General

Speakers in Security Council Highlight Vital Role of United Nations Peacekeeping Missions in Protecting Civilians during Armed Conflict

All facets of United Nations peacekeeping missions had a vital role to play in keeping civilians safe, speakers in the Security Council said today, as high-ranking officials, including a Head of State and several ministers, participated in a wide-ranging open debate on the protection of civilians in the context of peacekeeping operations.

Presenting his report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2016/447) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Secretariat was doing its utmost to support missions through a renewed focus on performance and accountability.  Peacekeeping operations were most effective in protecting civilians when protection was considered a mission-wide activity, driven by a sound political strategy, he added.

He said protecting civilians was an over-arching responsibility involving all critical functions of the United Nations:  human rights, humanitarian, political and peacekeeping, although Governments and parties to conflict also had a responsibility to uphold their protection responsibilities, ensure compliance with international law, and take precautions to prevent harm to civilians.

President Faustin Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic noted that the international peacekeeping operation deployed in his country had worked to ensure the protection of civilians there for a considerable period.  Thanks to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and other international operations, the Transition Government had managed to quickly put an end to mass atrocities, he said.

Due to those efforts, the country’s security environment had become more conducive to local dialogue and the Bangui Forum, as well as legislative and presidential elections, he said.  The impact could be measured by the return of displaced populations and refugees, which had accelerated in recent months.  They wished to return to their country, to greater justice, to reconciliation among communities, to freedom of movement and to peace, he said, emphasizing:  “Together, we must do more and do better to ensure the protection of populations throughout our territories.”

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said his organization wished to expand cooperation with peacekeeping missions, troop- and police-contributing countries and the Secretariat.  The ICRC was prepared to increase its training programmes on international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians for peacekeepers before and during deployment, and to strengthen protection dialogue with all arms bearers.  Furthermore, it was ready to engage on the front lines and with arms bearers in seeking arrangements for protecting civilians and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.

The representative of the United States noted that all too often the failure of peacekeepers to protect civilians was not reported to the Security Council, as required.  “This must change, and we collectively have to be the ones to make that change,” she emphasized, adding that without reporting, impunity persisted and bad practices became all too common, often at the peril of civilian well-being.  She went on to stress that troop and police contributors with qualms about the mandate or doubts about their capacities should no longer deploy to missions simply because nobody else would, underlining that “blue helmets” unwilling or unable to do what was expected of them should not be left on the ground.

On the other hand, the Russian Federation’s representative called for a shift away from selective and unilateral approaches.  While some countries considered the principle of non-use of force an obstacle, the Russian Federation saw it as a necessary component of peacekeeping, he said, adding that it was dangerous to link civilian protection with the possibility of launching offensive forces.

Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence noted that peacekeepers from his country were currently deployed in 15 of the 16 United Nations missions.  They had all undergone a thorough vetting and selection process to ensure impeccable professionalism.  The Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force of Nepal had integrated United Nations policies on civilian protection, sexual exploitation and abuse, and protection of human rights into pre-deployment training.  It had also begun placing investigation officers in missions around the world to look into disciplinary issues, gender-based violence and sexual abuse.

Kazakhstan’s representative said civilian protection was not only about physical security, but was also linked to the dignity of women and children, and the behaviour of blue helmets must, therefore, be beyond reproach.  Any accusation of inappropriate conduct must be investigated thoroughly, he emphasized.

Uruguay’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs said the ability of peacekeepers to carry out the protection mandate required the trust of the local people.  There was need for early-warning networks, such as the one established by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) by distributing cell phones to the population.

South Africa’s representative cited the deployment of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade as a credible example of a successful use of force against those who obstructed peace and threatened civilians.  United Nations actions must go beyond traditional peacekeeping, beginning with steps to prevent conflict rather than responding after the fact.  In that regard, the Council’s failure to address long-standing challenges in Palestine and Western Sahara continued to undermine its credibility, he noted.

The Permanent Observer for the African Union said it was possible to interfere in the internal affairs of another Member State in the event of an imminent threat to peace, security and stability.  Citing the concept of “non-indifference” he said:  “We do not need lengthy speeches to underline the importance of civilian protection”, emphasizing that it was the responsibility of all.

Rwanda’s representative quoted one of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, stating that peacekeeping troops must be “prepared to use force to protect civilians as necessary and consistent with the mandate”.

Other speakers highlighted the importance of engaging with local stakeholders, including civil society, as a means to build trust and gain a deeper understanding of challenges on the ground.  Some delegations underlined the important role of regional and subregional organizations — including the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), among others — in protecting civilians.

The representative of the European Union delegation, meanwhile, called for peacekeeping mandates that were clear, coherent, concise, achievable and reinforced with a strong human rights component.  Training was the cornerstone of improved implementation of civilian-protection mandates, he said, noting that the European Union had provided training on protecting civilians, preventing atrocity crimes, gender issues, protecting children, human rights and international humanitarian law as an integral part of the training curricula for its missions in Somalia, Mali and Niger.

In that regard, Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development and Council President for June, said his country was committed to training 20,000 African soldiers annually and would organize a ministerial conference in Paris later in 2016 on the training of peacekeepers to serve in French-speaking countries.  He emphasized that the veto should not be wielded in cases of crimes against humanity, a position supported by the representatives of Canada and Poland.

Also speaking today were officials representing Senegal, Ukraine, Spain, Japan, China, New Zealand, Angola, Venezuela, Egypt, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Chad, Niger, Cyprus, Burkina Faso, Benin, Netherlands, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Germany, Thailand, Montenegro, India, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Switzerland (for the Group of Friends), Pakistan, Luxembourg, Australia, Belgium, Italy, Georgia, Romania, Croatia, Austria, Estonia, Iran (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Djibouti, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Paraguay, Indonesia, Ireland, Maldives, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Portugal, Côte d’Ivoire, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Botswana and Turkey, as well as the Permanent Observer for the Holy See.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 6:55 p.m.

Briefings

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (document S/2016/447) underlined the urgent need for concrete measures and made recommendations to that end.  Protecting civilians was an over-arching responsibility involving all the critical functions of the United Nations:  human rights; humanitarian; political; and peacekeeping.  Noting that peacekeeping operations were most effective in protecting civilians when protection was considered a mission-wide activity, driven by a sound political strategy, he said that the Secretariat was doing its utmost to support missions through a renewed focus on performance and accountability.

“We will continue our efforts to prevent and address abuses committed by peacekeepers,” he emphasized.  Through its work with troop and police contributors, the Secretariat was generating peacekeeping forces and police in a way that matched capabilities with requirements, he continued.  There was need for troops who spoke the right languages, brought the right technology and equipment, and had the right skills and training.  Protecting civilians was a responsibility of the entire United Nations system, although primary responsibility lay with parties to conflict, non-belligerent States and the Security Council.  Greater engagement with civil society, non-governmental organizations and regional partners would be essential.

Governments and parties to conflict also had a responsibility to uphold their protection responsibilities, ensure compliance with international law, and take precautions to prevent harm to civilians, he said, urging the Council to give precedence to political strategy and whole-of-mission approaches when considering civilian-protection mandates, which could be even more critical than military assets or troop numbers.  Nevertheless, no amount of strategy, resources or accountability would mitigate the grave and tragic consequences of war for ordinary women, children and men, he stressed.  The ultimate challenge in protecting civilians during conflict was finding sustainable political solutions based on the rule of law and human rights standards.

FAUSTIN ARCHANGE TOUADERA, President of the Central African Republic, noted that the international peacekeeping operation deployed in his country had worked to ensure the protection of civilians there for quite some time.  Thanks to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and other international operations, the Transition Government had managed to quickly put an end to mass atrocities.  The security environment had been conducive to local dialogue and the Bangui Forum, as well as legislative and presidential elections.  The impact of those actions could be measured by the return of displaced populations and refugees, which had accelerated in recent months, he said.  Despite those successes, however, the task was huge and MINUSCA’s capacity, together with that of the Central African Republic’s security forces, was not sufficient to end the violence affecting citizens.

The presence of armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), presented a daily challenge to their security, while stoking intercommunal tensions and migration movements.  Women and children too often suffered gender-based violence or recruitment by armed groups.  Central African Republic refugees wished to return to their country, to greater justice, to reconciliation among communities, to freedom of movement and to peace, he said.  “Together, we must do more and do better to ensure the protection of populations throughout our territories,” he emphasized.  The country needed the unfailing support of the international community, particularly MINUSCA, to ensure the lasting protection of the people, and the global community must provide greater support to equip and train security personnel and enable them to assume their primary responsibility of protection.  The country must rebuild its army and police forces, as well as its judiciary and penitentiary systems, he said, adding that there was also need to bolster the coordination of security operations.

Joint operations must be carried out in support of political processes that would accord top priority on political solutions, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and security-sector reform, he said.  Those efforts must in turn be supported with a view to combating impunity, restoring the legitimacy of the State and protecting human rights, among other objectives.  The build-up of greater administrative capacities across the entire national territory was essential to ensuring basic social services for the people and reducing the marginalization of people and communities who had fuelled the cycle of crises in the country.  Within the framework of restoring State authority and protecting civilians, it would be critical to strengthen the functional capacities of the police and gendarmerie.  The Central African Republic had opened a new path in the area of fighting impunity, but it was essential that the international community provide experts, including international magistrates, with meaningful experience in prosecuting the most severe crimes, he said, pointing out that the Government had established a National Commission of Human Rights that would allow the country to take an important step forward.

PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaking via videoconference, emphasized that the ICRC must be perceived and understood as a strictly neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian organization, warning that any kind of confusion or blurring between the political mandates of peacekeeping missions and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s principles could potentially jeopardize the latter’s access to people in need and risk the lives of aid workers.  “We will continue to protect our distinctiveness, to ensure we can deliver to the best of our abilities for people suffering in wars, and we ask peacekeepers and this Council to do the same,” he said.

He went on to declare:  “We will continue to rely on our own security protocols — which are not based on weapons but on engagement with and consensus from all arms bearers — and transparency about our strictly needs-based action.”  The ICRC wished to expand cooperation with peacekeeping missions, troop- and police- contributing countries and the Secretariat.  It was prepared to increase its training programmes on international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians for peacekeepers ahead of and during deployment and to strengthen protection dialogue with all arms bearers, he said.

The ICRC was also ready to engage on the front lines and with arms bearers in seeking arrangements for protecting civilians and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law.  Drawing on its experience with detention, it could help prepare for times when peacekeepers would have to arrest and detain people, and for that, the necessary protocols and procedures were essential before operations began.  He called for the scaling up of peacekeeping presences where necessary, in order to effectively deter violence; the provision of adequate training, equipping and other resources; developing model operating procedures for mixed peacekeeping missions; ensuring the highest standards of behaviour; and demonstrating respect for international humanitarian law at all times.

Statements

JEAN-MARC AYRAULT, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development of France, and Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying it was essential to set clear civilian-protection mandates and respect them fully.  More must be done, particularly for missions operating in very dangerous environments.  He called for an integrated policy characterized by the deployment of judicial experts, cooperation with non-governmental organizations in developing early-warning networks, and measures to ensure that those arrested would be brought to justice.  The political will of concerned countries to exert pressure on belligerents and advance sustainable political solutions was essential, he said, emphasizing that the veto should not be wielded in cases of crimes against humanity.  France would continue to push for stronger Council action to end the Syrian regime’s war against its own people.  It would also convene a ministerial conference on protection of children in armed conflict, in Paris next February.  With 900 soldiers deployed, France was the second largest troop contributor among permanent Council members, he noted.  It would train 20,000 African soldiers annually, and organize a ministerial conference in Paris later in 2016 on training peacekeepers to serve in French-speaking countries.  France would also apply the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse to its own forces.

MANKEUR NDIAYE, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad of Senegal, emphasized his Government’s commitment to peacekeeping and the protection of civilians.  Since signing the Kigali Principles, Senegal had taken many civilian-protection measures, including continuous training in the legal aspects of conflict and international humanitarian law.  Calling for greater synergy between military, police and civilian peacekeeping personnel, and for better use of modern equipment and technology, he said that Senegal, with 3,769 personnel, was the seventh largest troop contributor, the third largest in Africa and the first global contributor of police forces to peacekeeping operations.  He said the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) must be expanded, calling for enhanced cooperation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and more support for Africa’s peace and security architecture.  Sexual abuse during conflict must not be tolerated, he said, stressing the importance of implementing Council resolutions 1325 (2000), 2272 (2016) and 2282 (2016) in that regard.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) noted the timeliness of the debate amid recent news that had cast light on the risks that peacekeepers continued to take, as well as the horrific consequences when peacekeepers violated the trust placed in them.  Too often the failure of peacekeepers to protect civilians was not reported to the Security Council, as required.  “This must change, and we collectively have to be the ones to make that change,” she emphasized.  Without reporting, impunity persisted and bad practices became all too common, often at the peril of civilians’ well-being.  Emphasizing that the Council must take steps to improve the way in which it planned and adapted missions to conditions on the ground so as to ensure greater protection of civilians, she said it must also improve at matching the will and capacity of troop-contributing countries with mandates.  Troop and police contributors with qualms about the mandate or doubts about their capacities should no longer deploy to missions simply because nobody else would, she stressed.  “Blue helmets” unwilling or unable to do what was expected of them should not be left on the ground, and the United Nations should attach greater weight to a contributing country’s commitment to the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians when deploying missions.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, said that preventative diplomacy represented an underutilized tool that the Council should deploy more actively to ensure peace.  As a non-permanent member, Ukraine knew first hand that sometimes the Security Council could not react promptly in the event of threats to civilians due to lack of a host-country consent, which stood in the way of the rapid deployment of a peacekeeping mission.  Still, it was difficult to explain the Council’s inaction in response to a direct request for a United Nations mission, the presence of which would provide additional protection to civilians and contribute to stopping violence.  As a contributor to United Nations peace operations, Ukraine recognized the Kigali Principles and believed strongly that peacekeeping operations must be provided with robust mandates for civilian protection.  The United Nations should build and enhance its strategic partnerships with regional organizations, including greater cooperation with the African Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), he said.

