22 May 2018
8264th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Urge Strict Compliance with Global Legal Protections, as Security Council Discusses Plight of Civilians Caught Up in Proxy Wars, Other Conflict Zones

Under no circumstances could parties to conflict or their supporters be exempt from the global legal regime protecting civilians, the Security Council heard today, with some speakers urging even stricter adherence to those crucial international norms against today’s complex backdrop of proxy wars and asymmetric threats.

“Conflict around the world is unleashing relentless horror and suffering,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in opening remarks to the Council’s quarterly debate on civilian protection.  While more than 128 million people around the globe currently required humanitarian aid — a staggering figure driven mainly by conflict — there were also reasons for optimism.  For example, he said, Afghanistan had recently adopted a policy to prevent civilian casualties, Somalia had instituted mechanisms to track civilian harm and 19 African nations had adopted a communiqué on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons.

Noting that those and other examples were outlined in his 14 May report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he also encouraged Member States to consider three pragmatic recommendations contained in that document.  First, Governments should develop policy frameworks for protecting civilians in conflict, including in urban warfare; second, Member States should support efforts to engage with non-State armed groups in developing policies, codes of conduct and action plans to support civilians; and third, countries should boost advocacy for the protection of civilians, ensure accountability for serious violations and end impunity.

Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), voiced concern over the enormous gap between civilian protection policy and action on the ground.  “We all know what reality looks like,” he said, describing children left orphaned or permanently disabled after their homes were hit by air strikes.  Governments today often claimed they were fighting terrorists or foreign fighters rather than a conventional enemy, making the case that traditional rules of international humanitarian law did not apply in such cases.  Also noting a dangerous trend of denying violations of international humanitarian law — including those committed by proxy partners — or passing off blame, he emphasized that exceptional behaviour by one party could not justify an unlawful response by another.

Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association said civilians in her country had endured armed conflict entailing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the past 15 years.  Describing fierce, costly operations such as the liberation of Mosul — where fighting had taken place in densely populated areas and turned the city into an open cemetery — she said some civil society groups had begun collecting medicine and, in cooperation with the military, delivering it to civilians.  Others collected bodies from the streets in order to prevent the spread of epidemics.  Calling on the international community to support such local, voluntary efforts, she declared: “We must continue to focus on people, not stones.”

The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that for decades, his people had endured a protection crisis, compounded by the length and depth of the Israeli military occupation.  Only blatant impunity could explain how Israel dared to open fire from hundreds of meters away on peaceful protesters, he said, stressing that under international law, an occupying Power could not claim the right to security at the expense of the right to security, protection and well-being of the occupied people.  Kuwait, in its capacity as the Arab representative of the Council, had begun consultations on a draft resolution on the protection of Palestinian civilians, he said, urging Council members to seize the opportunity to demonstrate that the principles enacted in its resolutions had no exceptions.

Throughout the day-long debate, more than 80 speakers shared their perspectives on current challenges facing efforts to expand and strengthen international protections for civilians in conflict zones.  While some delegates expressed concern that asymmetric security threats and escalating attacks by extremist groups were hampering those efforts, others voiced support for the Secretary-General’s recommendations, noting that national Governments must continue to spearhead efforts to protect their civilian populations — even in the most difficult of environments.

Poland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, presiding over the debate as Council President for the month of May, said in his national capacity that conflict prevention must be the United Nations overarching priority.  Promoting good practices and heading off conflicts would both prevent and mitigate harm to civilians, he said, calling for special attention to the inhumane impact of improvised explosive devices and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons.  All States and non-State parties to conflict must ensure they complied with their legal obligations, he said, also supporting initiatives aimed at limiting the use of the veto when the Council was faced with war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity targeted at civilians.

Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, recalling that his country had known first-hand the horrors of conflict and their effects on civilians, said since the end of the civil war his Government had implemented concrete plans to raise awareness of international civilian protection standards.  Among other things, the security sector was being reformed and Côte d’Ivoire’s armed forces were being trained in line with the principles of human rights and reciprocal trust with the civilian population.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s proposed reform of the United Nations peacekeeping architecture, he said peace operations could also make positive contributions by monitoring ceasefires as human rights observers and in their support for transitional justice mechanisms.

Echoing that sentiment, the speaker for Rwanda, emphasizing that protecting civilians should be a peacekeeping priority, outlined how the Kigali Principles aimed to strengthen such duties.  “In 1994, we were left to fend for ourselves,” she said, recalling her nation’s tragic history and calling for a paradigm shift from conflict management to prevention.

The representative of the Russian Federation, echoing concerns about grave violations committed against civilians around the world, nevertheless said some parties were attempting to politicize the humanitarian sphere.  Warning against the current deluge of pre-emptive judgements and accusations — with some allegations even relying on misinformation gleaned from such dubious sources as the so-called White Helmets organization — he also cited double standards in media coverage on such situations as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.  There were also attempts to employ a “wilful interpretation” of international norms, he said, recalling that one Council member had referenced the imagined concept of “humanitarian intervention” in order to defend its own military aggressions.

The speaker for the United Arab Emirates, pointing to some of the same crisis, said they were often worsened or prolonged by the Council’s inaction.  For its part, the United Arab Emirates, as a member of the Coalition Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen, was respecting international humanitarian law and protections for civilians in that country.  But, the Houthis were examples of the problems non-State actors posed and Iran’s decision to arm them to avoid sovereign accountability was pushing the entire region towards a dangerous precipice, she said, calling on the Council to creative, bold steps to counter the threat and the State financiers supporting those groups.

While many speakers aligned themselves with the Secretary-General’s recommendations — including calls for engagement with non-State actors in an effort to promote higher standards of civilian protection — several delegates warned against any negotiation with armed groups.  Turkey’s delegate, for one, said those engaged in concerted counter-terrorism activities must refrain from signing agreements with non-State armed groups, as the latter would only use such documents as propaganda tools.  While States bore the main responsibility to protect civilians, the international community had a shared duty to do so as well.

Also speaking were the representatives of Kazakhstan, United Kingdom, Ethiopia, United States, Bolivia, China, Netherlands, Equatorial Guinea, France, Peru, Sweden, Ukraine, Argentina, Georgia, India, Uruguay, Brazil, Pakistan, Colombia, Norway (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Germany, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Spain, Iran, Guatemala, Slovakia, Belgium, Italy, Estonia, Chile, Switzerland (on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians), Saudi Arabia, Panama (on behalf of the Human Security Network), Belarus, Republic of Korea, Iraq, Venezuela (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Romania, Austria, Qatar (on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect), Ghana, Ireland, Nigeria, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Montenegro, Latvia, Kenya, Syria, Yemen, South Africa, Japan, Jordan, Croatia, Algeria, Canada, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Maldives, Morocco, Viet Nam, Myanmar, Portugal, Costa Rica, Armenia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Azerbaijan and Liberia, as well as those of the European Union, African Union and the Holy See.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 7:50 p.m.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the most effective way to protect civilians was to prevent and end conflict.  Prevention, resolution and peacebuilding were therefore — and would remain — the highest priorities of the entire United Nations system.  “Conflict around the world is unleashing relentless horror and suffering for millions of civilian women, girls, men and boys,” he said, noting that more than 128 million people around the world were in immediate need of humanitarian aid.  That staggering figure was driven mainly by conflict, with more than 26,000 civilians killed or injured in 2017 in just six countries — Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.  Civilians in conflict zones were also subjected to horrific violations of human rights, including rape and other sexual violence.

He went on to state that conflict continued to force millions from their homes for an uncertain future in which they often had only limited access to basic help and protection.  At the end of 2016, some 65.5 million people had been uprooted by war, violence and persecution.  Describing equally bleak statistics relating to the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure, air attacks and the targeting of medical and humanitarian facilities, he said conflict was also an important driver of global food insecurity.  In Yemen, for example, nearly 3 million women and children were acutely malnourished and 8 million did not know where their next meal would come from.

Nevertheless, he continued, his most recent report on the issue (document S/2018/462) outlined some reasons for hope, including a growing recognition that respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law helped to reduce conflict and to counter terrorism.  Some parties to conflict and Member States had taken steps to enhance respect for the law and improve the protection of civilians, he said, citing measures to reduce harm from the use of certain types of explosive weapons and mechanisms for tracking civilian harm in Somalia.  Afghanistan had adopted a national policy to prevent civilian casualties and 19 African nations had recently adopted a communiqué on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons, he noted.

Expressing the Organization’s strong support for those efforts, he spotlighted a new campaign based on the slogan “civilians are not a target”, launched by the United Nations and partners on World Humanitarian Day in 2017.  He noted that his own report recommended three actions:  First, all Governments should develop national policy frameworks for protecting civilians in conflict, including improving their ability to protect civilians in urban warfare and finding alternatives to the use of explosive weapons; second, Member States should support the United Nations and others in engaging with non-State armed groups to develop policies, codes of conduct and action plans to support civilians; third, States should support heightened advocacy for the protection of civilians and make concerted efforts to ensure accountability for serious violations to end the climate of impunity, including by supporting the work of the International Criminal Court.  He urged the Security Council and all Member States to seriously consider those practical measures and not to allow political differences to prevent or undermine action to protect civilians.


