Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (via VTC)

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 27, 2020


Thank you, Sven, and thank you to the Secretary-General, Mr. Maurer, and President Sirleaf for your informative presentations today. This annual briefing is especially timely in the context of COVID-19.

As the Secretary-General’s Protection of Civilian report stated, the pandemic has the potential to devastate conflict-affected countries and overwhelm already weak healthcare systems. It will continue to exacerbate vulnerabilities for women and girls, refugees, displaced persons, and older persons, making conflict mediation more challenging.

The United States has already provided over $1 billion in health and humanitarian aid to combat COVID-19. Our foreign assistance is saving lives and helping address economic devastation around the world. Consistent with the U.S. strategy on Women, Peace, and Security, we are working to ensure our assistance includes local strategies to mitigate COVID-19’s acute risks to women and girls, including conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.

The United States strongly believes that all parties to conflict must comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Promoting training and sensitization to these laws, consistent with the UN’s Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, as applicable, will be critical. The United States has shared and built upon best practices, including bi-laterally and during coalition operations. We encourage others to do the same.

Globally, attacks on civilians are all too common. For instance, the Secretary General’s UNAMA report notes that anti-government elements were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths. In Burma, the UN fact-finding mission documented the security forces’ long-standing practice of attacking civilians from ethnic and religious minority groups.

In Syria, the Assad regime and its military allies, Russia and Iran, continue to put civilians at risk by using barrel bombs and improvised rocket-assisted munitions. These have killed countless children.

We applaud the efforts of the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism, which is collecting and preserving evidence of crimes committed in the country, and the Board of Inquiry, which recently investigated perpetrators of attacks on civilian infrastructure. In line with Security Council Resolution 2254, we call for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in Syrian political and peace processes.

Protecting civilians in armed conflict is a collective effort. We support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire to enable health officials to address COVID-19, and for unhindered and safe access for human rights and humanitarian workers. It is critical that humanitarians, healthcare personnel, and supplies are ensured access to all people in need in order to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance.

Civil society, including journalists and human rights defenders, plays an important role investigating violations and abuses. The Council must help to protect these individuals from reprisals. Member states must also address violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law through relevant national, regional, and international legal mechanisms.

The United States supports the Secretary-General’s call for national protection frameworks to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law and promote monitoring and reporting mechanisms. Leveraging technology for more robust crisis mapping and data analysis will be needed to establish early warning systems.

Likewise, we support the Department of Peace Operations’ revised Protection of Civilians policy. Peacekeeping creates the space for political and peace processes to take shape, enabling host states to find durable solutions to armed conflict. In the DRC, the UN Security Council has adapted MONUSCO’s mandate to meet the difficult challenge of protecting civilians in the eastern part of the country. The new mandate enhanced and clarified the role of the Force Intervention Brigade, addressing the concerns of Congolese civilians who wanted a more immediate response to attacks by armed groups. This Council’s willingness to adapt and refine mandates to meet the needs on the ground helps to ensure that missions are fit for the purpose.

To better protect civilians in conflict, the United States and forty-six member states have endorsed the Kigali Principles. We encourage all member states to join us so that we can help peacekeepers effectively implement their protection of civilian mandates. While we know that COVID-19 has restricted movement and troop rotations, it is important that peace operations continue to fulfill their protection of civilian mandates, while ensuring the safety, security, and health of all UN personnel.

The United States believes that efforts to protect civilians and build peace cannot be achieved without the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women. Peace is more durable when women are at the table for peace talks. Additionally, increasing women’s meaningful participation in peacekeeping improves operational effectiveness and a mission’s ability to fulfill protection of civilian mandates.

Today’s VTC is an opportunity to discuss how – collectively – we can better protect civilians in conflict. This Council cannot accept attacks on children, infrastructure, and civilians as normal. Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we are compelled to demonstrate the political will to promote implementation of protection frameworks and pursue accountability for violations of international law. The United States will continue to seek mechanisms to better protect civilians from barbaric acts – the acts that the United Nations was created to prevent.

Thank you.