Skip to main content

Official speeches and statements - July 19, 2021

Published on July 19, 2021

1. United Nations - Preserving humanitarian space - Statement in national capacity by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs - Security Council ministerial meeting (New York - July 16, 2021)

Madam Deputy Secretary-General,
Mr. Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Madam Deputy Director of Advocacy of Action Against Hunger,

All three of you have just presented an extremely worrisome picture: an unprecedented shrinking of the humanitarian space, to the extent that respect for international humanitarian law is declining and all type of attacks against humanitarian and medical workers are increasing. As you have pointed out, civilian populations in crisis theaters are paying the price.

This is all the more worrying as we have never before been in a such dire need of international solidarity given the upsurge in number of crises and the brutalization of the world, which continues to worsen.

This is why it is our responsibility to act.

Act, first and foremost, to raise awareness of and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

The UN Security Council has a major role to play in reminding the armed forces which are parties to conflicts, as well as non-state armed groups, of the principles and necessity of international humanitarian law. We must also ensure that troops engaged in peacekeeping operations receive appropriate training.

Each and every one of us can and should assist these efforts by extending this work to our national armed forces and their partners. France, which is already doing this, in particular in the Sahel, has just developed a new training plan on international humanitarian law for French state actors who work on these matters, as well as for our armed forces’ partners, parliamentarians, NGOs and interested French companies.

To act also means mobilizing to ensure that impartial humanitarian actors are not prosecuted or convicted solely because they have carried out humanitarian work in line with international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles.

Humanitarian medical personnel do not distinguish between the wounded they treat based on reasons that are foreign to medicine. Such an attitude would be contrary to the very ethics of their profession. It is therefore unacceptable for them to be sent to prison for having treated individuals on the grounds that, by doing so, they would be helping combatants.

Similarly, the financing of humanitarian operations which are in line with international law should not be undermined by practices of overconformity from banks, which can in fact deprive humanitarian workers of the very possibility to do their work. On this point, I believe we have paved the way with the adoption of Resolution 2462.

We should continue to work to better incorporate these concrete concerns into the texts we adopt. And the recent review of the DRC sanctions regime has led to significant progress in this regard, without undermining the usefulness of this regime.

Once again, France considers that action is also necessary at the national level.

In France, we have set up a direct communication channel between banks and NGOs, in order to build a dialogue based on trust so that these two sectors can learn to understand and talk to each other better. And in order to formalize good practices, a guide has been developed for banks and NGOs.

We have also prepared, under the aegis of the French Minister of Justice, a circular that encourages the prosecutor office to take into account the specificity of the missions of humanitarian actors in the implementation of anti-terrorist criminal legislation. This text stipulates in particular that "the fact of providing impartial medical assistance or humanitarian support alone to civilian populations located in areas where terrorist groups operate" cannot be punished.

We have also unequivocally expressed our commitment to the principle of non-discrimination of the final beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance provided by humanitarian NGOs in line with international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. We are currently studying the legal impact of this principle.

To act also involves protecting humanitarian workers: we must fight in a determined way against impunity for crimes and attacks perpetrated against them in order to deter them from being carried out.

It is therefore imperative that we sanction more frequently the perpetrators and sponsors of attacks against humanitarian and medical personnel.

This requires that sanctions regimes allow for the targeting of perpetrators of crimes against humanitarian workers. The Council has just introduced this criterion in the DRC regime, I mentioned this; it should be extended to other regimes.

On a national level, we must launch investigations and prosecutions.

In France, prosecutor offices will be asked to seek the highest possible criminal qualification for these acts.

We are also ready to strengthen our international judicial cooperation with our partners on this.

The path of international criminal justice must also be foreseen, since crimes committed against humanitarian workers fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This would send a strong signal.

Finally, to act means strengthening the role of the United Nations regarding early warning and the preservation of the humanitarian space, in the wake of the essential efforts of OCHA, UNHCR and UNRWA.

In this regard, I would like to thank you, Madam Deputy Secretary-General, for announcing the forthcoming appointment of a Special Adviser on the Preservation of Humanitarian Space, and we will obviously work very closely with this person as soon as possible.

I’m sure you have understood, you can count on France to continue this fight, which we are proud to contribute by promoting the Humanitarian Call for Action that I launched with my German counterpart in 2019 and which now has 50 signatories. I hope that all the members of this Council can join this Call.

We will also raise this essential issue for France during our presidency of the European Union in the first semester of next year because Europe, the world’s primary humanitarian donor, has a particular responsibility in this area. I would like to announce that we will take this opportunity to organize a European conference on humanitarian aid ("Assises européennes de l’humanitaire"), in collaboration with the European Commission, in the first quarter of 2022.

Thank you for your attention.