H.E. Mr. Jānis Mažeiks
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia
at the Open Debate of the Security Council
“Protection of civilians in armed conflict”
Thank you for organizing this debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. I also thank the Deputy Secretary-General, the Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and OXFAM representative for their statements.
Latvia aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.
Today far too many conflicts around the globe have a devastating impact on civilians. Innocent civilians, including women and children, often constitute the vast majority of victims or they get deliberately targeted. Lately, almost every single day we hear about the most terrible crimes such as killings, torture, sexual violence, kidnapping, slavery and other crimes, perpetrated by parties to the armed conflict or violent extremists in many regions. An increasing role of illegal armed groups or terrorist organisations in conflicts creates even more challenging environment to civilians in the conflict zones. Conflicts and violence force people to leave their homes, leading to the highest number of displaced persons and refugees since the Second World War. Generous international response to the growing humanitarian needs of people in dire and complex crises is required on a daily basis.
Failure to protect civilian population is disrespect of international law - humanitarian law, refugee law and human rights. While at the normative level there has been progress, and also respective UN Security Council resolutions play an important role, the lack of respect for international humanitarian law and impunity on the ground is growing. States bear the primary responsibility to protect their populations from atrocity crimes. Therefore Latvia fully supports the joint appeal of the UN Secretary-General and the President of ICRC of the 31st October 2015 to make every effort to achieve political solutions to conflicts, to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, to hold perpetrators of violations accountable, to grant unhindered access to and protect humanitarian and medical personnel and facilities, and to respond to the needs of internally displaced persons and refugees. Latvia is a strong supporter of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, and we look forward to reaffirming this commitment by the UN General Assembly resolution.
Latvia believes that promoting the protection of civilians in all United Nations activities is essential. The Security Council must view this matter as a priority when addressing situations of concern. Its failure to act promptly in order to prevent or stop a conflict, and to demand accountability, is a severe blow to victims. We call on the permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from using the veto in situations of atrocity crimes and in this regard we strongly support the initiatives of France and Mexico, and the ACT Group.
Strengthening of prevention of conflicts and reading of early warning signs are key. We applaud the Secretary-General for promoting his “Human Rights up Front” initiative which has been elaborated to regard human rights and the protection of civilians as the UN system-wide responsibility. Latvia believes that all three UN reviews - on Women, Peace and Security, on Peace Operations, and on Peacebuilding Architecture – will contribute to the strengthened UN response to conflicts. We are especially encouraged that these reviews recognize the role of women in all areas of achieving peace and security.
Latvia welcomes the fact that protecting civilians in conflict has come to the forefront of many peace operations. However effective implementation of protection mandates remains a challenge and must be improved through the ongoing peacekeeping review. Latvia is willing to contribute to UN peacekeeping efforts and, in addition to our engagement in the European Union, OSCE and NATO missions, has decided to join a UN peacekeeping mission for the first time. Last week the Parliament of Latvia supported the participation of Latvian troops in the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Latvia will also increase its practical engagement in the Global Coalition to counter Daesh and contribute to the training of Iraqi security forces.
We cannot become immune to human suffering and calls for help. Remaining, as well as emerging challenges to the protection of civilians in conflicts from Syria to Ukraine, as underscored by the recent report of the UN Secretary-General, should be addressed with the sense of urgency. The international community must step up its commitment to provide stronger protection to civilians.