the specific risks faced by women and girls following forced displacement caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.

GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway), also speaking for the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden), said resolution 2286 (2016) required putting in place requisite legal and operational measures.  The Nordic countries were committed to the Secretary-General’s recommendations on implementing that text and called on others to do likewise, as attacks against medical personnel must be understood as part of a broader trend of increasing risk that civilians would be attacked during armed conflict as a war tactic.  “Our common resolve to confront such acts must be unequivocal,” he said, calling for full respect of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.

He said States must ensure that those who violated international law were held accountable.  Where States were unwilling or unable to prosecute such crimes, those cases must be referred to the International Criminal Court.  Conflict parties must facilitate the unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, while the humanitarian response must meet the needs of the historically high numbers of irregular migrants, refugees and internally displaced people.  He also urged States to protect children from armed conflict and take action to address violations.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) stated that the Council must reiterate the strong signal it sent by adopting resolution 2286 (2016) which condemned all attacks against health infrastructure.  Such attacks had led to humanitarian organizations withdrawing from conflict zones because they could no longer ensure the safety of their personnel, thereby directly impacting civilians who were already vulnerable.  Circumstances were further exacerbated by the deterioration of existing infrastructure, as well as health-care personnel fleeing countries.  In spite of the legal arsenal set in place to protect civilians, the international community had failed to eradicate such violations.  Strong measures were needed.  Morocco had included international human rights law in the training syllabus of its army, he said, paying tribute to all humanitarian workers in conflict situations.

CRISTINA PUCARINHO (Portugal) said schools and hospitals were often among the most dangerous places to be in conflict-related countries.  If Member States failed to ensure human rights and respect for international humanitarian law, then the Security Council could play a more active role.  Peacekeeping missions meanwhile struggled to fulfil their mandates while protecting their own personnel and innocent civilians.  That trend needed to be reversed.  Recently, a Portuguese unit with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), acting without caveats, had been involved in protecting civilians in the Bangassou region.

TOFIG MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan) said the changing nature of warfare required adopting greater protection measures, including on accountability, to enhance compliance with international humanitarian and human rights laws.  Armenia’s continuing aggression against Azerbaijan had led to occupation, war crimes and acts of genocide, with perpetrators still enjoying impunity.  That, in turn, impeded progress in achieving a long-awaited peace and reconciliation between the two countries.  Despite a formal ceasefire, deliberate attacks had persisted, he said, underlining Azerbaijan’s efforts towards achieving a political settlement to the conflict.

For information media. Not an official record.