Thank you for organizing this annual debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. I also thank the UN Secretary-General, the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Ms. Edwar, Iraqi civil society representative, for their statements.
Latvia aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.
Innocent civilians, including women and children, often constitute the vast majority of victims; often they are deliberately targeted by parties to the armed conflict, by illegal armed groups or terrorist organisations. Higher incidence of armed conflict in urban areas has taken a devastating toll on civilian populations and has damaged civilian infrastructure. The use of explosive weapons, and more deplorable – the use of chemical weapons - in populated areas, forced displacement, as well as sexual violence, starvation, sieges and denial of much needed humanitarian assistance as methods of warfare, have become daily news and do not seem as outrageous as they are.
Latvia is deeply concerned over attacks on humanitarian and health care facilities and personnel in armed conflict that have continued at a high rate last year. Overall, we are concerned about the growing sense of fatigue to the disregard for humanitarian principles of present-day conflicts. Impunity for widespread violations on the ground must not be tolerated. It cannot be emphasized enough that all State and non-State parties to conflict must respect international law - humanitarian law and human rights law. Innocent civilians should be spared from the effects of hostilities, not robbed of their lives, health, future prospects or homes.
We thank the UN Secretary-General for his recent report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict analysing progress in three focus areas. It is clear that much more needs to be done to translate progress at the normative level into more effective country-specific measures to protect civilians. States bear the primary responsibility to protect their populations, including from atrocity crimes.
Promotion of the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities is essential, starting with the conflict prevention agenda.
Latvia considers the protection of civilians in armed conflict as an important part of the UN Security Council agenda. However, greater efforts of the Security Council are needed to address situations of concern and to act promptly in order to prevent or stop a conflict, and to demand accountability. Existing challenges to the protection of civilians in diverse conflict-affected areas, including Syria, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, as underscored by the report of the UN Secretary-General, should be addressed with a sense of urgency. We call on the permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from using the veto in situations of atrocity crimes.
Protection of civilians is an important component of the UN peacekeeping mandates. Local communities expect UN peacekeepers to protect them, however effective implementation of protection mandates remains a challenge. Our work to make peacekeeping operations more adaptable and relevant to the current complex challenges must continue. Better planning, equipment, situational awareness and training are essential to improved performance, effective mandate delivery, protection of civilians and security of peacekeepers. We also recall the importance of the “Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians”, which Latvia endorsed in 2016.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize the importance of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. We are concerned about the overwhelming lack of proper investigation and prosecution of perpetrators. Latvia is of the view that where national action is lacking, international legal mechanisms can step in to provide justice for victims. We cannot expect the future perpetrators to take the UN and its Security Council seriously as long as the current perpetrators act with impunity.
It is the fundamental legal obligation and our common interest to promote and ensure effective protection to civilians.