Statement by Minister Coveney at the IIEA Security Council Stakeholder Forum
Statement21 May 2021
I am pleased to meet with you all today.
It is now five months since we took up our seat on the Security Council; to say it has been a busy time is an understatement. We have been active across the full Council agenda, and are bringing our principled and independent perspective on a range of key issues, as we said we would.
I will say a few words about some of the main issues and priorities that we are working on.
But first, let me say how much we value the support and engagement with civil society partners and academics as part of our work on the Council.
We are fortunate in Ireland to have a strong and vibrant civil society, with detailed experience and expertise, built up over many decades, on many of the issues we are dealing with on the Council.
I am committed to engaging broadly with civil society partners, here in Ireland and internationally, throughout our time on the Council, as we are in other areas of our work. This is one of several forums through which the Department engages with civil society partners.
We also aim to ensure that the Security Council itself hears directly from civil society actors.
The work that you are doing, individually and through this Stakeholder Forum, is important, and I thank you for it.
I know that this group has been meeting regularly, and that the Forum has provided valuable input on some of the issues that we are working on. I would like to thank the IIEA for facilitating the Forum, and I look forward to this continuing this engagement throughout our term.
I am pleased, also, that we are joined today by our UN Youth Delegates, Tara Grace Connolly and Conn McCarrick. The voice of young people is too often unheard on issues of peace and security, issues that directly affect them and their communities.
As I have said on many occasions, Ireland takes the responsibility that comes with being an elected member of the Security Council very seriously.
Our approach on the Council is guided by three principles: building peace, strengthening conflict prevention and ensuring accountability.
We are working to play a constructive and thoughtful role on the Security Council.
This is not always an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
Ireland enjoys good relations with all members of the Security Council, including the five permanent (P5) members, and we work closely with the elected ten (E10) and cross-regionally.
Indeed just yesterday, I discussed a range of Security Council issues with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian during his visit to Dublin. Earlier in the week, I had useful discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.
I will focus my remarks today on a number of the geographic and thematic issues on which we are have taken on a leadership role, or where we have been particularly active since taking up our seat.
Firstly, I would like to say a few words about the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
I welcome the ceasefire announced yesterday which must now be supported and implemented. Our immediate focus must be on getting vital humanitarian assistance to those who need it.
At the Security Council’s Open Debate on the situation on Sunday, I paid tribute to the dedicated staff of UNRWA and other UN agencies and NGOs who provide critical services and support, even in the most harrowing of circumstances. Their work relies on the support of the international community, and on Wednesday I announced an additional €1.5m in emergency support to UNRWA and UNICEF in response to emergency appeals.
Beyond the restoration of calm, the root causes of this conflict must be addressed. The international community, and the Security Council, have a role in this.
In the past fortnight the Security Council met four times in response to the hostilities.
At the Open Debate on Sunday I made it clear that the Council and its members have a responsibility to speak out, and send a clear and united message that the cycle of violence and bloodshed must end.
I find it difficult to comprehend how the UN Security Council - the body that has a responsibility for international peace and security – has not yet been able to agree a clear joint statement on this issue.
We have used every opportunity to raise the situation. I was in touch with the Egyptian and Qatari Foreign Ministers, with Saudi Arabia and with the Palestinian Prime Minister. I discussed this situation with the Iranian and the French Foreign Ministers during their visits to Dublin this week.
At the Council, we have been working in tandem with EU partners. We worked with Estonia and France, and issued a joint statement on 12 May. We condemned the violence robustly and urged maximum restraint in order to protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law.
Ireland has also been working closely with France on negotiations in New York to agree a Security Council resolution. We will be discussing later today how to take this forward following last night’s ceasefire agreement.
The President of the UN General Assembly convened the General Assembly yesterday – this reflected the widespread concern among UN Member States.
The EU also has a responsibility. I welcome the remarks made by HRVP Borrell after the extraordinary meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday in which he called for a ceasefire. HRVP Borrell also underlined that real security for Israeli and Palestinians requires a true political solution that will bring peace. The EU Special Representative can play an important role through the Middle East Quartet.
While we now have a ceasefire, I am conscious that it is very fragile.
While the focus now rightly turns to implementing the ceasefire and getting vital humanitarian assistance to those in need, we cannot return to recurring cycles of violence. This is no longer an option. We need both a return to a serious negotiation process between the parties and a sustained engagement in the underlying factors that lead to this recent cycle of violence. These are messages I reiterated in the Seanad and Dáil this week.
Protecting the millions of Syrians in need is a core priority for Ireland.
