Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 27 May 2020

Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 27 May 2020


Mr President,


It has been an honour to have H.E. Ms Kaljulaid, the President of the Republic of Estonia, address the Council today.


I wish to thank the Secretary-General, Mr Guterres, for his annual report on the protection of civilians, which underpins our discussions today. I wish to further thank Mr Peter Maurer and Ms Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former President of Liberia for the opportunity for us to benefit from their knowledge and experience in the field of protection of civilians.


Mr President,


Our discussions on the protection of civilians is taking place at a time when we are faced with, arguably the biggest global challenge since the end of the Second World War. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, irrespective of our levels of development and whether we are experiencing conflict or not. However, countries in conflict would require additional support to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the population, in particular, internally displaced persons and refugees who will be in dire need of humanitarian assistance.


Armed conflicts continue to have a devastating impact on civilians with millions being forced from their homes, thousands killed or injured. Children are growing up knowing nothing else but war, while women and girls continue to be subjected to sexual and gender-based violence and other forms of violations. Access to humanitarian assistance is being compromised with the destruction of hospitals, attacks on medical transports and essential services as well as the military use of medical facilities and schools have become common place in countries experiencing conflict. It is important that the protection of civilian facilities maintain their civilian character and are not misused by parties to a conflict.


The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic is further compounding the efforts aimed at protecting civilians. In this regard, South Africa wishes to reiterate its full support for the call by the Secretary-General for a global ceasefire in order to focus on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Security Council is mandated to maintain international peace and security. If innocent children, women and men continue to suffer on our watch and the Council fails to take meaningful action, we would be failing in the responsibility entrusted to us.


It is regrettable that the plight of civilians in protracted conflict situations such as in Palestine and Western Sahara seems to not receive adequate attention and that accountability for violations against civilians in these territories are lacking.


Mr President,


The protection of civilians during armed conflict is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. South Africa underlines that the primary responsibility of States is to protect civilians within their borders. In this regard, we reiterate our call on all parties to armed conflict, State and non-State actors, to comply with the obligations applicable to them under international humanitarian law and to take the required steps to protect civilians.


In order to deter the threats to civilians and foster greater compliance with international humanitarian law, we believe that the necessary accountability mechanisms at national level are essential. Broader regional and international mechanisms should continue to support these based on the principles of complementarity and subsidiarity.


United Nations peacekeeping is one of the most recognised mechanism for the protection of civilians. Peacekeeping operations, whatever their mandate, are essential to ensure the protection of civilians. However, it is also important to recognise the changing environment in which peacekeepers currently operate, and the emerging threats to international peace and security in order to execute the Protection of Civilians mandate.


Needless to say, we should ensure that the Protection of Civilians mandate is adequately funded. If the Council is going to issue mandates to protect civilians, we have to provide the necessary resources to those executing the mandate.


Finally, Mr President,


Greater coordination and cooperation between the UN and regional organisations, such as the African Union, which continues to develop its framework on the protection of civilians for its own peace support operations, is necessary to create an enabling environment for the protection of civilians. The comparative advantage of regional organisations can enable closer collaboration and coordination with local communities, including creating the necessary environment for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons on a voluntary basis and in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement.


I thank you.




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