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National statements

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Thematic issues

  • Accountability
  • Human Rights
  • Humanitarian
  • Mali
  • Peacekeeping
  • Protection of Civilians
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you Madam President for this debate and thank you to High Commissioner Pillay, Under-Secretary-General Amos, Under-Secretary-General Ladsous and Director-General Daccord for their exemplary leadership on protection matters.

As the Secretary-General assessed in his most recent report on protection (November 2013), "the current state of the protection of civilians leaves little room for optimism". The messages delivered by our briefers today make this bleakness plain. We have heard – in the words of USG Amos – about situations of "outrage, despair, shame".

Protecting civilians is at the heart of what this Council does. And peacekeeping is one of the primary means at the Council's disposal to do it. The United Nations' standing and authority depends decisively on the capacity of its peacekeepers to protect civilians effectively.

We all know that today's peacekeeping missions are highly diverse and complex – not least stemming from the fact that most of these missions are mandated explicitly to protect civilians. Resolutions 1894 (2009) and 2086 (2013) reinforced the normative framework on protection and peacekeeping. But – as always – the real test remains to ensure that existing norms are implemented on the ground. I note all our briefers' comments on this today which we need to carefully consider.

In the past year, the Council has taken serious decisions to equip peacekeeping missions with robust protection mandates. We are seeing their positive impact in DRC and Mali. There will always be limits to what peacekeepers can do. But we must continue to evaluate the effectiveness of these new mandates and capture the lessons learned to establish best practice.

Instrumental in this effort is ensuring that the "peacekeeping partnership" – the Council, the UN Secretariat and troop – and police-contributing countries – share a common understanding of protection challenges. USG Ladsous has reminded us of this. Regular briefings from UN force commanders allow the Council to hear the perspectives of those responsible in the field for delivering on Council mandates. We strongly support UN police commissioners briefing the Council in the same way.

The Council should consider upgrading the status of its informal expert group. This would help build consensus about protection challenges – allowing the Council to take appropriate actions to enhance protection in a timely way.

We must be prepared to react nimbly – and, as USG Ladsous has said, when necessary, without doubt – to protect civilians when situations change quickly, as we have in South Sudan. 900,000 civilians have fled their homes, 75,000 of whom are sheltering in UN camps. Resolution 2132 (2013) authorised an increase in military and police capacity, very effectively using inter-mission cooperation. But we will have to consider carefully UNMISS's future mandate – with the protection of civilians our paramount consideration. Resourcing should not stand in the way.

If peacekeepers are to effectively protect civilians, they must have appropriate training, equipment and critical enablers. The proliferation of weapons also affects the ability of peacekeepers to provide security for themselves and for civilians. We encourage further support to assist peacekeepers to track and manage illicit weapons flows and implement arms embargoes, as Resolution 2117 adopted last September requires.

We should be prepared to encourage the use of technologies that enhance their capabilities to perform increasingly complex tasks. Unarmed UAVs will enhance early warning of threats to civilians, deter armed groups and bolster the safety of personnel. The sooner they are rolled out across missions the better.

Ultimately, the best way the Council can protect civilians is, of course, to prevent armed conflict itself in the first instance. As a Council, we must sharpen our ability to anticipate and respond to emerging crises affecting civilians. Regular horizon-scanning briefings are one means to this end.

We welcome the Secretary-General's Rights Up Front initiative, which identifies concrete actions to improve the UN's response to future crises. Protection is at the core of this initiative. We need to ensure that all parts of the UN system implement it both systematically and organically.

Of course, the primary responsibility to protect civilians rests with all parties to conflict. This requires full adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law. Those responsible for committing serious violations must be held to account – preferably at the national level, but if not the International Criminal Court may have a role to play. Our design of peacekeeping missions should reflect this need for accountability.

The daily horror of Syria reminds us that the international community – and the Council – must condemn the denial of humanitarian access – in all its forms – as a weapon of war. And must do all we can to ensure rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to meet the needs of civilians. The Council needs to act through a resolution on this now. This is why Luxembourg, Jordan and Australia have prepared one and now brought it to the Council.

Ultimately, the international community has a responsibility to protect populations if States will not – or cannot – fulfil their obligations to prevent mass atrocity crimes – a responsibility this Council should uphold.

To conclude, the Presidential Statement we have adopted today necessarily reaffirms the need for the Council and member states to further strengthen protection for the many millions of civilians who desperately need help. The update of the Aide Memoire pertaining to protection of civilians annexed to the Statement – and initially adopted by the Council in 2002 – remains as essential guidance for the Council's future work. As we have agreed today, we must use it on a more systematic and consistent basis as we further develop and implement our decisive task – indeed "permanent" task (to quote USG Ladsous) – to protect civilians.

Thank you, Madam President.

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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