Urban Warfare Devastates 50 Million People Worldwide, Speakers Tell Security Council, Calling for Effective Tools to End Impunity, Improve Humanitarian Response
Speakers Suggest Ways for Better Protecting Civilians, as Debate Spotlights Attacks in Populated Areas of Yemen, Ukraine
Urban warfare will continue to devastate, kill and maim civilians around the world unless States adopt effective tools to reverse the current trend of impunity and all parties abide by international humanitarian law, briefers told the Security Council today during an open debate on war in cities and protecting civilians.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said accountability for serious violations is essential at a time when 50 million people currently face the dire consequences of urban warfare. When explosive weapons are used in cities, 90 per cent of those affected are civilians, he said, calling on Member States to demonstrate the political will to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes. “We owe that to the victims and their loved ones — and it is also crucial to serve as a powerful deterrent,” he said.
From targeted attacks on schools from Gaza and Afghanistan to widespread infrastructure damage in Yemen, he said conflict in urban areas has widespread effects. Highlighting prevention and mitigation measures, he said all parties must fully respect international humanitarian law and take steps to minimize incidental civilian harm. Urging States to follow good practices to reduce the humanitarian impact of using explosive weapons in populated areas, he welcomed efforts towards a related political declaration and underlined the Security Council’s vital role, saying that: “I count on all members to acknowledge the challenges of urban warfare, to call for specific protective measures and to use all the tools at their disposal to end tragic and preventable harm to civilians.”
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pointing to rising tolls of death and destruction among city dwellers in conflict situations, declared: “We must do more.” Calling for action in several areas, he said all parties to conflict must work towards compliance with existing civilian protection measures and international law, and States should adopt restrictions on exports of explosive weapons with conditions to prohibit their use in populated areas. Operating on the front lines of urban warfare and addressing the widespread impact, ICRC urges States to take all measures to spare and protect civilians, he said, announcing the launch of a new report on the use of explosive devices in populated areas, including their devastating consequences alongside practical measures on avoidance.
Radhya al-Mutawakel, Chairperson and co-founder of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, said that, if there had been real accountability from the start of the war, Yemen would not have become the worst humanitarian crisis it is today. Citing recent documented attacks, among them seven air strikes by the Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates-led coalition, she said civilians in Yemen have been made victims by explosive weapons used in populated areas. Since 2014, 800 air strikes, 700 ground assaults, 300 mine explosions, detonations caused by explosive objects and the use of drones and ballistic missiles have killed 3,000 civilians and wounded 4,000 others, with many attacks having no military target. These attacks were launched because parties to the conflict trusted impunity, she said, calling on the Council to pressure warring parties to stop using explosive weapons in populated areas. In addition, accountability for international crimes must be strengthened, she said, adding that: “It is not sufficient to name and shame the warring parties; this Council should at long last refer Yemen's situation to the International Criminal Court.”
During the open debate, more than 50 ministers, observers and representatives — some from conflict-affected States or regions — shared their perspectives and ideas of how to reduce harm to civilians in urban warfare situations. Several highlighted recent Council action, including resolution 2573 (2021) on attacks on critical infrastructure, and the Secretary‑General’s latest report (document S/2021/423) as guidance for effective action.
Yemen’s representative, noting with surprise that the Yemeni briefer failed to mention the violations committed by the Houthis against civilians in his country, echoed a common thread heard throughout the day-long debate: that the Security Council has a role to play in taking action to address the dire need to protect civilians in conflict situations.
In this vein, several speakers offered suggestions. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of Norway, Council President for January, proposed seven actions to take, among them the full adherence by all parties to international humanitarian law. Effective protection of civilians and civilian objects must be a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of military operations in urban areas, he said, noting that Norway has launched an extended reality tool allowing military officers to experience armed conflict from a civilian’s perspective.