YVES DACCORD, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), expressed concern over the enormous gap between civilian protection policy and action on the ground.  “We all know what reality looks like,” he said, describing the situation of children left orphaned or permanently disabled after their family homes were hit by air strikes.  Countless men, women and children suffered long-lasting consequences of armed conflict in every region of the world, each with their own tragic story.  “Our focus here today, as always, is how best to respond to such terrible suffering, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he said, urging Member States to close the gap between words and action in the true protection of civilians.  The basic message was clear:  The single most effective way to reduce suffering in war was to uphold the fundamental principle of humanity, using the tool of international humanitarian law.

Noting that the primary responsibility for upholding the law lay with States, he said Governments today often claimed they were fighting terrorists or foreign terrorist fighters — who sometimes included children — rather than a conventional enemy, and that conventional rules of international humanitarian law did not apply in such cases.  There was also a dangerous global trend of denying violations of international humanitarian law — including those committed by proxy partners — or passing the responsibility to someone else.  “This only increases the climate of impunity and ultimately causes yet more suffering,” he said.  “Let us be clear: [international humanitarian law] protects everyone who is not — or no longer — taking part in hostilities.”  Exceptional behaviour on one side, even large-scale violations of international law, could not justify an unlawful response, he emphasized, pointing out that in many of the world’s current conflicts, including those in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, belligerents received financing or other support from States.  Warning against such support, he said States must make clear that there would be no support without compliance with the law.

Expressing concern that the ICRC had recorded more than 1,200 incidents of violence against health-care workers in 16 countries since the Council’s adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of medical workers in conflict, he stressed the imperative of addressing the deplorable gap between words and actions on that issue, urging countries to review their military doctrines and operations; ensure that domestic legislation enabled health-care professionals to carry out their work impartially and safely; ensure conflict-specific training and support for health-care professionals; gather high-quality data to develop better tools and prevent violence from happening while mitigating its consequences when it did occur; and support behaviour-change initiatives and awareness-raising programmes to increase respect for health-care workers.  As for the critical issues of detention, deprivation of liberty and torture, he cited the ICRC’s new project aimed at developing professional standards and practices to improve the response in cases of missing persons and their families, as well as an “IHL in Action” campaign to collect and promote positive, evidence-based examples of respect for the law on the part of parties to conflict around the world.

HANAA EDWAR, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, noted that over the past 15 years, civilians in her country had endured armed conflict entailing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  Some 10 million had been displaced amid the destruction of essential services like water and electricity.  Noting that operations to liberate Mosul had been extremely fierce and costly, she said the fighting had taken place in densely populated areas, with the constant bombardments destroying thousands of homes and turning the city into an open cemetery.  There were no data or statistics on the numbers of dead, and “we hear that bodies are appearing in the rivers around Mosul”, she said.

Highlighting various voluntary civil society initiatives, she said young people had collected medicines and, in cooperation with military forces, delivered them to civilians.  A team led by a nurse whose sister had been killed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) was leading the collection of bodies from Mosul in order to prevent the spread of epidemics in the city.  They had found a room in an old house containing 150 stacked bodies, all killed by shots to the head, she said.  While their mission was dangerous since the bodies might be close to unexploded bombs, it was essential because there were reports that 3,000 civilians were still missing in the old city.

Such efforts required the support of the international community, she stressed, urging access to justice and accountability for civilians.  National authorities, United Nations agencies and the international community must work with local actors to determine and agree the appropriate support and assistance for affected communities, she emphasized.  Humanitarian action and long-term assistance must be conflict- and gender-sensitive to facilitate social cohesion.  The successful elections, held after the liberation of areas formerly controlled by ISIL/Da’esh, offered an opportunity to move forward towards inclusive peace and justice, she said, while underlining that “we must continue to focus on people, not stones”.


JACEK CZAPUTOWICZ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland and Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, focusing on three main areas upon which the international community must act to ensure effective protection in conflict situations: prevention, protection and accountability.  “We should make an effort to make conflict prevention an overarching priority of the United Nations,” he emphasized.  “It is of utmost importance to develop and promote good practices by parties to conflict that would prevent and mitigate harm to civilians.”

Calling for special attention to the inhumane impact of improvised explosive devices and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons, he said the existing disarmament machinery of the United Nations should be used effectively, and respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be enhanced.  It was important that all States as well as non-State parties to conflict ensure they were in compliance with their legal obligations, he said, underlining the crucial need to implement good practices in that area.  An example was the “Intragovernmental Commission on International Humanitarian Law”, which aimed to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law throughout the entire judicial system.

He went on to emphasize that impunity for violations of international humanitarian laws must be ended or at least substantially diminished.  The International Criminal Court should play the leading role in holding parties to conflict accountable and restoring a sense of justice on the international stage.  The international community must implement initiatives aimed at limiting use of the veto within the Security Council in cases relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — the most horrific war-time atrocities against civilians.  The international community could not accept such actions as using food insecurity and starvation as methods of warfare, attacking food-producing factories or destroying crops, he stressed.  The Secretary-General’s words pronounced in the Council chamber in 2017 during the annual debate on the protection of civilians remained valid today:  “What is needed now is action that will turn words into reality.”

GALYMZHAN KOISHYBAYEV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, noting that about 75 per cent of all war victims were civilians, emphasized the importance of ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law and enhancing accountability.  Noting that the survival of uninjured victims depended upon operational medical facilities and personnel, he said health-care facilities were still under fire in a number of conflicts despite the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2286 (2016).  Turning to the role of peacekeeping operations, he said the mandate to protect civilians must be linked with a comprehensive political strategy.  Member States must also develop national compliance frameworks covering capacity-building, strengthening the rule of law, comprehensive security-sector reform and good governance, he added.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the Security Council’s core mandate — to maintain international peace and security — meant that it was also mandated to take action to protect civilians in conflict.  The harrowing images emanating from Syria, where innocent civilians were killed by the Assad regime, “should shock all of us”.  In Ukraine, the indiscriminate shelling of civilians continued, he said, recalling that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had reported attacks on dozens of schools in the course of 2017.  Meanwhile, health-care and humanitarian workers were attacked and children recruited around the world.  More than 100 humanitarian aid workers had been killed in South Sudan since the conflict there began five years ago, he said.  Emphasizing that such actions were war crimes, he urged Member States to ensure international humanitarian law was enforced and that perpetrators were held to account.  Welcoming efforts to strengthen the human rights components of peacekeeping operations and the deployment of human rights monitors, he expressed concern, however, over recent attempts in the General Assembly to weaken those components and defund human rights-related posts, stressing “this must stop”.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the protection of civilians was a common challenge spanning many of the crises on the Council’s agenda.  The protection challenges identified in the Secretary-General’s report — especially those relating to disregard for international humanitarian law — were a matter of serious concern.  Ethiopia supported his three practical recommendations, she said, noting that strengthening legal compliance by both States and non-State armed groups was critical in that regard.  Despite challenges — particularly in asymmetric environments on the ground — peacekeeping operations remained important in the protection of civilians, she emphasized, pointing out that, as a major troop-contributing country and a signatory to the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, Ethiopia attached great importance to protection.  Greater consultation with troop- and police-contributors in the formulation of peacekeeping mandates was vital to enhancing the effectiveness of mandated civilian protection tasks, she stressed.  Moreover, peace operations must be adequately resourced and equipped with the necessary capabilities to implement their civilian protection mandates fully.

KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said the international community was being reminded today of the horrific conditions that all too many people across the globe had to endure.  The Secretary-General’s report painted a dismal picture of the condition of civilians around the world, she said, noting that millions of people were bearing the consequences of explosive devices and chemical weapons.  There was a moral duty to prohibit the use of chemical weapons and an obligation to uphold Council resolutions ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to people enduring conflict, she said, stressing the critical need for all Member States to do their part to improve humanitarian actions.  It was also necessary to develop and implement policies for holding underperformers to account, she said, encouraging all Member States to support the Kigali Principles.  The Council must use all the tools at its disposal, including sanctions and arms embargoes, to reduce violence against civilians, and to ensure accountability, which was essential to ending the culture of impunity.  It was not enough to say the right things and walk away from the room.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), noting that civilians around the world were at the mercy of conflict and considered targets, said more than 50 million people in urban areas were affected by armed conflict.  Sexual violence had been a characteristic of conflict in 2017 and it had increased over previous years.  Boys and girls were the most vulnerable, he noted, condemning all acts of violence against civilians and humanitarian personnel.  Failure to enforce respect for international humanitarian law was responsible for violations against civilians, he said, emphasizing the need to refer such violations to the International Criminal Court.  Bolivia advocated the use of peaceful measures to resolve conflict, such as mediation and arbitration, he said.

MA ZHAOXU (China), noting that civilians bore the brunt of conflicts around the globe, called for pragmatic measures to ensure their safety.  “We must address both the symptoms and the root causes of conflict,” he stressed, urging the Council to uphold its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, encourage preventive diplomacy and help in the resolution of conflicts through peaceful political means.  “We are in a shared future of humankind,” he said, calling on all nations to ensure a common, peaceful future.  Member States bore the primary responsibility to protect civilians, and while international partners could provide support in that regard, they could never replace that primary State function, he emphasized.  Any conflict threatening civilians in contravention of international humanitarian law should be investigated fully by the countries concerned, he said, adding that the protection mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations could not substitute the primary responsibility of the countries concerned.  The Council should bear that in mind when drawing up mandates, he said.  It should also enhance cooperation with regional organizations such as the African Union, which had unique knowledge that could help host countries protect civilian populations.  Meanwhile, humanitarian operations must always remain neutral, impartial and objective while respecting the laws of host countries.

