I would like to thank the Indonesian presidency for organizing debate on this important topic. I also thank the UN Secretary-General for his report and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Center for Civilians in Conflict for their briefings.
Latvia aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.
As today we reflect on the progress made over the past twenty years since the protection of civilians in armed conflict was prioritized by the United Nations, Latvia agrees with the previous speakers that there have been important advancements, especially in the normative framework. The protection of civilians during armed conflict is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law, which is binding for all parties to armed conflict - State and non-State. International humanitarian law also identifies and protects particularly vulnerable civilian groups such as women, children and the displaced persons.
The Security Council has strengthened the framework for the protection of civilians through its resolutions, including prioritizing this issue in peacekeeping mandates. We believe that the need to prevent and stop violations against civilian populations during conflicts has gained greater awareness of the international community, especially due to the nature and media coverage of contemporary conflicts. It must be noted that this Council has heard many moving testimonies by survivors of conflicts.
The legal framework is solid and relevant. Yet, in spite of these developments, civilian protection in armed conflicts has not been sufficient. The latest report of the UN Secretary-General yet again confirms that far too many civilians continue to get robbed of their lives, health, future prospects or their homes. Challenges to the protection of civilians in diverse conflict-affected areas, including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine – to name a few – remain.
It is extremely worrying when parties to the conflict are failing to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations, as required by international humanitarian law. Latvia is deeply concerned that civilian population often is deliberately targeted by parties to the armed conflict or by illegal armed groups, or terrorist organizations. The use of air-launched weapons, explosive weapons, and more deplorable – the use of chemical weapons - in populated or urban areas, forced displacement, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, starvation, sieges and denial of much needed humanitarian assistance have become often-used methods of warfare.
Latvia strongly condemns attacks on civilian objects, as well as on humanitarian and health care infrastructure and personnel in armed conflict that unfortunately have continued at a high rate last year. We welcome all efforts of the Security Council to address this serious issue.
Regrettably, increasing humanitarian needs will likely continue, including conflict-related forced displacement. In this regard, Latvia emphasizes the need to allow safe, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access to populations in need.
The facts on the ground show that a greater compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to armed conflicts in protecting civilians is necessary.
We therefore support the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General, contained in his latest report, on how to strengthen the practical impact of the protection agenda. These recommendations should be addressed with a sense of urgency.
Latvia, as the current Presidency of the Arms Trade Treaty, is pleased to see that the report also addresses the context of arms exports, and encourages all States to become parties to the Arms Trade Treaty and similar regional instruments without delay.
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, and this must remain as an important component of the UN peacekeeping mandates. We reiterate our call on the permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from using the veto in situations of atrocity crimes.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the fundamental legal obligation and our common interest to promote and ensure effective protection of civilians from the devastating consequences of armed conflict.
Impunity for disregarding humanitarian principles of present-day conflicts must not become as the “new normal”. In the absence of accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, such violations will only continue to thrive.