Statement by Latvia at the Open Debate of the Security Council “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”

26.05.2021. 00:42

Statement by the Republic of Latvia

at the Open Debate of the Security Council

“Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”

25 May 2021

Latvia welcomes the UN Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Latvia aligns itself with the statement of the European Union.

The recent report of the UN Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts outlines the grim reality on the ground, ongoing challenges and fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The urbanization of conflicts, destruction of civilian infrastructure, use of explosive weapons in populated areas and devastating consequences of conflicts such as hunger, famine, environmental deterioration, large scale displacement and exacerbated socio-economic vulnerabilities have been of particular concern. Despite UN Secretary-General’s call, global ceasefire remains elusive and conflicts did not show significant slowing. While some progress is evident, it has been unsatisfactory and ridden with challenges and worrying trends.

Civilians, especially women and children, feel the full force of armed conflicts. Reality shows that often they are deliberately targeted by parties of the armed conflict, by illegal armed groups or terrorist organizations. We are extremely concerned about the direct and indirect attacks against civilians, civilian infrastructure, journalists, humanitarian and medical personnel. Horrendous methods of warfare such as sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, rape, terror, starvation, torture and denial of much needed humanitarian assistance have found foothold in various armed conflicts and often go unpunished.

An area which needs our special focus is prevention of sexual and gender-based violence during conflict. A robust implementation of the Women Peace and Security agenda is crucial and must be implemented. Latvia is convinced that women’s participation in peace and security processes is crucial and can improve outcomes before, during and after conflict.

Gender equality issues and empowerment of women are Latvia’s longstanding priorities in the multilateral fora. As a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and various UN Groups of Friends – Group of Friends to eliminate Violence against Women and Girls and Group of Friends on Women, Peace and Security – we are committed to advance towards a more equal and safer world. This March, during the 65th session of the UN CSW, Latvia together with Canada, Liberia, the Maldives and Norway, held an on-line panel discussion “Role of Women Leaders: How to increase Women’s Participation in the Military and Peacekeeping?”. The discussion was Latvia's initiative, as we have a considerable representation of women in senior political positions and military. We note with concern increased attacks and deaths of healthcare workers. Five years after the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2286, and in light of the current pandemic, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that medical workers and facilities are not subject to attacks. Similarly, we need to strengthen our efforts to protect humanitarian workers from attacks and safeguard humanitarian space.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing threats and affected peacekeepers’ operating environment, demanding operational adjustments to ensure the safety and health of peacekeepers and the people they protect.  Human rights component of the UN peacekeeping and the obligation to promote accountability remain essential elements to prevent and mitigate conflict. Those fundamental segments can be further strengthened by implementation of “the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians” and “UN Action for Peacekeeping” declaration. Latvia will continue to support the UN peacekeeping efforts by contributing experts to the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

It is of utmost importance that we keep fighting against impunity and work tirelessly to reverse aforementioned appalling trends and ensure respect for international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law. Ratification and full implementation of all important IHL instruments, such as the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, and the Rome Statute, is crucial. We reconfirm our strong support to the international justice and accountability mechanisms.

States are those who bear the primary responsibility to protect their populations. According to the UN Secretary-General’s report, 2020 was yet another year of civilian suffering. Combined with global pandemic, civilians continue to be disproportionally affected by armed conflicts and suffer devastating consequences. Thousands of civilians were killed or injured, including Syria, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Libya, Mozambique, Somalia and Ukraine. We need to swift to address those situations, act promptly and demand accountability. 

Furthermore, protection of civilians in armed conflict is an integral part of the UN Security Council agenda. Prevention of conflicts, existing challenges to the protection of civilians in different conflict-affected areas, as well as accountability for violations against civilians are matters, which should be addressed by the Council with a sense of urgency.

In this context, we remain deeply concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea as well as in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions currently not under the control of the Ukrainian government. Thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded in the conflict. We call on the authorities of the Russian Federation, as the occupying power in Crimea, to end all human rights violations and abide by the international law. Maintaining pressure on Russia by the international community is essential until Ukraine’s sovereignty is fully restored and secured in its internationally recognized borders.

The recent escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again threatened the lives of many innocent people on both sides, leading to a high number of deaths and injuries amongst civilians to include many children and women. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians or the use of disproportionate force endangering civilians is not acceptable. This also applies to endangering humanitarian workers, first responders, medics, media representatives and journalists. All parties to the conflict bear responsibility for protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law.

Escalation of hostilities and allegations of mass killings, sexual and gender-based violence, abductions, forced displacements in Tigray region in Ethiopia remain highly alarming.

We welcome the decision adopted by the 25th Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) suspending the voting rights and privileges of the Syrian Arab Republic. We consider it an appropriate response by the Conference to the violation of the core principles of the Convention, more than seven years after the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 2118 (2013). We strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as substantiated through investigations carried out by the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT), Fact-Finding Missions (FFM) and the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The use of chemical weapons by anyone is a brutal violation of international law and those responsible for these terrible crimes must be held accountable.

Libya remains a matter of great concern. The large numbers of foreign fighters still present throughout the country, the high mobility of mercenaries in the area in combination with porous borders result in continuous compromised security of civilians and regional destabilization. These factors need to be addressed to ensure that the cycle of violence is not perpetuated in Libya, as well as its neighboring states. We strongly condemn any attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. We call on all actors to fully implement the UN sanctioned arms embargo and their commitments in line with the Berlin Process. We urge all political actors to strive towards agreeing on a road map for ending foreign military presence on Libyan soil, as well as prepare the country for elections at the end of 2021.

In addition to other unprecedented challenges, States face growing liabilities in the digital sphere. Digital technologies can and should provide us with means for everyday communication and sources of reliable information. Regardless, the Report recognizes countless hidden vulnerabilities cyber space represents and risks for media to become a tool for manipulation, recruitment and spread of violence. It is with deep concern to read on troubling rise in cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, including health-care facilities. Those attacks not only disrupt critical civilian infrastructure, but can have devastating immediate and longer terms effects for civilians and thus should not be disregarded by the international society.

It is also essential to counter intolerance, hate speech and the dangerous spread of misinformation. It is the responsibility of States to provide orderly cyberspace based on international law and building digital literacy and resilience to protect its population. Media and Information literacy is one of the tools to respond to the increased spread of misinformation and disinformation, also in the context of the COVID-19. Latvia has contributed to strengthening the role of the UN in dealing with this growing challenge. To this end, we recall the GA resolution on Global Media and Information Literacy week, adopted unanimously by the GA and supported by almost 100 UN Member States.

We cannot become detached from human suffering and calls for help. The international community must step up its commitment to provide stronger protection to civilians and implement the comprehensive recommendations of the Secretary – General’s report. The vaccine against COVID-19 should be universally considered as a global public good and we should strongly advocate for equity and access to vaccines for all.

It is our obligation and common interest to promote and ensure effective protection of civilians and it requires effective collective efforts. International community, including the Security Council, has to remain firm and persistent in this endeavor.