Mr. DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire), welcoming progress made in the nearly two decades since the Council’s adoption of resolution 1265 (1999) — which had first placed the protection of civilians at the heart of its agenda — said conflict nevertheless continued to threaten countless civilians around the globe.  Sexual violence and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the emergence of asymmetric threats, called for enhanced protection efforts.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s recommendations — among them the incorporation of international humanitarian law into national legislation — he recalled that his country had known the horrors of conflict and their effects on civilians.  Since the end of the civil war, the Government had launched programmes to raise awareness of international civilian protection standards, he said, adding that the Government was also reforming the security sector and ensuring that the armed forces fully respected human rights and the principle of reciprocal trust with the civilian population.  In addition, Côte d’Ivoire had destroyed its stocks of weapons in close cooperation with international partners.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s proposed reform of the United Nations peacekeeping architecture, he said peace operations could make positive contributions by monitoring ceasefires as human rights observers and in their support for transitional justice mechanisms.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), noting that around 5.4 million people were suffering from food insecurity in South Sudan, said that when starvation of the civilian population was used as a method of warfare, it must not go unpunished.  In the short term, food insecurity was exacerbating civilian suffering, while in the longer term, entire generations were being raised in hunger, hampering sustainable development.  Calling on the Council to condemn starvation, he added that his country’s Government was in the final stages of amending its International Crimes Act to include the war crime of intentionally using the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union, noted that armed conflicts had become more complex, generating new challenges.  The growth in the number of terrorist groups had further increased that complexity as well as the vulnerability of civilians.  The ability of humanitarian workers to help was under threat, he noted, expressing grave concern about attacks on communities.  The use of explosive weapons and chemical weapons was extremely disturbing, he said, adding that civilians were killed and injured while homes and infrastructure were destroyed.  Many people were affected by sexual violence, food scarcity and torture, he said, noting that others were forced to abandon their homes, while still others had disappeared without a trace.  The protection of civilians should never be politicized, he emphasized, calling for the strengthening of the partnership between the African Union and the United Nations.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) called upon countries with influence to use it to ensure protection for civilians in conflict.  The absence of lasting solutions to conflict had increased the number of displaced persons, and conflict-affected areas were frequently difficult to reach, he said.  Emphasizing the importance of upholding the obligation to allow humanitarian access to people in conflict zones, he cited the situation in Syria, calling for an end to all attacks on civilians as well as schools and health facilities.  Noting the extreme suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the occupying Power, Israel, he stressed that all people had a right to security.  Israel must adhere to international human rights law, he said, recalling also that Kuwaiti civilians remained missing nearly two decades after the Iraqi invasion.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed concern over the “damning picture” painted in the Secretary-General’s report, while stating that significant progress had nevertheless been made in recent decades.  For example, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) now had more power to protect civilians, and several peacekeeping operations now engaged early-warning systems.  Specific efforts were also under way to protect women and children, as seen in the case of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  He welcomed the commitment by the “Group of Five” (G5) Sahel Force to protect civilians in its operations, saying the Council should bolster its efforts to protect health workers.  He called on the Council to ensure that attacks against judicial workers were investigated fully and perpetrators held to account.  The Council should also ensure the full participation of States in fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry, and he expressed support for the imposition of sanctions against those committing the vile, destabilizing crime of human trafficking in Libya.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) voiced concern over increasing cases of impunity following violations of international humanitarian law, saying the Council sometimes failed to rise to its responsibility in those cases.  Peru, alongside scores of other countries, had signed on to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group’s code of conduct to prevent permanent Council members from using their veto when civilians were threatened by mass-atrocity crimes.  All States were obliged to observe international law, including by training their own military forces, he emphasized.  Peru agreed with the Secretary-General that prevention was the most effective protection tool, he said, calling on all States to adhere fully to the Rome Statute and cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) expressed regret over attempts to politicize the humanitarian sphere of international relations.  Some parties had replaced constructive dialogue with a deluge of pre-emptive judgements and accusations, while others even stooped to anchoring their allegations in misinformation gleaned from such dubious sources as the so-called White Helmets organization.  “Researchers” provided information based on secret sources and demanded to be believed without any evidence to back up their claims, he said.  Meanwhile, double standards were commonly seen in media reports on such situations as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.  Calling attention to misinformation about the situation in Ukraine, he said the conflict unleashed by Kyiv had led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and injury to almost 9,000 others, while Ukraine’s bombing of civilian areas was supported by Western allies.  As for the work of humanitarian actors, he emphasized that it must be built on the principles of the United Nations Charter and the basic principles of international law, including the sovereignty of States and non-interference in their domestic affairs.  Expressing concern over attempts to employ a “wilful interpretation” of international norms, he recalled that one Council member had dreamed up the concept of “humanitarian intervention” and used that invented principle to defend its own military aggression.  No such defence could exist and the Council must never support such erroneous interpretations, he stressed.  On the notion of voluntarily foregoing the right of veto, as commonly proposed by some delegations, he reminded Member States that the veto was not only a right but a great responsibility.  It was also the backbone of the Council’s collective decisions, stimulating its members to arrive at compromise solutions.  Indeed, there were many cases in which the veto’s use had prevented the United Nations from being implicated in “dubious escapades”.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), commending the Secretary-General for his action-oriented approach, said that when prevention of conflict failed, international humanitarian and human rights laws should provide a safety net for civilians caught up in armed conflict.  As the protection needs of women, girls, men and boys often differed, creating links between protection, empowerment and participation could help avoid the narrow perception of women as primarily objects of protection.  Also highlighting the urgent need to advance the commitments made in Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of health care in armed conflict, he called for solidarity across the international community in addressing the needs of migrants and refugees.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, aligned his remarks with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, and said he welcomed the fact that for the first time the dire situation of civilians in Ukraine, affected by the Russian military aggression, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, was referred to in the Secretary-General’s report.  Ukraine was disheartened that the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict was as topical an issue today as it was in 1999.  Noting the upcoming celebration of Africa Day on 25 May, he noted the importance of ensuring lasting peace on the continent, the site of most armed conflicts.  As long as some Member States, including one well know permanent Council member, did not care at all about the implementation of the International Court of Justice’s rulings, the Council was doomed to go in circles around the issue of civilian protection.  The solution was for every Member State to commit to do its part in following established norms of international law.

GUILLERMO DANIEL RAIMONDI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina, deplored the fact that civilians were increasingly the target of armed conflicts.  The Council must protect civilians and there must be respect for international law and humanitarian law.  It was necessary to fight against impunity and to strengthen the mandates of peacekeeping forces on the ground.  Peacekeeping missions had to comply with international humanitarian law and they needed clear mandates and adequate resources to carry out them out.  Legislation and measures against terrorists should not obstruct humanitarian efforts.  Argentina deplored the fact that it was necessary to reiterate that medical staff could not be the targets of attacks during armed conflict.

MIKHEIL JANELIDZE, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, said respecting international law was at the heart of resolving the Russia-Georgia conflict and addressing its humanitarian consequences.  While Georgia was committed to this principle, its disrespect by the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, was the major impediment to the conflict’s settlement.  Ten years had passed since the Russia-Georgia war, where the Russian Federation had violated the United Nations Charter and the main principles of international law, as well as up to 39 Council resolutions.  The Russian Federation had yet to fulfil its obligations under the European Union-mediated 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement.  Those factors had contributed to the creation of the environment that put the lives and basic rights of civilians living in and along the occupied territories under danger.  It was urgent to allow humanitarian access to civilians.  Another priority, preventing and finding durable solutions for forcefully displaced persons, was important for Georgia.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said the inability to abide by established norms was perhaps the reason for the dismal situation regarding the protection of civilians.  While national Governments were responsible for protecting civilians, very little was being done to strengthen societal capacities and mechanisms.  That should be primary, he said.  Moreover, it was unrealistic to expect United Nations peacekeepers to ensure the protection of civilians in the absence of clear Security Council mandates.  Those who decided the resources made available to peacekeepers had a responsibility as well.  He went on to say that an evolving normative architecture for the protection of civilians — one that was politically attuned, but not politicized or seen as instrumentalized — should be considered.  Only then would it be possible to move forward with cohesion on the issue.

ELBIO OSCAR ROSSELLI FRIERI (Uruguay), noting that selective and disproportionate attacks against civilian infrastructure were often intentional, which made it all the more unjustifiable, stressed the importance of prioritizing protection of health and medical facilities.  Noting various incidents that had taken place in the two years since the adoption of Council resolution 2286 (2016), he said it was vital to carry out independent impartial investigation on such incidents.  The international system had a variety of mechanisms which were not being used optimally, including the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which had resources, a permanent infrastructure and a group of experts.  However, since its creation, the Commission had faced serious challenges because it required the consent of States of concern.  Accountability was another important aspect of deterrence, he said, calling on the Council to ensure that by using tools such as sanctions and referrals to the International Criminal Court.