JOSE LUIS CANCELA, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, said that civilian protection must be a cornerstone of peacekeeping mandates and resources, emphasizing that the ability of peacekeepers to carry out the protection mandate required the trust of the local people.  There was need for early-warning networks, a good example of which was the one established by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) through the distribution of cell phones to the population.  Uruguay was committed to protecting civilians and to the Kigali Principles, he said, adding that it supported pre-deployment training and the creation of sequential mandates.  He stressed the need to list victims of massive attacks to ensure accountability and prevent future atrocities.

IGNACIO YBAÑEZ, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, said he was worried about the increasing targeting of doctors and hospitals during armed conflict, adding that ending that trend would require coordinated efforts.  Mediation and conflict prevention were among Spain’s top foreign policy priorities, and it was particularly committed to implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, he said, adding that it had led an informal group of experts in the Council on the matter.  He stressed the importance of deploying female protection advisers in all peacekeeping operations, and expressed support for France’s proposal to extend civilian-protection mandates to cover the fight against trafficking in persons.  Calling for better planning of civilian-protection mandates, he said there was also need to ensure that peacekeepers had the means to fulfil their mission and clear rules of engagement.  It was also critical to end sexual exploitation and abuse, among other ills.

MASAKAZU HAMACHI, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, said that although the protection of civilians was now one of the most important mandates given to United Nations peacekeeping operations, there was a persistent lag in their implementation.  The entire mission, including military, police and civilian components, should be involved in protecting civilians so that the use of force, when necessary, was complemented by preventative efforts, improved access to humanitarian aid and the creation of safe environments for displaced persons.  Japan’s engineering unit in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) contributed to such goals, he said.  Recognizing the importance of capacity-building for the protection of civilians, Japan supported a range of training activities, he said, while affirming the need to foster ownership of protection efforts by the host country and local communities.  He pledged that his country would continue to contribute in all such areas, within the Security Council and on the ground.

LIU JIEYI (China) recalled that the United Nations peacekeeping Mission in Mali had faced a terrorist attack on 31 May, during which a young Chinese peacekeeper had died.  “He devoted his precious life to the cause of peace,” he said, emphasizing that the commitment of the Government of China to peacekeeping and its support for peacekeeping missions would remain unflinching.  When peacekeeping operations were implementing their mandates, they must ensure respect for the ownership of host-country parameters and limits, while maintaining objectively and neutrality, he stressed.  Peacekeeping missions could not replace the responsibility of host-country Governments or parties to conflict for protecting civilians and they should avoid becoming a party to the conflict.  When formulating civilian-protection mandates, the Council must take conditions on the ground into account and ensure that related mandates were specific, clear and viable.  The international community should strengthen the capacity of troop-contributing countries to ensure that peacekeeping missions had the equipment and resources required to fulfil their mandates.  Advancing the political settlement of “hotspot” issues was the fundamental way to ensure the protection of civilians, he said, adding that it also required emphasis on the role of regional organizations.  He underlined the essential importance of addressing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand) noted that, 22 years after “a historic failure” to protect civilians in Rwanda, United Nations peacekeepers now played a decisive role in preventing and deterring violence against non-combatants.  Paying tribute to those who performed that dangerous work, he said that, in order to improve the Organization’s performance further, mandates must be clear and part of a coherent political strategy.  They must not expose peacekeepers to unacceptable risk or set protection expectations that could not be fulfilled.  More sequencing and prioritization of mandates was needed for that purpose, but little progress had been made in that area despite the recommendations of recent reports.  In addition, all stakeholders must be clear on how mandates should be carried out, and decision-makers at all levels must receive timely and reliable information on emerging threats and ongoing protection needs.  They must also exercise the necessary political will to meet the challenges, he said, pledging that New Zealand would work to achieve practical progress in all those areas during its remaining time on the Council.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola), affirming the different responsibilities of Governments and the international community in protecting civilians, noted that non-combatants unfortunately continued to suffer in conflict situations, and accountability for those targeting them must, therefore, be a priority.  The capability of peacekeeping operations to fulfil their mandates was critical.  In that context, Angola called for cooperation with humanitarian actors and liaison with local communities in protection efforts.  Civilian-protection training for mission personnel was also necessary, as were efforts to prevent conflict through the peaceful settlement of disputes, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

RAFAEL RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), associating himself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the increased targeting of civilians, as well as the indiscriminate violence against and recruitment of children often added up to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Perpetrators must be prosecuted, he emphasized.  Preventing crisis was also crucial, as was a more active role for peacekeepers in protection and conflict resolution, in cooperation with communities and other actors on the ground.  He condemned siege actions that prevented the delivery of humanitarian goods, and called for particular attention to the situation in the Palestinian territories, reiterating calls for international protection for the people there.

AMR ADBELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the most appropriate way for peacekeepers to protect civilians remained unclear, adding that there was no set standard on the use of force.  Noting that the Force Intervention Brigade of MONUSCO had not succeeded in protecting civilians in the east of that country, he said that style of protection was extremely costly and limited in scope.  Primary responsibility for civilian protection rested with States and Governments, and the focus should be on having them fulfil their obligations, he emphasized.  There was need to standardize civilian-protection concepts, including rules of engagement, involve troop-contributing countries in setting mandates, include the protection of civilians in pre-deployment training and to set up early-warning systems.  He said there was also need for the Secretariat to report regularly on the degree to which United Nations peacekeeping missions had carried out their mandates.  Finding political solutions to conflicts was the only guarantee of sustainable civilian protection, he stressed, calling for greater attention to new challenges threatening civilians, namely international terrorism.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said it was necessary to move away from selective and unilateral approaches and to comply strictly with international human rights standards.  The actions of peacekeepers should be holistic and carried out in cooperation with the host country.  While some countries considered the principle of non-use of force an obstacle, the Russian Federation saw it as a necessary component of peacekeeping, he said, adding that the protection of civilians should be as important as the protection of peacekeepers.  It was dangerous to link civilian protection with the possibility of launching offensive forces, he emphasized.  While troop-contributing countries had full responsibility for punishing peacekeepers who abused civilians, releasing and granting them impunity was unacceptable, he stressed.  Reacting to the statement by the representative of Ukraine, he called upon that country to stop its daily shelling in Donbas and to establish dialogue there and in Luhansk, in accordance with the Minsk Agreements.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), associating himself with statements to be delivered on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, noted the staggering consequences of attacks against civilians in current conflicts, emphasizing that impunity for such savagery must end.  “We must do more to stop this carnage,” he said, adding that norms and standards must be translated into life-saving action.  The recent reviews of United Nations peace operations and the peacebuilding architecture showed the way.  The Council should remain open to reviewing mandates if a situation so warranted and they must be realistic and achievable.  Cooperation with host States was important, and effective partnership equally so, he said, reaffirming the need for greater commitment and resolve in helping those begging for help to save their lives.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) noted that all too often United Nations peacekeeping was not meeting the high standards set for it.  Peacekeepers must be prepared for what seemed like an impossible task.  New technology could help, but peacekeepers must be trained to use such tools, and only those troops who could definitively protect civilians effectively should be deployed.  Situations such as in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen demonstrated the need for better compliance with international humanitarian law.  Primary responsibility for protecting civilians lay with parties to conflict, but accountability was necessary to prevent breaches of international law.  When States could not provide justice, international mechanisms should be brought in, he said.

ISABELLA LÖVIN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development, Cooperation and Climate of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway), said peacekeepers and peacekeeping operations must be properly resourced.  The Nordic countries had committed significant resources to building capacity across the board and in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from bolstering the coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to supporting the East African Standby Force.  In the last 11 years, they had supported pre-deployment training standards for more than 400 United Nations corrections officers around the world.  The Nordic Women Mediators’ Network helped to ensure meaningful participation by women and girls as powerful agents for civilian protection, she said.  Experiences in MINUSMA had shown that efficient civilian protection required close cooperation among military, police and civilian components.  The Nordic countries also provided long-term financing for peace and development, including through significant non-earmarked contributions, she said, pointing out that they were also key financial and political supporters of the humanitarian agenda and intended to maintain a high level of support.

BHIM BHADUR RAWAL, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence of Nepal, said that his Government had sent troops and civilian personnel to the most difficult missions, in terms of security, on very short notice but utmost flexibility.  Nepal had a thorough vetting and selection process to ensure impeccable professionalism.  Consistent with its zero-tolerance policy, the Nepal Army, Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force of Nepal had integrated United Nations policies on civilian protection, sexual exploitation and abuse, and protection of human rights into pre-deployment training.  It had begun placing investigation officers in missions around the world to investigate disciplinary issues, gender-based violence and sexual abuse.  He called for more resources for missions with civilian-protection mandates, particularly in order to accommodate large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, adding that camp design must consider possible surging numbers.  He called for timely reimbursement to troop- and police-contributing countries and for a review of reimbursement rates to ensure effective performance.  Nepalese peacekeepers were currently deployed in 15 of the 16 United Nations missions.

MOUSSA FAKI MAHAMAT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chad, noted that despite the strengthening of the normative framework for the protection of civilians, the situation on the ground had lagged far behind.  United Nations peacekeeping faced particular challenges in that regard, and for that reason, there was need for peacekeepers to make a proactive commitment to protection that would include the possibility of using force.  Appropriate mandates and rules of engagement were needed and must be utilized, he emphasized, noting that Chad was participating in a multinational effort to counter Boko Haram.  Protection of civilians must be a priority for all missions, and each United Nations operation must be reassessed for that purpose.  Cooperation with all actors on the ground, including regional and subregional organizations, was essential, as was impartiality and all other principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Blue helmets must have appropriate training and equipment, and must understand local languages.

STEPHANE DION, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said it was important to find solutions to the deteriorating situation of that horror.  He supported the Kigali Principles, as well as initiatives for rapid and decisive action such as the proposed suspension of the Council veto in the face of large-scale crimes.  Effectiveness must be monitored strictly and failings in protection of civilians must be immediately reported.  Blue helmets must firmly understand their responsibilities in protection of civilians in all phases of missions, as well as the needs of all populations, and they must be supported by the necessary capabilities.  Better cooperation with regional organizations was critical; the African Union needed greater support to meet its responsibilities.  Peacekeeping training centres must be supported for all missions.  Without political will, however, such considerations would have little effect.  Canada would continue to work on a number of fronts to bolster protection efforts, with a renewed commitment to global peacebuilding.

IBRAHIM YACOUBOU, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad ofNiger, emphasized that mandates must be tailored to specific situations on the ground.  However, the situation of MINUSMA in Mali demonstrated that a large-scale operation could be put together but ill-adapted to the context in which it had been launched.  Urging the United Nations to bolster efforts to strengthen the capacity of States to protect civilians, he said civilian protection must include providing access to basic social services.  The role of non-governmental organizations must be recognized, but not to the detriment of State sovereignty, he said, adding that there was urgent need to help poorer countries aid refugees.  Niger was hosting more than 300 people displaced by the conflict caused by Boko Haram, he said.

IONNIS KASOULIDES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, noted that there had been a United Nations peacekeeping mission in his country since 1964, and thanked troop-contributing countries for their support.  Its experience had contributed to an understanding of the difficulties involved in carrying out peacekeeping mandates and in protecting civilians.  Peacekeeping operations must have a viable exit strategy, as well as clear, consistent and precise mandates, and there must be training on civilian protection.  It was necessary to address sexual violence and the protection of children, and to respect international humanitarian law.

ALPHA BARRY, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad of Burkina Faso, said that in order to better protect civilians, all parties must fulfil their obligations under international law.  Peacekeeping operations could be effective in local protection and in building State capacity to fulfil sovereign national responsibilities.  The Council must elaborate clear civilian-protection mandates and ensure that missions had all the capabilities they needed, he said, pointing out in that regard, that Burkina Faso’s troops in Darfur no longer had sufficient foodstuffs.  Mandates should be flexible enough to adapt to the situation on the ground.  Welcoming the strengthening of MINUSMA’s mandate, he said the situation in Mali was of great concern to his country in light of increasing cross-border attacks.  Niger would remain committed to the Kigali Principles and to United Nations peacekeeping, he said, emphasizing that the Council must remain focused on reducing the suffering of civilians.

