Statement by Heiko Maas Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs at the UN Security Council“The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security: international humanitarian law”

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the UN Security Council

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the UN Security Council, © dpa

13.08.2019 - Speech

New York, 13. August 2019

Only two weeks ago, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising together. In the final months of the Second World War, 200,000 innocent men and women – most of them civilians – were murdered by German soldiers. The city of Warsaw was left in ruins.

It was crimes like this that led the international community to proclaim “Never again!”

The Geneva Conventions were adopted. And to this day, they remain one of humanity’s proudest achievements. The alternative – war without limits – is simply not acceptable.

The Geneva Conventions are the cornerstone of international humanitarian law. And their spirit is upheld by the brave men and women in humanitarian operations worldwide who dedicate their lives to saving the lives of others.

And while they are doing their job, we have to ask ourselves: Are we really doing our job?

  • Of course, humanitarian issues have become regular items on the agenda of the Security Council.
  • The Council is more frequently briefed by experts whose credibility is beyond any doubt – people like our briefers today. They make sure that attacks on humanitarian actors and violations of humanitarian law are addressed clearly.

But can we talk about progress when humanitarian crises are multiplying, especially in contexts of armed conflict?

What does it say about this Council when we meet time and time again and people are still dying?

Respect for humanitarian law is declining. And the complexity of modern warfare – with extremist groups and conflicts without borders – adds new, deadly challenges.

  • Day after day, civilians, humanitarian workers and medical personnel are attacked.
  • Hospitals and schools are targeted. Just recently, a hospital supported by the German Government and its humanitarian partners in the Syrian town of Kafr Nabl was attacked twice.

This is just one example of many.

We are failing the most vulnerable. We are not living up to our legal and ethical obligations.

Mr Maurer, Peter, you once said: “Peace remains the ultimate goal of neutral and impartial humanitarian work, and that goal is highly political.” I agree.

It is a threat to peace and security when thousands of people die.

When tens of thousands fear for their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When the most basic principles of humanity are at risk, this Council must take action. It is our duty to do so.

We might not agree on the political solutions to many of the world’s conflicts. That is the sad reality.

But we must bridge our differences when our only task is to protect human lives. So, let us live up to the principles we all agreed on 70 years ago.

  • Let us bring those who attack humanitarian workers and violate the Geneva Conventions to justice. This is why Germany supports organisations that document war crimes in Syria. The perpetrators must know that they will not go unpunished.
  • Let us use our influence to ensure that all parties to conflicts fully respect humanitarian law and principles.
  • The goal of humanitarian diplomacy must be to spread knowledge on international humanitarian law. Just as the German armed forces already do whenever they carry out training missions abroad, such as in Mali.
  • And let us back those who negotiate every day on humanitarian access. Their success saves human lives. Institutions like the Geneva-based Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation deserve our full Support.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are concrete steps we can take – today, not tomorrow.

They are part of the “Humanitarian Call for Action” that Germany and France initiated during our joint presidencies of the Security Council in March and April.

Our meeting today is an important step forward. We invite all member states, starting with the members of the Security Council, to join us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must not forget the lessons that humanity learned 70 years ago. For those who saw the horrors of World War II, the Geneva Conventions became a sign of hope. And they still are today – if we finally implement them. Any progress we make will save the lives of many. It is our duty to try.

Thank you, Mr President!


Top of page