Guterres, “great concern” on state of civilian protection; Zappia, focus on most vulnerable categories

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)was explicitly mandated to protect civilians 20 years ago. UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

NEW YORK, MAY 23 – Marking 20 years since the UN Security Council added the protection of civilians to its agenda, Secretary-General António Guterres told the chamber on Thursday that while safeguards were stronger, “compliance has deteriorated”.  The UN chief walked members through 20 years of progress, saying that a “culture of protection” had indeed “taken root” that encompasses a comprehensive framework based on international law, and becoming one of the peace and security body’s “core issues”.  And still, despite the advances, grave human suffering is still being caused by armed conflicts and lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and “civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties”, Mr. Guterres flagged.

In 2018, UN records revealed that more than 22,800 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen were killed or injured.

“The role of non-state actors in armed conflicts, the new tactics of warfare, the absence of clear battlefields and the increasing number of parties in conflict are posing new threats to international humanitarian law, to the principle of humanity and the dignity of every human being in situation of conflict, especially the most vulnerable ones”, the Italian Permanent Representative to the UN Mariangela Zappia remarked today in her address to the Council.

“As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions, it is essential to reaffirm the importance of international humanitarian law and to strengthen our efforts to guarantee its respect, implementation and promotion”, Zappia said, reaffirming, in the most urgent terms, “the need to ensure the protection of civilians under all circumstances and in full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law”.

Italy attaches particular importance to the protection of the most vulnerable categories among civilians: children, persons with disabilities, women. “UN Peace operations are still a very powerful instrument at the disposal of the International community in the pursuit of sustainable peace and the fullfilment of its responsibility to protect civilians”, she said: “Therefore, peacekeepers should be trained and equipped in order to fully implement their protection of civilians mandate. We should enhance our efforts and fulfill the commitments we took in the framework of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, which provide a comprehensive and whole-of-mission approach to protection of civilians”.

Over 50 countries took part in the open debate. Among the briefers, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), acknowledged that while political consensus is difficult, “we ask you [the Council] to be clearer in your support for the respect of international humanitarian law – and in stating and following through on the simple truth that no one is above the law and no civilian can be excluded from protection”.

Chairing the meeting, Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi, said that the 20th anniversary commemoration should serve as a reminder not only of our political commitments, but also, of “our duties to implement those commitments”.  Recalling the UN Charter’s mission to ensure the primacy of human safety and security she underscored: “We cannot afford to let our people down”.

To read Ambassador Zappia statement in full, click here.