As part of our work as co-penholder on the humanitarian situation in Syria, I visited Turkey in January, where I saw first-hand the vital role that the Bab al-Hawa crossing plays in meeting the needs of the 2.7 million vulnerable Syrians around the Idlib area.
Every month, Ireland delivers a joint statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation, together with our co-penholder, Norway. I had conversations on this specific issue with both Minister Lavrov and Minister Zarif this week. We have a significant task ahead of us in the next few months, as we prepare for the renewal of the mandate for the cross-border operation in July.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of this Forum who contributed to the submission on humanitarian access in Syria, which has been invaluable in our preparations and planning.
As you are aware, we are acting as Facilitator on the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. I hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Dublin on Wednesday. This followed on from my visit to Iran in March where I met with President Rouhani and Minister Zarif. I am pleased to see the progress to date in the talks in Vienna, and hope that agreement can be reached on a return to full compliance with the JCPOA by all.
I have also discussed the JCPOA with US Secretary of State (Antony) Blinken. and others, including French Foreign Minister (Jean-Yves) Le Drian during his visit to Dublin yesterday. We will continue to do what we can to uphold the JCPOA and encourage a return to full compliance with the agreement.
African issues are a priority for us on the Council, and we are working closely with the African members of the Council (the A3), while also encouraging closer cooperation between the UN and the Africa Union on peace and security issues.
Earlier this week, I participated in a Security Council Open Debate on Peace and Security in Africa, and the Council adopted a Presidential Statement on the same subject. As I told other Council members, Irish women and men are serving in three UN peacekeeping and five EU peace support missions across the continent of Africa. Africa remains an important focus of our international development programme and we will continue to expand our engagement in the coming years. I look forward to celebrating our strong bonds of friendships with the continent next week around Africa Day.
We have taken on the role of co-penholder, with Niger, for the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel, which does vital conflict prevention work in that region, and we are chairing the Somalia Sanctions Committee, building on our history of engagement in the Horn of Africa.
Ireland has a long history of engagement in Ethiopia and I know a number of you represent organisations that carry out vital work there today.
Reports from Tigray over recent months have been shocking. It is imperative that we see an urgent end to hostilities and unfettered humanitarian access so that vital aid can be provided to those in need. There are multiple, credible and harrowing reports of grave violations of human rights.
Ireland initiated Council meetings on this issue in February and March, and led the negotiation of a Council statement in April, the first time the Security Council has spoken on this issue since the start of this crisis.
We strongly support the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, working with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, to investigate reported atrocities. It is vital that those investigations be credible and transparent.
We will work to maintain the Council’s focus on this issue in the months ahead.
Even as we address pressing crises such as those in Ethiopia, we must also look beyond the traditional threats to international peace and security and address contemporary drivers of conflict and insecurity such as climate change and food insecurity. Ireland is taking a leading role on both of these issues.
We know that climate change affects and undermines international peace and security. I was pleased to address a Security Council Open Debate on this issue in February. The Council needs to address its effects within its mandate and Ireland is working on ensuring that climate is more formally and systematically on the Council’s agenda.
As co-chair of the Informal Experts Group on Climate and Security, with Niger, we have hosted recently meetings on the Sahel and South Sudan. In this role, we are working to strengthen the Council’s collective understanding of the link between climate change and instability. We also aim to strengthen the positive framing of the discussion, focussing on the peace dividends of climate action.
The promotion and protection of both International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law is integral to our approach across the Security Council agenda, on both country-specific and thematic agenda items.
As we know too well, a failure to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law is often a root cause of conflict, and reports of human rights violations can serve as an early warning.
There are of course different perspectives on these issues among Council members, and this is challenging at times, but we are working on the Council to promote compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and support the fight against impunity.
Let me mention here the situations in Myanmar and Colombia.
Human rights are a key concern in Myanmar, which has been a particular focus of the Council since the coup in February. This overturned the democratic will of the people of Myanmar and has resulted in serious violence and ongoing repression.
Ireland has played an active role in those discussions, and I welcome that the Security Council has maintained a united stance, agreeing a Press Statement and a Presidential Statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protestors and expressing support for the democratic transition.
The Council has an important role to play in support of a lasting and just peace in Colombia, includingthrough supporting efforts to ensure justice and accountability. I am pleased to see the important transitional justice elements of the 2016 peace agreement are being implemented.
Ireland has a history of engagement in Colombia and we have been active in recent Council discussions. Earlier this month, the Council adopted an important resolution that strengthened the mandate of the UN Verification Mission.