ALEX GIACOMELLI DA SILVA (Brazil) said that prevention should be interpreted in broad terms, ranging from addressing exclusion, intolerance and other grievances to placing genuine emphasis on the peaceful settlement of disputes.  Conferring primacy to prevention also meant that military action must remain a measure of last resort, he stressed, adding that it was crucial to develop an understanding of what force could and could not accomplish.  There was no evidence that civilians were more efficiently protected through the military.  In the exceptional circumstance that it was authorized by the Council or the Assembly, military action should be judicious, proportionate and limited to the mandate.  Even when troops might not be wearing blue helmets, they were acting on the authority and legitimacy of a blue text, he said.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that targeted attacks, sexual violence, forced conscription and indiscriminate killings collectively painted a bleak picture of the human costs of modern-day armed conflict.  Civilians had become the principal objects of attack and the Geneva Conventions were being violated.  Such crimes continued to be perpetrated in the State of Palestine and Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, she said.  Violations could be mitigated by the consistent use of the entire range of means for promoting compliance with international humanitarian law and ensuring accountability.  Military training must include familiarization with the principles of international law governing armed conflict and a full understanding of the legal implications of commands issued and obeyed in combat conditions.  Moreover, the lack of political will to fully respect humanitarian law and other applicable rules represented the primary impediment to protecting civilians during armed conflict.  Civilian protection should also represent a priority for United Nations peacekeeping operations and, as one of the leading troop-contributing countries, Pakistan’s “Blue Helmets” had contributed to many success stories in Africa.

FRANCISCO ALBERTO GONZALEZ (Colombia) said that armed conflicts and terrorism were claiming ever more victims, underscoring that “even the barbarity of war” must have rules.  Continued security deterioration and atrocious situations must compel the Council to assume greater political commitment.  Colombia had shouldered the important responsibility to protect its civilians with effective support from the United Nations.  “This has not been an easy task,” he added.  Following over five-decades of conflict, Colombia learned first-hand that international humanitarian law was an indispensable tool to move forward.  During the armed conflict, Colombia had adopted a series of international instruments to strengthen the protection of civilians.  He particularly noted the benefits of United Nations collaboration in dealing with widespread landmines and explosive remnants of war. 

TORE HATTREM (Norway), speaking also for Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, said that the lack of respect for international humanitarian law obligations had long-term devastating effects.  In that regard, he listed examples of practical initiatives and measures taken to increase compliance and the protection of civilians which had been supported by the Nordic countries.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had systematically addressed attacks on health care through the Health Care in Danger Initiative and he encouraged all States to support implementing its recommendations.  In June 2015, 37 States had gathered in Oslo to launch the Safe Schools Declaration, which included a practical commitment to implement guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.  He noted that 74 States had now endorsed the Declaration and urged all to join and implement it. 

He continued to say that dialogue with parties to conflict was critical to enhancing civilian protection and States which could influence the situation on the ground should lead by example.  Moreover, the obligation for States parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions to clear contaminated areas and destroy stockpiles was a concrete, efficient contribution to protecting civilians.  In that regard, 29 States and one other area were no longer suspected to be contaminated with anti-personnel mines since the Mine Ban Treaty had been adopted, an achievement made possible through close partnerships between civil society and States.  He also advocated support for the Secretary-General’s call to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and to develop policies on the use of such weapons to avoid civilian harm.  His delegation stood ready to contribute in developing practical measures and guidance based on lessons learned.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), emphasizing the need to bridge the gap between words and actions, recalled pictures from Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and Ukraine, saying that human suffering was a daily reality in those countries.  If Germany were elected to the Council, it would try to place conflict prevention very high on the Council’s agenda.  Regarding the fate of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, he said much of their suffering could have been prevented had the Council paid attention to that situation earlier.  “We saw it coming,” he recalled, calling urgently upon the Government of Myanmar to start a structured dialogue with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence.  While noting that peacekeepers often stood between civilian populations and their tormentors, he stressed that protection mandates must be stronger.  New York and Geneva should work more closely, he said, adding that they sometimes seemed not only to be on two different continents, but on two planets.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said that in recent years, almost 70 million people had been forced from their homes and millions more had been denied access to such basic rights as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement.  “We possess the adequate tools to address challenges against international peace and security,” he said, emphasizing that the international community must act to translate its legal commitments into practical action.  Unfortunately, certain members of the international community had failed to implement those commitments in the face of terrorist threats, he noted, stressing the essential need to examine ways to further improve and coordinate the joint fight against terrorism.  They included refraining from signing documents with non-State armed groups because such actions only encouraged them to use such documents as propaganda tools.  Turkey was concerned that children continued to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict, he said.  “It goes without saying that the lack of education and poverty are among the main drivers of radicalization.”  While States had the main responsibility to protect civilians, the international community had a shared duty to do so as well.  Turkey would continue to provide assistance to those in need in Syria, and would also mobilize its resources to help the 3.5 million Syrians within its borders, he said, while noting that the Council’s response in addressing issues in Syria and Palestine was lacking.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) emphasized that protecting civilians in armed conflict was a universal obligation under international humanitarian law, not a policy decision by States.  Preventing mass atrocities was the most effective way to protect civilians tool and it was encouraging that 116 States had joined the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct on such crimes.  He expressed hope that more States would subscribe to that important commitment, especially those interested in serving on the Security Council.  Regarding Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, he said there was little indication that the Council would address the question of accountability for the ongoing crisis.  The International Criminal Court had been created for precisely such situations, he pointed out, commending its Chief Prosecutor for intention to explore the option of investigating the forced displacement of the Rohingya as a crime against humanity.  The Council should use its competence to refer the situation to the Court, but so far, it had shown an unfortunate inclination to separate the justice dimension from the humanitarian crisis.  That would not work, he said, emphasizing that the Council must address mass atrocities in order to do its work effectively.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary), aligning herself with the European Union as well as the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, noted that the line between internal and international armed conflicts was increasingly blurred, bringing into question the interpretation of the rules of international law.  Calling on the Organization to use its entire available means for early warning and political mediation to prevent the outbreak of conflicts and reverse the escalation of hostilities, she added that ensuring accountability for serious international crimes and empowering victims should be essential components of civilian protection efforts.

JORGE MORAGAS SÁNCHEZ (Spain), associating himself with the European Union, said that Council resolution 2286 (2016) was unique in its scope, the role it granted to civil society, and its co-sponsorship by 84 Member States, which showed the high degree of support for its objectives.  Lamenting that the degree of compliance was not equally satisfactory, he added that while the ICRC’s Health in Danger initiative offered a road map, it was necessary to do more from a multilateral perspective.  “How can we create the necessary political will to achieve a behavioural change in the different parties to a conflict,” he asked. It was also vital to protect education facilities in armed conflicts, given that attacks against schools and universities had increased in recent years.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that at least 26,000 civilians were killed as the result of armed conflicts in just six countries, namely, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen.  Attacks against civilians and their infrastructure, medical facilities and the humanitarian convoys had increased since the adoption of Council resolution 2286 (2017), especially in the Middle East, he noted, highlighting the “massacre of unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza” as the latest in an old pattern followed by the Israeli regime.  Further, he said, over three years of the Saudi-led aggression against an already impoverished Yemen had resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian situation.  That aggression was continuing under the watch of the Council, he said.

JORGE SKINNER-KLEÉ ARENALES (Guatemala) said that protecting human life and safeguarding all civilians was at the core of the Organization’s goals and numerous Council resolutions.  Regarding flagrant attacks against civilians in violation of the Geneva Convention and other protocols, he said national and international frameworks must be designed to ensure greater compliance with international law and end impunity.  Regarding peacekeeping operations, he said that while one of their primary aims should be to protect civilians, some of their mandates were not in line with operational challenges on the ground.  They were not backed with financial and human resources, he said, stressing that they must be revised to reflect challenges on the ground.  It was also necessary to make the prevention of armed conflict a priority, he added.

MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, said Member States must reaffirm their commitment to the values and principles of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  Violators of those norms must be held to account by national authorities, who were primarily responsible for prosecuting them.  Slovakia was a longstanding supporter of security-sector reform, which was crucial for the protection of civilians and the prevention of human rights abuses, he said, adding that there also was an urgent need for unconditional protection of the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers and the infrastructure used to deliver assistance.  He noted that 20 years since the Council’s engagement on the protection of civilians and its first landmark resolution, the international community must redouble efforts to fully and universally implement the recommendations put forward in numerous reports of the Secretary-General.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), associating herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, noted that in the past year, the Secretary-General had demonstrated the need to strengthen respect for international law and provided new recommendations.  Emphasizing that States had the primary responsibility to monitor international law and universal jurisdiction, she said non-State armed groups musts be convinced to abide by the tenets of international law.  The intergovernmental process must be used to strengthen international humanitarian law, in the observance of which had been openly eroded.  Noting that the protection of civilians was at the heart of the mandates of most peacekeeping operations, she said that such mandates sometimes did not ensure such protection.  Training was necessary to change that situation, she said, stressing also the need to combat impunity.  It was also the obligation of all to strengthen the protection of medical staff in conflict zones, she added.

JOANNE ADAMSON, European Union, said that it was not necessary to read official documents or reports to be made aware of the protection crisis, because everyday news reports showed that civilians were disproportionately suffering the consequences of conflict and instability.  The international community was morally obliged to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.  Within the Union there had been an increasing number of prosecutions under national legislation against those who breached the norms of international humanitarian laws.  “Let’s bridge the gap between what is being said in this Council and everyday practice,” she said.

