Security Council Open Debate: Statement by Ambassador Wittig on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict“

Feb 12, 2014

(as prepared for delivery:)

"Mr. President,

I would like to thank the Secretary General for his latest report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict and his comprehensive briefing today. Germany aligns itself with the statements delivered by the European Union and by Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians.

Mr. President,

The latest report of the Secretary General provides us with a sad truth: the situation for civilians has worsened in most armed conflicts. It is appalling to see that terrorizing the civilian population has become an integral part of the military strategies of many conflict parties.

In Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and in many other conflicts, we are confronted daily with abominable violence against civilians. In Syria alone, more than 10,000 children have already died in the conflict.

Although the responsibility for these atrocities lies with the conflict parties, the international community needs to do its utmost to improve the protection of civilians in all situations of conflict. The genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago is a constant reminder of that obligation.

On “Red Hand Day”, let me recall that those who are traditionally the most vulnerable members of society - women and children - deserve our special attention and protection. Sexual violence is still systematically used as a weapon of war in many conflicts. Children become witness to the killings of parents, siblings or friends. Out of fear to leave their homes, they often do not have access to medical care or education. If civilians are not adequately protected, we face a generation of “lost children” without access to education who bear the trauma of war. Those children are the future of their societies and they are the ones who will need to rebuild them after the end of a conflict.

We therefore welcome actions taken by MONUSCO to break the cycle of violence, rape and death affecting thousands of civilians and in particular women and children. While the situation on the ground remains volatile, we also commend the role of UNMISS in providing shelter and protection for more than 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan. It is essential that we build on these examples. 

We strongly support the Secretary General’s “rights up front” initiative and call for its swift implementation. The initiative, if taken seriously, not only has the potential to help peacekeeping missions to better protect civilians, but also to place the overall goal of protecting people at the center of the organization’s policies throughout the system. The implementation of UNSC-resolution 1325 and related resolutions, particularly the need for protection against sexual violence in conflict, is equally important in this context.

We have seen how illegal and irresponsible transfers of weapons can contribute to increased instability, exacerbated conflicts, atrocities, human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. We therefore welcome the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as the first treaty which addresses these risks at a global level by establishing clear and legally binding criteria, inter alia with regard to international humanitarian law. The ATT needs to be swiftly signed, ratified and fully implemented on a global scale.

What else can we do? In his recent report, the Secretary General has identified a number of challenges, some of which I would like to touch upon:

First: We need to ensure that those responsible for grave breaches of international humanitarian law, in particular for war crimes, as well as for violations of human rights are held accountable. Impunity fosters crime. It is therefore crucial that we further strengthen the International Criminal Court. We urge the Council to insist that Member States cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court.

Secondly, the arbitrary withholding and denial of humanitarian access in Syria cannot be tolerated. Using starvation as a method of warfare constitutes a war crime. We urge all conflict parties in Syria to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to all affected people as this Council demanded in its Presidential Statement of 2nd October 2013.

Since then the situation of civilians has only worsened further, in blatant disregard for the appeals by Syrians and the international community alike. The Old City of Homs stands testimony to the fact that the Geneva negotiations cannot in themselves produce even small progress, if they are not backed by active international diplomacy. We look to the Security Council to follow up on its commitments and ensure that the basic principles of international humanitarian law are upheld in Syria. In this regard, Germany fully supports the Secretary General’s call for a strong humanitarian resolution.

Finally, as witnessed in Syria and beyond, indiscriminate attacks against civilians using explosive weapons with wide impact in densely populated areas, remain an appalling aspect of conflicts to which the international community has to react. We share the concerns expressed by the Secretary-General in this context and welcome the Secretariat’s continued engagement with Member States and others to raise awareness for the issue and to provide further guidance on the matter.

Thank you, Mr President."

© GermanyUN