Statement by H. E. Rabab Fatima, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations at the “Open High-Level VTC of the UN Security Council on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”, 27 May 2020, New York

 Mr. President,

We thank you for organizing this Open VTC and for the opportunity to share our perspectives. We also thank the Secretary General and other distinguished briefers for highlighting some key issues on POC from conflict situations around the world.

We welcome the report of the Secretary General that came out earlier this month. We cannot agree more with the report’s renewed emphasis on respect for the international law and ensuring accountability. The report, inter alia, highlighted continued casualties of civilians, displacement of people, and destruction of civilian objects in various parts of Myanmar including in Rakhine State to which we would particularly like to draw the Council’s attention.

In Bangladesh, we value the notion of protecting civilians in armed conflict as a matter of principle. We have the haunting memory of genocide committed against our people during our War of Liberation in 1971. We are, therefore, inspired by the promise of “never again” anywhere in the world. As a demonstration of this unwavering commitment, we became part of UN peacekeeping operations in most difficult places of the world. We are aware of the growing and complex POC challenges in the operating environments. Yet our peacekeepers are committed to discharge the POC tasks mandated by the Council without any caveat. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, for example, our peacekeepers have taken up additional humanitarian responsibilities to support local efforts to contain the pandemic’s spread. They are facilitating humanitarian assistance, medical care, and raising awareness about health and hygiene. Where hopes and aspirations are on the brink, these courageous peacekeepers are leading by examples and continuing to win hearts and minds of the people they serve. In the line of duty, they are also getting infected by the disease. It needs to be ensured that they receive the best possible medical care. We must factor in pandemic challenges in future planning and mandate setting of peacekeeping missions.  Additional capacities and adequate equipment will need to be built into mandates to ensure the safety requirement of peacekeepers in pandemics and health emergencies.

We reiterate that POC mandates in peacekeeping contexts, need to be backed by certain enabling factors such as viable strategies and adequate resources. Over the years, the norms, strategies, and guidelines for protecting civilians in peacekeeping operations have matured significantly. The latest 2019 DPO Policy is an important addition to this normative framework. Yet, there still remain certain gaps between policies and practices. Our troops have been tackling these challenges with professionalism and necessary degree of creativity. The Security Council has a responsibility to ensure that the POC mandates are also supported by meaningful political processes to prevent conflicts and sustain peace. We, therefore, urge upon the Council to regularly review the mandates in close consultation with the host Governments, troop and police contributing countries and the UN Secretariat. On our part, we remain committed to further mainstreaming POC into the pre-deployment training programmes designed for our troops and police. And, we are also championing the A4P POC agenda along with other partners.

Mr. President,

Today’s debate is taking place in the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has aggravated manifold the situation in conflict-affected countries and exacerbated further the vulnerability of the marginalized population. Keeping this in mind, we joined many other partners to strongly support the SG’s call for a Global Ceasefire. In many parts of the world, it has strengthened the ongoing peace processes and prevented relapses of violence. Yet, in many other places, this Call is being totally ignored.

Regrettably, in Myanmar the situation has worsened amid the Pandemic. On 29 April 2020, the outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Ms Yanghee Lee expressed serious concern over escalating violence in Rakhine state and in Chin state. She said, “while the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine State, targeting the civilian population.”Myanmar authority’s actions are in total disregard to international humanitarian law and human rights law to say the least. Even, ICJ’s provisional measures of 23 January 2020 seem to have no positive impact on Myanmar’s attitude and action. Unfortunately, the sufferings of those persecuted remain unheeded by international community. For 1.1 million stranded Rohingyas in Bangladesh, these chilling developments further intensify their despair and hopelessness. Needless to mention, these incidents also severely undermine our efforts for their safe, dignified, and voluntary return to their own land and finding a durable solution to this crisis.

Mr. President,

The lingering Rohingya crisis has once again revealed the various facets of challenges in ensuring protection of civilians when the state concerned is unwilling to do so. Also, being part of most of the highly challenging UN peacekeeping missions, we have gained a wealth of experience of implementing the POC mandate firsthand on the ground. Guided by these lessons learned, we wish to take this opportunity to stress the following points:

First, states should take primary responsibility to protect civilians within their territories. Developing national policy frameworks as rightly underlined by the Secretary-General is critical in this regard. It is a long-term endeavour and an integral part of nation building efforts. Prevention is at the heart of protection. States should, therefore, take steps to inculcate the values of peace, tolerance and harmony that contribute to long-term prevention and ensure peaceful co-existence of different religious and ethnic groups.

Second, the vulnerable situation of civilians in post-conflict societies needs special attention. For peace to sustain, people affected by conflict must be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the mainstream society more effectively. At the same time, States need to invest more in building a culture of peace by addressing root causes of conflicts, defeating hate speeches, and ensuring equal opportunities for growth and prosperity for all. In doing so, it is also important to integrate the opinion of the ethnic minorities and marginalized group in the decision-making process.

Third, for effective POC in vulnerable settings, continued political support of the UN Security Council, , and commitment of the host Governments and the parties to the conflict are critical. In this regard, my delegation would like to re-emphasize the importance of the principles of the responsibility to protect in preventing harms to civilians in armed conflict.

Fourth, POC mandates in peacekeeping settings need to be fully supported by viable strategies, capacities, adequate resources, and coordinated efforts by all actors on the ground. The new developments and trends make this more imperative. The UN country team and peacekeeping missions should further develop the capabilities for early warning signs, situational awareness, evidence-based reporting of facts, and work more closely with host Governments and other stakeholders to deter possible escalation of violence.

Fifth, unhindered and safe passage of relevant humanitarian personnel and supplies to civilians in need must be ensured by all parties to armed conflicts. Medical facilities, educational institutions especially schools, and places of worship should be left out of harm’s way during violence and conflicts.

Sixth, states should establish appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements to fulfill their disarmament commitments including those about conventional weapons like landmines and other explosive devices. Such lethal weapons with indiscriminate killing capacities and large area effects must not be used against civilians. Those who commit such violations must be held accountable.

Seventh, the global norms for ending violence against women and children in armed conflicts need to be translated into action. Bangladesh has been historically associated with the adoption of the Security Council resolution 1325 as a non-permanent member of the SC. We are now one of the frontrunners in terms of our contribution of female peacekeepers. We believe that uniformed female personnel can play a pivotal role in protecting women from violence and support them in crisis. We are, therefore, championing A4P WPS agenda. In the same vein, we also see merit in redoubling our efforts to promote YPS agenda for advancing POC mandates in vulnerable settings.

Lastly, ensuring accountability and justice for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law is crucial for enhancing their compliance, and for denying a culture of impunity for the commission of atrocity crimes against civilians. The Security Council should make appropriate use of the tools at its disposal to this effect, including through duly considered options for imposing sanctions and referrals to international criminal justice mechanisms

I thank you.