Speaking at a Security Council debate on the protection of civilians, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that the United Nations is determined to work collectively to support governments to protect their people, and to persuade parties to conflict to abide by their obligations.
“Protecting civilians is a United Nations system-wide responsibility. But the primary responsibility lies with parties to the conflict, non-belligerent States, and this Council,” Mr. Ban told the Security Council at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Governments and parties to conflict also have an obligation to provide for the basic needs of civilians in conflict. When they fail to do so, they should facilitate principled humanitarian assistance by humanitarian organizations,” he added.
Noting that many parties are failing to live up to these obligations, the Secretary-General said it is essential that the UN use all the means at its disposal to hold them accountable.
“The ultimate solution to protecting civilians in conflict is finding sustainable political solutions, based on the rule of law and human rights standards,” he insisted, urging the Security Council to exercise this, as it is its “core responsibility.”
In his last report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Mr. Ban underlined the urgent need for concrete measures and to make recommendations to that end.
“Enhancing the protection of civilians was a key focus of the World Humanitarian Summit and the Agenda for Humanity. It was one of the dominant themes to emerge from the recent reviews of peace operations, the peacebuilding architecture, and the 'Women, Peace and Security' framework,” he noted.
Mr. Ban said these reports, reviews and events underscored “the modest but vital role” that UN peace operations can play in protecting civilians.
“Peacekeeping operations are most effective in protecting civilians when protection is considered a mission-wide activity, driven by a sound political strategy,” he explained, adding that the political engagement of civilian staff and their dialogue with parties to conflict, affected communities and partners is essential.
Noting that civilian staff also monitor and investigate abuses – which he said is the only basis for accountability – the Secretary-General highlighted that likewise, United Nations Police make an important contribution.
“UN Police are currently protecting tens of thousands of internally displaced people at peacekeeping missions in South Sudan,” he recalled. “I urge this Council to give precedence to political strategy and whole-of-mission approaches when you consider mandates to protect civilians. These can be even more critical than military assets and troop numbers."
Meanwhile, he highlighted that the United Nations Secretariat is working to support the Security Council in this by providing better analysis of threats, and better advice and recommendations on the most effective course of action, depending on the context.
“As I told the General Assembly yesterday, we are reviewing our administrative and logistical procedures to see how we can best support peace operations, and looking at policies to make us more flexible and responsive,” Mr. Ban said.
“The Secretariat is also doing its utmost to support missions through a renewed focus on performance and accountability. We will continue our efforts to prevent and address abuses committed by peacekeepers,” he stressed.
In this respect, he said the UN is working with troop and police contributors to generate peacekeeping forces and police in a way that matches capabilities with requirements.
“We need troops that speak the right languages, bring the right technology and equipment, and have the right skills and training, in the right places. Member States have a critical role here, in contributing troops and police who are ready, willing and able to take up protection duties. The Kigali Principles set out critical benchmarks for troop and police contributing countries, and I urge all to endorse them,” the UN chief stated.
“We also rely on the Security Council to set mandates that are in line with resources, and to use your influence to increase those resources in certain circumstances,” he added.