AURELIEN AGBENONCI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Benin, said that while the protection of civilians must be integrated fully into the full United Nations agenda as a cross-cutting issue, “soft-power” methods could often be more effective than force.  “Spoilers” of stability must be identified, and reporting partners on the ground were critical in that regard.  Humanitarian actors were of key importance for that purpose and for early warning.  Peacekeeping mandates must be continuously evaluated in terms of their effectiveness given the changing situation on the ground, and troops must be well trained and otherwise prepared.  He underlined the importance of the Kigali Principles in that context, and he called for civilian protection to remain a continuing focus of the Security Council.

LILIANNE PLOUMEN, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, the Netherlands, aligning with the statements to be made by the European Union and the Group of Friends on Protection of Civilians, noted her Government’s full support for legal institutions in The Hague and elsewhere that helped achieved justice, and called for a redoubling of efforts to stop conflict-related sexual violence.  To go beyond mere protection of civilian sites, a challenge that could be seen in South Sudan, realistic plans must be made and executed with partners.  Reconciliation and dialogue must be promoted.  She also called on all troop- and police-contributing countries to sign onto the Kigali Principals for civilian protection.  In that regard, she announced the establishment by her country and others of a training centred on the protection of civilians, adding that the Netherlands was pursuing membership on the Council for the 2017-2018 term to further contribute to improving peacekeeping missions.-eob-

KHADIJA BUKAR IBRAHIM, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, urged troop- and police-contributing countries to ensure their personnel have the requisite pre-deployment training in protection issues.  Peacekeepers should not be restricted to additional caveats beyond those explicitly accepted by the Secretariat before deployment.  Voicing strong support for community engagement to protect civilians, she said that the international community must respect the value of community alert networks and liaison assistants in reducing risk.  On a national level, all steps were being taken in the battle against Boko Haram, she said, adding, “Indeed, the Government of Nigeria had no higher priority than rescuing all persons held hostage by the group.”  Since creation of the Multinational Joint Task Force, over 1,000 kidnapped women and children had been rescued and all territories once controlled by the group had been recovered.  Nonetheless, despite efforts by the Government, member States of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin, more must be done.  Internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups must be given adequate protection, as anything short of that, could expose them to further abuse.  She called on the international community to continue to support the efforts of the Task Force.

SHAHRIAR ALAM, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, aligning with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that his country’s contributions to peacekeeping and its commitment to protecting civilians was reinforced by the “haunting memory of 3 million of our people killed during our war of liberation”, and the wish to not see that kind of carnage repeated anywhere in the world.  It was a responsibility to lead by example and, at times, venture into untested territory.  His Government had signed onto the Kigali Principles, as well as initiatives in capability-raising and readiness arrangements.  In the facing of growing challenges, Bangladeshi peacekeepers make a point of standing their ground.  There was a need for better intelligence and technology to support those efforts, as well as greater communication between the Council and troop-contributing countries to ensure clarity of responsibility and adequate exchange of information.

EUGENE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda) said that, although there was an increased commitment of troop- and police- contributing countries to the Kigali Principles, the plight of civilians continued to worsen however.  To reverse that situation, peacekeeping missions must have clear and achievable mandates; the search for political solutions must be included in such mandates; and peacekeepers must be trained in protection of civilians and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Quoting one of the Kigali Principles, he stated that peacekeeping troops must be “prepared to use force to protect civilians as necessary and consistent with the mandate”.  Clarity behind that principle would allow peacekeepers to respond to armed violence.  For all such protection principles to succeed, peacekeeping must become more people-oriented, and peacekeepers must build relationships and trust with the local population.

CARLOS FORADORI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, said that after recent reviews of peacekeeping, there was no question that protection of civilians was a vital part of the endeavour.  Protection must be mainstreamed across entire missions and accomplished with the cooperation of all actors.  Lessons must be learned on the failure of the use of force to protect civilians in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but it was clear that force must be used as a last resort.  In that context, guidelines on protection strategy must be drawn up in consultations with the international community, including troop- and police-contributing countries.  Solid and collective action must be devoted to the issue; blue helmets must be afforded the capabilities tailored to the circumstances of each situation.  “We must be smart and strong in the way we respond to this problem,” he stressed.

CHOI JONG-MOON, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, noting that his country was a long-standing troop-contributing country and major financial contributor to peace operations, said that peacekeeping operations’ mandates on the protection of civilians should reflect the realities on the ground, instead of following existing templates.  Furthermore, deeper engagement with relevant stakeholders, including local communities must be emphasized to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach.   The Republic of Korea, along with Timor-Leste, host the sixth Annual Meeting of the Global Network of Right to Protect Focal Points this June, the first time the meeting would take place in Asia.  The aim would be to bring together senior officials responsible for facilitating national mechanisms for atrocity prevention, with much of the discussion focused on the protection of civilians.

HARALD BRAUN (Germany), associating himself with statements to be made by the European Union and the “Group of Friends”, said that the protection of civilians was one of the most urgent missions of peacekeeping operations.  In order for missions to fulfil that responsibility there must be wider understanding of the central role to be played by the Security Council, which must firmly anchor the protection of civilians within peacekeeping operations mandates.  Where national prosecution mechanisms failed, the Council must send a clear message that attacks targeting civilians would not go unpunished.  It was important to ensure the safety and security of peacekeeping missions, with the situation in Mali perfectly illustrating the threat posed by terrorists to peacekeeping operations.  In addition, efforts must be made to strength the police component of peacekeeping operations, which played a key role in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Ms. KUSPAN (Kazakhstan) said to improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations there must be stronger synergies between the Security Council and missions.  Local teams along with intergovernmental organizations must have an arrangement for active and continuous engagement.  It was essential to concentrate efforts on capacity-building in host countries, all the while having a road map for the protection of civilians on the local and national levels.  There must also be adequate resources and training.  Protecting civilians was not only about physical security, but was also linked to the dignity of women and children.  In that regard, the behaviour of blue helmets must be beyond reproach and any accusations of inappropriate conduct must be thoroughly investigated.

KOBSAK CHUTIKUL (Thailand), speaking on behalf of ASEAN, said that to better protect civilians, triangular cooperation among the Council, troop- and police-contributing countries and the Secretariat needed to strengthen.  Mandates must be achievable and clear to all stakeholders.  He reaffirmed the commitment of ASEAN troop and police contributors to properly train and equip their peacekeepers to carry out protection mandates.  Use of force was not always required, he stressed, highlighting the importance of early warning and State capacity-building, particularly in the security sector, and of national ownership in that process.  Paying tribute to those who dedicated their lives to the protection of others, he pledged continued work by ASEAN to strengthen peacekeeping for its multiple roles.

MILORAD SCEPANOVIC (Montenegro), underscoring that widespread violations of international law and the suffering of civilians were unacceptable, said that it was necessary to place primacy on political solutions and strengthen preventive measures.  That would require the utilization of mediation and closer collaboration of the United Nations with regional bodies.  Another area requiring further attention was the design and implementation of civilian protection mandates.  “They have to be tailored to the conditions on the ground rather than following the pre-established patterns,” he said, calling for improved conflict analysis.  Expressing support to the Kigali Principles, he expressed hope that more countries would recognize the merit of those principles.

TANMAYA LAL (India) said that the nature of conflict was moving away from inter-State armed conflicts and into civil wars and involvement of non-State actors, leading to large-scale devastation in the lives of civilian populations.  While acknowledging that the responsibility for the protection of civilians lay with the State, there was an urgency to prevent uncontrolled conflicts emerging from the complete breakdown of national Governments.  He then went on to note that the implementation of robust mandates was a complex task with inherent risks, emphasizing that it could impact the impartiality of the United Nations.  In that context, holding regular consultations between the Security Council, the troop-contributing nations and the Secretariat was critical.  Noting that India was the largest cumulative troop contributor, having participated in nearly 50 operations, he said he was deeply conscious of the complexities involved.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said that with Member States demanding more and more from peacekeeping operations, the obligation to comply with international law was a requirement for strengthening peacekeeping operations.  Working in a coordinated way with peacekeeping operations, local actors could help to strengthen and support early-warning mechanisms and strengthen trust.  The work of women blue helmets was also critical in that respect, he said, calling for increased participation of women.  There must also be zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.  It was the responsibility of troop- and police-contributing countries to properly train their peacekeepers and to hold them accountable for their actions.  As well, while humanitarian action and peacekeeping were critical in the protection of civilians they should not replace the search for political solutions.  “We must seize this moment to institutionalize a paradigm shift in our protection approach”, meshing short-term protection approaches with long-term efforts, he said.

ANTONIA DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said that, while “doing nothing is not an option”, it was equally important to be wary of translating that into believing military action would be a panacea for the protection of civilians.  The situation in Libya was a reminder of the consequences of ill-conceived strategies, as the intervention there had paved the way for the spread of ISIS forces and had forced millions to seek refuge elsewhere.  The Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations in 2000 (the Brahimi Report) had stressed how peacekeepers who witnessed violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it, within their means, in support of basic United Nations principles.  However, the report had also questioned the credibility and achievability of a blanket mandate to protect civilians, acknowledging that United Nations operations could only protect a small fraction of the civilian population exposed to the potential risk of violence.  When the use of force was contemplated, and duly authorized, action must be judicious, proportionate and strictly limited to the objectives of the agreed mandate.  Furthermore, the international community had a right to expect full accountability from those to whom authority was granted by the United Nations to resort to force.

JOSÉ ALBERTO ANTONIO SANDOVAL COJULÚN (Guatemala) said the protection of civilians was an integral part of peacekeeping operations but host countries bore the primary responsibility, and all relevant stakeholders must work closely with them.  The use of force must be the last resort, after careful examination by the international community.  Expressing concern about sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, he encouraged the Secretary-General to follow up in order to determine whether the necessary actions had been taken to bring those responsible to justice.  To avoid repetition, better communication was critical, he emphasized.

CARLOS A. MORALES (Colombia) said he shared the concerns of other delegations over the need to protect civilians in armed conflict and the repeated failure of States to comply with international law.  While expressing support for United Nations peacekeeping operations, he emphasized that primary responsibility for protecting civilians lay with States, and in that regard, it was critical for the United Nations to coordinate with national authorities for successful outcomes.  Balanced strategies, identifying the facts and non-repetition of mistakes were also essential for peacebuilding, he said.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), speaking for the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said parties to armed conflict must be reminded time and again that even war had rules and that those rules applied to all.  States must continue to call on the Council to systematically uphold core protection and civilian standards.  The unanimous adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) on health care in armed conflict and the protection of medical personnel and facilities with a large number of co-sponsors sent an important signal that despite the numerous violations observed in recent years, “international law is clear”.  The wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, must be respected and protected.  In addition, protecting the civilian population and persons who were no longer taking part in hostilities was not just another task of the United Nations; it was seen by many as the essence of the Organization.  Noting that the implementation of the recommendations emanating from the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations presented a key opportunity, he said a whole-of-mission approach to the protection of civilians was essential.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the primary responsibility for the protection of all civilians, without discrimination, rested with the host country, with support from peacekeepers.  The conduct of peacekeeping operations needed to be driven by the unique requirements of each mission, not by political or financial consideration.  There needed to be collective efforts made to ensure that all peacekeeping missions were given adequate financial and other resources, along with political support, to accomplish assigned tasks.  The participation of women in peacekeeping operations could help ensure a more people-centred approach.  As one of the world’s top troop-contributing countries, Pakistan had proudly undertaken the task of protecting civilians in missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and Liberia.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg), associating herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians, said civilians paid the highest price in Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic and other places affected by conflict.  The Council had to show its determination and consistency in the protection of civilians, and make clear that the principle was not just “rhetoric”.  Special advisers on the protection of civilians were essential, in particular in collecting reliable information on the dangers that civilians were exposed to.  In regard to the Secretary-General’s policy of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, she said that her Government had recently contributed €135,000 to support the work of Jane Holl Lute aimed at preventing those “shameful crimes”.  Pointing out that no conflict arose without early warning signs, she went on to also express support for the Human Rights Up Front initiative.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia), underlining the differing responsibilities of Governments and the international community in protecting civilians, said that the credibility and legitimacy of United Nations peacekeeping largely depended on the capability to act when civilians were under threat.  Performance in that area remained mixed, however.  Implementing the recommendations of the recent High-Level Panel on Peacekeeping was, therefore, critical, particularly in ensuring that protection was a mission-wide effort.  Because it was vital to ensure that capabilities match mandates, Australia had pledged strategic air support in addition to training and funding to develop capabilities to counter improvised explosive devices.  She also welcomed initiatives such as the trial of a new compact between the United Nations and the Central African Republic on protection efforts, as well as implementation of new indicators of effectiveness.  Strong action to ensure accountability for abuses by peacekeepers was also welcomed.

BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium) expressed regret over indiscriminate attacks on civilians, schools and hospitals, and restrictions on access to food, calling upon parties in the Syrian conflict to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and facilitate access to humanitarian aid.  Regarding peacekeeping mandates, she said existing challenges called for careful planning and the commitment of troop- and police-contributing countries.  Peacekeepers must be provided with adequate capacity and expertise to carry out their mandate, she said.  Welcoming the adoption of the Kigali Principles, she said it was a good step in the right direction, but further efforts would be needed to deliver positive results.