Echoing calls for measures to prevent urban warfare from becoming a new normal, Gabon’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Pacome Moubelet Boubeya, declared: “Cities are for civilians and should not be battlefields.” From Tripoli in Libya to Mogadishu in Somalia, cities have undergone deadly destruction and become the theatres of armed operations. Urban warfare calls for a rethink of modalities of humanitarian response towards cross-cutting, non-sectoral interventions and for new financial schemes in the short- and long-term, he said.
Vice‑President Mahamudu Bawumia of Ghana, emphasizing that local communities must be empowered to take preventative actions and to not shield the perpetrators of crimes, reflected on the recent rise of such groups as Al‑Shabab and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), which scapegoat civilians and use them as cannon fodder. The Council can play a role by encouraging national authorities to undertake measures such as the re-education and retraining of combatants. Meanwhile, strong accountability frameworks must be developed, he said, calling for bolstered efforts to create more resilient urban infrastructure, particularly with respect to shelter zones and evacuation efforts, and for swift action to control the indiscriminate use of explosives.
Ireland’s representative, gravely concerned by the devastating impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, said more can and must be done to reverse the pattern of harm caused by them and to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law. To address this concern, Ireland chairs international efforts in Geneva to agree on a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas that aims at improving civilian protection measures.
Suggesting a range of tools parties can use to avoid — or at least minimize — civilian harm, Brazil’s delegate said training tailored to urban settings is key, as is proper adaptation of the means and methods of warfare to the specificities of densely populated areas. Violations must be investigated impartially, with their perpetrators held accountable, he said.
Ukraine’s delegate, recalling the anniversary of the Russian Federation’s 24 January 2014 attack on the city of Mariupol, highlighted examples of further aggression and occupation, which have cumulatively killed 4,000 people and wounded thousands of others in the Donbass region. In the face of the current Russian Federation troop and weapons build-up along Ukraine’s border, he said Kyiv has no intention of military action in response and will continue to seek any viable option to achieve peace. As such, the Council must make full use of its mandate for the maintenance of peace and security.
The Russian Federation’s representative pointed to Western countries that continue to deploy weapons in Ukraine, instead of compelling Kyiv to comply with the Council-approved Minsk agreements. At the same time, targeted attacks against civilians abound, including the United States drone attack on 29 August 2021 against a family and children in Afghanistan. More broadly, the Geneva Convention of 1949 and international humanitarian law provide for enough flexibility to allow planning military operations in urban settings. Warning against “free” interpretation of international humanitarian law or attempts to fill supposedly existing “gaps”, he said such actions only dilute the established international legal norms, and international humanitarian law should not be used as “a tool of political manipulation”.
Speaking on behalf of the 27 Member States that form the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Switzerland’s representative underscored the importance of disseminating international humanitarian law to all conflict parties. Engaging armed groups is also essential in reducing civilian harm, and contacts for such purposes should not be criminalized. In her national capacity, she recalled the words of Zlata Filipović, a girl who was trapped in the siege of Sarajevo, almost 30 years ago: “Boredom, shooting, shelling, people being killed, despair, hunger, misery: that’s my life.” Today, too many people still find themselves in this reality in conflict zones, she said, adding that: “We must strive to ensure that cities remain spaces of life and hope, even during armed conflict.”
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, China, Mexico, Kenya, Albania, France, India, Liechtenstein, Austria, Egypt, Malta, Italy, Morocco, Germany, Slovenia, Iran, Portugal, Poland, Canada, Japan, Ecuador, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, Jordan, Slovakia, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Armenia, Luxembourg, South Africa, Lithuania, Belgium, Georgia, Guatemala, Philippines and Pakistan. Observers for the European Union and the Holy See also spoke.
