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UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians

Ireland National Statement 

at the Security Council Open Debate on

"Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict"


United Nations

New York

27 May 2020


Ireland aligns itself with the statement of the EU and the statement of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians.

21 years ago the Security Council adopted the Protection of Civilians agenda.  Since then, the Council has developed a ‘Culture of Protection’ that recognises the interconnected nature of the protection risks to civilians in armed conflict.  The challenges that we grapple with now as a result of this global health crisis serve to highlight our interdependence and demonstrate that it is only through collective action, through collective commitment that we can truly protect our citizens.

Secretary-General Guterres’ appeal for an immediate and global ceasefire in response to the pandemic provides us with an opportunity that we must seize. It is encouraging that many parties to armed conflict have endorsed this call. We must continue to encourage others to do so, as we support those who have responded to the Secretary-General’s appeal to move beyond the rhetoric. As we utilise any pause in conflict to support a response to COVID-19 we need to look at how that pause can be made permanent. 

We must use this as an opportunity to strengthen our approach to the protection of civilians, which can be done through a number of ways.

Firstly, Protection of Civilians’ strategies will stand the greatest chance of success if they include the voices of those who are most affected by conflict. As the Secretary-General’s recent report highlights, various groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, refugees and IDPs are uniquely affected by armed conflict. Response strategies that are designed in concert with local stakeholders and civil society groups will ultimately better reflect the unique protection needs of these groups. 

Secondly, as the world health crisis continues, we must ensure compliance and respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and continue to strengthen accountability for all violations. The Security Council can play an important role to ensure the effective investigation of credible allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law.  In addition, increased cooperation and coordination between the Security Council and the International Criminal Court would significantly contribute to the international community’s response where violations of IHL may amount to crimes within that Court’s jurisdiction. Ensuring compliance with IHL and preventing such crimes is more important than ever as Governments and health-care systems commit their attention and resources to deal with Covid-19. 

Thirdly, Ireland welcomes the priority attached to the issue of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas by the Secretary General in his Agenda for Disarmament. The use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas constitutes a serious threat for civilian populations, both in the short and long term. As the ICRC reported in advance of last year’s International Conference, “warfare in populated areas using explosive weapons that have a wide impact area exacts a terrible toll on civilians”.

The United Nations, ICRC and civil society have provided compelling evidence of the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons on civilians in different conflicts around the world. Beyond the immediate deaths and injuries, the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, water and sanitation systems and other critical infrastructure means that the civilian population is severely affected over the longer term. This devastation, in turn, can act as a catalyst for the displacement of people within and across borders, rendering displaced persons and refugees further vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Ireland believes more can be done to reverse this pattern of humanitarian harm and strengthen compliance with IHL.

To this end, we are proud to be chairing international efforts in Geneva to agree a political declaration to address the humanitarian consequences that can arise from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.  Through an open and transparent consultation process initiated in November 2019, Ireland is seeking to agree a political declaration in the coming months designed to foster behavioural change, enhance compliance with IHL and strengthen the protection of civilians during armed conflict. The widespread and cross-regional level of engagement in this process is a reflection of the desire of the international community to address this challenge.

The Secretary-General’s report on protection of civilians also illustrates how the dynamics of armed conflict continue to evolve, with new and emerging threats to civilians. Through our peacekeeping experience, Ireland is very much aware of this and welcomes the ongoing efforts to adapt peacekeeping at all levels to meet these challenges. As the Action for Peacekeeping priorities evolve during the current crisis, there must be a continued focus on ensuring that peacekeeping mandates, especially the Protection of Civilians mandate, meet the realities of conflict on the ground.  As an aspiring Security Council member this is a responsibility that Ireland fully understands. As COVID-19 creates new challenges for peacekeepers in accessing and protecting vulnerable populations from conflict, it is imperative that peacekeepers are fully supported and fully resourced in the implementation of this mandate.

As COVID-19 creates new challenges for peacekeepers in accessing and protecting vulnerable populations from conflict, it is imperative that peacekeepers are fully supported and fully resourced in the implementation of this mandate. We must be watchful for public health measures that impede them in their work or that increase the vulnerability of already vulnerable populations.

Ireland encourages the UN and other member states to continue to support efforts to increase the full, effective and meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping at all levels. Women are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, taking on a disproportionate role as healthcare staff, essential workers and carers in the home. We know too however that COVID-19 is diverting resources away from women’s services while driving an increase in violence against women.  The presence and skillsets of women peacekeepers, and Women Protection Officers within missions, have an important impact on a mission’s ability to carry out the Protection of Civilians and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence mandates. We need to ensure that women are there- participating equally and meaningfully in the delivery of peace.

Ensuring that peacekeepers fully understand the protection of civilians mandate is crucial. Ireland welcomes the updated Protection of Civilians policy and the commitment to rollout of the handbook to missions, which it is hoped, will enhance implementation. Just as crucial is the provision of contextualised pre-deployment training.  Training is integral to our UN commitments and Ireland has been pleased to be able to deliver protection of civilians training to other troop contributing countries.

Ireland will continue to seek innovative ways to share its expertise and experience of peacekeeping in this new, challenging environment. To that end, Ireland is collaborating with the Auschwitz Institute to provide on-line training on prevention of atrocities and is also supporting the Gaming for Peace project ( to provide a free, online training tool that will train peacekeepers in essential skills that will allow them deliver their mandate of protecting civilians-skills such as cultural awareness, gender awareness and communications.

The complexity and protracted nature of conflict drives the complexity of the challenges of protecting civilians. The current COVID-19 crisis exacerbates those challenges but just as we are bound together by those challenges so should we unite in presenting and delivering solutions.


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