PAWEŁ RADOMSKI (Poland), calling on Council members to support the French initiative to limit the use of veto power in cases of mass atrocities, stressed the need to give more attention to the protection of civilians in the process of drafting Council resolutions.  Peacekeeping missions’ mandates should be tailor-made and resources should match the challenges in the field.  Blue helmets must be equipped with a clear vision of the mission’s priorities with the general aim of protecting the most vulnerable.  For that reason, his Government had decided to sign the Kigali Principles, and he called upon all troop- and police-contributing countries to endorse it.  Far from working in a vacuum, United Nations peacekeepers were deployed within living communities and troubled societies.  To even stand a chance to protect endangered civilians, they needed strong partnerships with local and regional actors present in the field.  Those partnerships were, in many cases, the key to effective implementation of the mission’s mandate.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) pointed out that his country was among the first supporters of the Kigali Principles.  Italy was also a top troop-contributing country, he added, stating that effective protection of civilians required clear, sequenced and prioritized mandates, properly training troops, adequate equipment and a reinforced role for regional organizations.  He voiced support for the zero-tolerance policy, which must be met with training tailored to reach a zero-case reality and to protect the credibility and trust of missions.  Regional and subregional organizations were ideally placed to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.  Italy would continue to work with regional organizations, including the African Union to reinforce their capacity to deal with crises.

IOANNIS VRAILAS of the European Union delegation said the specific protection needs of women and children required special attention.  Acute and urgent concern must be paid to the phenomenon of sexual violence and the use of rape as a tactic of warfare against children, women and men.  He noted that 10 out of 16 peacekeeping missions had mandates that encompassed the protection of civilians.  Peacekeeping operations needed to be equipped with clear, coherent, concise and achievable mandates that included a strong human rights component.  Training was the cornerstone of improving the implementation of protection of civilians mandates.  The European Union had provided training on the protection of civilians, atrocity prevention, gender issues, child protection, human rights and international humanitarian law as an integral part of the training curricula to its missions in Somalia, Mali and Niger.  The Union was also committed to assisting States in strengthening their national judicial and correctional systems to enable them to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of atrocity crimes.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, said there had been several unfortunate cases in recent years, in which the Council had failed to exercise its mandate to ensure the effective and efficient protection of civilian populations.  Recalling that his country had experienced the unfortunate termination of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) by the single-handed veto of the Russian Federation in 2009, he said that irresponsible action had created a dangerous precedent in United Nations peacekeeping.  Against that background, the civilian population in Russian-occupied Georgian territories were deprived of minimal safeguards for their safety and stripped of their fundamental rights and freedoms.  Peacekeeping operations should not be staffed predominantly by citizens of a single State, and never by the military of a State which was a party to, or heavily involved in, the conflict in question, he emphasized.

ION JINGA (Romania) cited reports showing that 93 per cent of victims of conflict were civilians, and urged all to find the best means to ensure their protection.  It was the primary responsibility of States to protect civilians and they must bring those responsible to justice.  Romania supported fully the joint initiative by France and Mexico to limit the use of veto in cases of mass atrocities, he said.  Emphasizing the importance of training and allocating sufficient resources to enable United Nations peacekeeping missions to effectively carry out their mandates, he said Romania had provided very strict training for its peacekeepers, adding that in the past 25 years, more than 10,000 Romanians had participated in peacekeeping operations and had never been in non-compliance with the rules.

TÉTE ANTONIO, Permanent Observer for the African Union, said “we do not need lengthy speeches to underline the importance of civilian protection”, emphasizing that it was the responsibility of all.  Citing the concept of “non-indifference”, he said it was possible to interfere in the internal affairs of another Member State in the event of an imminent threat to peace, security and stability.  While the concept of civilian protection had changed over the past decade, peacekeeping mandates remained the same, he pointed out, emphasizing that the international community must pay further attention to the impartiality of peacekeepers and the need for limited use of force.  For its part, the African Union was working to develop long-term capacity to operationalize African forces in cases of genocide and war crimes, he said, stressing the need for greater cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, said the credibility of United Nations peacekeeping operations depended largely on their capability to act when civilians were threatened.  Strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflict should be centred on a number of key points:  compliance with the obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law, and ensuring accountability when atrocities occurred; the importance of the Human Rights Up Front initiative and the Responsibility to Protect; the centrality of sustaining peace; and maintaining prevention at the centre of international peace and security.  It was crucial to develop comprehensive protection strategies, in close consultation with host Governments, local authorities, troop- and police-contributing countries and other relevant actors, he said.  Additionally, Member States must ensure that their military and police personnel upheld the highest human rights values and underwent pre-deployment training, in line with United Nations standards.

MAHLATSE MMINELE (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the international community was increasingly challenged by the changing nature of conflict, which required more holistic strategies for protecting civilians.  United Nations actions must go beyond traditional peacekeeping and the use of force, beginning with steps to prevent conflict rather than responding after the fact, he said.  It was necessary to strengthen and to invest greater efforts in prevention and to seek all-inclusive political solutions to conflicts.  In that regard, the Council’s failure to address long-standing challenges in Palestine and Western Sahara continued to undermine its credibility, he noted.  The deployment of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade was a credible example of the success that could be achieved through the use of force against those who obstructed peace and threatened civilians, he said.

PHILLIP CHARWATH (Austria) said sustainable protection of civilians was possible through a “whole-of-mission” approach.  Underscoring the need to provide adequate training and equipment to military and police personnel, he emphasized that all troop- and police-contributing countries must cooperate and improve the transparency of their national efforts.  The certification of training courses was an excellent opportunity, he said, noting that Austria was proud to be among the first to obtain such certification and, in addition, had endorsed the Kigali Principles.  Another key aspect for a more effective system was the timely availability of threat and risk assessment.  He then went on to stress that there was no mission in place to protect civilians under attack.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), associating with the statement made by the European Union, said that in order for peacekeeping operations to be effective, they must be equipped with clear goals, strong mandates and exit strategies.  Relations with local actors and non-governmental organizations, as well as cooperation with regional and international organizations, was crucial, he said, adding that such actors had an important role to play in providing United Nations peacekeepers with information that could help prevent and stop violations.  Protection of civilians was challenged by disrespect for international humanitarian law by some States and non-State armed groups, as well as the sense of impunity for violations.  It was of utmost importance that humanitarian aid organizations such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Médecins Sans Frontières be able to help people affected by conflict without becoming targets themselves.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said humanitarian action was at the core of the Charter and civilians caught in armed conflict had the right to be protected by their respective States.  Priority should, therefore, be given to the promotion of, knowledge of, respect for and observance by States of their obligations assumed under the Charter and international law.  All parties to armed conflict must redouble their efforts to comply with their legal obligations, including prohibiting the targeting of civilian populations and property.  Reiterating condemnation of the increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, he urged Governments to ensure respect for the protection of humanitarian organizations personnel.  He also emphasized that the principles of sovereign equality, political independence and territorial integrity of all States and of non-intervention must be upheld.  The protection of civilians was the primary responsibility of the host country and, accordingly, relevant United Nations peacekeeping missions with that mandate should conduct their tasks without prejudice to that primary role.  Finally, he expressed support for the State of Palestine calling for the protection of the Palestinian people.

SAADA DAHER HASSAN (Djibouti) said scaling up opportunities for a shared assessment of challenges would strengthen peacekeeping operations and their ability to protect civilians, noting that the United Nations police division had recently organized a high-level meeting of the European Union autonomous operations in support of United Nations peacekeeping.  Threats on the ground must inform mission mandates, strategies and structures.  Training and early warning capacity must be improved for that purpose.  Gender sensitivity training was a central part of security sector reform and there must be concrete efforts to increase women’s engagement in that area.  Since 2012, Djibouti had been part of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which helped to build roads and provide medication.  In addition, his country had been part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) since 2011.

STEFAN BARRIGA (Liechtenstein) said that the Security Council should refer situations of large-scale impunity to the International Criminal Court and ensure the necessary follow-up.  Accountability was crucial to deter violations, encourage reconciliation and promote justice for victims.  Although the potential for United Nations peacekeeping operations to enhance accountability efforts was still largely untapped, there were also encouraging signs of progress.  The example of the Central African Republic, in particular, demonstrated that peacekeeping mandates could be tailored to assist accountability efforts.  The Security Council should consistently task peacekeeping missions to support the work of the International Criminal Court on the ground.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), commending France for its peacekeeping support to Africa, said he hoped that the humanitarian appeal of the World Humanitarian Summit would lead to greater respect for international law.  The Council must take into account the realities on the ground and bolster cooperation with troop-contributing countries so that they were more involved in planning.  The composition of forces must be adapted based on needs.  For example, police forces might be in a better position to address crowd control.  The presence of peacekeepers should help strengthen the rule of law.  He fully endorsed the recommendations of the High-level Panel particularly concerning the troop-contributing countries and supported the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy.  Moroccan troops, deployed for more than 60 years, including in countries such as Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic, had always made civilian protection during armed conflict a priority.

BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, describing the protection of civilians as a positive evolution of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mandate, expressed concern that more civilians were being targeted during armed conflict.  Recent reports affirmed the increase in deliberate targeting and attacks on civilians, and defiant violations of international humanitarian law were too flagrant.  Peacekeeping missions must be deployed to prevent conflicts from exploding into open violence.  While conflict prevention was primarily a function of diplomatic negotiations, post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding were often seen as the work of development experts and social scientists.  A sure way to protect civilians was taking a preventive approach, which included the limitation on the manufacture, sale and gifting of weapons.

MARCELO ELISEO SCAPPINI RICCIARDI (Paraguay) said peacekeeping mandates authorized by the Council should explicitly include the protection of civilians, noting that his country was currently contributing personnel to six missions.  They had received specialized training in such areas as cooperation with civilians.  He called on Member States to adhere to the 2015 Oslo Declaration on Safe Schools, ratify the Rome Statute and cooperate with the International Criminal Court.  States that had not yet done so should also ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.  He concluded by deploring the disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war, restrictions on humanitarian access and attacks on civilians.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that while some progress had been made over the last two decades in strengthening international protection frameworks, concepts and advocacy had yet to be translated into effective action on the ground.  “Positive results will occur when common direction and cooperation is well established among the Security Council, troop- and police-contributing countries and host countries,” he said.  Sustainable protection of civilians ultimately required political solutions, and it was, therefore, imperative to ensure that peacekeeping mandates were well defined, realistic and linked to a wider political process.

DAVID DONOGHUE (Ireland), associating himself with the European Union, said that peacekeeping mandate designs must be improved, with civilian needs at the centre, and that protection efforts must be grounded in respect for international law.  At the recent World Humanitarian Summit, his country had made a specific commitment to ensure that its personnel deployed on overseas peacekeeping mission operated in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.  It had also committed to ensuring accountability for any failure that would amount to a crime under international law.  In addition, Ireland was among the growing list of countries endorsing the Kigali Principles.  He went on to stress that the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda was a valuable tool to advance the protection of civilians, noting that Council resolution 1325 (2000) had been a milestone in that regard.  Finally, he expressed his resolute belief that the heinous crime of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers could be fully stamped out, including by strengthening pre-deployment and ongoing professional training programmes.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said that although Governments had the primary responsibility, it was evident that peacekeeping operations played a crucial role in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  To further enhance that role, the Security Council and Member States must determine the scope and mandate of peacekeeping operations, while respecting the host Government.  Setting out clear and comprehensive guidelines was critical.  Furthermore, he noted that peacekeeping operations must work closely with local communities in conflict affected zones to monitor and assess their performance, building on lessons learned.  Among other things, it was crucial to ensure that the principles and international human rights and humanitarian law were integral part of national trainings.

RY TUY (Cambodia), associating himself with ASEAN, said protection should cover both civilians in conflict and non-conflict areas where peacekeepers were stationed.  Noting that States bore the primary responsibility to protect civilians, he said countries hosting peacekeeping operations should work to strengthen their national rule of law, particularly as it related to legislation on protection of civilians.  Describing training sessions his country had conducted in the area of demining and the destruction of explosive remnants of war, he said that Cambodia had contributed more than 3,000 blue helmets to United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide.  The country had learned from its own experiences that when rebellious groups were not taking part in the United Nations-arranged peace process, civilians in the most dangerous areas were not adequately protected.  Whenever there had been an attack by such a group on civilians or peacekeepers, there had been no effective response from the United Nations, except for adopting a silent attitude.

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), deploring deliberate attacks against civilians, called for schools and universities not to be used for military purposes.  Repeated instances of sexual abuse by United Nations peacekeepers must be stopped and perpetrators brought to justice.  There was no room for impunity.  He welcomed that the Council had approved Secretary-General’s action plan through resolution 1722 (2016) and called on States to cooperate in implementing it.  Protection of civilians should be a State priority.  The international community must take action to end the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.  States must accede to the Rome Statute and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

MAHLET HAILU (Ethiopia) welcomed the recognition in the High-level Panel’s report that the shirking of responsibility by peacekeepers to protect civilians was indefensible.  That was important in Africa; the lessons from the bitter experiences of the Rwanda genocide should never be forgotten.  The principle of non-indifference in grave circumstances of human rights violations was enshrined in the constitutive act of the African Union.  More improvements were needed to give peacekeeping operations clear, succinct mandates.  The large gaps in readiness, capacity and training of peacekeeping operations in carrying out their mandates should be adequately addressed.  Ethiopia was a leading troop-contributing country and attached great importance to the protection of civilians.  Noting that his Government had endorsed the Kigali Principles, he expressed the hope that such principles would become the norm in United Nations peacekeeping.

