On November 14, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, gave a statement before the Fourth Committee of the 74th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on Agenda Item 52, dedicated to a comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations.
(NOTE: On October 1, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Bernardito Auza as Apostolic Nuncio to the Kingdom of Spain and the Principality of Andorra. On November 16, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. )
Archbishop Auza highlighted the important role that peacekeeping plays in maintaining international peace and security. Today’s peacekeeping missions are multifaceted and multifunctional, he said, providing both troops and police officers to work at the community level in a way that positively impacts host States and their populations. Auza acknowledged the role of the Declaration of Shared Commitments in providing a framework for conflict resolution and cited the message of Pope Francis, who earlier this year, emphasized the importance of politics in resolving disputes. As 2019 marks both the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1265 on the protection of civilians in conflict and the seventieth anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions, the pillars of humanitarian law, he praised the important work of peacekeepers, while also highlighting that civilians
Following is the archbishop’s full statement:
Peacekeeping operations are described as “one of the most effective tools available to the United Nations in the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security”. In recent months, even greater attention has been given to peacekeeping operations thanks to efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General to mobilize partners and stakeholders in support of his initiative “Action for Peacekeeping”, along with its Declaration of Shared Commitments, as well as the Peacekeeping Ministerial earlier this year.
Today’s peacekeeping missions are multifaceted and multifunctional; they engage in conflict resolution and dialogue, and they offer support for lasting and inclusive political solutions. The commitment of all those involved, be it through providing troops and police officers and/or in the form of financial contribution, or by supporting them on the community level, is essential for such operations to be successful and to have a lasting impact not only for the host State and its population but also for regional and international peace, stability and development.
The aforementioned Declaration of Shared Commitments affirms the primacy of politics in the resolution of conflict. Earlier this year, Pope Francis in his Message for the Fifty-second World Day of Peace emphasized the importance of politics in resolving disputes. He stated: “Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions […] Good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”
It is most fitting that UN Peacekeepers Day this year has as its theme “Protecting Civilians, Protecting Peace”. Indeed, this year marks the Twentieth Anniversary of the adoption of the landmark United Nations Security Council resolution 1265, mandating protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations. Often deployed where civilian populations are most at risk, UN Peacekeepers, who daily place themselves in harm’s way, are called to protect those most vulnerable in conflict, including those displaced and fleeing their homes or under threat due to their religion, age, sex, ethnicity or disability. However, despite the existence of the mandate for twenty years, civilians continue to account for most causalities and are targeted and victims of indiscriminate attacks and other violations and harms by parties to conflict. As the Secretary-General has noted, “Twenty years on, the protection agenda is as relevant and pressing as ever.”
We should be mindful that this year we commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions, which remain the pillars of international humanitarian law and assistance. Seventy years later, we are still questioning how to protect civilians in armed conflicts, yet our best approach is found in the acknowledgment of our common humanity and the inviolable and equal dignity of each person.
The Holy See welcomes the emphasis of the Declaration of Shared Commitments on the protection of children and women in peacekeeping operations, as well as the evolution of peacekeeping operations to include child protection. In addressing the plight of children in conflict situations, Pope Francis has said, “Our thoughts turn in a particular way to all those children currently living in areas of conflict, and to all those who work to protect their lives and defend their rights. One out of every six children in our world is affected by the violence of war or its effects, even when they are not enrolled as child soldiers or held as hostage by armed groups. The witness given by those who work to defend them and their dignity is most precious for the future of humanity.”
As challenges and threats continue to evolve, the Holy See believes that the protection of civilians and critical civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, should remain a constant and crucial dimension of peacekeeping. UN Peacekeeping Missions are regularly deployed in harsh conditions, as frequently they must deal with poor or inexistent infrastructure of which non-state armed actors take advantage to further their own nefarious causes. The blue helmets have oftentimes the unenviable challenge of unrealistic expectation that they will be able to protect all civilians at all times. Nevertheless, their presence must be a sign of hope and an assurance to our many brothers and sisters burdened by war and extreme poverty. Here again, it is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that the missions are adequately equipped and for the Security Council to match their mandates to the magnitude and the difficulties of the task.
The Holy See firmly believes that the protection of civilians is best achieved by preventing the outbreak of armed conflict. This requires addressing the root causes of conflicts, finding inclusive political solutions to disputes and seeking peaceful settlements. As Pope Francis has reminded us, “Peace is the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings. Let us not forget that war and terrorism are always a serious loss for all of humanity. They are the great human defeat.”
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
2. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the 52nd World Day of Peace, 1 January 2019.
3. Ibid., n. 6.
4. bid., n. 7., and Pope Francis, Sunday Angelus August 12 2019.