Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Agenda Item 51: Comprehensive review
of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects
New York, 26 October 2016
In his Address to the General Assembly on September 25 last year, Pope Francis singled out “operations of peacekeeping and reconciliation” as one of the achievements and advances that the United Nations has been able to accomplish in its more than seventy-year history. Successful peacekeeping missions, reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts have kept in check violence and conflict stemming from, as the Pope said in the same Address, “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness.”
My delegation believes that the protection of civilians should be one of the central elements of peacekeeping mandates. An examination of the evolution of conflicts indicates 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 recent reports and studies on this theme unanimously affirm that the deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks on civilians are still increasing and tragically are becoming routine in defiant violation of international humanitarian law.
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 blatant violations of international humanitarian law.
In particular, woman and girls suffer disproportionately from the ravages of conflict, as they are specifically targeted as a tactic to incite fear and crush their will. Pope Francis reminds us that we must not “overlook the fact that wars involve another horrendous crime, the crime of rape. This is a most grave offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body but also in spirit, resulting in a trauma hard to erase and with effects on society as well.”
Efforts to spare women and girls from becoming victims of conflicts should be accompanied by initiatives to strengthen the role of women in preventive diplomacy, mediation efforts, and post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation measures. The role of women in peace and security should not be an afterthought or simply considered as something politically correct, but as an essential contribution to all our efforts to spare our world from further scourges of war and violence.
My delegation believes that the peacekeeping mandate to protect innocent civilians caught in armed conflicts should be considered within the framework of the responsibility to protect. Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity continue to affect different areas of the planet, while the memory of the atrocities committed in the past, recent and remote, is still alive in the conscience of humanity.
In the face of these grave crimes, there exists a grave responsibility, first for States and then for the international community, to defend those who are exposed to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. The international community is called upon “as appropriate, [to] encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility.”
The 2005 World Summit Outcome thus provides that if a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter. Peacekeeping missions are the United Nations’ primary instrument to help States weakened by conflicts exercise the responsibility to protect their citizens.
The Secretary General’s 2016 report “Mobilizing collective action: the next decade of the responsibility to protect” urges Member States to consolidate the consensus built since 2005 on the responsibility to protect. The Secretary General concludes that “it is time for Member States to show greater resolve in defending and upholding the norms that safeguard humanity, on which the responsibility to protect rests. If we do not, the achievements made in the first decade of the responsibility to protect will be eroded.” The work toward a fuller application of the principle demands a "vigorous and comprehensive global campaign" to reinforce the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law that underpin the global commitment to the principle.
While the Holy See continues to advocate efforts toward a fuller and more effective application of this principle, and strongly believes that it is a fundamental principle for the protection of innocent peoples from the ravages of mass atrocities, it is also aware that it is not always easy to carry out this principle in practice, not least because its application is not easily reconciled with the principle of non-intervention as sanctioned by Paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations. Moreover, it may also give rise to the suspicion that, under the guise of humanitarian intervention or the maintenance of international peace and security, the principle of the sovereign equality of the Members of the United Nations, established in the same Article of the UN’s Charter, can be overridden by the invocation of Chapter VII of the Charter.
Nonetheless, due to the unacceptable human costs of inaction, my delegation wishes to reiterate the suggestion that the Holy See made to the General Assembly a little more than two years ago, namely, “it would be most useful if the States present in [the] General Assembly, in the Security Council and in the other bodies of the United Nations, could discern clear and effective criteria for applying the principle, and for the corresponding integration of Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Arms control is an effective strategy to prevent conflicts, protect civilians, restore peace and promote reconciliation. The Holy See renews its call to States to limit strictly the manufacture, sale and gifting of weapons that fuel conflicts and also are used to terrorize the civilian population. Positive measures to put an end to the trafficking of arms and the financing that might directly or indirectly help in committing crimes of atrocity must be undertaken. Strictly limiting the trade and supply of arms in conflict areas or areas of latent conflicts are, after all, fully consistent with the pleas of the United Nations.
Sexual abuses and other forms of exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers are profoundly disturbing. The Zero Tolerance policy articulated twenty years ago has remained an elusive goal. Despite special measures taken by the Secretary General and adopted by the Security Council, the problem remains a serious one and must be urgently addressed. More preventive measures must be considered, because much of the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, indeed of the United Nations itself, depends on this issue, and all Countries that provide peace forces should make provision for judging and punishing such crimes. The world expects that all peacekeeping personnel adhere to the highest standards of behavior and conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner at all times. The world, in particular the people who are caught in conflicts and wars, without any fault of their own, deserve no less.
The Holy See commends the activities of the UN Peacekeeping Missions and the sacrifices undertaken by the peacekeepers who, in many instances, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the interest of peace. Pope Francis expresses deep appreciation for what the blue helmet missions have been able to accomplish to restore peace and stability in many regions in the world, restoring social harmony and making development possible. My delegation reiterates the commitment of the Holy See to collaborate, where possible, in the work of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post conflict stabilization and peace consolidation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 12 January 2015.
2. 2005 World Summit Outcome n. 138.
4. A/70/999–S/2016/62, n. 62.
5. Intervention of H.E. Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, at the General Debate: 'The United Nations at 70: The Road Ahead for Peace, Security and Human Rights'.