The continued killings and threats and attacks against Colombian Human Rights Defenders are deeply worryingly. Holding those responsible for such violence to account is critical in building trust and sustaining peace. We are also closely following the current situation in Colombia and I support calls for calm and for an inclusive and constructive national dialogue.
We continue to actively support the International Criminal Court, which performs a vital function in ensuring that those responsible for the most serious crimes of international concern cannot act with impunity. Ireland was recently appointed a focal point on the issue of non-cooperation with the Court and we will work to encourage all States to fully cooperate with the ICC in the execution of its important mandate.
I believe that the Security Council must reflect on its failure to make effective use of the accountability tools at its disposal, including the referral of situations to the ICC.
Earlier this week, the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda briefed the Security Council on her critical to work to deliver justice in Libya, where there was such a referral, and the Council will discuss Libya again today.
One key issue facing the Council now is the delivery of UN support for the Libya Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism. That Mechanism will be essential in ensuring the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, and helping create an environment for further progress on the political track, including the elections that should take place at the end of this year.
In our work across the Security Council’s Sanctions Committees, we are doing what we can to ensure that the UN’s sanctions regimes serve as a more effective tool to support peaceful transitions, deter non-constitutional changes, constrain terrorism, protect human rights and promote non-proliferation.
We recently joined the Group of Likeminded States on Targeted Sanctions, which promotes due process and fair, clear procedures under UN sanctions regimes. We will remain an active member of that Group after our term on the Council ends.
Humanitarian issues are also a key horizontal priority in our engagement on the UN sanctions committees, including in our role as chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee.
In particular, we are working with likeminded States to mitigate and minimise the impact of sanctions regimes on the delivery of vital humanitarian aid.
I know that this a concern for members of this Forum, particularly those representing organisations that deliver humanitarian assistance in countries where UN sanctions regimes are in place, and that you have provided detailed input on this issue.
Ireland has been a longstanding champion of the Women, Peace and Security agenda at the UN, and it is a key priority for our two-year membership of the Security Council.
As co-chair of the Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security, we are engaging with senior leadership of UN missions in monitoring actions to implement the WPS agenda on the ground, and to support the fight against conflict-related sexual violence.
We are also focussed on advancing and defending WPS language across all Council agenda items, and in peacekeeping mandates.
Peacekeeping is a particular focus for our work. This is an issue where we bring over six decades of experience and commitment through the work of the Defence Forces.
Since January, the Council has renewed or expanded the mandates of peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, South Sudan, and Somalia, Abyei, and the Central African Republic. In June, the Council will discuss the mandates UNDOF in the Golan Heights and MINUSMA in Mali.
In each of these negotiations, we are engaging actively, drawing on our experience, to ensure mandates are realistic, achievable, and properly resourced.
A specific priority for us is the issue of peacekeeping transitions. It has become clear in recent years, in Sudan and other contexts, that we need to do more to protect civilians during the transition from Chapter VII to Chapter VI missions.
We need to better prepare, so that when the time comes for missions to close, we have put in place the resources and planning to preserve the peace they leave behind.
I will speak at an event that Ireland is organising next Wednesday during UN Protection of Civilians week.
We also need to become better at linking peacekeeping to peacebuilding. The Peacebuilding Commission has an essential role to play in this regard.
For peace to endure, it requires action across the pillars and institutions of the UN system, and across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus.
We are the informal focal point, with Niger, on Hunger and Conflict at the Council. In March I spoke in Security Council open Debate on Conflict and Food Security. As I told the Council, we must fully implement Resolution 2417, which addresses the link between armed conflict and conflict-induced food insecurity, as well as the use of starvation as a weapon of war and the denial of humanitarian access.
This is of course a major concern in Tigray and a number of other conflict situations. In the Security Council meeting on Yemen last week, we heard again how millions of people there are on the brink of starvation. We need to recognise that the link between food security and armed conflict should be at the heart of the Council’s work.
Our aim as a member of the Security Council is to leave a legacy on a number of our key priorities. Our Council Presidency in September is an important step towards this. Detailed planning is underway.
But we will be working across our two years on the Council, to build consensus, drive solutions, and achieve progress across the agenda.
Much of this work is incremental, low-key but important work, to move the needle forward, rather than big set piece occasions, though these are important too.
Work is already underway on issues such as peacekeeping transitions and Climate and Security.
Our Presidency in September will be important, but we are taking a view across the two years we are on the Council.
Sometimes our work is about defending existing commitments and language. On other issues it is about using our voice to speak out.
We have an opportunity to make a difference and I am determined that we will make the most of these two years to do so.
I look forward to hearing your views and comments and to answering your questions.