Statement by the Permanent Representative, H.E. Mr. Margus Kolga, at the UN Security Council open debate “Protection of civilians in armed conflict”
Estonia welcomes this open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts and thanks the presidency for organizing it. Estonia fully aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.
We thank the Secretary-General for his timely report and for the recommendations contained therein. The Secretary-General rightly underlines the need to focus greater attention on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, and the need to take more decisive action in this regard. We welcome the positive developments, which are based on the results of the Secretary-General’s previous reports. At the same time, as the current report acknowledges, the situation on the ground continues to be characterized by frequent failure of parties to armed conflicts to comply with their obligations under applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law.
In many regions and countries in crisis, as well as in the numerous long-lasting frozen conflicts, civilians, especially the most vulnerable groups, - such as women and children - are still the main victims of armed conflicts, hence resulting in hundreds of thousands of refugees and persons suffering forced displacement. With that in mind, Estonia condemns all forms of violence, including sexual violence, and especially the violations committed against children. With same token we welcome the Council’s ongoing contribution to the protection of these groups and continue to support the enhancement and empowerment of the invaluable work conducted by the UN Secretary-General`s Special Representatives Margot Wallström and Radhika Coomaraswamy.
Estonia acknowledges that the primary responsibility to protect their people lies with States. At the same time, international humanitarian and human rights laws must be obeyed not only by national authorities but by all parties involved. The international community can do more in enforcing that compliance both on national and international level. We consider the increased use of accountability mechanisms one of the most important tools to enhance compliance with international law by all parties to conflict. Estonia commends the Secretary-General for dedicating a substantial part of his report to accountability.
Where national authorities fail to protect their own people and hold perpetrators accountable, the international community must take responsibility in order to save lives, provide justice and redress to victims. The Security Council bears a special responsibility under Chapter VII and should take a more active stance in ensuring an appropriate international response, including referring situations to the International Criminal Court (ICC), when appropriate. Estonia supports the Secretary-General`s recommendation of establishing commissions of inquiry into situations where international law, especially international humanitarian law, is being violated and when appropriate to refer such situations to the ICC. Recently, the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, mandated by the Human Rights Council, stated in its report that there are clear indications that crimes against humanity are taking place in Syria. Estonia joins the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in calling on the Security Council to address this issue in a more systematic and forestalling way and to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.
Estonia further appreciates the Secretary-General’s encouragement of the Security Council to develop a checklist to guide its engagement with the ICC when it considers the possibility of referrals. This “checklist could include reflections on when a situation warrants referral to the ICC, funding arrangements for the situations referred, exemptions in the referrals, and the Council’s role in promoting Member State cooperation with the ICC.”
Referring a situation to the ICC is only the first step in ensuring accountability - the cooperation with the Court that should follow, is equally important. Therefore we call upon the Council to continue to engage with situations after their referral to the Court.
Reparations, including restitution and rehabilitation, for individual victims and affected communities are also an important aspect of accountability. Estonia agrees with the Secretary-General that the Council should consider how to support reparation payments and national reparations programs, given its potential role in authorizing the use of assets frozen under the sanctions regimes.
Estonia would also like to commend the Secretary-General for drawing the attention of the Council and Member States to another important aspect, namely humanitarian access in armed conflicts. More than 1.5 billion people live in fragile or conflict-affected states. It is the primary responsibility of states to care for the victims of humanitarian emergencies within their own borders. Yet, survival of millions of people, including IDPs and refugees forced to leave their homes due to conflicts, in the world today depend on outside humanitarian assistance. International humanitarian law provides for safe, rapid and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel and delivery of supplies. Estonia urges all parties in situations of armed conflict, both state and non state-actors, to comply with the international humanitarian law. Yet, access to affected populations in need as well as the safety of humanitarian workers including locally hired personnel continue to be a major concerns and challenge that seriously affect humanitarian operations. Estonia commends the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s and the International Committee of the Red Cross`s efforts to facilitate and negotiate access to emergency areas with all parties to a conflict, most recently in Syria where up to 1.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.
In conclusion, I would express my sincere hope that today`s debate will contribute to enhanced compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law, including through strengthening accountability on both national and international level and putting an end to impunity.
I thank you, Mr. President.