Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN, United States

UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Protecting Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations

Statement by Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, at the UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Protecting Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations, New York, 10 June 2016


Mr President,

First of all, I would like to compliment France for putting Protection of Civilians on the agenda of the Security Council. This extremely important topic is at the heart of the work of the UN. While the Netherlands aligns itself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, and with the statement by Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends on Protection of Civilians, I would like to make some remarks in my national capacity.

In his report on the theme of Protection of Civilians in armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General presents us with a shocking truth. More than ever before, warring parties are targeting civilians. And too many perpetrators are still getting away with it.

The international community cannot let such crimes go unpunished. It must offer justice to the victims, and it must issue a credible warning to those considering violence against civilians: war crimes will be punished. That’s why the recent conviction of Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, by the special tribunal in Senegal, is such an important step. And why the Netherlands fully supports the legal institutions that help achieve justice – in The Hague and elsewhere.

[ Women and girls in conflict]

The report confirms our worst fears about conflict-related sexual violence. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, especially when they are displaced or seek refuge in another country. They can fall victim to human trafficking, abuse and forced prostitution. This includes women and girls in Europe. I fully support the Secretary-General’s call to redouble our efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and take action to stop it.

[ South Sudan]

This is no easy task. In South-Sudan for instance, UNMISS is fulfilling an almost impossible duty. A small number of troops and police are having to protect around 200,000 displaced persons at designated sites near UNMISS bases. During a visit to Malakal less than two years ago, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the challenges that peacekeepers were up against. I saw that people faced the greatest dangers, including sexual violence, when they had to move around. When searching for water, food and firewood, for example. But UNMISS was already struggling to secure the designated site, mainly due to limited capacity. The mandate to protect civilians was translated into physically securing the designated area, even though the biggest threats to people’s safety were just outside that area.

The tragic Malakal incident of February 2016 proves once more the need for proactive actions by peacekeepers, based on prudent intelligence. We look forward to the outcomes of the Special Investigation by the UN. Those responsible for making fatal mistakes should be held accountable.

[ Improving missions: proposals]

UN missions around the world face similar dilemmas - how to give civilians sufficient freedom of movement while at the same time offering sufficient protection. And even though protection of civilians is part and parcel of mandates, peacekeepers often have to make do with very limited resources. Partly as a result of this, protection of civilians risks becoming merely protection of sites – a necessary but clearly insufficient condition for keeping people safe and secure.

The gap between principle and practice is still too wide. I want to suggest a few ways of closing that gap:

1.   We have to be realistic. Blanket mandates to protect civilians are often neither credible nor achievable. All too often, expectations fail to match a mission’s capabilities. Civilians suffer as a consequence, and the legitimacy of a mission is undermined. A Protection of Civilians strategy and specific plan of action should be put in place after a mandate is adopted, and before the mission is deployed. What’s more, it should be updated regularly. This strategy should include close cooperation with actors on the ground. Because that’s the only way to protect civilians both inside designated areas and beyond. It means working with partners - often non- governmental ones - that provide basic services, like health care, drinking water and education. And it means joining forces with organisations that promote reconciliation and dialogue.

2.   Implementation is key. The Security Council’s informal expert group on the protection of civilians should meet on a more regular basis to discuss specific missions. It should pro-actively advise the Council, and offer proposals to improve protection. The expert group needs to be regularly briefed by Protection of Civilians advisors working on missions.

3.   We also need a stronger link between the actors on the ground and the actors in New York. The Security Council should adopt a new system for more regular and transparent briefings by troop-contributing countries, as well as non-governmental organisations. These briefings should take place well in advance of mandate renewals.

4.   The Kigali Principles deserve our full support. They form a political commitment by troop- and police contributing countries to better train and equip their peacekeepers, avoid caveats on Protection of Civilians mandates, and hold accountable those who do not carry out their mandate as they should. On 11 May the Netherlands held a high-level event chaired by my fellow minister Bert Koenders and the Permanent Representative of Rwanda. It resulted in 20 countries joining the original 9 countries that had endorsed these principles. I call on all other troop- and police contributing countries to sign up to the Kigali Principles. I am pleased by those countries that today have expressed their support to these Principles.
Along with Rwanda and USAFRICOM, the Netherlands is going to organise a training centred on protection of civilians, with special attention to preventing and addressing sexual abuse and exploitation. We support the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy when it comes to such horrendous practices.

[ Close]

Mr President,

As a partner for peace, justice and development, the Kingdom of the Netherlands wants to contribute to further improving peacekeeping missions. That’s a major reason why we’re a candidate for a temporary seat on the Security Council for the 2017-2018 term.

Let’s not forget: in the end, peacekeeping missions are about all those vulnerable men, women and children in conflict situations who depend on us, the United Nations, for protection. Their concern should be this Council’s main concern.

Thank you.