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National statements

Protection of Civilians: World Humanitarian Day

Thematic issues

  • Humanitarian
  • Impunity
  • Justice
  • Peace and Security
  • Peacekeeping
  • Protection of Civilians
  • Sanctions
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria


Statement by HE Ms Philippa King, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you Mr President for dedicating the Council's time to this vital issue.

We thank the briefers for eloquently reminding us that today millions of civilians are under threat: caught up in humanitarian crises and directly attacked in conflicts. Without the assistance of humanitarian workers, their suffering would be indescribably worse.

The world is experiencing the greatest number of major simultaneous crises in decades. At the end of 2013, over 50 million people were displaced – either internally or as refugees. Every one of these people required some form of protection and assistance.

As an international community, we rely on humanitarian workers to deliver vital assistance in dangerous places. And, as Mr Maurer has emphasized, they rely on the humanitarian principles to protect them.

As we commemorate the tragic bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, and honour those who have given their lives in the service of humanity, we also pay tribute to all humanitarians currently working tirelessly – unarmed – in some of the world's most volatile conflict and disaster zones.

Mr President,

Humanitarian workers are more essential, and yet more vulnerable, than ever before.

And the deliberate targeting of humanitarian personnel has become a sickening hallmark of conflict.

Violence against aid workers sunk to new depths in 2013.The figures, recalled this morning, are shocking: Over 251 separate attacks affecting over 460 individuals and killing 155.

We mention in particular the impact on national staff who risk their own safety, even while their families may be under threat, in order to save lives in their countries and communities. The vast majority of attacks in 2013 were against national staff, and we know the statistics only tell part of the story.

It is an outrage that those who work to save lives become targets themselves, for that same reason. This is a security challenge which must be confronted.

Under international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians – including humanitarian workers – is the responsibility of all parties to conflict. IHL provides protections for relief and medical personnel. These rules must be respected. UN premises also must be inviolable. Schools and hospitals must remain sanctuaries.

The Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol aim to protect such personnel and to prevent impunity for attacks on UN personnel or property. We urge all States to accede to these instruments.

Mr President

The work of the humanitarian community is inextricably linked to the work of the Council in maintaining international peace and security. The majority of attacks against aid workers occur in situations on our agenda.

Civilians and civilian infrastructure are increasingly targeted in armed conflict. In some cases this is part of deliberate military strategies. As a result, denial of humanitarian assistance for these civilians, including attacks on humanitarians trying to help them, has become more systematic. Put simply, it has become an element of conflict.

The situation in Syria is a striking example, which is why, faced with the magnitude of human suffering, the Council unanimously adopted Resolutions 2139 and 2165 in support of the humanitarian effort.

Mr President

This Council has long recognized that protection of civilians is central to our work. In order to protect civilians we must safeguard humanitarians and ensure access for them.

It is incumbent upon the Council to use all the tools at its disposal to do so. There are things we should do.

First, we should ensure that Resolution 1502 on the protection of humanitarian personnel, adopted by this Council in 2013, is fully implemented. But, given the increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, the Council should now build upon this resolution.

Second, we should continue to mandate peacekeeping missions to establish enabling conditions for principled humanitarian action, where appropriate, as we have done in South Sudan. This can range from support to peace processes, to reporting on access challenges, to security actions to protect humanitarian and UN personnel and facilities and keep access routes open. In all cases, the humanitarian principles must be paramount.

Third, where there is a sanctions regime in place, we should apply sanctions against those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Fourth, the Council must work to end impunity for attacks on humanitarians. Perpetrators should be brought to justice before a court of law, whether domestic or international.

This Council should make clear its expectation that attacks on civilian humanitarian workers be fully investigated. Where a State is unwilling or unable to carry out such investigations, the creation of UN fact-finding missions can be appropriate. It is incumbent on this Council to support the prosecution of attacks on humanitarian personnel. We welcome the fact that the ICC is currently trying Abdalla Banda Abaker Nourain for an alleged attack on the AU Mission in Sudan, as a result of a referral by this Council. It is incumbent on the Council to support such processes.

Finally, the proliferation of non-state armed groups poses unique challenges. We applaud the work of organisations such as Geneva Call and the ICRC to promote compliance by these groups with their obligations. This Council should continue to explore creative ways of promoting compliance by such groups, as we have done in relation to children in armed conflict.

Humanitarian operations remain a crucial part of our collective commitment to international peace and security. We will not accept attacks on humanitarian workers as an inevitable consequence of conflict. So often, humanitarians are the ones protecting civilians. This Council must act to protect them.

Thank you.

(As delivered)

19 August, 2014

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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