The representatives of India and Pakistan took the floor for a second time.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m., suspended at 1:01 p.m., resumed at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:57 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that 50 million people in cities are affected by conflict in urban areas, facing such distinct dangers, as parties to conflict do not take measures to protect civilians. Indeed, when explosive weapons are used in cities, 90 per cent of those affected are civilians. Citing examples, from targeted attacks on schools from Gaza and Afghanistan to widespread infrastructure damage in Yemen, he said conflict in urban areas have widespread effects, setting back progress for decades, including on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Highlighting measures to prevent and mitigate these consequences, he said all parties must fully respect international humanitarian law and take steps to minimize incidental civilian harm.
Accountability for serious violations is essential, and Member States must demonstrate the political will to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes, he said, emphasizing that: “We owe that to the victims and their loved ones — and it is also crucial to serve as a powerful deterrent.” Parties to conflict have options, including adapting their choice of weapons and tactics when they wage urban warfare by recognizing that they cannot fight in populated areas the way they would in open battlefields. Urging States to follow good practices to reduce the humanitarian impact of such weapons, he pointed to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ compilation of military policy and practice in this regard. Welcoming efforts towards a political declaration to address the harm arising from their use, he urged Member States to commit themselves to avoiding the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas.
Effective protection of civilians in urban warfare requires additional good policies and practices that go beyond this commitment, he continued. Parties to conflict should track and learn from allegations of harm to civilians and civilian homes, markets and infrastructure, in order to gauge the impact of their operations and find ways to minimize harm. Such analysis can also inform a more responsible approach to arms sales. Recording casualties can help clarify the fate of missing people, inform ways to minimize civilian harm and help to ensure accountability, recovery and reconciliation. Those involved in conflict should ensure their armed forces are trained to follow these and other good policies and practices, and all States should develop national civilian protection policy frameworks building upon them. Urging all Member States to use their influence over their partners and allies to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and the adoption of good practices, he said the Security Council has a vital role to play in this regard, adding that: “I count on all members to acknowledge the challenges of urban warfare, to call for specific protective measures and to use all the tools at their disposal to end tragic and preventable harm to civilians.”
PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaking via videoconference from Geneva, said mounting evidence of rising tolls of death and destruction among city dwellers in conflict situations gives urgency to the topic of urban warfare and its devastating consequences. ICRC is on the front lines of urban warfare and addressing the widespread impact, he said, urging States to take all measures to spare and protect civilians. Calling for action in several areas, he said all parties must work towards compliance with existing civilian protection measures. Particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons, he said ICRC is soon launching a report on the issue, including their devastating consequences alongside practical measures on avoidance. Urging Member States to take action, he highlighted such steps as restricting exports of explosive weapons with conditions to prohibit their use in populated areas.
To better protect civilians and aid workers, he said resolution 2573 (2021) must be fully implemented, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Council members must ensure that sanctions prevent the implosion of social services, he said, adding that States must do their part and work towards preventing famine and food security through short- and long-term measures. Similarly, parties must respect international laws on issues essential to the survival of civilians. In addition, more must be done to prevent displacement, he said, stressing that all efforts must work towards providing, among other essentials, basic services and ensuring family members are not separated. Efforts must also focus on those people trapped in urban warfare, he said, declaring that: “We must do more.”
RADHYA AL-MUTAWAKEL, Chairperson and co-founder of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, who joined the meeting by phone from Sana’a, Yemen, said that, since her last briefing in 2017, combatants in Yemen have squandered many opportunities to stop the bloodshed. In less than a month, Mwatana documented seven air strikes by the Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates-led coalition on civilians and civilian objects, which killed 107 civilians and injured 106 others. The bloodiest strike was on a detention centre in Saada, which killed 82 detainees and injured 163 others. There were 10 incidents of ground attacks, mine explosions and drone use by Ansar Allah, which killed 9 civilians and injured at least 10 others.
