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Address by the Hon. Minister at the 3rd International Conference on Humanitarian Law

Rome, 27 October 2017

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


Minister Pinotti,

Minister Minniti,

General Graziano,

General Del Sette,

Commissioner Stylianides,

Let me extend a warm greeting to all the participants and express my sincere thanks to the Carabinieri for organising this International Conference on Humanitarian Law which, now at its third edition, is well on its way towards becoming a tradition.

It is no coincidence that this event is being celebrated in the “casa dei Carabinieri”. Respect, humaneness, solidarity and closeness to the civilian populations are the key principles that inspire the missions abroad of our Carabinieri. It is an approach that combines great technical skills and local cultural sensitivities. And their competences span from peacekeeping and security operations to defending cultural heritage and protecting the environment.  

But what makes me even prouder as an Italian and as Foreign Minister, is the capacity of the Carabinieri and of our diplomats to work as a “team” in many areas of crisis: from Iraq to Lebanon, from the Horn of Africa to Cyprus, from Afghanistan and Kosovo and Libya. 

When Carabinieri and diplomats work together abroad, they promote the “Italian model”, which is recognised by all our partners to be a “unitary approach”, “non-hegemonic” and “non-paternalistic”, thus benefiting peace because it is respectful of the culture and the sensitivities of the people, which is instrumental to acquiring a thorough understanding of their needs. 

This is the trademark of all our humanitarian missions. And it arises from the awareness that humanitarian aid is not only emergency aid but a bridge towards dialogue and hope between Italy and the Country helped. It is a safe investment to foster friendship and peace between peoples. 

I take the opportunity of the presence of European Commissioner Stylianides to highlight the importance of the leadership role played by the Commission, both from the point of view of coordinating relief operations, and from that of disseminating timely information on the needs expressed at local level.  

We work side by side with the European Commission to save human lives and protect the dignity of people. And we staunchly support his action to raise public awareness on the respect of humanitarian law throughout the world. In this effort, he is also supported by key non-governmental players who are with us today such as: the International Institute of Humanitarian Law of Sanremo and the Comunità di Sant’Egidio.

The respect of humanitarian law, in the world that surrounds us, is an essential condition for stability and peace. Stability and peace at our borders are essential elements in assuring our own security and growth. 

Upholding humanitarian law is also a moral imperative. In almost every corner of the world hit by catastrophes or witnessing atrocities – by other States or by non-State actors – we have the responsibility of acting to protect the most vulnerable and fragile individuals: women, children, disabled people and those fleeing from war and persecution. And we stand by minorities when their right to exist is threatened, as in the case of the Yazidi community in Iraq or the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are the principles that inspire Italy’s humanitarian action, thus upholding the most authentic “Spirit of Solferino”: the spirit of brotherhood and of protecting other people’s lives that we have been taught by a great international organisation, the Red Cross, our partner in so many of our humanitarian initiatives. 

Allow me to recall that, during the last five years, Italy has more than doubled the resources dedicated to humanitarian actions. In 2017, our humanitarian budget amounted to more than 120 million euros. Almost half of the initiatives were implemented by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs are our biggest “human capital” resource: thousands of young men and women, lay and religious missionaries, professionals and volunteers who offer their assistance to those in need.

We are now engaged in Syria, in Iraq, in the Countries afflicted by famine (Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, northern Nigeria), but also and above all, in the Countries of origin and transit of refugees and migrants.

A humanitarian approach has always inspired our actions in response to the migration crisis, in which the joint efforts of governmental and non-governmental players has enabled Italy to wed solidarity with security. We have proven that it is possible to save lives and, at the same time, be strict with those who scorn our values. It is an achievement that was unanimously recognised by our partners at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting, that I chaired a few days ago in Palermo, with a view to bolstering our partnership with the Mediterranean Countries.  

Now that we are reaping the rewards of our strategy, now that migration flows are thinning, we cannot lose sight of human rights. There is no compromise that can be made on human rights. 

And therefore we are acting both against the horrifying trafficking of human beings and in favour of refugees and migrants seeking to improve their living standards. We have already earmarked more than 93 million euros for these actions and to protect their basic human rights in Libya and Niger, and also intervening on Libyan tribes, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Yesterday, at the meeting of the Italian Joint Committee for Development Cooperation, we approved several new initiatives in favour of children and adolescents. Let me mention only a couple:   

– 1 million euros to UNICEF to protect the rights of minors in Ethiopia, which follows a similar initiative for minors in Sudan.

– 1.5 million euro, again to UNICEF, to enable children and adolescents to attend compulsory education systems in Jordan, which hosts one of the world’s largest communities of refugees.

Only a few days ago we approved two new initiatives in Libya, worth 2 million euros, to improve living conditions in several migrant and refugee centres.  

And I would also like to recall that, through the Italian Cooperation service, we are launching new calls for projects for NGOs, again with the aim of making the living conditions of refugees and migrants in Libya and in other Countries of transit more decent. 

Humanitarian Law is not a static law but it is in constant evolution. In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali: in addition to the brutality of terrorism, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, we have also witnessed a dramatic surge of “cultural cleansing” – a terrible destruction of culture.

The acts of intentional destruction of cultural heritage can be considered as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Because the acts of destruction of cultural heritage are an enormous obstacle to peace. They hinder dialogue and reconciliation, fuelling hatred among communities and between generations.  

In this area, Italian diplomacy has been very innovative. We put forth the issue of culture to the Security Council, promoting Resolution 2347, the Council’s first-ever resolution on the protection of cultural heritage in areas of conflict. 

It is an effort that Italy has long been conducting with the precious contribution of the Carabinieri, especially within the framework of UNESCO and its Unite4Heritage campaign. We have made a task force available to UNESCO to address the threats against cultural heritage.

Italy also promoted many more initiatives to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property, which provides terrorist organisations with a source of funding, especially within the framework of the Global Coalition Against Daesh.  

Our joint challenge, as diplomats and Carabinieri, is to put culture at the service of peace and security. Because where culture passes, armies don’t. And because culture wins over the fanaticism and extremism that nurture terrorism.

The Law is culture in its purest form. And, by upholding the law, we also defend ourselves against the “culture of impunity” of those violating individual human rights. In meeting this challenge, we have another key ally: the International Criminal Court, whose Statute was approved here in Rome and to whose budget we continue to contribute.   

We must now continue to promote the work of the Court with great determination. Because respecting the law is the antidote to tyranny and the utmost protection of our human rights and liberties. 

But let us not forget that the responsibility of protecting human rights does not only rest on Governments. It is also, and above all, the task of NGOs and of every single individual to firmly and courageously report violations, refusing to surrender to fear.   

And, above all, we have an important promise to keep. A promise that summarises our humanistic heritage and the spirit of our times: to say “never again” to serious human rights violations.