Highlighting the alarming trend of using sexual- and gender-based violence as a tactic of war, she stressed that a gender perspective must be integrated into protection efforts, including humanitarian action.  Condemning the use of sieges and starvation as tactics of war, she added that “politics have no role to play in the delivery of lifesaving assistance.”  The Union opposed the use of bureaucratic impediments, including delays in permits or visas, as well as the criminalization of principled humanitarian activities under the pretext of countering terrorism.  Peacekeeping missions could play a pivotal role by having the protection of civilians at the core of their mandates, in line with the Kigali Principles, she stressed.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians and the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that a strong link between accountability and prevention must be achieved.  Serious violations of international humanitarian law and relevant Security Council resolutions must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.  Early warning and early action mechanisms for prevention were also instrumental in raising awareness and adopting an atrocity-prevention lens for possible conflict situations.  In that regard, his delegation fully supported the long-term holistic approach outlined by the Secretary-General in his latest report.  He also recalled that, two years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016), its urgent and full implementation was needed because attacks on hospitals and humanitarian convoys continued unabated.  In the context of conflict, safe and unimpeded passage must be guaranteed for health facilities and personnel.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), aligning himself with the European Union, recalled Council resolutions 1894 (2009), which prioritized the protection of civilians in the context of peacekeeping operations, and 2286 (2016), which emphasized the protection of medical care in conflict situations.  More needed to be done to address the root causes of conflict, he said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s reform agenda and the sustaining peace concept.  Turning to the role of peacekeepers, he said that training them in international humanitarian law could help support efforts to halt violence.  Further, references to mission-specific legal issues prior to deployment could lead to better application of international laws.  Estonia had taken every measure to ensure that its military personnel did not violate international law when carrying out their duties.

MILENKO E. SKOKNIC TAPIA (Chile) said that today’s debate could not be more timely amid the suffering of millions of women, children and men suffered in armed conflicts around the world.  The cycle of violence was not inevitable, he said, emphasizing that preventing conflict was the best way to protect civilians.  That could be done in various ways, including by supporting institutions as well as ensuring inclusive and sustainable development.  Another commitment to conflict prevention could be made through the prevention of illicit arms sales.  Chile agreed with the reports of the Secretary-General, which highlighted the need to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law, he said, emphasizing the importance of protecting medical and humanitarian personnel and preventing the forced displacement of civilians.  Accountability was also an essential element for the delivery of justice, he added.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, said the Council’s continued attention to the protection of civilians was more necessary now than ever.  Drawing attention to such worrying trends as the increasing urbanization of conflicts and the deliberate starvation of populations, he welcomed discussions of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court regarding proposals to amend the current accountability framework on the latter.  Urging States to learn from existing positive examples of compliance with the forms and principles of international humanitarian law, he said all armed conflicts were governed by those norms and called on Member States to uphold their responsibilities.  They must also ensure accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and deliver justice to victims, while prioritizing the implementation of Council resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of health care in armed conflict situations.  United Nations peacekeeping missions and special political missions should play a vital role in supporting countries’ transitions from conflict to peace in some of the world’s most fragile regions, he said, calling on them to respect the Kigali Principles and underlining the need to pay more attention to the protection of civilians in counter‑terrorism contexts.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said the bleak reality of the world today was indeed painful.  Just a few days ago there had been new carnage in the Gaza Strip, he recalled, while also drawing attention to the ongoing crises in Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.  It was high time that the perpetrators of hostilities against civilians recognized that their crimes would not go unpunished, he emphasized, noting that Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with its partners, was carrying out an operation to save the Yemeni people.  It was exercising the greatest care, caution and restraint to ensure the protection of civilians despite occasional instances of casualties, which were not deliberate.  In such cases, those responsible were held to account, he said, detailing a number of steps that had been taken to ensure the safety of civilians in Yemen.

MELITÓN A. ARROCHA RUÍZ (Panama), speaking on behalf of the Human Security Network, said the protection of civilians in armed conflict was one of that group’s priorities and it had engaged constructively in Council debates since 2002.  The Network believed that traditional security approaches must be complemented by a holistic approach to security centred on people and preventing conflict.  It agreed with the Secretary‑General that, over the long term, the best way to protect civilians was to address the root causes of conflicts, build sustainable peace, promote human rights and the rule of law, strengthen governance and democratic institutions, and invest in inclusive and sustainable development.  The Network encouraged the Council to use all the information generated by the different organs of the United Nations to better implement international norms and obligations relating to the protection of civilians, he said.  The Network welcomed continued calls for accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, a key element in the protection of civilians.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA (Holy See) said essential health services and medical personnel played a critical role in conflict situations, providing vital life support while helping to sustain hope and trust.  Attacking medical facilities in conflict situations was not only an egregious breach of international law, but also a betrayal of humankind itself.  The growing trend of attacking humanitarian workers was also cause for grave concern, and the politicization and militarization of humanitarian assistance was unacceptable, he said.  Above all, the goal of protecting civilians was best served by preventing the outbreak of armed conflict in the first place, which entailed addressing root causes, finding inclusive political solutions to disputes and seeking peaceful settlements.

VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), expressing the international community’s inaction, said the Council had itself become a forum for geopolitical confrontation rather than the genuine settlement of conflict.  Recalling last week’s clashes in Gaza and the attack on Syria despite the lack of convincing proof of chemical weapons use, he said the brutal burning of civilians in Odessa, Ukraine, was also the result of impunity.  Highlighting the plight of translators and interpreters, he said they were in serious danger because their profession involved them in dialogue with parties to conflict.  It was time to consider an international instrument, whether a treaty or a resolution, reaffirming their special status in dangerous conditions and heightening their protection, he said.  Expressing support for the peaceful settlement of the dispute in south‑east Ukraine, he called for mutually acceptable parameters for the deployment of peacekeepers in the region.

VALENTINE RUGWABIZA (Rwanda), emphasizing that protecting civilians should be a peacekeeping priority, outlined how the Kigali Principles aimed to strengthen such duties.  Shae said that following the release of a 2014 report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) showing that peacekeepers virtually never used force to protect those under attack, the Kigali Principles supported the subsequent recommendation of clarifying peacekeeping tasks at a tactical level, on the basis of the desire to improve understanding and implementation of the protection of civilians.  Providing examples of Rwanda’s first‑hand lessons learned, she said the United Nations was not the be‑all and end‑all.  “In 1994, we were left to fend for ourselves,” she recalled.  “We learned from our tragic history and have since worked relentlessly to make our humble contribution to the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping in fulfilling its sacred duty of deterring violence against civilians and protecting civilians in situations of armed conflict.”  Doing so required a paradigm shift from conflict management to prevention, she said.  While noting that States bore the primary responsibility, when warring parties targeted civilians, she said United Nations Member States, particularly the Security Council, were responsible for ensuring that protecting unarmed civilians, internally displaced persons as well as United Nations and humanitarian actors remained a peacekeeping priority.

HAM SANG WOOK (Republic of Korea), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, said that armed conflict disproportionately affected women and children.  Even worse, sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war and terrorism against them.  He stressed the need to focus on prevention of conflict, urging the Council to respond in unity to calls by the Secretary-General to save lives.  It was also important to ensure accountability for crimes targeting civilians.  Violators must be held to account through prosecution in national and international criminal justice systems, he said, adding that even where justice systems were not yet available, it was essential to prepare for the emergence of justice and accountability in the future.  The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria was a good example, he added.  The United Nations must make the most of existing peacekeeping operations to enhance the effectiveness of civilian protection on the ground, he said, stressing also that missions required support and proper resources in order to carry out their mandates.

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), praising Hanaa Edwar’s activism, said that his country’s armed forces had been in compliance with international humanitarian law while liberating territories formerly under the control of terrorists.  That was the “pride of Iraq”, he said, noting that the Government had established humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave dangerous areas.  Furthermore, Iraq had mobilized all the resources at its disposal to send humanitarian assistance and psychological recovery services in order to help the displaced reintegrate into society, he said.  The Prime Minister had signed a work plan on children in armed conflict, with the goal of rehabilitating children who had been recruited by ISIL/Da’esh, he noted, highlighting also the inter-ministerial committee established to protect the rights of children.  The entire world had stood side-by-side with Iraq as the country tried to put an end to terrorism, he said, expressing gratitude.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Council must ensure that the norms of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, were upheld and respected at all times.  The Non-Aligned Movement called upon all parties to armed conflict to observe their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the principles of proportionality and distinction by, inter alia, prohibiting the targeting of civilian populations, civilian property and certain special property.

Recalling that 88 per cent of peacekeeping personnel deployed in the field were from member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, he said the delivery of mandates depended on the effective tripartite coordination among the Council, the Secretariat and troop- and police-contributing countries.  It would hardly be possible to ensure the protection of civilians unless peacekeepers were fully enabled to operate from the highest morale at all times, he emphasized.  Condemning all acts of violence that might amount to war crimes, while pointing out their long-term consequences, he said those responsible must be held to account in order to send a clear message of zero tolerance for those despicable acts.

ION JINGA (Romania), associating himself with the European Union, recognized the work of the United Nations, both at the policy and operational levels, in mainstreaming the concept of protecting civilians in armed conflicts.  Such developments had created hope for an improvement in the safety of millions of people affected by war.  At the same time, what the Secretary‑General described in his report painted a dismal picture.  Attacks on schools and hospitals, blockade of humanitarian aid and the use of sexual violence as a tool of war remained rampant.  Prevention of armed conflict must be at the heart of all international cooperation, he continued, also adding that even in the face of war, human dignity must be upheld.  Emphasizing the need to build on already existing international architecture, he expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s proposal on developing national policy frameworks.  For its part, Romania had adopted a National Strategy for the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, designed to promote and raise awareness about international humanitarian law.  He also noted that his country had thus far provided 12,500 military, police and close protection personnel to various United Nations missions.

