New York

19 August 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

World Humanitarian Day is our annual opportunity to salute the brave and committed women and men who endure danger and adversity so others may survive and thrive…

To thank those who open homes and borders to people fleeing war and persecution…

And to remember those who have lost their lives helping others who are suffering.

Ten years ago today explosions ripped through the Canal Hotel in Baghdad. 

Twenty-two UN colleagues lost their lives, among them Sergio Vieira de Mello. 

His passion for the mission of the United Nations and compassion for those we serve remain inspirational.

Every day, humanitarian workers protect, feed, shelter, educate, heal and assist millions of people, regardless of who or where they are.

It is an outrage that our colleagues and partners should be attacked for providing these essential services.

On this tragic anniversary, I call again for greater respect and protection for humanitarian workers and assets everywhere.

Attacks against humanitarians are a violation of international law, they are war crimes, and they are direct assaults on those who we serve – those who need us most.

Every day, we are reminded of the horrific consequences of conflict, violence and terrorism. 

We can not become numb to this brutalization.

I am particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas.

Roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes can blindly kill and maim with profound  humanitarian consequences.

I repeat my call to the Security Council and to Member States to also work through the General Assembly to recognize and act on this critical issue.

We need to better understand the types of explosive weapons that are most problematic.

We need to examine how existing international law can help regulate use.

And we need to consider the concrete steps that can be taken to reduce the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.

In Syria, villages and towns are repeatedly subject to indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.

All parties to the conflict are systematically failing in their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians. 

This must end immediately. 

The violence has created overwhelming humanitarian needs and widespread suffering.

The number of persons displaced by the fighting continues to grow.

Yet all parties continue to hinder direct and efficient access for impartial assistance. 

The humanitarian space in opposition-held areas is shrinking.

And the Government continues to impose numerous and unacceptable bureaucratic and administrative constraints.

I urge the international community to increase its support for relief efforts.

This includes assisting affected countries in the region.

Their borders need to remain open to people fleeing the violence.

I am also seriously concerned about the situation in the Central African Republic.

The Council was briefed on Wednesday about the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation.

Armed attacks against civilians, illegal detention, torture, widespread sexual violence, child recruitment and abductions are rife.

I urge the Council and the international community to give this tragedy the highest priority.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, civilians, including children, are also caught in fighting, subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, killed, forcibly recruited and arbitrarily detained. 

These violations have continued for far too long. 

I call on all parties to respect their obligations under international law and to work towards the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region.

Protecting civilians demands timely political action and prevention.

It means helping governments -- who have primary responsibility for protection -- to build the necessary capacity. 

This may include a presence or preemptive action by uniformed peacekeepers. 

Where the UN supports the strengthening of national security institutions, we are guided by our Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, which is firmly rooted in fundamental principles of international law. 

United Nations peacekeeping operations take an integrated approach to protecting civilians that addresses a wide spectrum of possible measures. 

The protection of civilians remains at the core of nine current UN peacekeeping operations.

The creation of the new mandate for the UN mission in Mali and the strengthening of the MONUSCO mandate in the DRC offer opportunities to enhance our ability to protect civilians. 

At the same time, the evolving nature of our protection role also poses significant challenges for this Council to consider.

In particular, we must beware the risk of being seen as a party to conflict and diminishing our ability to provide impartial and timely humanitarian assistance. 

Let me turn to the question of compliance.

It is essential to act on and punish violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian assistance. 

Commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions with clear mandates have proven crucial for supporting investigations and informing possible referrals to the International Criminal Court.

The Security Council has a particularly important role.

First, in promoting the cooperation of Member States with the International Criminal Court.

Second, in encouraging and assisting States to ensure accountability at the national level.

Those responsible for attacks against aid workers must be arrested and prosecuted.

We must never tolerate impunity.

Addressing the issues I have outlined, demands unity and resolve. 

It is fourteen years since this Council acknowledged the protection of civilians as a fundamental component of its own responsibility.

In that time, divisions have too often stood in the way of action to meet urgent needs.

The tragedy in Syria is a particularly stark example.

Let us be inspired by the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of humanitarian workers everywhere.

Let us commit to work in common cause to meet our responsibility to the peoples of the United Nations – wherever and whenever they need us.

Thank you.