New York, 19 January 2016
The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
Delivered in New York on January 19, 2016

Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
New York, 19 January 2016


Mr. President,

My delegation wishes to thank the Presidency of Uruguay for bringing the question of the protection of civilians in armed conflict to the attention of the international community.

One of the saddest developments in the evolution of armed conflicts is that more and more victims are innocent civilians. In the early 1900s, around 5 percent of fatalities were civilians, while in the 1990s, over 90 percent of the fatalities were non-combatants. And it continues to get worse: All the reports and studies on this theme during the last six months, in particular the June 2015 Report of the Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, unanimously affirm that the deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks on civilians are still increasing.

The consequences are there for the whole world to see: huge civilian casualties including many children; massive population displacements; the refugee and migration crisis; the intentional destruction of civilian infrastructure like schools and medical facilities; the use of civilians as weapons of war by depriving them, inter alia, of food and other basic necessities; a total disregard for the safety of humanitarian workers and journalists; and other clear violations of international humanitarian law.

The whole international community is implicated in these heinous crimes in one way or another, by our silence and indifference, for instance, and by the fact that the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the slaughter of innocent civilians are perpetrated with weapons manufactured and supplied by the industrial engines of the world, and sold on the open or black market or given or loaned to client states. The extent of responsibility goes well beyond those directly massacring civilians.

Nobody can remain indifferent before this ongoing tragedy. We must act with the utmost urgency:

First, this barbarity must be denounced by all without exception and in the strongest possible terms;

Second, the international community must do all it can to stop these heinous crimes, including the legitimate use of force to stop mass atrocities and war crimes;

Third, the tools at the disposal of this Council and of the international community to protect civilians in armed conflict and bring perpetrators to justice must be enhanced and further strengthened where necessary;

Fourth, the international community and individual States must have the will and readiness to use these tools;

Fifth, those responsible must be held accountable;

Sixth, civilian populations who have been affected by mass atrocities and war crimes deserve all the help we can and must provide.

Mr. President,

Pope Francis, in his January 11, 2016 Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See gave voice to the victims of wars, saying:

“We hear Rachel weeping for her children who are no more. Hers is the plea of thousands of people who weep as they flee horrific wars, persecutions and human rights violations, or political or social instability, which often make it impossible for them to live in their native lands. It is the outcry of those forced to flee in order to escape unspeakable acts of cruelty towards vulnerable persons such as children and the disabled, or martyrdom solely on account of their religion.”

In the name of Pope Francis, my delegation wishes to convey profound gratitude to countries, communities and individuals who are extending hands of solidarity and fraternity in the midst of so much human suffering. The Pope explicitly thanks Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the frontline countries of Italy, Greece and Turkey for all their efforts and commitments to save lives and ease the suffering. These countries need the help of the entire international community to face the challenges posed by massive movements of refugees and migrants.

Mr. President,

There is a panoply of interdependent problems that can only be resolved by establishing peace through dialogue and negotiations. We are encouraged by progress towards finding political solutions to some of the most violent conflicts in the Middle East. Care for the civilians caught in the crossfire and used as weapons of war calls for full support for ongoing dialogue and negotiations. Peace achieved through these means is our best guarantee to avoid resorting to war again.

The use of civilians as weapons of war represents the worst of human behavior. The international community should show itself at its best by conquering evil with good, by beating our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks, by combatting indifference with solidarity, and by rising above narrow national and geopolitical interests to spare all of us from the scourge of wars.

Thank you, Mr. President.