June 10, 2016
Protection of Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations
As delivered in New York on June 10, 2015

Intervention of Archbishop Bernardito Auza,
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
Protection of Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations

New York, 10 June 2016

Mr. President,

The Holy See commends the Presidency of France for bringing this extremely important topic to the attention of the Security Council and to the International Community.

The long history of peacekeeping operations, with their successes and shortcomings, offers a rich reservoir of lessons learned with which to develop parameters for more effective strategy in conflict prevention and conflict resolution, as well as in defining mandates and rules of engagement.

The same history tells us about the evolution in the mandates that peacekeeping missions have been receiving from this Council. For instance, one might presume that an essential mandate of peacekeeping operations has always been the protection of civilians. Yet this is a relatively recent development. In fact, the first peacekeeping operation to receive the explicit mandate to protect civilians was the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone in 1999.

While my delegation considers the protection of civilians a positive evolution of UN peacekeeping mandates, paradoxically it also points to the disturbing fact that more and more civilians are being targeted during armed conflict and indeed used as weapons of war. This is one of the saddest developments in the evolution of armed conflict. In the early 1900s, around 5 percent of fatalities were civilians, while in the 1990s, over 90 percent of the fatalities were non-combatants. Recent reports and studies unanimously affirm that deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks on civilians are increasing. Untold violence willfully inflicted upon civilian populations and the defiant violations of international humanitarian law in many current conflicts are all too flagrant.

My delegation thus believes that in all cases where mass atrocities and other forms of attacks against defenseless civilian populations are being perpetrated or are most likely to happen, the protection of civilians in armed conflict must be a critical component of peacekeeping mission mandates. It would be one of the primary yardsticks with which to measure the success or failure of a peacekeeping mission. Every peacekeeping operation should be, at the end of the day, all about saving lives.

Mr. President,

The evolution in UN mandates also tells us that peacekeeping missions have become much more than instruments for restoring peace after conflicts have erupted.  Considering the decisive importance of both prevention and post-conflict peace consolidation, peacekeeping missions must also be deployed to prevent latent conflicts from exploding into open violence and to prevent post-conflict situations from descending again into violence.

While conflict prevention is primarily a function of diplomatic negotiations and mediations and post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building are often seen as the work of development experts and social scientists, particularly grave cases warrant a preventive peacekeeping mission to realistically stop latent conflicts from exploding, thus sparing populations from the scourges of death and destruction. In the same manner, lessons learned suggest that pulling peacekeeping missions too early can be extremely costly in every way.

A sure way to protect civilians during armed conflict is the preventive strategy of arms control. The Holy See renews its call upon arms producers and States to limit the manufacture, sale and gifting of horrendous weapons that are later used to terrorize the civilian population or destroy civilian infrastructure.

Mr. President,

In the name of Pope Francis, my delegation wishes to express deep appreciation in particular for the work of the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. Without ignoring the disturbing allegations of crimes committed by some peacekeepers and without underestimating the danger that the Country could still fall back to violence, MINUSCA has contributed substantially to calming down the situation, to assisting the displaced and those victimized, and to maintaining an atmosphere that is conducive to the pacification of the population, the regular functioning of the institutions and the return to normal life. The multidimensional mandate of MINUSCA overall augurs well for the reconstruction and institutional capacity building efforts that underpin durable peace and sustainable development in the Country.

Moreover, the Holy See would like to express its profound gratitude to MINUSCA for all the help it rendered to make the visit of Pope Francis in Bangui safe and fruitful. The President of the Central African Republic spoke about the fruit of the Pope’s visit at the recent World Humanitarian Summit, saying, « Avec le passage du Saint Père dans mon pays la situation humanitaire s’est nettement apaisée caractérisé par un désarmement du cœur avec un retour de l’esprit de cohésion sociale et du vivre ensemble. »             
Mr. President,

The Holy See follows with interest the activities of the UN peacekeeping missions in different hot spots in the world and reiterates its commitment to collaborate, where possible, in the work of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, post-conflict stabilization and peace consolidation.

Thank you, Mr. President.