Wrap-Up Session - August 2014
- Central Africa
- Central African Republic
- Chemical weapons
- Conflict Prevention
- Human Rights
- International Court of Justice
- International Criminal Tribunals
- Peace and Security
- Rule of Law
- South Sudan
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by Mr Michael Bliss, Chargé d'Affaires, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you for convening this session. We thank you, and the entire UK team, for your able leadership this month. I will focus my remarks on the Council visit, as well as on our enduring interests and responsibilities on conflict prevention, a key element of our work in August.
The Council's visit to the Peace Palace in The Hague, established following the 1899 Hague Peace Conference was a reminder that, for more than a century, the inherent link between peace, justice and the rule of law has been understood. The Peace Palace is of course now home to the International Court of Justice. The Council's exchange of views with the Court, with international criminal tribunals the Council has established, and with the International Criminal Court reinforced the role these bodies can play in conflict prevention. It underlined the central role of accountability in our joint efforts to prevent and deter conflict, and to build sustainable peace. The visit was also a vivid reminder of the challenge of agreeing and upholding international norms concerning the conduct of war, and preventing its occurrence.
A year after the Peace Palace opened its doors, in 1913, World War I broke out. Our visit to Belgium underlined the horrific consequences of that entirely preventable conflict. Of course, during that conflict, many of the fundamental norms established at The Hague Peace Conference were blatantly violated.
Just 24 hours after leaving The Hague, we were at a protection site in an UNMISS base in Malakal, South Sudan. We saw the consequences of conflict: including large scale displacement and desperate humanitarian need. We heard testimonies of massive human rights violations, massacres, and ethnic targeting. UN staff told us of approaching famine. Civil society representatives pleaded with us to do more to end the conflict.
This jarring juxtaposition between lofty international aspirations and the harsh reality of conflict is reflected in many of crises before the Council – including Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Gaza and Libya.
While the causes and consequences differ, there is a common element to the conduct of these conflicts – the erosion of fundamental norms.
We see this in the brazen defiance of fundamental provisions of human rights and international humanitarian law. In Iraq, ISIL is committing unspeakable atrocities against civilians on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. This is a stark challenge for the Council – a terrorist group acting as a rebel insurgency, acquiring and holding territory, and brutally repressing the civilian population. The role of foreign terrorist fighters in such groups deserves urgent Council attention.
We see this erosion of norms in the frequent use of civilian facilities – including schools and hospitals – for military purposes, and the deliberate targeting of such sites. This has been a feature of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Gaza.
We see this in attacks on cultural heritage, often part of a deliberate strategy to destroy the very foundations of cultures and religions. ISIL's destruction of the Musab bin Umayr mosque in Diyala province of Iraq is only the latest shocking example.
We see this erosion of norms reflected in the deliberate targeting of humanitarian actors. As we marked World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, we heard that 155 humanitarian workers were killed in 2013 – the highest level for a decade.
We have also seen this in the use of chemical weapons in conflict. In adopting Resolution 2118 a year ago, the Council reaffirmed the absolute prohibition on the use of such weapons anywhere. The completion of destruction processes of Syrian chemical weapons on the US vessel Cape Ray this month was welcome. But the job is not yet complete; and allegations of the continuing use of toxic chemicals in the Syrian conflict must be investigated.
We have even seen violation of the very foundations of the Charter – the obligation of non-interference and the prohibition on the use of force – with the annexation of part of Ukraine's territory, and active destabilisation of other regions of the country. And we have seen the tragic and far-reaching consequences of this – including the downing of MH17.
It is tempting to think that, having established the normative framework for international peace and security and its supporting institutions – through treaties and through Council resolutions – our job is complete. We cannot take such a view. We cannot just work at the margins. We must protect the very foundations.
We must take every opportunity to reinforce these fundamental norms. Through Council resolutions, such as 2170 on ISIL and 2171 on conflict prevention. Through the inclusion of listing criteria in our sanctions regimes for those who violate international humanitarian law and human rights law, as we have just done on Libya. Through accountability mechanisms, including commissions of inquiry and support to the ICC. And through timely Council visits at critical moments – such as to South Sudan.
There was one other important event in The Hague – the Council's meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, who conveyed his gratitude for the adoption of Resolution 2166 and called for its full implementation. As Council President, you laid a wreath on our behalf at the memorial site at Schipol airport for the victims of MH17. It was a powerful reminder of the awful and unpredictable consequences of conflict, and of the stake that every UN member state has in the Council fulfilling its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security.