MANUEL FREDERICO PINHEIRO DA SILVA (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends, said that around the world civilians lived in precarious situations, with humanitarian access to the most in need deliberately being blocked.  An inability to put an end to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, which could constitute war crimes, meant there was an urgent need to combat impunity.  When national authorities were unable to shoulder their responsibility, the Council should play a more active role.  Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court could play a deterrent role.  The United Nations and its peacekeeping operations should be able to follow the rapid changes in the world and plan accordingly.  “The risks are heightened and the threats more global,” he said in that regard, noting that peacekeeping missions were having to protect their own personnel, as well as civilians on the ground.  The training of peacekeepers was a cornerstone in improving the mandate to protect civilians, he said, describing his country’s efforts in that regard.

FEH MOUSSA GONE (Côte d’Ivoire) said the use of the veto had been a source of inertia and had led to intolerable suffering.  That was a major obstacle.  He supported the initiative of France and Mexico to end the use of the veto in cases of atrocity crimes, saying it would greatly benefit humanity.  He also voiced support for the code of conduct proposed by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group.  The Council must clearly define peacekeeping mandates.  The host Governments must make civilian protection a priority.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support must better coordinate efforts.  Troop-contributing countries must ensure troops were trained and educated in international humanitarian and human rights law.

YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan) said the World Humanitarian Summit should further encourage Member States to strengthen efforts to end human suffering.  Large-scale violations had been committed by Armenia against the Azerbaijani civilian population, who continued to remain targets.  The illegal court proceedings of and sentences against two Azerbaijani civilians, Shakhbaz Guliyev and Dilgam Askarov, taken hostage by Armenia while visiting the graves of their parents in the occupied region of Kalbajar were null and void.  He appealed again to the Council to intervene for their release.  At the beginning of April, Armenian Armed Forces used heavy artillery and large-calibre weapons on their positions in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, killing 6 civilians and wounding 33.  Despite the 5 April ceasefire agreement, Armenia was now threatening Azerbaijan with dirty bombs.  A member of the Armenian Parliament, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan had proudly stated his country possessed a nuclear weapon.  Azerbaijan had demonstrated that improving living and housing conditions of internally displaced persons without undermining their return to their places of origin was possible.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), associating herself with the European Union, said obstacles to the protection of civilians included weak chain-of-command, lack of air lifts, fuel shortages immobilizing patrolling vehicles, insufficient support for human rights, and protracted staff shortages, to name a few.  “Even the best resolutions and recommendations will just be the paper they are written on if implementation fails,” she said.  Real interactive dialogues with force and police commanders, going well beyond the once-a-year formal meetings that were the current practice, would be welcome in removing obstacles and facilitating civilian protection.  The protection of civilians, a difficult task in itself, would be even more complex without the buy-in of local authorities and populations.  Trust-based relations provided peacekeepers with much-needed inside information, allowing them to better understand the specific vulnerabilities and needs of local communities and thus to craft more specific, targeted and effective responses to the threats faced by communities.

NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana) stressed his commitment to the promotion and protection of international humanitarian law and the responsibility to protect.  Adequate training and capacity-building before, during and after deployment was essential.  He supported the Kigali Principles.  Greater efforts were needed to implement Council resolution 1325 (2000) in order to not only protect women, but involve them in all levels and processes of mediation, peacekeeping and peace maintenance, reconstruction and development.  Condemning the commission of all atrocity crimes, he said that the perpetrators of such crimes must be held to account, including through the various multilateral criminal justice tribunals.  He called on the Council to continue supporting the International Criminal Court in its quest to safeguard the rights of victims.

EFE CEYLAN (Turkey) noted that the first World Humanitarian Summit just held in Istanbul, had been a ground-breaking development in cooperation and collective action to meet the world’s growing humanitarian needs.  In the context of peace operations, the United Nations must bear its responsibility where States failed to protect their own citizens.  His Government adhered to the peacekeeping principles of impartiality, the consent of host States and non-use of force except for self-defence and the defence of the mandate.  The protection of civilians was consistent with those principles, he stressed, quoting the high-level panel that “these principles […] should never be an excuse for failure to protect civilians”.  Providing peacekeeping operations with clearly defined mandates, objectives and command structures, as well as adequate resources based on realistic assessments of the situation, were key factors in the effective implementation of protection duties in the context of peacekeeping operations.

Taking the floor a second time, the representative of Ukraine said the delegation of the Russian Federation had once again resorted to a “flat lie”, stating that the Council had not received any request from Ukraine for the establishment of a peacekeeping mission on its territory.  In fact, that request had been formally made at least twice.  A letter requesting such a mission had even been distributed as an official United Nations document, under the symbol S/2015/225.  It was, therefore, highly unusual for a Council member to deny the existence of such a document.

He went on to say that separatist forces backed by the Russian Federation in the east of Ukraine continued to put civilians at risk.  Recently, such forces had attacked Ukrainian positions from a water treatment plant.  There was no justification for such actions.

 

Source:  United Nations

 

‘We Have the Power’, Tools to Fast-Track HIV/AIDS Response, Yet Will Is Needed for Progress, General Assembly President Says at Close of High-Level Meeting

 

 

The General Assembly’s three-day high-level plenary meeting on HIV/AIDS concluded today amid calls for redoubled efforts and greater funding to eradicate the epidemic by 2030, as called for in the Sustainable Development Goals.

In closing remarks, Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) said speakers had repeatedly stressed that “together, we have the power, the resources, the knowledge and the technology to fast-track our HIV/AIDS response and to make ending the AIDS epidemic one of the first — and one of the many — amazing successes of the SDG era.”

“The question now, however, is whether we have the will and the humanity to make this happen,” he said, emphasizing that the epidemic had haunted millions of people, denying them their dignity for far too long.  “The time for that to change is now and the opportunity to do so has never been greater.”

During the plenary session, many speakers shared their support for the “Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS:  On the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight against HIV and the End of the AIDS Epidemic by 2030”, adopted, without a vote, at the opening of the high-level meeting 8 June.

Speakers also raised a number of issues and concerns, including from countries that had reached middle-income status — based on their per capita gross domestic product (GDP) — only to find themselves losing access to much-needed financial assistance from international donors as a result.  Highlighting that point, Mongolia’s representative said that with an estimated 70 per cent of all HIV-positive people living in middle-income countries, a reduction in development assistance risked jeopardizing progress to reach the global vision of zero new HIV infections, zero HIV-related deaths and zero HIV-related discrimination.

Several speakers spoke of the promise of generic medication.  Brazil’s representative emphasized the crucial role of States in reducing drug prices through actively negotiating the public procurement of medicine.  Half of the 22 antiretroviral drugs used in Brazil were locally produced, he said, with domestic pharmaceutical company prices lower than the international average.

In a similar vein, Israel’s delegate, stressing the role of science and technology, explained how Hebrew University researchers believed they had developed a treatment that could destroy HIV-infected cells.  He went on to tell how an Israeli company had come up with a non-surgical method of circumcision shown to reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV by nearly 60 per cent.

Several speakers raised issues unique to their countries.  Mali’s delegate drew attention to the threat posed by “unorganized” gold mining sites to HIV prevalence.  Such operations, which were “growing like mushrooms” amid rampant poverty, risked bringing to naught Government efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, potentially changing HIV epidemiology in the region, he said.

Delegates also shared unique approaches to combating HIV/AIDS.  Malaysia’s representative discussed national efforts to reverse the epidemic from a Muslim perspective.  Religious leaders, physicians and non-governmental groups representing those key populations and people living with HIV had been drafting a training module, available in local languages, English and Arabic, aimed at increasing awareness and advocacy among imams and Muslim scholars, especially to reduce stigma and discrimination, he said.  Sudan’s representative underscored the importance of the family, cultural and other values and the principle of sovereignty.  He also called for international assistance in lifting unjust sanctions, which had hindered the Government’s efforts to fight AIDS.

The Assembly also heard from representatives of two non-governmental organizations.  A representative of MENA-Rosa said the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and North Africa had compounded women’s vulnerability to HIV, through rape, early marriage, trafficking, gender-based violence, prostitution and poverty.  A representative of the Asia-Pacific coalition APCOM said the Political Declaration had turned a blind eye to the reality of HIV/AIDS by omitting, excluding and misrepresenting, among others, gay men, sex workers and people using drugs.

Kieran Daly, of the Gates Foundation, called for a revolution in the way the world was responding to AIDS.  “We cannot simply keep doing what has worked so far,” he said.  “We must be faster and smarter in the ways we work.”  Investments in new, game-changing prevention tools were needed, he said, as were long-acting options that harnessed the power of the immune system.

Delegates also pointed to funding shortfalls.  In that regard, Canada’s delegate, who called 2016 “a big year for the fight against HIV/AIDS”, drew attention to the fifth replenishment conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which would be held in Montreal in September.

Summaries of panel discussions during the high-level meeting were presented by their respective chairs:  Ratu Nailatikau, Former President of Fiji; Lorena Castillo de Varela, First Lady of Panama; Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Prime Minister of Swaziland; Alexis Nguema Obame, Deputy Director-General of the AIDS Prevention Department of Gabon; and Mothetjoa Metsing, Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho.  The fifth and last panel discussion, on the theme “children, adolescent girls, and young women:  preventing new HIV infections”, was held earlier in the day.

Also speaking in the plenary debate today were ministers and other senior officials from Bahamas, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Greece, Bangladesh, Nepal, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Tajikistan, Jordan, Iran, Georgia, Morocco, Seychelles, Belarus, Colombia, Bulgaria, Nicaragua, Cabo Verde, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Peru, Estonia, Cameroon, Mauritius, Australia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Guatemala and Finland, as well as the Holy See.

Representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Inter-Parliamentary Union, League of Arab States, Partners in Population and Development and the International Labour Organization also spoke.

Statements

PERRY GOMEZ, Minister for Health of the Bahamas, affirming his Government’s commitment to taking a fast-track approach, said a significant effort would be needed to prevent new HIV infections, reduce AIDS-related deaths and eliminate HIV-related discrimination.  It was not business as usual, he said, adding that fast-track implementation would require a multipronged, multisectoral approach.  Underscoring the Bahamas’ investment in addressing the epidemic, he said major challenges had included a lack of financing and the inefficient use of available resources.  In addressing inequality gaps, the Sustainable Development Goals would be important global planning tools, he said.  In a new era of developmental partnerships, the Bahamas’ HIV/AIDS programme would tackle the underlying factors that had rendered people vulnerable to HIV infection.

MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ, Director-General for Multilateral Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro, associating himself with the European Union, said the AIDS pandemic was being driven by punitive laws, policies and practices that denied access to effective services to vulnerable populations.  Progress would depend on advancing social justice and equality.  Montenegro’s current HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was 0.017 per cent, but regional trends indicated a real potential for the rapid spread of HIV if prevention among key target groups was not improved.  Montenegro was looking into ways to increase its response in such areas as stigmatization, discrimination and the lack of research, data, technical expertise, human resources and financing.  HIV/AIDS could not be addressed by a traditional State-centric approach, he said, adding that success would only be possible through global solidarity.

ZVONKO MILENKOVIKJ, National Coordinator for HIV/AIDS of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said the Government was drafting a new HIV/AIDS strategy for the next five years, aiming at maintaining low HIV prevalence through a universal approach and upholding human rights and non-discrimination principles.  The number of people diagnosed had increased in recent years and there was growing prevalence among men who have sex with men and male sex workers, a trend that warranted early attention.  A significant proportion of people living with HIV were not aware of their status, with 41 per cent of those newly diagnosed in 2014 already battling AIDS.  The five-year plan was being developed in a “very new funding climate”, amid concerns for the sustainability of the national HIV response.  An expected reduction in international assistance for HIV financing was a challenge, he said, noting that optimizing current spending could reduce deaths and new infections.

ESTERINA NOVELLO NYILOK, Chairperson of the HIV and AIDS Commission of South Sudan, said there was a “mixed” HIV epidemic, with a national prevalence of 2.6 per cent, 179,000 people living with HIV and 16,000 new infections seen in 2015, and 13,000 AIDS-related deaths.  The HIV response had been growing, with the number of those on treatment increasing to more than 19,000 in 2015 from 3,512 in 2011.  Yet, those numbers were far from the targets set for 2015, due to inaccessibility of some areas during the civil war conflict and mass population displacement.  A number of ministries had mainstreamed HIV programmes into their work, including the education ministry, which had incorporated comprehensive sexuality education into school curricula, and the defence and veterans’ affairs ministry, which had instituted HIV programmes.  Further, the President had pledged to end child marriage by 2030.

