Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
May 25, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you to our briefers for your insights on the impact of armed conflict on civilian populations.

This past year has been remarkably challenging, especially for those who have endured the pandemic while simultaneously trying to survive in conflict situations. This makes it all the more important to respect and protect the civilians living in these circumstances. We must uphold our collective demand in Resolution 2565 that all parties to armed conflicts facilitate the equitable, safe, and unhindered delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict.

The Security Council and international community have made concerted efforts in the last two decades on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Yet there is much work to be done. The United States strongly believes that full respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to armed conflict is essential for the protection of civilians.

In Syria, the Assad regime has for years launched attacks that have killed innumerable civilians, including women, children, and life-saving humanitarian personnel – as well as destroying civilian and medical infrastructure. These attacks highlight the need to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants in military objectives.

In Ethiopia, we continue to receive horrific reports of ongoing human rights abuses against civilians, including extrajudicial killings, forced removals, and widespread sexual violence – including the gang rape of women and girls. We condemn this in the strongest of terms. The violence must cease, immediate protection of civilians and humanitarian access must be instituted, and those responsible must be held accountable. We urge the international community to take action – as the United States has done – to press for an end to the violence, and for accountability for abuses and violations.

In Afghanistan, we’ve seen continued violence that has not only affected civilians but has explicitly targeted them. As we have said before – here and elsewhere – these appalling attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, health workers, civil servants, and children are not only unacceptable, but undermine progress toward a sustainable peace. All parties – not just those in formal positions of power – must respect their obligations under international law, including those related to the protection of civilians. The Taliban, which is largely responsible for the continued violence in Afghanistan, must immediately stop its undeclared spring offensive, refrain from attacks against civilians, and cease its attacks in the vicinity of hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, and other civilian areas.

Finally, regarding the current situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, President Biden made clear last week that Palestinians and Israelis – like individuals everywhere – have the right to life, liberty, and security of person. This is not an Israeli privilege or a Palestinian privilege. It is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The United States also sees preventing violence as an essential part of protecting civilians. To that end, the White House continues to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to forecast, prevent, and respond to atrocities through the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force.

Given the disproportionate impact of conflict and violence on women and girls, as well as the importance of women’s participation in efforts to prevent conflict and promote civilian protection and peacebuilding, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to advancing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. We urge the international community to include protection and response to gender-based violence as a proportionate amount of humanitarian assistance. Access to emergency medical responses to rape victims must be a standard component of any conflict response effort. It is the minimum we can provide to women and girls we have failed to protect.

UN peacekeeping is one of the most effective tools the Security Council has for protecting civilians in conflict areas. We will continue to work to ensure that the protection of civilians and the promotion of human rights lie at the core of what UN peacekeeping missions do. That means making sure these missions have the political support, the resources, and the tools they need to prevent violence, respond rapidly to attacks against civilians, and engage with communities to understand what they need to be safe.

The United States has been sharing and building upon good practices related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including bilaterally and during coalition operations. We encourage others to do the same.

Thank you, Mr. President.