Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Safeguarding Humanitarian Space

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 1, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. We congratulate Germany on assuming the presidency of the Council for April, and thank France for its productive presidency during a very busy month of March. Thanks, too, to the briefers, and welcome to the ministers who are joining us today.

Mr. President, Minister Le Drian, thank you for convening this morning’s Arria session and this afternoon’s briefing on safeguarding humanitarian space. The topic is vital to improving our ability to save lives and to ease the suffering of millions of people affected by conflict around the world today.

The United States strongly believes that full implementation of international humanitarian law by all parties to a conflict is the best way to provide protection for civilians, including humanitarian personnel. We also believe that additional guidelines and policies should avoid inadvertently diluting principles of humanitarian assistance.

Unfortunately, we know that the laws of war are not always universally observed – with grave consequences for civilians in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. Mr. Maurer and Mr. Lowcock know these consequences all too well.

Mr. President, the United States pairs its role as the world’s single largest humanitarian donor with strong diplomatic efforts to promote respect for humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

We do this by speaking out against states that impede humanitarian organizations from meeting basic human needs. We’ve consistently called on the Syrian regime to implement the many Security Council resolutions calling for unimpeded humanitarian access across that country. Nonetheless, the Assad regime continues to obstruct aid to those in need, including in areas under the regime’s control.

We do this by condemning physical attacks directed against humanitarian personnel. South Sudan has for many years consistently ranked as the most dangerous place for aid workers in the world, with the blatant disregard for protections that should be afforded to them as civilians by all parties to the armed conflict. Attacks on health facilities and responders, including recent incidents in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are unacceptable. These must end.

We do this by opposing resolution language that would require the “full consent” of affected states for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need. States that use humanitarian access as a cudgel to deny starving women and children of food and water, or prevent desperate people from accessing life-saving medical care, cannot be allowed to rely on a resolution by the UN to justify their actions. And we do this by correcting outrageous, dangerous, and baseless allegations against humanitarian workers like those Russia consistently levels against the heroic white helmets in Syria.

Mr. President, many of us are deeply engaged in protecting humanitarian space, but we can all do more.

The United States supports efforts to widely disseminate accurate information about IHL among all parties to conflicts. A thorough understanding of IHL in principle and practice is fundamental to the training of U.S. military personnel at all levels.

We further integrate IHL topics and principles into training that we provide to international military partners. For example, IHL principles are actively addressed in peacekeeping pre-deployment training that we provide to partner troop and police contributors deploying to UN and regional peace operations.

The work that the United States has undertaken to ensure that civilians, civilian infrastructure, and humanitarian locations and personnel are protected in some of the world’s most fraught conflicts is important, but it cannot replace the full adherence to IHL by all parties to conflict.

Mr. President, we encourage Member States to engage more closely with non-governmental and faith-based humanitarian actors, who can provide valuable insights about how to ensure the most vulnerable are protected and receive assistance.

We welcomed the Swiss-ICRC joint initiative aimed at strengthening the implementation of IHL, which included multiple rounds of dialogue aimed at allowing states to share best practices in a non-politicized, non-country specific setting. We hope this type of exchange can continue.

Finally, Mr. President, the United States calls on Member States to implement domestic frameworks, including counterterrorism laws and sanctions, in a manner consistent with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international refugee law.

I thank you for your attention.