MALICK SENE, Executive Secretary of the National High Commission of Mali, said that for 35 years, the Government had prioritized its response to HIV/AIDS, having made progress in terms of prevention, treatment and the protection of human rights.  Mali aimed to eliminate mother-to—child HIV transmission and protect people in conflict areas.  Gold mining areas had become zones for high-risk populations.  The Government was developing a political declaration to eliminate HIV in the next 15 years, spelling out responsibilities for each sector.  It would also work to mobilize internal resources and innovative financing to that end.  In that context, he drew attention to the threat posed by “unorganized” gold mining sites to HIV prevalence, which were “growing like mushrooms” amid rampant poverty and could bring to naught Government efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.  Further, they could dangerously change HIV epidemiology in the region.  In closing, he urged the Secretary-General to train peacekeepers on the prevention and spread of HIV/AIDS.

KESETEBIRHAN ADMASU, Minister for Health of Ethiopia, associating himself with the African Group, noted that the continent continued to bear the brunt of the global HIV epidemic, with nearly 71 per cent of all cases worldwide and 90 per cent of HIV transmissions to children.  Outlining the policy, legal, institutional and administrative measures taken by Ethiopia to fight the HIV epidemic, he reported an unprecedented decline in the rate of new infections.  However, there were substantial variations in prevalence and the risk of infection between population groups and geographic areas.  To address that challenge, Ethiopia was following an investment case approach that focused on prevention, care and treatment, in line with the 90-90-90 targets set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).  An urban fast-track HIV initiative to stem the transmission would be followed soon by a programme to identify HIV-positive individuals and connect them with care and treatment.

THEOFILOS ROSENBERG, President of the Hellenic Centre of Disease Control and Prevention of Greece, said the national socioeconomic crisis had contributed to a devastating outbreak of HIV among people who injected drugs, which the Government had been able to reverse by scaling up harm-reduction policies, HIV testing and treatment.  “We know what works,” he said, recognizing the critical need to speed up the global response to HIV/AIDS.  “History will judge us harshly if we fail to act according to history-based practices.”  He commended UNAIDS for setting the 90-90-90 targets and called on the global community to scale up interventions for key populations.  He went on to express concern over an increased rate of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and noted how in Greece, and countries worldwide, men who had sex with men had been disproportionately affected by HIV.

LOKMAN HAKIM SULAIMAN, Deputy Director-General for Public Health at the Ministry of Health of Malaysia, said national strategic plans had been shaped by strong political commitment, workable policies and the full participation of various agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders and key populations.  Following a harm-reduction programme in 2005, new HIV infections among people who injected drugs had dropped to 16.8 per cent in 2015, from nearly 80 per cent in 2000.  Malaysia was working to reverse the epidemic from a Muslim perspective.  Religious leaders, physicians and non-governmental groups representing those key populations and people living with HIV were drafting a training module, available in local languages, English and Arabic, aimed at increasing awareness and advocacy among imams and Muslim scholars, especially to reduce stigma and discrimination.  The Government also had launched a strategic plan on ending AIDS for 2016 to 2030 to complement global initiatives.

SYED MONJURUL ISLAM, Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Family Planning of Bangladesh, said the Political Declaration should have acknowledged the social, cultural and religious norms and values and the legal frameworks of all Member States.  Bangladesh was a low-prevalence country, with less than 0.1 per cent of people affected by HIV.  However, it had a concentrated epidemic among people who injected drugs in Dhaka.  Despite risks posed by neighbouring countries and migrant workers, Bangladesh had kept HIV from gaining ground for more than two decades though the evidence-based implementation of prevention, care support and treatment.  Earlier 2016, the Government had co-hosted the twelfth International Congress on AIDS in the Asia Pacific, which had reviewed needs and urged political commitment and investment in the HIV response.  He advocated scaling-up case detection through mixed models for community-based and provider-initiated HIV testing, ensuring universal access to antiretroviral therapy and integrating prevention services into the existing infrastructure.

SHANTA BAHADUR SHRESTHA, Secretary for the Ministry of Health of Nepal, said HIV/AIDS was a priority in the National Health Sector Strategy for 2016-2021.  Since 2010, Nepal had seen declines in new infections, AIDS-related mortality and prevalence among those aged 20 to 49 and it was close to achieving a reduction of 90 per cent of new infections among children.  Its multi-stakeholder approach to HIV/AIDS focused on the most vulnerable populations, including intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, transgender people, labour migrants and clients of female sex workers.  Emphasizing the importance of prevention, he said access to safe, effective, affordable and good-quality generic medicine for HIV treatment would be a great help.  Like other developing countries, Nepal faced the triple burden of communicable disease, non-communicable disease and disaster-related emergencies.  Fighting HIV/AIDS was an additional burden.  Nepal looked forward to continuous and enhanced support from the international community to achieve the target of ending AIDS by 2030.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg), associating herself the European Union, expressed concern about children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Despite successes in prevention of mother-to-child transmission, one child in two infected by HIV was condemned to die before the age of 2 without treatment.  That was unacceptable.  She emphasized full respect for the sexual and reproductive rights of young women and girls, including their access to sexual health services and thorough sexual education.  It would not be possible to end the AIDS epidemic if the needs of male and female sex workers, men who had sex with men, injection drug users, transgender persons, prisoners, migrants and persons with disabilities continued to be ignored and their access to care limited.  Luxembourg would increase by 8 per cent its contribution to the fifth replenishment conference of the Global Fund and it hoped others would follow suit.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) recalled that each day more than 6,000 people were infected with HIV.  The threat posed by HIV/AIDS 15 years ago was different than it was today, making it possible to claim many things had been done right.  Providing some examples, he said there had been a 58 per cent reduction of children newly infected with HIV, while gains in treatment had created a 26 per cent decline in AIDS-related deaths in since 2011.  Fully considering the human rights dimension was essential and the global response must address the needs of the most vulnerable, including people who injected drugs and men having sex with men, the latter of whom were 26 per cent more vulnerable than the general population.  The Political Declaration should have stated that ending AIDS would only be possible through ending the marginalization and criminalization of certain groups, he said, underscoring the importance that the HIV/AIDS response must also focus on women and girls.

BÉNÉDICTE FRANKINET (Belgium) said quelling the spread the epidemic did not mean there were fewer needs for investment to achieve its complete eradication.  She supported strengthening the central role of UNAIDS in coordinating the response.  Policies must be based on scientific data and take a multisectoral approach towards key populations, such as young women, men having sex with men, sex workers and drug injectors, as “troubling” setbacks had been seen among some groups that had previously shown substantial progress.  It was important not to create a hidden epidemic that stemmed from stigma.  A zero-tolerance approach in that regard was needed to meet the goal of no new infections, discrimination and AIDS-related deaths.  She also urged reinvigorating prevention efforts, with services adapted to adolescents.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan) emphasized the connection between human rights and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  In that regard, he noted the removal in 2014 of all restrictions on foreigners entering and living in Tajikistan on the basis of their HIV status.  All foreigners were also granted civil rights similar to those of Tajikistan’s citizens, including access to HIV treatment.  Antiretroviral therapy was provided free of charge through fruitful cooperation with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country office.  Tajikistan fully supported the UNAIDS strategy, which was being adapted to current realities and would be considered when developing a new five-year programme to fight AIDS.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said regional instability, including the movement of persons, could lead to new communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS.  Jordan enjoyed low HIV prevalence.  A health ministry programme to fight AIDS had been developed, with the first case detected in 1986.  UNAIDS was supporting an update to Jordan’s first policy, which covered 2005 to 2009.  A new plan would present the current status of the epidemic and any gaps in the existing national response.  It would be based on enhancing the availability of information, focusing on the most at-risk populations; improving detection; providing care to people living with HIV; creating a legally supportive environment; and building institutional and technical capacities to implement the response.  Committed to the International Labour Organization (ILO) code of practice to protect the right to work for people living with HIV/AIDS, Jordan would bring national legislation into line with international criteria.  It also observed the 2013 Arab Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS, aimed at reducing HIV by more than 50 per cent by 2020.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said national steps had included taking a pragmatic approach to HIV/AIDS, which had been implemented with the participation of civil society.  An effective harm-reduction programme, in both closed and community settings, had allowed for control of HIV transmission among injecting drug users.  Transmissions via other modes, however, were growing and the AIDS response was evolving to address the next wave of infections.  Iran had adopted a national strategy incorporating the 90-90-90 targets that aimed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.  The HIV response must be integrated into existing primary health-care structures, while strategic information must be “rigorously” used to improve scope and quality.  The Government was providing more than 95 per cent of HIV spending.  Stressing the need for technology, knowledge and expertise transfers, he welcomed international collaboration in order to reduce treatment costs, improve access to prevention, care and treatment and provide universal health coverage with the aim of meeting the 90-90-90 targets.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia) said the Government’s programme was the only one in the region to provide universal access to antiretroviral therapy to all HIV-positive persons regardless of his or her immune status or disease stage.  That was important in terms of increasing life expectancy and preventing new infections.  From 2017, Georgia would be the first country in the region to have a pre-exposure prophylaxis programme for high-risk men who had sex with men.  Despite the absence of a wide-scale epidemic, Georgia had seen a slow but steady increase in the number of new infections.  A major factor behind that development was a low level of testing among key populations, he said.  Although 5,700 cases of HIV infection had been officially registered, the estimated number was more than 9,000.  He went on to describe a ground-breaking programme to eliminate hepatitis C in Georgia, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Gilead Sciences, which had provided a unique opportunity to leverage broader health outcomes.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil) said national efforts had pioneered the universalization of access to care with a 1996 law making free treatment available to all infected persons.  Today, 474,000 people received antiretroviral therapy.  He emphasized the crucial role of States in reducing prices through actively negotiating in the public procurement of medicine, creating markets for generic drugs and developing industrial policies for the medicine sector.  Half of the 22 antiretroviral drugs used in Brazil were locally produced, he said, noting that domestic pharmaceutical company prices were lower than the international average.  In that context, he said innovative mechanisms, such as the Global Fund and the GAVI Alliance, a public-private global health organization dedicated to immunization for all, had helped to overcome institutional and market failures that had hindered lowering prices and, in turn, access to medicine.  Key stakeholders were fundamental allies in the HIV/AIDS response and should be empowered by national policies.  Regional and national variations should be recognized, he said, citing people who used stimulant drugs and young men who have sex with men.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said the battle against AIDS must be waged through collective action, responsibility and commitment.  Morocco had taken measures in partnership with civil society, caring for patients without discrimination and implementing the 2006 and 2011 political declarations on HIV/AIDS.  It had also prioritized the protection of those infected and halting the disease without stigma and under universal norms, such as equality and sensitivity.  Noting Morocco’s low prevalence of less than 0.1 per cent, he said the majority of new cases were among the most marginalized populations.  More than 150,000 people from those groups had benefited from prevention programmes that had been implemented through a community-based approach.  Morocco had created a national diagnostic strategy to integrate screening into primary health centres, increasing by 10-fold those that had been tested between 2011 and 2015.  There was also a national strategy to provide free access to care and treatment.

MARIE-LOUISE POTTER (Seychelles) said tremendous progress had been made in mitigating the national prevalence of HIV.  However, despite its best efforts, Seychelles had been unable to meet Goal 6 of the Millennium Development Goals.  Last year saw the highest number of HIV cases in Seychelles, with the 25-34 age group being most affected and intravenous drug use the most common mode of transmission.  Initiatives undertaken by the Government included universal and free access to antiretroviral therapy, the establishment of a wellness centre and a needle exchange programme.  In a historic move, it decriminalized homosexuality.  As a small island developing State, Seychelles still needed financial assistance to combat AIDS, but it had not been able to benefit from the Global Fund as an individual country, she said.

DAVID YITSHAK ROET (Israel) said AIDS trapped families and communities in a cycle of poverty, deepening inequalities and exclusion.  “We must seize this turning point in the HIV epidemic and, through decisive and accountable leadership”, revitalize the global response, he said.  Ending AIDS required more than doubling the number of people on treatment.  Young girls and women must have access to education and sexual and reproductive services.  States were obliged to provide key populations with full access to health-care services with dignity and respect, while innovations in science and technology must be pursued.  HIV treatment costs had fallen to just $80 per person per year, from $15,000, while dosage would soon be reduced to a single injection every four months, from 18 pills a day.  Further, Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University believed they had developed a treatment that could destroy HIV-infected cells, while Circ Med-tech had developed a non-surgical method of circumcision shown to reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV by nearly 60 per cent.  In such efforts, no one could be left out, especially the most vulnerable and key populations.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) said national priorities had included the building of an effective health system.  Measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, notably through prophylaxis use, were integral to its policy.  State financing in the last decade had more than tripled and measures had been enhanced through partnerships with the Global Fund and UNAIDS.  Belarus was working to reduce antiretroviral treatment costs, understanding the importance of those efforts for Eastern European countries.  It planned to hold a thematic interregional event on that issue at the end of 2016.  Also, combating stigma and discrimination had been prioritized using the contemporary methods and approaches.  Combating HIV/AIDS would succeed only through a coordinated multisectoral approach, he said, noting an important role to be played by civic groups and businesses.  Expressing support for the family, based on traditional values, he called on Governments to consider that young people must spend time not only on professions and education, but also have the desire and possibility of creating a family.  Ending HIV/AIDS would not succeed without addressing the illegal spread of narcotics, and he urged being merciless on those spreading the plague.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia) said AIDS was a development problem and without political commitment, cooperation and action, progress could be reversed.  Colombia had a 0.47 per cent prevalence rate among the general population, with higher rates among men who have sex with men, transgender persons and people who injected drugs.  It was committed to the 90-90-90 targets, followed World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and supported the adoption of combined prevention strategies.  He urged redoubled efforts to fight the epidemic, with action focused on, among other things, social health determinants, access to good quality medicine, comprehensive sexual education and research and development to optimize diagnosis.  Efforts also must focus on key populations, for example, by guaranteeing access to condoms and disposable syringes.  Colombia had taken a rights-based approach, recognizing that sexual and reproductive rights were inviolable and must be promoted and protected without discrimination.  Drawing attention to high medicine prices, he urged guaranteeing affordability, ensuring access to safe and quality medicine through investment and technology transfers and support for health systems with “robust” local pharmaceutical production.

STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), associating with the European Union, emphasized the importance of leaving no one behind, including key populations and those subjected to stigmatization and hatred as a result of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  It was unacceptable that many young people did not know enough about HIV prevention.  Given how the epidemic in Eastern Europe had been growing over the past decade, Bulgaria, with support from the Global Fund, had established a prevention programme that reached more than 50,000 people in high-risk groups.  He underlined the importance of integrated, holistic and high-quality services that protected and promoted the right to health for all, including human rights training for health-care providers.

MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua), emphasizing the promotion and protection of the rights of persons, described how the Sandinista Government had implemented an HIV policy that called for affordable prevention, diagnosis and treatment.  In that regard, it had provided the region with an example of an effective approach.  Where once there was only one hospital for those with HIV, there now were more than 53 that provided care and a day of solidarity had been established to raise awareness and address issues related to stigmatization.  To date, the purchase of HIV testing materials had been carried out using State funds, without depending on external cooperation.  Tests for HIV were available in all rural and urban centres, she said.

FERNANDO JORGE WAHNON FERREIRA (Cabo Verde) urged that commitments made in the Political Declaration be implemented, noting that sub-Saharan Africa was most affected by HIV/AIDS, especially among women and girls, which was posing problems for the continent’s sustainable development efforts.  Ending AIDS required eradicating poverty and promoting and protecting human rights.  Governments must prioritize the supply of good quality medicine and technology transfers in order to build health systems as part of a multisectoral response, while education and both physical and mental health must be offered without discrimination.  All forms of violence against women must be fought against and gender equality promoted.  Cabo Verde had a 0.8 per cent HIV prevalence rate among the general population.  Its national strategic plans included all stakeholders and support measures were being developed for key high-risk populations.

CRISTINA CARRIÓN (Uruguay), noting that Latin America and the Caribbean had the second-highest HIV incidence of all regions, urged expanding financial resources so all those in need could access antiretroviral treatment and national efforts could be maximized.  Uruguay had made progress in addressing the social determinants of the epidemic.  Mortality had stabilized in 2012, with new cases decreasing since 2013 and fewer late-stage diagnoses.  Also, vertical transmission had fallen to less than 2 per cent in 2015 from 8.3 per cent in 2005.  Citing men who have sex with men, gay and transgender persons, sex workers, prisoners and women living with HIV in situations of violence, among others, she underscored the importance of naming vulnerable groups in order to prevent them from becoming invisible.  The process of offering free and accessible diagnoses also must be “de-medicalized” through the provision of male and female condoms, she said, stressing that Uruguay was working to meet the 90-90-90 targets.

JIŘI ELLINGER (Czech Republic), associating himself with the European Union, said the Government was committed to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.  It had strengthened its prevention and control efforts and welcomed the sharing of international experience and good practices.  The Czech Republic was updating its national programme for HIV/AIDS, taking on board all relevant stakeholders and building on national and international evidence.  He noted such measures already in place, such as health education from early childhood, anonymous HIV testing, increased accessibility and affordability of quality treatment and care and the avoidance of mother-to-child transmission.  The Government was also proactively seeking to remedy cases of discrimination in order to eliminate the stigmatization of vulnerable groups.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that the indigenous Amazonian population was among the most vulnerable to HIV, with a prevalence rate between 1 and 2 per cent.  Geographical barriers and cultural difficulties had impeded their access to preventative measures and comprehensive care.  To address that and other challenges, the Government had implemented a number of initiatives, including the provision of free and universal access to antiretroviral therapy and a package of preventative measures including condoms and post-exposure prophylaxis.  It also reaffirmed the importance of addressing homophobia, transphobia and discrimination against persons living with HIV.  To raise awareness among the general population, Peru had designated 10 June as a national day of testing for HIV.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), associating with the African Union, said his Government was keen to keep pace with activities to fight AIDS undertaken by African and Arab Groups through common plans.  It was addressing the root causes of poverty and immigration at national and regional levels, working towards peace among its peoples through national dialogue, which ultimately would help to enhance health.  Sudan attached special importance to health services for HIV-positive persons through universal health coverage.  It had integrated health into all policies and was taking coordinated efforts to eliminate discrimination and stigma.  Expressing support for the Political Declaration, he pointed out several reservations, some of which contradicted cultural and ethical values on which Sudan’s policies were based.  Sudan was committed to eradicating AIDS by 2030, he said.  He regretted to point out the unilateral penalties against Sudan that could target national economic growth and called for international assistance in lifting unjust sanctions, which had hindered the Government’s efforts to fight AIDS.  He also underscored the importance of the family, cultural and other values and the principle of sovereignty.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), associating himself with the European Union, said scaling up the AIDS response required evidenced-based policies and programmes and increased investments.  Expressing support for an approach based on human rights and gender, he emphasized the need for universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive education.  Prevention of mother-to-child transmission was the most effective way to end new infections and he urged universal access to life-saving prevention, treatment, care and support.  Estonia was working to ensure that all people living with HIV knew their status through expanded testing at the primary care level. Co-morbidities presented another challenge.  Containing tuberculosis among those with HIV/AIDS was of utmost importance and he cited combined services for those diseases in that context.  Injecting drug use comprised almost half of the new cases in Eastern Europe and central Asia.  He supported strengthening health-care systems and capacities for broad public health measures and access to essential services and medicine for the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE  (Cameroon), associating with the African Group, stressed the importance of national ownership and leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Cameroon was a highly affected country, with a 4.3 per cent prevalence rate in its adult population.  The Government had prioritized combating the epidemic.  Along with development partners, the private sector and civil society, Cameroon had expanded care and support to infected people and worked to reduce maternal transmission.  It also was studying the epidemic and its sociological impacts and care costs, especially for antiretroviral drugs, and was working to intensify prevention activities.  Going forward, testing campaigns must be enhanced and other medicines must be made more available.  Efforts had been made to provide psychological, legal and socioeconomic assistance to vulnerable children.  The main challenge was mobilizing the required funds, he said, urging support for the Global Fund.

SUKHBOLD SUKHEE (Mongolia) said the number of reported cases of HIV infection was growing exponentially nationwide, with more than half of all notified cases reported in the last five years.  Modelled projections had shown that HIV prevalence could triple without an expanded national AIDS response.  Awareness of HIV infection and prevention among young people was far below global targets.  With Mongolia’s transition to middle-income status and the ensuing decline in donor support, prevention programmes among key populations had been cut back, demonstrating how a decrease in development assistance was likely to lead to an HIV funding crisis.  He asked UNAIDS and other international partners to focus not only on countries, but also on poor and vulnerable groups.  An estimated 70 per cent of HIV-positive people lived in middle-income countries, he said, and scaling back development assistance to those countries would put at risk those with the greatest needs while jeopardizing progress to reach the global vision of zero new HIV infections, zero HIV-related deaths and zero HIV-related discrimination.

JAGDISH DHARAMCHAND KOONJUL (Mauritius) said policymakers needed to pursue advocacy and strengthen preventive measures while ensuring that words were followed by deeds.  Those in Mauritius who had been most affected by HIV/AIDS included people who injected drugs, prisoners and pregnant women.  Rigidly following international guidance, Mauritius expected to meet the 90-90-90 targets by 2020 and it was aiming to become the first country in the region to completely eliminate mother-to-child transmission.  Noting that the Government was the major source of HIV-related financing, he made a special plea for contributions to the Global Fund and enhanced collaboration from its partners.

SHARON APPLEYARD (Australia) said the Political Declaration should have “gone further” on language around key affected populations and had represented the minimum needed to end AIDS.  She urged a focus on key populations and evidence-based programmes targeting those groups, an approach that had worked in Australia, which could be seen in its low HIV transmission rates.  Over the last decade, Australia had provided AUD$1 billion to support HIV programmes in the region.  Since 1992, it had supported programmes in Papua New Guinea, in line with that Government’s strategy, and last year, had provided testing for 115,000 people, including 22,000 pregnant women.  Nationally, its strategy recognized key populations as people living with HIV, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, people from high-prevalence countries and their partners, travellers, sex workers, people who injected drugs and those in custodial settings.  By working with affected communities, female sex worker and mother-to-child transmission was “virtually non-existent”.

AHAMED LEBBE SABARULLAH KHAN (Sri Lanka) said an estimated 36.9 million people around the world lived with HIV/AIDS.  Stressing that Sri Lanka had a low HIV prevalence rate, he said that in 2015, it had registered an increase and had enhanced efforts to obtain more information.  Sixty-eight new cases had been reported in the first quarter of 2016, which the Government believed represented only a fraction of HIV-infected people.  HIV transmission due to male-to-male sex was increasing.  The national HIV/AIDS control programme offered preventive and curative services.  Hospitals offered blood testing and antiretroviral therapy, notably through 14 centres across the country.  Treatment of sexually transmitted infections, increased condom use, HIV testing and peer education had been also used to increase awareness.

AHMED SAREER (Maldives) said that, despite a prevalence rate of less than 1 per cent, research had shown that there was “a high epidemic potential”.  Emerging trends had raised the risk of increased exposure among locals to a wide range of diseases, including HIV and sexually transmitted infections.  Injecting drug use and high-risk sexual behaviour remained the most likely triggers of an HIV epidemic in the Maldives, he added.  The geographical distribution of the Maldives made it expensive to implement and deliver HIV prevention and control measures.  Since graduating from least developed nation status, its ability to access the Global Fund was a challenge.  “Arbitrary classifications based on income levels unfairly disadvantaged genuine needs,” he said, hoping that a renewed commitment to combating HIV/AIDS would bring about changes and allow countries like the Maldives to tap into funding and technical expertise.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS GRANT (Canada), noting high-burden countries such as South Africa and Nigeria where girls accounted for more than 80 per cent of all new HIV infections among adolescents, stressed the need to reach women and girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and education.  In addition, he said, meaningful steps must be taken to halt domestic violence and abuse, with the involvement of men and boys.  It was also important to recognize the vulnerability of indigenous populations, whose needs were often unique.  Innovation to make treatment cheaper and more effective and to find a cure to HIV meant investing in research and development.  Canada, which had recently announced a 20 per cent increase to its Global Fund contribution, to CAD$785 million for 2017-2019, was proud to host the Fund’s replenishment conference in Montreal in September.  “This will be a big year for the fight against HIV/AIDS [and] Canada will be there,” he said.

JOSÉ ALBERTO ANTONIO SANDOVAL COJULÚN (Guatemala) underlined the importance of addressing the needs of key populations, noting that the Government had prioritized the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, without discrimination.  It was also working with other countries to eliminate legal barriers limiting access to treatment, and working to meet the 90-90-90 targets.  “We have a problem,” he said, noting that there were not enough resources and that available funds must be used rationally, especially for people in high-risk groups.  The struggle against corruption was among the Government’s priorities.  It would not be able to complete its work without the help of UNAIDS and the Global Fund, he said, emphasizing that the fight against HIV/AIDS was a joint effort, which implied contributions from each sector in order to reach zero deaths, infections and discrimination.  With such assistance, barriers to a better world would be overcome.

JOUNI LAAKSONEN (Finland) endorsed a human rights-based and gender-responsive approach to combating HIV/AIDS, taking into account those most affected and at risk.  Addressing the needs of young women and adolescent girls, children, young men and migrants, as well as men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and prisoners, was essential for an effective global response.  In particular, it was crucial that all women and girls had the knowledge needed to make decisions concerning their bodies, sexuality and reproductive health.  He urged investing in gender-transformative HIV programmes that engaged men and boys, stressing that comprehensive sexuality education was important for advancing tolerance and non-violence in relationships.  More investment was also needed in advocacy, civil society and community-based services.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said global goals and targets must integrate countries’ concerns when considering peoples’ holistic well-being.  “Discrimination and stigmatization can never be an excuse to exclude,” he said, urging that every effort be made to distinguish among policies that discriminated and those established to discourage risk-taking behaviour.  Access to prevention, treatment and care services would never be enough by themselves and it was important to address root causes.  HIV/AIDS and related infections required urgent political attention and the international community must find the will, technical expertise, resources and methods to provide universal access to diagnosis and treatment.  In closing, he urged that attention be paid to the plight of children living with HIV.

