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U.S. Envoy at U.N. on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
February 13, 2014

Remarks by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. Alternate Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, N.Y.
February 12, 2014

Thank you, Madam President, for proposing this debate on the protection of civilians during UN Peacekeeping Operations. I also want to thank High Commissioner Pillay, Undersecretary-General Ladsous, Undersecretary-General Amos and Director-General Daccord for their briefings – in particular for singling out the impact of the horrific conflicts which confront us and the challenge we face to protect civilians and for their tireless efforts on behalf of international peace, security, and human rights.

Madam President, we are all aware that armed conflicts today are rarely fought between opposing military forces lined up against each other on an isolated battlefield. Instead, they tend to involve, on one side or perhaps both, irregular forces that live in close proximity to civilian populations. The result is that, when fighting takes place, civilians are often at grave risk either because they are intentionally targeted, or because they otherwise find themselves in the line of fire. Even when civilians do survive, the conflict may quickly drive them from their homes, exposing them to a new set of risks. The responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict, therefore, is both an important and a highly complicated one – a job we are still learning how to do effectively.

In recent years, this Council has regularly directed UN peace missions to protect civilians under imminent threat. Establishing a mandate, however, is a profoundly simple task compared to fulfilling one. The challenge we face goes beyond establishing goals to actually save and secure the lives of civilians in conflict. This challenge can be broken down into three core elements: prioritization, planning, and prevention.

The first of these elements is straightforward. The protection of civilians must be identified as a key priority in any peacekeeping mission from the very earliest stages. No one is helped, and the credibility of the UN is seriously damaged, when UN troops stand by while civilians are wounded or killed.

A second imperative is planning, a process that should begin as soon as the evidence of a potential crisis comes to the Council’s attention. The best way to protect civilians is to act in time to keep conflicts from breaking out. With effective and early planning, peacekeeping missions can be designed with civilian protection uppermost in mind, with the right equipment and the best mix of military, police, and civilian personnel pre-positioned to respond to potential crises.

Part of planning is to learn from the past while acknowledging that no two situations are exactly alike. In Haiti, civilian protection has centered on efforts to return displaced families to their homes and to train an effective national police. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we are finally seeing the benefits of a mission that has emphasized civilian protection and that is backed by a strong political and diplomatic strategy. It is worth noting in this context that the UN mission in the DRC has developed a comprehensive plan for protecting civilians, which includes mapping specific threats and integrating that information into overall planning. Making such data available to mission commanders can spell the difference between success and failure.

All elements of the UN hierarchy have a role to play in planning for civilian protection. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations can facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices across missions, helping to disseminate lessons learned. But mission-specific planning remains critical and DPKO has a duty to assist each mission in developing a plan that fits the unique circumstances it will face. Meanwhile, the members of this Council have a responsibility, through the questions we ask and the wording of the resolutions we adopt, to make clear the importance we attach to this issue.

This brings me to the third element in our discussion today – prevention. While we can make civilian protection a priority and devote ample resources to planning, we can still find ourselves trying to save lives in ways that were not foreseen. In Cote d’Ivoire in 2010, a political crisis required rapid adjustments to enable a democratic transition and contain civilian violence. Just recently, in South Sudan, UN Mission outposts served as emergency gathering points for more than 80,000 internally-displaced persons. Inside those overcrowded compounds, desperate families received security, food, water, and health care – babies were born, children studied, and the sick and wounded were treated.

Nothing is more predictable in international peacekeeping than the likelihood that unpredictable events will occur. The more flexibility we build into our preparations and deployments, the better off we will be. We have made progress, but we can do more to pre-position equipment and to consider in advance how we might transport peacekeepers to remote locations with relatively little notice and shift resources from one area to another. And we must do the best job we can in integrating information about changing political dynamics into our peacekeeping strategies. We cannot do everything; but we can at least act with wisdom and determination in response to what we have learned.

We should also continue to explore the promise of new technology. The deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles in MONUSCO has been useful in identifying hostile troop movements and locating civilian populations in need, helping better protect civilians and peacekeepers. Early warning networks should be part of any plan for protecting civilians, and the UN should strive to be connected, where appropriate, to all such networks.

Madam President, the protection of civilians is an integral part of the UN peacekeeping mission, and must therefore be given a top priority in the planning we do, the preparations we make, and the operations we implement on the ground. We must keep learning, and continually review our efforts to identify what we should be doing better. In the UN, the DPKO Best Practices Unit is driving this effort. We all have a responsibility to do our part – as UN officials, Security Council members, troop contributing nations, and members of the world community. Our credibility is at stake, but far more important, so are the lives of our neighbors. I thank you.