She said civilians in Yemen have been made victims by explosive weapons used in populated areas — from indiscriminate projectiles, mines and ballistic missiles to intelligent weapons, such as laser-guided bombs and drones. “All aspects of life were devastated,” she said: homes, schools, hospitals, wedding and funeral halls, farms, factories and cultural property included. Since 2014, Mwatana has documented 800 air strikes, more than 700 ground attacks and more than 300 mine explosions, as well as detonations caused by explosive objects and the use of drones and ballistic missiles. More than 3,000 civilians were killed in these attacks and more than 4,000 civilians were wounded. The Starvation Makers report, published by Mwatana, documents how warring parties use air strikes and mines as tools to starve civilians.
“In many of these attacks, Mwatana identified no military target,” she insisted. In others, civilian harm went beyond any apparent military benefit. “These attacks happened because the parties to the conflict trusted impunity.” She called on the Council to pressure warring parties to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; end arms sales — especially to countries that have a track record of violating human rights law — and to strive for a new declaration on preventing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Accountability for international crimes must be strengthened.
“It is not sufficient to name and shame the warring parties,” she asserted. “This Council should at long last refer Yemen's situation to the International Criminal Court.” That States stand in the way of international accountability is “shameful”. She pressed States to support the establishment of an independent and impartial mechanism through the General Assembly to investigate international law violations committed in Yemen, as well as to publicly report, collect and preserve evidence, and prepare files for criminal prosecutions. Had there been real accountability from the start of the war, Yemen would not have become the worst humanitarian crisis it is today, she said.
JONAS GAHR STØRE, Prime Minister of Norway, Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, noting that armed conflict in urban areas, particularly in protracted conflicts, has devastating consequences for civilians, who account for most casualties, stressed: “Civilians must be protected whether or not the individual military attack is considered legal.” He proposed seven actions to take. Effective protection of civilians and civilian objects must be made a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of military operations in urban areas, he said, stressing: “We must prevent severe, cumulative and protracted harm to civilians wherever possible.” Military personnel must be made aware of rights and obligations under international humanitarian law and Member States must enact policy that takes this into account. For its part, Norway has developed an extended reality tool that will allow military officers to experience armed conflict from a civilian’s perspective. In addition, all parties to armed conflict must comply fully with international humanitarian law and be held accountable for violations; breaches must be reported and sanctioned. The use of weapons designed for the open battlefield, including heavy explosive weapons, should be minimized in urban areas. Parties to conflict and the international community at large must ensure civilians continue to have access to essential services during and after conflicts. Efforts to prevent displacement, account for the missing and reunite families are also key. Pointing out the importance of inclusive engagement with affected communities and the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, he stressed the need to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian and health workers.
MAHAMUDU BAWUMIA, Vice‑President of Ghana, said the asymmetrical nature of wars in cities poses immense challenges for the protection of civilian populations, leading to a higher incidence of mortality; destruction of critical life-supporting infrastructure; greater numbers of internally displaced persons; and a higher incidence of criminal and sexual exploitation. “This creates further vulnerabilities that are exploited by violent extremist groups to radicalize young people,” he said, expressing concern about the rise in recent years of groups such as Al‑Shabab and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), which scapegoat civilians and use them as cannon fodder. He called for the enhancement of global norms and standards on civilian protection in urban conflicts through the prioritization of civilian protection in the planning and conduct of military operations, pointing out that the Council can play a role by encouraging national authorities to undertake measures such as the re-education and retraining of combatants on the new landscape of war. Further, strong accountability frameworks must be developed, he said, adding that States must recommit to international humanitarian law in their conduct of warfare and for zero tolerance for the impunity of non-State actors. He called for efforts to be made to develop more resilient urban infrastructure, particularly with respect to shelter zones and evacuation efforts, and for action to be taken to control the indiscriminate use of explosives, thereby mitigating their impact on civilians and infrastructure. Underscoring the need for local engagement to ensure the acceptance of norms and standards to protect civilian populations during conflict, he added that local communities need to be empowered to take preventative actions, and to not shield the perpetrators of crimes.
