May 25, 2017
Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians and Health Care in Armed Conflict

Statement 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
Protection of Civilians and Health Care in Armed Conflict

New York, 25 May 2017
Mr. President,

The Holy See commends the Presidency of Uruguay for bringing the extremely important topic of the protection of civilians and health care workers and patients in armed conflict to the attention of the Security Council and to the international community.

My Delegation believes that the worst development in the evolution of armed conflict is that civilians not only are less protected or spared from armed conflicts but have increasingly become targets. The use of civilians as weapons of war represents the most execrable of human behavior. The international community should show itself at its best by holding those who commit such heinous crimes accountable and by rising above narrow national and geopolitical interests to spare innocent civilians from the scourge of war. Unspeakable violence willfully inflicted upon civilian populations and the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law in many current conflicts are becoming commonplace.

Today’s discussion provides a much-needed opportunity to focus on the impact that modern weapons and technology are having on civilians caught in armed conflicts. The technological modernization of weapons blurs the distinction between weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons. The so-called “modernized conventional weapons” increasingly resemble weapons of mass destruction in terms of their indiscriminately targeting civilians and destroying extensive areas, together with their inhabitants. Any weapon with such devastating impacts on civilians is against all international humanitarian law and all ideas of civilization, and merits unequivocal, unqualified and unhesitating condemnation.

The intentional destruction of the infrastructure critical to the survival of the civilian population — such as schools, hospitals and water supplies — has become a strategy of choice in recent and on-going conflicts in many areas of the Middle East. It is the obligation of the international community, in accord with the U.N. Charter, to protect civilians and their critical infrastructure from this brutality and barbarity. Part of this obligation is to heighten public awareness of this defiant violation of international humanitarian law and any law of human decency, and to urge States to maintain a high level of critical infrastructure protection and resilience, including regarding health care.

A little over a week ago, Pope Francis observed, “We say [War] ‘Never again,’ yet we continue to produce weapons and sell them to those who are at war with one another.”  Copious international discussions on ending violence and conflicts are almost pointless if at the same time untold quantities of arms are continuously produced, sold or gifted to dictatorial regimes, terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates. Arms producers, traders and traffickers must be made aware that they are directly and indirectly abetting mass atrocity crimes, enabling violators of fundamental human rights, and turning back the development of entire peoples and nations. Strengthening relevant laws and conventions at the multilateral, bilateral and national levels is a necessary step in the right direction in the protection of civilians caught in armed conflicts. 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.

My Delegation believes that the Security Council’s mission 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 terrify 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 graver responsibility, first for the States where the crimes were committed, and then for the international community, to defend those who are exposed to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. Moreover, the 2005 World Summit Outcome 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.

The Secretary-General’s 2016 report, “Mobilizing collective action: the next decade of the responsibility to protect,”[1] urges Member States to consolidate the consensus built since 2005 on the Responsibility to Protect. The Secretary-General affirms, “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.”[2] 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 laws that underpin the global commitment to the principle.

Due to the unacceptable human costs of continued inaction, the Holy See appeals once more that it would be most useful if the United Nations could discern clear and effective criteria for applying the Principle of the Responsibility to Protect, and its corresponding integration with Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Thank you, Mr. President.  

1. A/70/999–S/2016.
2. Idem.