I would like to join others in thanking you, Honorable Minister, and your delegation, for organizing this important debate.
I would also like to express my appreciation to Deputy Secretary-General Jan Elliasson for his briefing, which reaffirms his unwavering commitment to the protection of civilians’ agenda, especially in promoting a culture of prevention.
Additionally, I would like to recognize Ms. Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Ms. Eveline Rooijimans, Oxfam senior Humanitarian policy advisor for being here with us today and for their work, despite the challenges and the risks involved.
Our history has informed our resolve to advocate for and contribute where possible to protection of all lives of civilians entangled in today’s armed conflicts. One life lost is one too many. We can all agree on this point. We believe you also hold this conviction in Uruguay being one of the first signatories of the Kigali Principles.
May I start by sharing how I view the protection of civilians (POC) mandate is understood among the international community. Some troop and police contributors believe they are deployed to protect by presence, an idea that suggests a more static approach to POC. Other troop and police contributors adhere to a more proactive approach to POC, by implementing a robust approach to the execution of the mandate.
These differing views on the POC mandate are however not new. Since the creation of the UN, 71 years ago, the UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions and strategies to protect civilians in armed conflict, including the landmark resolution 1265 of 1999. However, in 1994, more than a million were killed during the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. This is one of the darkest moments in the history of modern humankind and peacekeeping.
Today, more than 20 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi, we keep asking ourselves why the UN did little to nothing to protect Rwandans. Why did the international community not step in and prevent the fastest Genocide of the 21st Century? To this day, we still have no clear answer. In my own region, the Great Lakes region, we have for instance a peacekeeping mission that is supposed to provide protection to civilians entangled in armed conflict, but we have seen time and again, its struggle to deliver on that crucial promise to protect., Despite the presence of the largest peacekeeping force, MONUSCO and Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) that are equipped with all types of equipment and enablers, we are still facing roaming predators against civilians, mainly the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
While we understand that the responsibility to protect civilians lies primarily with the host country, our main source of frustration today is the continued inability of the international community, in a timely manner, to rapidly respond to conflicts that may turn violent, which could effectively protect civilians.
I would like to now take the time to touch upon some challenges we believe significantly impact the implementation of the POC mandates in today’s peacekeeping missions. First, we are still divided over what the ‘use of force’ entails and this is worrisome considering the thousands of peacekeepers entrusted with saving the lives of civilians throughout the world. We need to clearly and thoroughly confirm what it entails, particularly when the threat to civilians may arise from groups that claim to be affiliated with the host government. We seek a common mindset.
Second, we must achieve sound and effective rapid deployment. Even if we are to obtain the necessary number of troops, the required COE, and more, none of it matters if we cannot rapidly deploy. As the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) noted, “Truly rapid and effective deployment capacities will always come at a cost, and yet a more reliable system for responding quickly to save lives and arrest emerging conflicts can potentially avoid a larger, more costly response later.”
Third, we must avoid template approaches that constrain POC mandates and their respective peacekeeping mission. Now is the time for us, the international community, to act boldly, strategically and flexibly. Applying tailored approaches means assessing the situation on the ground, the capabilities needed to properly protect civilians, and, as highlighted by the HIPPO panel, “build upon existing sources of resilience and local protection.” Template mandates and missions must be left in the past.
Fourth, while a lot has been done by troop and police contributing countries and the UN to improve the protection of civilians, the increasing violence against civilians has tested the fundamental principles and capabilities of our operations and demonstrated that much remains to be done. Our experience on the ground has proven that peacekeeping operations are ill-prepared, with no adequate means to address large-scale violence directed against civilians, will falter and may even collapse.
Fifth, we must understand the root causes of the conflicts that lie before us so that we can thoroughly protect civilians. This understanding will in return allow us to understand the how’s and why’s of attacks on civilians, which as HIPPO denoted, it allows for the identification of proper responses to threats against civilians.
Lastly, there often exists a gap between the expectations surrounding civilian protection and the actual capabilities possessed by peacekeepers. Both must be considered in mandate design. We believe that threats to civilians and their solutions should inform mission mandates, strategies, structures, and resources allocation, as set out in the benchmarks outlined in the Kigali Principles on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
As you will recall, these principles were the outcome of the High Level International Conference that we hosted in May last year; and as the concept note rightly puts it, the benchmarks set out in these Kigali Principles offer pro-active practical ways that could lead to addressing current challenges in implementing protection of Civilians mandates.
We thank member states that have endorsed these principles since the early stage, including Uruguay; and encourage others to join us in that endeavor. In collaboration with the United Nations, Regional and Sub-regional organizations, and other member states, we hope to streamline those principles into the core of PoC agenda. This will assist in overcoming the challenges we face to POC and the implementation of its mandate.
In the coming months, we will co-host an international conference with the U.S. AFRICOM and the Netherlands that will serve as a follow up to the POC conference held in Kigali last year. We look forward to your participation.
Allow me to also emphasize the role of regional and sub-regional organizations; which we believe could enhance implementation of protection of civilians’ mandates due to their cultural and regional proximity, local knowledge of conflict dynamics, as well as their ability to deploy quickly. It is my hope that this body will continue to maximize the use of their comparative advantages; involving them throughout the process of Missions deployment, including consultations on mandates design.
In closing, may I share the following words by H.E. President Paul Kagame, “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.”
I thank you.