Statement von Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the UN Security Council briefing on safeguarding humanitarian space

01.04.2019 - Speech

Our discussion has made one thing clear: we are anything but indifferent to human suffering. Action has to be taken wherever help is needed.

Unfortunately, our discussion has also shown that doing this – providing help where it is needed – is becoming more and more difficult. The humanitarian space is shrinking in many parts of the world.
Today, armed conflicts are more complex than ever before.
• They last longer and increasingly take place in urban spaces.
• A growing number of non-state actors or rebel groups are involved: and not only in Syria, where this fragmentation is especially evident.
• Sadly, attacks on hospitals and medical personnel have become commonplace – our session this morning has made that clear, too.

Instead of being protected, the work of aid workers is becoming more dangerous.

Yemen, North-east Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are only some examples.
Ladies and gentlemen, although it’s vital that the Security Council addresses these tragedies, talking is not enough. We have to take action. As today’s discussion has shown, three points are especially important:
First of all, upholding international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. These norms are not an end in themselves. They protect the lives of aid workers – and the people they help.

As the second largest bilateral donor, Germany rejects any kind of political instrumentalisation of humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian space can only be established if the neutrality and independence of aid workers are not in doubt.

Humanitarian aid workers live by these principles every day – often at great risk to themselves. They deserve our thanks and our full support for the valuable work they do!

Ladies and gentlemen,
Humanitarian space can only be established where rules apply.

But only those familiar with international humanitarian norms can consciously apply them. Secondly, therefore, we have to help humanitarian actors to impart the necessary know-how about international humanitarian law. That is all the more important at a time when more and more non-state parties are involved in conflicts.

Humanitarian organisations must therefore be able to continue working with such groups. If this is prohibited, the international community will lose influence over a group of players of increasing importance. That is not in our best interest.

We as states also have a responsibility. President Maurer, what you said today was important: We are all bound by international humanitarian law. Therefore, especially those of us who support parties to conflicts must ensure that these parties live up to their obligation to comply unconditionally with international humanitarian law.

Thirdly, the law itself must not become the target of attacks. For instance, through national laws which supposedly take precedence over humanitarian law. We’re seeing this more and more frequently, especially in the case of counterterrorism laws.

It’s good that we in the United Nations are now discussing the impact of such laws, as well as the consequences of sanctions, on humanitarian work. Germany will play its part in this, also within the context of the various sanctions regimes.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Germany and France are determined to advance the exchange on this issue with all of you. Our aim is to compile concrete recommendations in the coming months in a humanitarian call to action.
It is intended to provide answers to pressing questions:
• Where and how should we ensure the protection of aid workers and those receiving assistance?
• Where do we need training and instruction in international humanitarian law?
• How can we better support compliance with international humanitarian law in conflict regions?

Today’s discussion was a start. To mark the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Geneva Conventions in August, Poland – our partner in the Weimar Triangle – will follow up on today’s exchange. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Jacek, for that.
It’s important that we all pull in the same direction: we have to act where help is needed. That’s the task of the Security Council. We should and we will rise to this challenge.

Thank you!


Top of page