Statement at the UNSC Open Debate on Protection of Civilians
Statement25 May 2022
I would like to that the US for convening this meeting on the protection of civilians.
I also want to thank our briefers, Mr. Rajasingham, Director General Mardini, Mr. Miliband and Ms. Boketa.
Your messages and importantly, your recommendations, are just what this Council needs to hear; and more importantly what we need to heed.
Let’s be clear, ensuring humanitarian access is a matter of life and death for civilians trapped in conflict. Reaching civilians in their moment of need could not be more central to their protection. It could not be more central to what we believe is the role of this Council.
I will focus on three points relating to the access challenges facing humanitarians globally.
First, in conflict-affected countries, such as Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Mali, and Myanmar, hostilities and attacks on humanitarian staff have greatly hindered the civilian population’s access to lifesaving assistance. This insecurity is delaying, reducing, and in some cases, preventing aid flows.
Put simply, it is costing lives.
How many times must we repeat in this Chamber the phrase “Humanitarian workers must never be targets”?
How many more times must we insist that those responsible for attacks against them be held to account?
Such attacks also force humanitarian organisations to adjust their practices. They disproportionally transfer risk to local humanitarians. In some cases, humanitarian organisations are forced to withdraw entirely. Mr. Rajasingham made that point clear this morning.
In 2021, 98% of humanitarians killed, injured, or kidnapped in conflict contexts such as the DRC were national staff.
As Rachel clearly and powerfully stated earlier, women in conflict situations – civilians and humanitarians – face additional challenges and are met with violence on a daily basis.
This is starkly evidenced in Haiti where violence and insecurity – particularly systematic sexual violence – requires urgent, survivor centred responses.
In Tigray, as millions face starvation, humanitarians have faced major impediments in transporting relief items, fuel, and medicine into the region. We think it is shameful that only 11% of what was needed from July to December last year reached the civilian population. Visa denials, expulsion of UN and NGO staff, and the targeting of humanitarian personnel have been a defining feature of this conflict.
All the while, the spectre of insecurity looms large.
Our calls have been clear. The recent improved flow of aid must be expanded, and accompanied by the restarting of essential services in the region.
Bureaucratic impediments to humanitarian access can amount to de-facto denials of humanitarian access.
Let’s be clear. Arbitrary denial of humanitarian access is also in contravention of international law.
In countries such as Myanmar, humanitarians are required to overcome visa blocks, onerous registration requirements and significant restrictions on their operations.
The veil of bureaucracy cannot be used to conceal humanitarian suffering from the international community.
In some areas, the denial of access has evolved from a consequence of conflict to a weapon of war. David Miliband made this point eloquently this morning.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas continues to have devastating short, medium, and long-term impacts. Civilians represent almost 90% of casualties when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. This is compounded by the destruction of critical infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals and sanitation facilities.
Where we cannot prevent or resolve conflict, we must work to minimize harm. That is why it is a priority for Ireland to continue leading consultations to strengthen the protection of civilians from the humanitarian consequences arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
We are determined to deliver a political declaration that leads to operational changes in practice and in policy. One that enhances the protection of civilians during armed conflict. The high level of engagement from states, including from many present here today, from international organisations and civil society is encouraging. We hope to conclude negotiations in the coming months.
Third, to protect civilians, this Council needs to meet our promises and implement what we’ve agreed. We heard that message loud and clear yesterday at the Arria formula meeting on the Protection of Journalists. This Council needs to implement resolution 2222.
Resolution 2417 on Conflict and Hunger provides the tools to alleviate current and prevent future access issues, which block food insecure populations from life-saving assistance.
What’s needed now, as ever, is implementation.
The renewal of the UN cross border operation into north west Syria is critical to ensure humanitarian assistance continues to reach millions of people in grave need. As co-penholder, alongside Norway, Ireland will continue to work constructively with all member states to ensure the Council upholds its duty to the people of Syria.
Sanctions and counter-terrorism legislation are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences this is a shared responsibility of all members of this Council and one Ireland takes seriously. Resolution 2615, required in response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan serves as a demonstration of what can be done when the Council comes together and acts.
President, in conclusion,
It is clear that in conflicts such as Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and the occupied Palestinian Territory, this Council has failed to deliver the political protection we can collectively offer.
Vulnerable civilians continue to suffer the consequences of wars not of their making. This is a damning indictment. Some of our briefers have said that clearly today. 17 years ago, the UN adopted a global commitment on the Responsibility to Protect. But civilians continue to suffer the consequences of wars not of their making. This is a damming indictment.
So let us be frank. If we do not use all the tools available to us now, next year’s debate will hear of an even graver situation of the protection of civilians. It will hear of an even higher toll of death and destruction.
I now want to address those who are parties to ongoing conflicts and those who support them: you have a responsibility to protect civilians. International Humanitarian Law must be respected. Allow humanitarians to do their work without hindrance or interference. Put an end to the suffering of war.
It is never too late to do the right thing.
Thank you, President.