Statement by Ambassador Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations at the Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (22 May 2018)

Mr. President,

We thank the Secretary General and Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross for their insightful briefings.

Mr. President,

The rules of conduct of armed conflict are clearly codified and articulated in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, as well as in International Humanitarian and Refugee Law.

Yet its cardinal principles of distinction and discrimination between civilians and combatants, military necessity, and proportionality continue to be violated, and warring parties still operate with impunity.

The legal framework is there. It is the persistent failure to comply with these obligations, and to respect the rules of international humanitarian law during armed conflict, that remains the abiding challenge.

Whether it is ‘plausible deniability’ or abuse, the grim reality is, when the beast of conflict roars, legal regimes fall silent.

Mr. President,

Gone are the days when the impact of armed conflicts on civilians was limited to collateral damage. Targeted attacks, sexual violence, forced conscription and indiscriminate killings collectively paint an extremely bleak picture of the human costs of modern day armed conflict.

Civilians, who should be the primary subject of protection, have become the principal objects of attack.

The Geneva Conventions are violated, respect for human life violated, and civilians are used as human shields in occupied territories. Worse, perpetrators who commit such crimes are awarded honors by their military commands. And these crimes continue to be perpetrated in Palestine and Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, two of the oldest disputes on the agenda of this Council.

Mr. President,

As an inevitable consequence of armed conflict, the international community is confronted with the challenge of growing civilian casualties, as well as an ever-greater need for humanitarian assistance and protection for people displaced by it.

According to the Secretary General’s report on Protection of Civilians, last year alone, the UN recorded more than 26,000 civilian deaths in just six situations of armed conflict, with 128 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Mr. President,

Let me underscore five specific points in this regard:

  • One,protection of civilians is a system-wide responsibility, but host countries bear the primary responsibility for protection of all civilians without discrimination.
  • Two,violations are neither inevitable nor insurmountable. They can be mitigated by the consistent use of the entire range of national and international judicial and non-judicial means for promoting compliance with IHL and ensuring accountability. Military training, for instance, must include familiarization with the principles of international law governing armed conflict and full understanding of legal implications of commands issued and obeyed in combat conditions.
  • Three,lack of political will to fully respect humanitarian law and other applicable rules is the primary impediment to protecting civilians in armed conflict. Sustained pressure from those with influence over parties to conflicts can rectify this wrong.
  • Four,protection of civilians, wherever mandated by the Council, is and should be a priority for UN peacekeeping operations. As one of the world’s leading troop contributors to UN Peacekeeping, blue helmets from Pakistan have contributed to many of its success stories in Africa, from Liberia to Sierra Leone. Our well-trained and professional peacekeepers have protected civilians, provided them much-needed medical care and rebuilt their lives.
  • Five,the Security Council, as the primary body tasked with maintaining international peace and security, should focus on the root causes of emerging and longstanding conflicts and find inclusive political solutions. Inaction by the Council in cases of foreign aggression and occupation produces situations where such crimes breed.
  • Mr. President,

    The goal of protection of civilians can best be achieved by preventing the outbreak of armed conflict in the first place. Our collective efforts need to be geared towards that goal. Otherwise, we will be treating only the symptoms and not the cause.

    I thank you, Mr. President.