JAN KICKERT (Austria), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians, stressed the need to invest more in conflict prevention.  He urged the Council to strengthen the prevention agenda, underscoring that human rights violations could be viewed as the early warning signs of conflict.  Whenever conflicts broke out, full compliance with international humanitarian law was paramount.  Ninety‑two per cent of casualties resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated weapons were civilian, he said.  He urged all States to engage in the development of a political declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosives in populated areas.  Expressing concern for the increasing number of displaced persons, he called on Member States to work towards durable solutions.  The development of a multi‑stakeholder Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced People 2018‑2020 was an excellent first step in that regard.  Noting that United Nations peacekeeping missions had become increasingly dangerous, he called for adequate training and equipment to help them fulfil mandates.

ALYA AHMED S. AL-THANI (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said States bore the responsibility to protect their civilian populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.  Nevertheless, more than 65 million people were currently displaced as a result of conflict, atrocities and persecution worldwide.  Calling for full and effective compliance with international law, she said much civilian deaths, suffering and displacement could be avoided if all parties respected those international laws and norms.  It was crucial for States to put in place appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements to comprehensively address violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, and to hold those responsible for those crimes accountable.  Also emphasizing that States bore the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in their jurisdictions, she said partners should encourage and support national accountability efforts including the strengthening of judicial coopetition between States.  In addition, she drew attention to the importance of protecting health workers and journalists and paying special attention to gender considerations, including by supporting the Council’s women, peace and security agenda.

MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE (Ghana), associating herself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, emphasized that the United Nations must do more to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes and crimes against humanity.  Condemning the use of starvation as a method of war and the use of civilians as human shields, she said that States engaged in armed conflict must observe the protocols governing the conduct of war.  They must abide by the norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in order to minimize civilian deaths, suffering and displacement, she said.  Accountability must be enforced, she added, calling for building national capacity to equip the domestic court systems with the required skills and knowledge that would enable them to take ownership of some of the trials.  The independence of those national courts remained paramount in capacity-building efforts, she stressed, adding that cooperation at the regional and subregional levels was essential as a means to ensure adherence to international law.  Ghana endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians as a blueprint for strengthening the international community’s resolve to protect civilians in armed conflict.

MÍCHEÁL TIERNEY (Ireland) expressed particular concern over the use of explosive weapons with wide-area-effects in urban areas, saying they struck military and civilian targets without distinction.  Beyond the immediate injuries and deaths, the destruction of critical infrastructure, housing, schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation systems meant that civilian populations suffered long after the use of such weapons.  Renewed political commitment to the protection of civilians was needed, he said, adding that protection and access for humanitarian assistance must be ensured.  Ireland welcomed calls for accountability in terms of violations of international humanitarian law, which was vital for the protection of civilians and for sustainable peace.

TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BAND (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed grave concern that conflict situations exposed civilians to killing, kidnapping, torture, sexual exploitation, trafficking and other dangers, particularly when non-State armed groups were involved.  Nigeria supported community engagement in promoting the protection of civilians, including the use of community alert networks and community liaison assistants.  In response to the Boko Haram insurgency, he said, the Government had put a robust social protection initiative and a second national action plan in to protect civilians, particularly women and children.  Further, Nigeria was collaborating with neighbouring countries and had adopted the multi-national, multi-agency approach called “Operation Safe Corridor” to effectively handle the de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration of former Boko Haram insurgents, he said.

RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that for decades, his people had endured a protection crisis, compounded by the length and depth of the Israeli military occupation and the impunity enjoyed by that country.  Only blatant impunity could explain how Israel dared to open fire from hundreds of meters away on peaceful protesters, he said, adding that as per international law, an occupying Power could not claim the right to security at the expense of the right to security, protection and well-being of the occupied people.  Noting that Kuwait, in its capacity as the Arab representative of the Council, had begun consultations on a draft resolution on the protection of Palestinian civilians, he urged Council members to seize the opportunity to demonstrate that the principles enacted in its resolutions had no exceptions.

VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Human Security Network, said that priority must be placed on raising awareness of and respect for obligations related to the protection of civilians under international law.  As an active troop- and police-contributing country, Thailand would continue to support the delivery of consistent and coherent training.  He stressed that intensive pre-deployment and periodic in-mission training was vital.  Stronger partnerships were vital for the protection of civilians.  That required an integrated approach among military, police and civilian components.  They must all coordinate with national authorities, local communities and relevant humanitarian organizations in the field.  It was also important to reduce threats to sustainable peace and development and to build and sustain a protective environment for civilians.  Peacekeepers were trained to assist the local population in their efforts to prevent relapse into armed conflict.  By sharing best practices in agriculture, health care and water resource management with local villages in Timor-Leste, Haiti and Darfur, peacekeepers had prevented those regions from backsliding into conflict.  He also underlined the role of women, especially in ensuring protective environments.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said that the latest Rohingya humanitarian crisis had once again revealed the total abdication of responsibility to protect civilians on the part of authorities of the concerned State.  For months, the world had witnessed the forced expulsion of a persecuted minority while State authorities continued to claim it as work of a fringe extremist group.  The forcibly displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh remained in sheer uncertainty about the prospects of their voluntary and dignified return to Rakhine State, he said.  Calling for greater emphasis on strategic analysis and assessment of threats to civilians, he said the enhanced role of the United Nations in preventing conflict and sustaining peace could best be exemplified through its evidence-based and unvarnished reporting of facts, including through consultations with concerned national authorities.  Emphasizing the importance of granting unhindered access for relevant humanitarian personnel and supplies to civilians in need must be by all parties to armed conflict, he said Member States also had a responsibility to ensure that arms and ammunition transferred to any other national authorities were not used for the commission of atrocity crimes against civilians.  He also stressed the need to protect women and children in armed conflict.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), expressing support for the inclusion of civilian protection as one of the Council’s core aims, said it was deeply disturbing that attacks against innocent civilians — as well as on peacekeepers, medical missions and civilian assets — had increased in recent years.  “Everyone needs to be reminded of the clear obligation under international humanitarian law to differentiate between civilian populations and combatants,” he said, emphasizing that the protection of civilians was the primary responsibility of each Member State, while capacity-building and related support from the United Nations and other partners was also critical.  Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for all Member States to develop national policy frameworks on the protection of civilians, he said the Council should explore innovative ways to secure respect for global norms against harming civilians on the part of non-State actors.  There was also need for improved medical responses to emergency situations, he said, calling on all parties to ensure swift and safe passage for injured, wounded and sick civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel.

MILICA PEJANOVIĆ-DJURIŠIĆ (Montenegro), associating herself with the European Union, said that when attacks on civilians occurred, people around the world — especially women and children — looked to the United Nations for reassurance and protection.  In that context, she welcomed the Secretary-General’s report and agreed that it was the international community’s joint responsibility to be more decisive and to make its commitments real, including by protecting civilians in armed conflicts and the refugees displaced by them.  The United Nations could do more to prevent conflict and, when its efforts failed, to end it through negotiated and inclusive settlements, she said.  Montenegro was committed to the initiative led by Switzerland and the ICRC on increasing compliance with international humanitarian law.  Underlining the importance of inter-State cooperation and States’ cooperation with international jurisdictions to combat impunity, she said the Council had a critical role to play in ensuring accountability through referrals to the International Criminal Court.  Montenegro also endorsed the initiative of France and Mexico, as well as the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, relating to the use of the veto, she said.

JĀNIS MAŽEIKS (Latvia) expressed grave concerns about the trend of attacking humanitarian and health facilities alongside the growing sense of fatigue to the disregard of humanitarian principles seen in current conflicts.  Impunity must end, he said, echoing calls that more must be done to translate progress in civilian protection into more effective country-specific measures.  For its part, the Council must boost efforts to address situations of concern, act promptly to prevent conflict and demand accountability, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Ukraine, he said, calling on permanent members to refrain from using their veto in situations involving atrocities.  In peacekeeping operations, better planning, equipment, situational awareness and training were needed.  Turning to accountability, he said that where national action was lacking, international legal mechanisms could step in to provide justice for victims.  “We cannot expect the future perpetrators to take the United Nations and its Security Council seriously as long as the current perpetrators act with impunity,” he said.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said the Middle East had been plagued by multiple armed conflicts often exacerbated or prolonged by the Security Council’s inaction.  The consequences of the Council’s failure act in implementation of its own resolutions could be seen in Syria — where civilians faced violence, chemical weapon attacks and the denial of aid — and in Palestine, where disregard for the root causes of conflict would lead to further bloodshed.  While the Council’s recent visit to Myanmar was an excellent example of how to fulfil its mandate, the United Arab Emirates remained gravely concerned about the plight of the Rohingya Muslim community, she said.  As a member of the Coalition Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen, she added, the United Arab Emirates was observing international humanitarian law and protections for civilians in that country.  However, the Houthis were an example of the problems posed by non-State actors, she said, warning that Iran’s decision to arm them in order to avoid sovereign accountability was pushing the entire region towards a dangerous precipice.  She called on the Council to take bold and creative steps to counter the threat and the State financiers supporting that group.  States like Iran must be held to account for their attempts to violate international law and their continued violations of Council resolutions, she stressed, calling upon the Council and Member States to join her country in its commitment to protect civilians by focusing on prevention, addressing root causes of conflict, recognizing that regional conflicts required regional solutions and re-invigorating the Council to ensure that it took action and followed through on its existing resolutions.