ALASAN SENGHORE, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said efforts to reach key populations were much too limited, while stigma, discrimination and human rights violations were rampant and commitments were needed to remove barriers to access for HIV services for those groups.  To reduce HIV transmission among people who injected drugs, evidence-based harm-reduction policies and greater efforts to reduce discrimination were needed.  In developing countries, community health systems must be bolstered in rural and remote areas, while people caught in emergencies — 1 of every 19 people living with HIV — must not be revictimized through human trafficking, gender or sexual-based violence or lack of access to life-saving drugs.

PATRICIA ANN TORSNEY, Permanent Observer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, recalled that in a recent meeting, parliamentarians had shared legislation and programming aimed at protecting vulnerable populations.  In too many places, stigma and legal discrimination presented barriers to voluntary HIV/AIDS testing and treatment.  Parliamentarians could enlighten people in fighting such behaviour, both at the national level and within local constituencies.  Several participants had expressed concern at an overreliance on donor assistance in AIDS responses, recommending that the political commitment translated to stronger domestic financing for programmes.  She welcomed the Political Declaration’s strong references to rights, inequalities and effective laws and policies.

AHMED FATHALLA, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States, presented the Arab AIDS Strategy that had been endorsed by the Council of Arab Ministers of Health.  Arab States had shown political will by accepting regional and global commitments, he said, noting also an initiative to accelerate and expand HIV/AIDS treatment in the Eastern Mediterranean region.  He expressed appreciation for the leadership provided by UNAIDS and looked forward to the end of AIDS within the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals.

MOHAMMAD NURUL ALAM, Permanent Observer of Partners in Population and Development, said HIV and AIDS remained a global emergency and a serious threat to development, progress and stability around the world.  Their spread was often the cause and consequence of poverty and inequality.  Official development assistance (ODA) would remain crucial, he said, underscoring the importance of enhanced international cooperation, particularly South-South efforts, to support the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.  Such cooperation fostered a spirit of solidarity among peoples and countries of the South and that notion needed to be optimally harnessed, he said, adding that such an approach was a complement — not a substitute — to North-South cooperation.

VINICIUS CARVALHO PINHEIRO, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said to fast-track the end of AIDS, enabling legal and policy frameworks must be implemented at the national level to prevent stigma, discrimination and violence that only increased the risk of HIV, especially for vulnerable groups.  Vigorous and effective protection of human rights was essential.  The rights to privacy, confidentiality and to work and freely choose one’s occupation must be defended.  Noting that 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, which provided for protection from discrimination in employment and occupation, equal opportunity and treatment for male and female workers, protection of worker’s privacy and safety and health at work, he said ILO Recommendation 200 offered protections against workplace discrimination and had influenced the development of national legislation, applied in at least a dozen national and regional court decisions upholding the rights of HIV-positive workers

RITA WAHAB, of MENA-Rosa, said the right to health included access to affordable, timely and quality care, noting that the Middle East and North Africa region had the lowest antiretroviral coverage, at 17 per cent.  Stigma and discrimination, gender inequality, punitive laws and legal barriers along with cultural and social practices had prevented women and adolescents, among others, from seeking comprehensive services and enjoying their rights.  The humanitarian crisis in the region had compounded women’s vulnerability to HIV, through rape, early marriage, trafficking, gender-based violence, prostitution and poverty.  She urged more financing for key populations in the region, advocating for regional solidarity and increasing investment in innovative prevention programmes for young people, including comprehensive sexuality education.

MIDNIGHT POONKASETWATTANA, Executive Director of APCOM, a coalition working in Asia and the Pacific, said it was time for urgent and greater investment in innovative regional and national approaches and programmes for, and led by, key populations.  As a proud gay man and member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, he expressed disappointment that the Political Declaration had omitted, excluded and misrepresented gay men and other men who had sex with men, sex workers, people who used drugs and transgender people.  By not mentioning them, the Political Declaration turned a blind eye on the reality of HIV and AIDS.  Although the Asia and Pacific region had the largest HIV epidemic outside of sub-Saharan Africa, it was barely mentioned, he said, noting a rapid escalation of the epidemic in Asia alongside drastic cuts in financial assistance.  He hoped there would be other opportunities for more progressive action and commitments on the ground and asked that Member States explore, develop and maintain effective partnership with community organizations led by, and serving, key communities.

KIERAN DALY, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, underscored the need revolutionize the AIDS response.  When the disease had emerged, it was impossible to imagine there would be such novel ways to protect against infection.  “We cannot simply keep doing what has worked so far,” he said.  “We must be faster and smarter in the ways we work.”  Significant gaps remained in the ability to comprehensively address HIV/AIDS.  Without urgently addressing plateauing declines in new infections, there was a risk of reversing gains.  There had been increases in access to life-saving treatment, yet too few people were able to maintain regimens to suppress the virus.  It was essential to tailor delivery to diverse needs, from self-testing to simplified care approaches.

He said many people most at risk lacked the tools and services to meet their needs.  Young women in sub-Saharan Africa lacked prevention options that fit with the realities of their lives.  Understanding the structural barriers to services for young women, men who have sex with men, transgender people and those who used drugs, among others, was essential, as was a response driven by the use of better data that addressed each of those unique circumstances.  Investments in new, game-changing prevention tools were needed, as were long-acting options that harnessed the power of the immune system, which must be factored into the cost of the epidemic.  The Global Fund must be fully funded to the $13 billion it was requesting, he said.

Panel V

This morning, the Assembly held its fifth and final panel discussion, which focused on the theme “children, adolescents, girls and young women:  preventing new infections”.  Co-chaired by Ava Rossana Guevara Pinto, Vice-President of Honduras, and Mothetjoa Metsing, Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho, it heard from panellists in two rounds.  The first featured:  Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister for Health of South Africa; Pagwesese David Parirenyatwa, Minister for Health and Child Care of Zimbabwe; Raymonde Goudou Coffie, Minister for Health and Public Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire; and Joseph Kasonde, Minister for Health of Zambia.

The second round featured:  Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Olena Stryzhak, All Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV, Ukraine; and Chip Lyons, CEO, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, United States.

Mr. METSING described reductions in the rates of new infections among children, as well as progress in closing the treatment gap among children.  Four countries — Cuba, Thailand, Armenia and the Republic of Moldova — had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV, with more countries well on their way.  Nevertheless, half of children living with HIV were not on life-saving treatment and few knew they were HIV positive.  AIDS and childbirth were the leading causes of death among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa.  Much of that preventable mortality resulted from a lack of sexual health education and an underlying culture of gender inequality and gender-based violence.

Every year, more than 200 million women had unmet needs for contraception, leading to approximately 80 million unintended pregnancies, he said.  Progress in improving access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights education and services was not sufficient and was not reaching many of the populations most at risk of HIV infection.  He described promising examples of HIV prevention approaches, which needed to be brought to scale, including:  social protection and economic empowerment including the provision of cash transfers, school enrolment and addressing gender-based violence, as well as comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services and rights.

He then asked Mr. Motsoaledi to share his country’s experiences with protecting adolescent girls and young women.

Mr. MOTSOALEDI said South Africa was engaged in a “whole of society campaign” that targeted adolescent girls as well as the men who impregnated them.  The three-year campaign was based on data that showed a cycle of HIV infection, and had several aims, including:  decreasing teenage pregnancies, keeping girls in school, decreasing sexual and gender-based violence and increasing economic opportunities for young people.  The campaign would link adolescent girls to health care, get them tested for HIV, talk to their parents and also work with their older male partners.

Mr. METSING turned to Mr. Parirenyatwa, noting that Zimbabwe had shown impressive results in scaling up treatment coverage, and asked what it would take to protect girls and young women and to break the cycle of “business as usual”.

Mr. PARIRENYATWA responded that, despite his country’s strides in reducing its HIV prevalence, more remained to be done to close the gap of new infections among girls and young women.  Some 90 per cent of HIV-positive females received prevention of mother-to-child transmission services in Zimbabwe.  However, sexuality education was needed for girls beginning at 10 years of age.  Three months ago, child marriage had been outlawed in Zimbabwe, which was a good way forward.  A multisectoral approach was also needed to address the problem of high HIV infection rates in secondary schools and universities.  Proven preventive methods, such as condom use, must be further promoted.

Mr. METSING then asked Ms. Coffie why it was difficult for people to accept key populations and provide them with services.

Ms. COFFIE responded that the key populations in her country were being targeted through overall HIV prevention programmes.  Contact, communication and access to health care and treatment were critical.  Her country’s education programmes helped to target children with HIV awareness at an early age.

Mr. METSING asked Mr. Kasonde about Zambia’s work using social media to improve adolescents’ awareness of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and whether those programmes were working for young women and girls.

Mr. KASONDE said that less than half of Zambia’s adolescent population was knowledgeable about HIV and how it was transmitted.  The country was using SMS messages to reach that population, facilitating real-time communication between young people and trained health counsellors.  Among other things, it was also using radio to share tailored information to enhance knowledge of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections.

When the floor was opened for an interactive discussion, a number of speakers acknowledged the feminization of the HIV epidemic and described national approaches to reduce the vulnerability of young women and girls.

The representative of Thailand said his country was working to protect that population, in particular through post-natal care for women and their families, prevention of unintended pregnancies and the avoidance of mother-to-child transmission.  It was providing youth-friendly health services, promoting condom use and raising awareness of HIV prevention among young people.  Those services extended not only to Thai people but also to migrants.

The First Lady of Haiti agreed with other speakers that new programmes were needed to galvanize HIV prevention, in particular among adolescent girls and young women.  In her country, the situation had been exacerbated by poverty and natural disasters; as a result, young women were more exposed to prostitution and rape.  Combating those crises could not be achieved without money, she said, underscoring the importance of international solidarity and financial support.

The representative of Denmark said that every day an estimated 10,000 girls and young women were newly infected with HIV.  The solution lay in empowering that population and providing access to education and sexual and reproductive health and rights.  “We must empower young people to become agents of change in their own societies,” he said, stressing that young people must be part of the global conversation on how to end AIDS.

The representative of Kenya said that, like many others, his country struggled with young women having sex with much older men or “sponsors”.  Kenya was working to bring down the rate of new HIV infections among that population through specific, targeted, youth-friendly interventions.

Also participating was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Malawi, as well as the representatives of Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden and the Russian Federation.

A representative of civil society also participated.

Ms. GUEVARA PINTO, taking the floor to open the second round, asked Mr. Osotimehin what could be done to address the lack of “straight talk” on the sexual rights of women and girls.

Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said that the reason why HIV still thrived was that the world had been unable to break through some of the difficult circumstances under which many women and girls lived.  Those included gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, gender inequality, unenforced or non-existent protective laws and religious barriers.  There was a need to work with young people in decision and policymaking.  “Sexual and reproductive health and rights” had been overly politicized, he said, underscoring the universal right of each human being to make their own health choices.  The spread of HIV among young women was largely due to the irresponsible actions of some older men, he added.

Ms. GUEVARA PINTO then asked Ms. Stryzhak why she felt 71 per cent of new HIV infections in her region were among adolescent girls and what could be done to fully engage that population in the HIV response.

Ms. STRYZHAK expressed her hope that the recently adopted Political Declaration would not become “just another piece of paper”.  Governments needed to recognize and address key populations, including men who had sex with men, drug users, sex workers and others, and take steps to meet their needs.  Noting that today’s panel had been male-dominated, she underscored the need for leadership among women and girls in policymaking and in the HIV response in general.  The promotion, respect for and fulfilment of the human rights of women and girls must be a key part of the AIDS response, which should also make use of harm-reduction programmes.  “Women and girls deserve better,” she stressed.

Ms. GUEVARA PINTO then turned to Mr. Lyons.  Recalling his statement that Fast Track was not sufficient to rapidly improve children’s access to treatment, she asked what other options he proposed in that respect.

Mr. LYONS said Fast Track was an ambitious, appropriate programme.  However, it needed to be matched with an ethos of pragmatic problem solving.  Among other things, “we need better paediatric formulations” as well as better testing, he said.  “It is entirely in our hands,” he said, underscoring the importance of the new “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS-Free” super fast-track framework recently launched by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), UNAIDS and partners.

In the ensuing discussion, a number of speakers underscored the importance of addressing the underlying inequality drivers of today’s HIV epidemic.

Several delegates, including the representative of Chile, stressed the importance of involving men in the conversation about HIV transmission and respect for women’s rights.  That was particularly necessary because traditional male hegemony was prevalent in much of the world.

A representative of the civil society organization Global Business Council declared:  “We cannot solve this issue only working with women and girls, because the primary cause is men.”  The first sexual intercourse for approximately 25 to 40 per cent of girls was forced, he said, noting that after being raped by an HIV-positive man, a girl had 72 hours to access post-exposure prophylaxis.  “These are urgent intervention needs,” he said in that regard.

The representative of Canada also expressed the need to involve men, as well as women and adolescent girls, as change agents in their own lives.  There was a need to continue to support the development of an HIV vaccine, which she said would greatly help young women and the children they bore.

The representative of Gambia warned that “we cannot use a one-size-fits-all solution to end AIDS”.  In that regard, she called for States to tailor interventions to their own cultural contexts.

Also speaking were the representatives of Cuba, Costa Rica, Ireland, Mauritius, United Republic of Tanzania, Mali, Bahrain and Namibia.

Three other civil society representatives also took part in the discussion.

 

Source:  United Nations