Remarks by State Minister Niels Annen during the Security Council VTC Meeting on Protecting Civilians in Conflict, May 27, 2020
Check Against Delivery
Thank you for organizing today’s debate. Thank you, President Kersti Kaljulaid, for your leadership.
One year ago, around this time, I participated in this debate from within the Council chamber. This year, my participation by video link bears testimony to how the world has changed.
Yet, at the same time, much remains the same: We continue to witness a horrifying number of deaths among civilians in conflict zones. Sexual and gender-based violence persists in many conflicts. We see rampant impunity; and, some might say, the continued failure of the Security Council to act united and decisively, when it matters most.
I would like to thank the President of the ICRC, His Excellency Peter Maurer, and Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for elaborating so undoubtedly on the situation of civilians in armed conflicts.
Allow me to also thank the Secretary-General for his clear words. We once again endorse your call for a global ceasefire and underline the need for the Security Council to adopt a resolution to this end. We simply cannot wait any longer to act.
There is no doubt, COVID-19 has complicated protection efforts across many conflict zones and, what is worse, the pandemic has magnified the vulnerable situation of many, especially women and children.
To meet this challenge, safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential. That is why it is even more disappointing that in countries like Myanmar such access is still denied.
Unfortunately, the suffering caused by the pandemic has not changed the policy of regimes across the world. Germany calls on all to respect international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law. And Germany calls on all to show humanity in these challenging times.
That is why Germany has responded generously to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan by pledging additional 300 million Euros in humanitarian aid.
Allow me to make three pertinent points.
First, the Secretary-General’s report has focused on the accountability gap and we thank him for doing so.
In Syria, for example, parties to the conflict do not uphold their obligations to protect civilians. That is a very polite description of what is actually happening. Instead of respecting international humanitarian law, they bomb schools and hospitals. The targeting of healthcare facilities in the midst of a pandemic is particularly atrocious and cynical. Similarly, the recent attack in Afghanistan on a maternity ward is particularly heinous.
Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are a violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. They must be prosecuted. That is why we strongly support the international criminal justice system with the International Criminal Court at its core. To this end, Germany launched an Alliance against Impunity to spearhead efforts towards accountability.
In particular, we are supportive of the various mechanisms to preserve evidence, while successful prosecution cannot be achieved at this stage because this is the case. We are supporting the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL, the International Impartial Independent Mechanism for Syria for the situation that has already been mentioned, or the investigative mechanism for Myanmar. If perpetrators are not brought to justice, it will embolden them and violations will continue.
For a concrete contribution to the implementation of international humanitarian law and to the preservation of humanitarian space, last year Germany and France launched the Humanitarian Call for Action, which has already been endorsed by 45 States from all continents. We will continue promoting and implementing further this initiative, including as part of the French-German cooperation on the occasion of our successive presidencies of the Security Council in June and July.
As part of this Humanitarian Call for Action, the German Federal Ministry of Defense has initiated an in-depth study seeking answers to the challenges related to the implementation of protection mandates for peace operations. In this respect, I want to re-emphasize the call of the Group of Friends on Protection of Civilians for an improved operational understanding of protection mandates by troop and policy contributing countries (TCCs and PCCs). This is meant to ensure an integrated and comprehensive approach to protection tasks in peacekeeping operations, as demanded by the Secretary-General.
Second, we need to consider the effects of new and emerging technologies on protection of civilians.
In general, they can add value to our efforts. In peacekeeping, for example, we protect civilians through the use of modern technologies. One example is the German contribution to MINUSMA with unmanned aircraft systems for reconnaissance. This system enhances early warning capacity to counter possible threats to or attacks against civilians.
As with all military systems, new technology can be applied by either side of the conflict, and can therefore also have profoundly dangerous effects. . We have furthermore been particularly concerned by cyber-attacks on health facilities during this pandemic.
I will be clear: As for Germany, technology, including new and emerging technologies must be employed in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law, by both state and non-state actors. There is simply no alternative.
Moreover, as today’s conflicts are becoming increasingly urbanized, we must strengthen the protection of civilians in urban warfare scenarios, including from the humanitarian impact that can arise from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Germany is actively engaged in the Irish-led process of developing an international political declaration on this issue. We have introduced an operational approach developed together with the ICRC to enhance respect for existing rules of international humanitarian law through the development and sharing of good military practices. This approach has the potential to achieve concrete improvements in the protection of civilians on the ground, including from harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Third and finally, it is important that we focus on the peace and security implications of the effects of climate change in this debate as well.
The Secretary-General’s report highlights that “conflict-affected populations are especially vulnerable to the consequences of climate change”. The report describes severe food crises and internal displacement as some of the immediate effects. It concludes that “a better understanding of the relationship between conflict and climate change is crucial.”
We believe it is high time that the Security Council requests and receives an improved information basis regarding the context-specific peace and security implications of the effects of climate change.
We will make best use our time at the Council together with partners to ensure that climate-related security risks remain on its agenda.
In closing, I assure you that Germany will continue to be a steadfast partner to you and all other members of this Council to ensure that the protection of civilians remains at the core of our work, and of course we are delighted to subscribe to the statements by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Protection of Civilians.