LAZARUS AMAYO (Kenya) said that despite progress, challenges remained, including the continued use of gender-based violence as a weapon of war, in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  Emphasizing that troop-contributing countries must deal credibly with allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, he said the goals of peacekeeping operations must be explicit in order to ensure success.  Noting that United Nations involvement in support of national civilian-protection efforts occurred when a Government failed to discharge its responsibilities in that regard, he said each strategy must be tailored and include an assessment in order to understand the dynamics of a conflict, the threat to civilians and their vulnerability.  To effectively discharge peacekeeping mandates, a common doctrine on civilian protection must be developed.  Components tasked with protecting civilians must be well trained, properly equipped and present in adequate strength and capabilities, while commanders must have the necessary latitude, devoid of unrealistic constraints, he emphasized.  Mandates must feature internal early-warning systems complemented by effective information management systems to reach those responsible for protecting civilians, he said, adding that cooperation between international and regional stakeholders on the one hand and local communities on the other was also critical.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) said his delegation’s reservations relating to the Secretary-General’s report would be delivered to the Secretariat in writing.  While describing the protection of civilians as a critical part of international law, he said it nevertheless suffered from selective implementation, and some States continued to abuse it in efforts to interfere in the affairs of others.  Underlining the importance of sovereignty and the equality of States, he said that his country and its allies would continue to exercise the right to protect Syrian civilians against armed terrorist groups and foreign fighters.  “What Syria is witnessing today is a dirty terrorist war” in which certain Member States were implicated, he said, adding that the situation was only exacerbated when United Nations reports were deeply politicized or relied on unsubstantiated facts and faulty sources.  One such source, the so-called White Helmets organization, was in fact under the control of Al-Nusrah, an armed terrorist group designated as such by the Security Council.  Meanwhile, reports documenting the real activities of terrorist factions — including their use of civilians as human shields — were somehow lost and never reached the Council, he emphasized.  At the same time, the world was witnessing a legal and moral crisis unfolding under the United Nations umbrella, as States continued to find pretexts for the illegal Israeli occupation and its cold-blooded killing of Palestinian civilians.  Addressing remarks by the delegations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he said the vast majority of terrorist financing flowed directly or indirectly from those States, rendering them responsible for the blood shed by both Syrians and Yemenis.

KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen) said that while dialogue had prevailed with his country’s adoption of a new constitution, the Houthi militia, supported by Iran, had taken advantage of a very fragile situation and put an end to the peaceful transition of power.  They had destroyed the country by attacking cities and the countryside, while killing people in cold blood in order to advance Iran’s agenda.  Missiles, launched randomly, had targeted Yemenis and Saudis alike.  Recalling that his country had spared no effort to build lasting peace for the last three years, he said “our capital is in a hostage [situation]”, adding that thousands of civilians, including children, had been killed.  Children had also been indoctrinated, and women assaulted and imprisoned.  He called on the international community to take serious steps to help protect civilians, find those who had disappeared, and provide medical support to the injured.  Iran was the culprit and responsible for the murder of children in Yemen, he said, urging the Council to exert pressure on that country and on the Houthis.

WOUTER HOFMEYR ZAAYMAN (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasized the importance of upholding respect for the norms of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  While recognizing that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians remained with the host country, peacekeeping missions were often mandated with that task.  Yet policy and practice had not evolved quickly enough to effectively protect civilians.  He stressed that, in accordance with resolution 1894 (2009), peacekeeping missions required the necessary resources and capabilities to assume a robust posture in implementing their mandates.  South Africa also saw a glaring violation of international law on the part of armed groups that deliberately attacked medical personnel, hospitals and other installations, he said, noting that such actions plunged civilian populations into crisis, endangered the lives of health workers and destroyed their equipment.  The creation of conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance remained the core responsibility of mandated institutions and host Governments, he stressed.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said that conflict was increasingly fought in densely populated areas, underscoring the urgent need to promote respect for international humanitarian law by all parties.  In Syria, humanitarian access was often hindered or blocked, with medical workers regularly attacked.  While there were differences in position among Council members and the wider United Nations membership, it was nonetheless the Council’s responsibility to emphasize the importance of protecting civilians.  The Council had a duty to deliver a clear message to all parties to the Syria conflict that they must respect international humanitarian law, even in a war against terrorism.  The Council must seek ways to encourage Member States to take concrete action to implement resolution 2286 (2016) within the broader context of conflict prevention.  Japan would make every effort to alleviate the suffering of people living in conflict and in post-conflict situations.

SIMA SAMI I. BAHOUS (Jordan) said that violence and abuse continued to be perpetrated against civilians with no sufficient deterrence in place, recalling that just last week, Israel had used excessive force against unarmed Palestinian protestors.  In the last several weeks, that country had killed more than 61 Palestinians, including eight children, she said, emphasizing that peace could never be built on violence and perpetual occupation.  Peace and security could only materialize with the end of the occupation, she added, calling upon the international community to shoulder its legal and ethical responsibility in that regard.  Israel continued to disregard all United Nations resolutions, she said, emphasizing the need for an independent mechanism to investigate its most recent crimes.  Jordan attached great importance to international law, she said, pointing out that no violation had ever been attributed to its security services or its troops deployed in United Nations peacekeeping missions.  Emphasizing that the root causes of conflict must be addressed, especially in light of the increased number of armed conflicts, she said Jordan had proven its respect for international law by hosting 1.3 million Syrian refugees.

ANDREJ DOGAN (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, said that war was becoming increasingly urban in character, making the victims of modern armed conflict much more likely to be civilians than soldiers.  Equally alarming was the increasingly common trend of attacking hospitals and schools.  All parties, including non-State actors, must ensure full compliance with the international legal obligation to protect civilians, and to prevent violations of international human rights law international humanitarian law, he emphasized.  “No State can be amnestied from its primary responsibility to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable.”  Calling on States to ensure that impartial humanitarian organizations faced no obstacles in delivering assistance to people in need, he said all efforts must be made to address the enormous humanitarian plight faced by refugees and internally displaced persons, from Syria to Bangladesh.  Croatia viewed the issue of missing persons in armed conflict primarily through a humanitarian lens, he added.

FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, African Union, recalling that the creation of the Union in 2002 was marked by the transition from the doctrine of “non-interference” to that of “non-indifference” to human suffering, said that its peace support operations in Africa had been increasingly tasked with the protection of civilians.  The Union’s mission in Somalia remained one of the best illustrations of the growing commitment to the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  Over a decade since its deployment in 2007, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) had achieved an undeniable security and political gains while ensuring the protection of the civilian population, she said.

The importance given by the Union to protection of civilians was, she added, further demonstrated by its “zero tolerance” stance towards sexual exploitation and abuse.  The Union had been working very closely with the Organization to enhance compliance with international instruments.  The gaps and challenges confronting today’s multidimensional peace operations went far beyond the civilian protection debate as such, he said, cautioning that any failure in implementing the protection-of-civilians mandate carried the high risk of turning populations against the international military presence.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria) said the recent violence against the Palestinian population in Gaza — and against the Palestinian people more generally — demonstrated the tragic state of civilians in conflict and occupation situations.  Citing some progress in improving the protection of civilians in recent years, he said more remained to be done.  “Protection is an obligation, not an option,” he stressed, emphasizing that more efforts were needed to safeguard the most vulnerable.  In particular, sexual exploitation and abuse as a weapon of war must be rejected in the strongest possible terms.  Going forward, he said, the international community must address the continued lack of a coherent, cohesive approach to civilian protection.  Sustainable development, the promotion of the rule of law and good governance should not be forgotten, and selectivity must never be allowed in the implementation of international laws.  There was also a need to address the issue of accountability, also known as impunity, in violations of international humanitarian law.  Calling for stronger coordination between the main United Nations organs and the Peacebuilding Commission, and for deeper engagement with regional and subregional organizations, he said the Council should consider systematically applying human rights reporting requirements to all its peacekeeping mandates.  Finally, he requested the presidency to compile and circulate a summary of all the proposals and recommendations raised during today’s debate.

LOUISE BLAIS (Canada) recognized the need for sustained, high-level attention to the issue of the protection of civilians in conflict areas.  Canada was joining efforts to build a more peaceful world and was advocating compliance with international humanitarian laws.  Outraged that attacks on civilians, medical personnel and infrastructure continued in areas of conflict, she called for accountability for gross human rights violations.  In addition, it was necessary to strengthen peacekeeping efforts on the ground so peacekeepers could protect civilians.  Canada was advancing modern peacekeeping measures on the ground.  Canada was also working to address the needs of women and girls caught in conflict.  Protection activities had to be gender responsive.  There also had to be efforts to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel.  When Canada served on the Council in 1999-2000, it fought to put the protection of civil rights on the Council’s agenda.  It was necessary to recommit efforts to protect civilians.  Much work needed to be done.

