Statement by Federal Minister of State Niels Annen at the open debate of the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts

23.05.2019 - Speech

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Thank you very much, Madame President, for convening today’s debate. We highly appreciate Indonesia’s commitment to the multilateral order and  the strengthening of international law. Be assured that Germany

Germany is with you in these crucial endeavors. And we are glad to align ourselves to the statement by the Group of Friends on Protection of Civilians to be delivered later.

Mister Secretary-General, Ladies and Gentlemen, like our esteemed briefers today, I am frustrated and saddened that in the 70th year of the Geneva Conventions, we still have to condemn direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the deliberate targeting of places of education, hospitals and other services essential to the civilian population by parties to conflicts all over the world, in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Central African Republic to name just some examples.

In addition, sexual violence and rape, terror and starvation – deeply despicable methods of warfare – are still being used.

 And those who attempt to help those most in need are attacked on a daily basis.  I believe that I speak for all of us here today by thanking all humanitarian and medical personnel for their dedication and service.

In the Northwest of Syria, in Idlib, the recent heavy bombardments including attacks on humanitarian and civilian infrastructure have led to the loss of life of many innocent civilians, including health workers. I agree with what the Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said here in this chamber last week: some of these attacks are clearly organized by people with access to sophisticated weapons including a modern air force and so called smart or precision weapons.

It bears repeating: The fight against terrorism can, in no way justify indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Counter terrorism operations do not override the responsibility of parties to protect civilians, nor should they impede impartial humanitarian action.

I am also deeply worried about the deteriorating situation of journalists and interpreters, as for example in Afghanistan, but also in Syria and Yemen. Impeding their work is often a particularly cynical way of covering up grave human rights violations. 

All in all, we live in a world where the accomplishments of earlier generations guaranteed at least a basic respect for human rights of civilians. They have heavily come under attack as Mister Burlow made clear and Mister Maurer as well. We must not acquiesce to this. It is this Council’s task to safeguard international humanitarian law, to create the legal framework for the protection of civilians – and to be consistent in implementing its own rules. All of us must live up to this!

In light of this distressing state of affairs, allow me to encourage you Mister Secretary-General to speak up loudly when it comes to violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, and to use your good offices whenever you can to prevent those violations from happening in the first place. You can count on Germany’s support, Mr Secretary-General.

Germany decided to use its term here in the Security Council to advance the protection of civilians.

Just in April, within the framework of our Twin Presidencies with France:

  • We initiated the drafting of a humanitarian call for action for which we will be seeking broad support within the membership I think that the General Assembly in September will provide us with an opportunity to do so.
  • We also introduced a resolution on sexual violence in conflict strengthening a survivor-centered approach, protection and accountability.
  • We invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the High Commissioner for Refugees to brief the Council on protection concerns.
  • And we presided over a session of the Council where for the first time a refugee with disabilities was able to share her views on the challenges for people with special needs in a conflict setting.

Undoubtedly, the international community has taken a number of important steps in the past 20 years: the establishment of the International Criminal Court and more recently other accountability mechanisms; stronger focus on protection of civilians in peacekeeping mandates and the development of the powerful Children and Armed Conflict monitoring and reporting system.

But we still have a long way to go: We as states and international community have to step up our efforts to build on these achievements and we need to do better. In this regard, Madame President, I would like to share four concrete proposals with you:

First, international law is weakened when violations go unpunished.

That is why Germany is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court. That is why we support Commissions of Inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council and the International, Impartial, Independent Mechanism on Syria set up by the General Assembly in 2016, the mechanism for Myanmar and the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh. It is important that these mechanisms can also address the actions of non-state armed groups.

We must enforce international law, making the fight against impunity a reality and preventing further atrocities by bringing perpetrators, wherever they come from, to justice. 

Second, PoC is a key task of many peacekeeping missions. For PoC to become a reality and not remain a lofty ambition of us here in New York, we must collectively work towards this goal. This starts with turning PoC into a priority for us Member States, for the UN, the host nation and the whole mission – military, police and civilians alike, as well as for all UN staff deployed in a mission setting. 

In addition, peace missions need to be adequately resourced. We need to ensure that a sufficient number of posts for protection personnel are provided to the missions, in particular child and women protection advisors, as well as for early warning and community alert systems, for liaison arrangements and public information, for human rights monitoring and for  programmatic funding to support  the missions’ work. That includes strengthening the host countries’ capacities to fulfil their responsibility in protecting civilians, through the rule of law and SSR.

A systematic gender analysis of protection facilitates better understanding of the needs of civilians and allows for the development of strategies that meet the specific protection needs of women, men and children.

Furthermore, troop and police contributing countries need to prepare their personnel more effectively for the task of protecting civilians. This includes conveying a thorough understanding of the local conflict dynamics as well as promoting a clear adherence to UN standards and PoC policies, including on how to prevent and address sexual and gender based violence.

Raising the number of women in peace missions is also an essential part of PoC: The participation of women enables a closer relationship to local communities, particularly women, and contributes to trust-building, which is an essential precondition for protection. Germany has announced several initiatives to increase the number of female peacekeepers in UN peace missions.

Third, we need to better care for humanitarian and medical workers in armed conflict and to strengthen humanitarian negotiation capacities. Tailored trainings and confidential spaces for humanitarian frontline workers to discuss their experiences with each other are promising approaches. We need to scale them up.

Finally, Madame President, red lines have to be drawn for the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Germany has initiated a dialogue series in Geneva bringing together military practitioners, diplomats and humanitarian actors to work out best practices on how to minimize civilian casualties in urban theatres of conflict. We are glad that many states and the ICRC are playing a leading role in this joint endeavor.

In your report, Mister Secretary-General, you observed that “the state of protection of civilians today is tragically similar to 20 years ago”. This is a damning assessment, for this Council, and it is a damning assessment for all of us. Let’s join forces to ensure that the next report will come to a more positive conclusion.

I thank you Madame President.

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