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David Miliband Remarks at UN Security Council Meeting on Respect for International Humanitarian Law

Arria-formula Meeting on Protecting Humanitarian and Medical Personnel United Nations Security Council

Thank you to Ministers Le Drian and Maas for this vital and long overdue discussion. 

I speak today on behalf of the 13 000 employees and 15 000 volunteers of the International Rescue Committee. They have a simple request: action not words.

Action not words to defend the laws set out in the UN Charter. Action not words to protect them and their clients. Action not words to push back against the Age of Impunity that threatens all that this body stands for.

Today we must speak for the memory of the fallen and ensure they did not die in vain: 

  • Faredullah, an IRC water and sanitation specialist killed last year when the humanitarian coordination meeting he was attending in Jalalabad became a terrorist group’s target. 
  • The six patients and one doctor killed when an IRC-supported hospital in Dara’a, Syria became the target of a government airstrike.
  • The eight people, including five children, killed at a Save the Children-supported hospital in Kitaf in Yemen last week, after an airstrike by the Saudi-led Coalition struck a petrol station less than 50 meters away.

But I also speak for our staff in the field today who need action now:

In Syria, where attacks on health facilities have gone up not down since the passage of resolution 2286 in 2016. It should be a source of shame that static medical facilities are now deemed too risky as attacks against hospitals have become the rule rather than the exception.

In the DRC, where we are working to contain an Ebola outbreak amidst relentless arson attacks against treatment centers.

In Yemen, where Houthi landmines and Coalition airstrikes mean humanitarians risk their lives with every movement. 

And for female staff members everywhere, doubly at risk for being female and for being humanitarians. 

This debate is necessary because there is a new normal: civilians fair game, humanitarians unfortunate collateral, investigations and accountability an optional extra.

The perpetrators are in the field, but the responsibility for addressing their impunity lies with this body.

We have had resolutions. Now we need resolution.

Resolution to establish accountability for violators of the laws of war and international humanitarian law. Will you agree that every violent death of an aid worker should prompt an immediate and independent investigation, with full publication of results?

Resolution to recognise that aid workers are inseparable from the communities they serve. Our safety does not come from walls and machine guns. It comes from the trust of local communities. So will you block attempts to criminalize our ability to engage with armed actors in the name of counter-terror restrictions?

We need resolution by the P5 to justify their power in this body by the power of their example. Will your diplomats, your armed forces, your peacekeepers, your governments live up to the highest standards of this body?

Resolution by the non-permanent members of the Council and other UN member states to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is actually universal and applied to all member states, regardless of their size or power. Will you redouble your commitment to the laws of war and hold the P5 to account when they fail to live up to their obligations both in word and deed?

And resolution from the UN leadership. Will you seek and speak the truth no matter how powerful the state, how sensitive the topic, or how uncomfortable the question?

We have seen what happens when international law is for some, not for all. It is a race to the bottom that consumes and threatens each and every one of us. That is the clear and present danger. The permanent members of this body, and those elected, have the privilege to set global standards. Your forebears did this with vision and commitment. We ask you to defend their legacy with the verve and determination that this Age of Impunity requires. 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.