FINNIAN CHESHIRE (New Zealand), recalling that his delegation had voted as an elected Council member to adopt resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of medical facilities and personnel, described that text as a reaffirmation of the Council’s commitment to uphold international law in the face of atrocities.  Yet two years later, health care personnel and infrastructure continued to be targeted in conflict zones around the world, and large numbers of civilians remained unable to access care.  Urging Member States not to become despondent or dispirited, he said the Council must exercise greater determination in discharging its responsibilities and use all available tools to prevent conflict, defend fundamental international norms and hold accountable those who violated them.  It should also consider practical measures, such as publicly calling out offending parties or instituting humanitarian safe zones where civilians were at risk during heightened hostilities.  Meanwhile, all Member States and non-State actors must universally comply with international law, as “we cannot let the erosion of international rules become established as the new normal”.  Finally, he voiced support for the General Assembly’s establishment of a mechanism to investigate crimes committed in Syria, which the Council had unfortunately failed to do.

GEORGI VELIKOV PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, said the human cost of armed conflict could be seen in all too many places.  When compliance failed, accountability must be ensured, he stressed, adding that if the States involved did not want or were not able to bring those responsible to justice, the international community must use the International Criminal Court to ensure that atrocity crimes did not go unpunished.  The implementation of the sustaining peace concept was a cost-effective way to find viable political solutions to armed conflict by addressing root causes, reducing fragility in post-conflict situations and bringing humanitarian and development efforts together, he said.

FARZANA ZAHIR (Maldives) said that while the protection of civilians should be the first objective in managing any conflict, the reality was that the character of conflict had undergone radical changes in recent years.  Non-State actors, fighting on their own, or on behalf of other States, were replacing Sates as the key participants in conflicts.  “We have to start thinking of ways in which such attacks could be prevented,” she stressed, adding that civil society organizations could play an important role in creating awareness among the potential and actual warring parties, on the need to protect civilians, especially protecting the provisions of humanitarian aid.  If elected to the Council for the 2019-2020 term, Maldives would work to create greater awareness on respecting international humanitarian law, she said.

OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) said that, against the current turbulent international backdrop, the Council was unfortunately justified in regularly addressing the protection of civilians.  While that main responsibility lay with States, the international community — including through United Nations peacekeeping operations — were obligated to assist.  The protection of civilians required well-trained peacekeepers as well as adequate resources, he said, noting that it went beyond the mission’s physical components.  Humanitarian action to protect civilians must be clearly dissociated from any political aims.  Expressing support for efforts to ensure the safety and protection of all humanitarian and medical personnel in line with the 1949 Geneva Convention and other relevant international treaties, he also called for a preventive approach to the protection of civilians through capacity-building, early warning mechanisms and strict adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed deep concern that civilians in armed conflict were living in deteriorating conditions, being targeted by excessive and indiscriminate use of force, impeded from access to humanitarian relief and deprived of basic necessities.  Stressing that States had the primary responsibility to protect its civilians, she said that it was of paramount importance that the Security Council fulfilled its responsibility and collectively responded to the serious threats against civilians in armed conflict.  Prevention of conflict and the peaceful resolution of disputes were the best ways to protect civilians.

HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that while States had the primary responsibility to protect their citizens, many that were embroiled in conflict lacked the capacity and institutions needed to do so.  The responsibility to take actions against perpetrators of atrocities rested with the State concerned, he said, urging the international community to support capacity-building in that regard.  Violations by non-State parties — which often deliberately harmed civilians to achieve their objectives — must also be addressed.  Meanwhile, the protection of civilians in conflicts and the provision of humanitarian assistance should be guided by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, including those of neutrality, objectivity and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.  The greatest national endeavour in Myanmar today was to forge a lasting peace and put an end to seven decades of armed conflict, he said, noting that to those ends the Government had initiated a nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups.  Ten out of twenty such groups had signed the agreement, and work was under way to bring the rest on board.  Preparations were also ongoing to convene the third Panglong Conference, a political platform bringing together all stakeholders in support of peace talks.

CRISTINA MARIA CERQUEIRA PUCARINHO (Portugal) said the Council was confronted every year with the alarming rise in large-scale civilian deaths, destruction and suffering caused by parties in armed conflict.  Civilians continued to account for most casualties in armed conflict and were continuously exposed to violence.  Although international law required schools and hospitals to be treated as sanctuaries, those facilities continued to be systematically used for military purposes or deliberately made targets.  That made civilians, especially children, young people and elderly people, overexposed to violence.  It was crucial to protect and promote the human right to health in conflict and Portugal would continue to draw the Council’s attention to that critical issue.  Civil society organizations also merited mention as they played an essential role in providing medical care to people affected by conflict across the world.

VERÓNICA GARCÍA GUTIÉRREZ (Costa Rica), associating herself itself with the Group of Friends on the Responsibility to Protect, recalled that the Council had met in the same chamber a year ago and now faced a more devastating backdrop of civilian casualties.  The challenges were very deep and the most vulnerable populations were facing extreme harm.  Everyone must take on the task of providing assistance and guaranteeing the safety of all those at risk as well as medical personnel and infrastructure.  International law and Council resolutions must be implemented, she emphasized.  The use of explosive weapons was unacceptable and must be stopped, she added, condemning their use while stressing that the Security Council must act with a sense of urgency.

MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said today’s debate was an opportunity to recommit to international humanitarian law, particularly full compliance with the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, without any reservations, as a crucial framework for the protection of civilians in conflict.  Noting that many parts of the world faced the rise of ideologies of hatred and racial discrimination, he said the right to life was increasingly threatened.  Armenia’s commitment to promoting the safety of children and students in armed conflict was reflected in its endorsement of the Safe School Declaration, he said, adding that international humanitarian law was incorporated into the curriculums of its military educational institutions.  He went on to discuss Azerbaijan’s military aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s border regions, saying that, in clear violation of international law, the authorities in that country had placed military installations in civilian settlements and used them to launch shells along the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh.  The principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence in humanitarian action must be fully respected, he stressed.

NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI (Afghanistan) said today’s meeting was crucial for his country, which had seen decades of imposed conflict, terrorism, violent extremism and a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and injuries.  By systematically targeting children, medical personnel, journalists and ordinary men and women, the Taliban and other terrorist groups from outside Afghanistan’s borders had sought to compensate for battlefield losses, but had instead sown fear and discord among the population, he said.  In 2017 alone, some 2,900 civilians had been killed and more than 6,000 injured.  Outlining the efforts of Afghanistan’s security forces at the forefront of international efforts to combat terrorism, he said the Government had recently endorsed a National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation, consisting of specific guidelines that prohibited any use of civilian facilities for military purposes.  It was also engaged in efforts to promptly and thoroughly investigate any possible violations of that policy and to take appropriate corrective measures.  Among other things, Afghanistan had established child protection units and held training sessions on the tracking and mitigation of civilian casualties, organized by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for senior military personnel.  Reiterating that the roots of terror, violence and insecurity lay outside Afghanistan, he said the international community should therefore seek to address the structural drivers of conflict, with the Security Council playing a leading role.

MAGDI AHMED MOFADAL ELNOUR (Sudan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed that the protection of civilians was the sole responsibility of countries affected by conflict, before peacekeeping operations and international organizations or non-governmental organizations could discharge their mandates.  Emphasizing the importance of respecting State sovereignty while observing international law, he said Sudan had learned many lessons from its own conflicts, including the need for cooperation with all sides, including international as well as local organizations, the training of international forces on the protection of civilians, and ensuring common ground among the greatest number of parties in seeking political and legal agreement.  Protecting civilians and observing international humanitarian law was a priority for Sudan, he emphasized.

TOFIG MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan), expressing full support for the Secretary-General’s prevention and sustaining peace agendas, said that efforts to protect civilians must be redoubled in a manner free of selectivity.  Azerbaijan supported the increased focus on the problem of internal displacement as a result of armed conflict, he said.  Lack of agreement on political issues did not and could not provide any justification for interference with the rights of displaced persons or for discriminatory policies aimed at preventing their return or changing demographics on ethnic and religious grounds.  Where national capacity to hold perpetrators of crimes to account was lacking, the international community and the Security Council must play a proactive role and take concerted action, he emphasized.  Describing serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the course of the war waged against Azerbaijan and the resulting military occupation of its territories — including deliberate attacks against civilians, the taking and holding of hostages, sexual violence and the destruction of inhabited areas and private property — he said the perpetrators of those crimes still enjoyed impunity, thereby impeding the progress of the peace process.  Azerbaijan would spare no effort to end the unlawful occupation of its territories and achieve a political settlement based on international law, peace and justice, he stressed.

LEWIS GARSEEDAH BROWN II (Liberia) said that when the Council failed to apply the principles of international humanitarian law in an equitable manner, it did so as a result of vested interests on one side of a conflict or the other.  When members could not move beyond narrow self-interest to agree on assisting those most needing help — the victims of or unwilling participants in conflict — the Council not only failed those innocent women, children, doctors, nurses and humanitarian workers, but also all those represented by the United Nations.  “We fail the common values of humanity,” he said, emphasizing that the Organization also failed itself.  While numerous resolutions called for the protection of civilians and humanitarian and health personnel, atrocities against them continued, he noted.  Asking who was responsible for those failures and what should be done to reverse them, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s assertion that the most effective way to protect civilians was to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts.  In that regard, Liberia supported the “sustaining peace” new paradigm, he said, urging all parties to commit themselves to working creatively, selflessly and aggressively to end ongoing conflicts.

For information media. Not an official record.