PACÔME MOUBELET BOUBEYA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon, noted that wars are increasingly waged in urban areas, where the power centres and resources are concentrated. Civilians are taken hostage by urban warfare. From Tripoli in Libya to Mogadishu in Somalia, cities have undergone deadly destruction and become the theatres of armed operations. When cities are targeted, 90 per cent of the victims are civilians. Cities operate on complex networks. Destroying one part of those networks creates the domino effect of damage and suffering. The suspension of water and power supplies can lead to the loss of human lives that are far greater than the direct damage. Urban war affects more than 50 million civilians around the world, eight times more than wars in rural areas. Gabon is committed to upholding international humanitarian law. The use of explosives does not conform to the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law. Gabon joins ICRC in calling on combatants not to use explosives in urban areas, he said. Urban warfare calls for a rethink of modalities of humanitarian response towards cross-cutting, non-sectoral interventions. It also calls for new financial schemes in the short- and long-term. Urging measures to prevent urban warfare from becoming a new normal, he declared: “Cities are for civilians and should not be battlefields.”
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) cited United Nations estimates that two thirds of the world will live in urban areas by 2050, stressing that “protecting civilians in urban settings will only become more important”. She described the threat to civilians as “horrifying”, marked by the use of explosive weapons that make it easy to kill large groups of people, and expressed concern over children pulled into urban conflict as child soldiers, while attacks on schools disrupt their ability to receive an education. One technique used by armed groups is to throw up impediments that prevent civilians and displaced persons from accessing life-saving aid. Humanitarian and medical workers in urban settings are being attacked more frequently. “I am optimistic we can work together on this,” she said, citing the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2573 (2021), demanding that all parties comply with their international humanitarian law obligations. She strongly condemned the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, urging the Council to make progress on the steps outlined by the Secretary-General in his 2018 report. She also pressed parties to respect international humanitarian law and States to both adopt and enforce national policies to support such implementation. Non-State armed groups must also abide by these laws and “we all need to clearly communicate that to them”, she said, pressing States to conduct assessments and investigations, acknowledge civilian harm when it happens and make serious efforts to assist harmed civilians. Noting that frameworks must be created to address the most pressing challenges, she said the United States has worked with others to develop a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. “Our claim to maintain international peace and security is only as strong as our results,” she assured.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), strongly rejecting allegations made against her country and the Coalition regarding its involvement in the conflict in Yemen, said: “Unlike the Houthis, we reiterate here the Coalition’s commitment to complying with its obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, and we would welcome the Houthis doing the same.” Having recently defended itself against multiple attacks by the Houthis within the space of just one week — targeting civilian infrastructure in densely populated urban areas — she echoed the Council’s condemnation of heinous attacks not just within armed conflict, but also in peaceful havens like the United Arab Emirates. In fragile settings, urban warfare has become more complex, she said, pointing out that the challenging environment is exploited by non-State armed groups, such as the Houthis, who deliberately target civilians, use schools and civilian infrastructure to store weapons or to launch attacks, and use civilians, including children, as human shields. “This must stop, and it is the responsibility of this Council amongst other bodies to make it stop,” she said. Against this backdrop, full compliance with international law, which provides the necessary framework to protect civilians in urban warfare, is critical. Further, sanctions are an important tool and must be carefully designed to ensure that humanitarian actors can continue to carry out their important work in urban settings. She also called for support to early recovery and reconstruction efforts to restore critical infrastructure and basic services that are damaged and disrupted by the impact of hostilities in cities, and welcomed that resolution 2601 (2021) highlighted the importance of the continuity of education in conflict and the potential of technology to mitigate disruptions to education.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) stressed that full adherence to international humanitarian law is fundamental to the protection of civilians. Highlighting the need to engage more purposefully in the sharing of best practices to help all parties to conflict enhance their compliance with international humanitarian law, he noted that the United Kingdom has long provided specialist training to the armed forces of other States, including forces deployed in several international peacekeeping missions. Non-State armed groups need to understand their obligations under international humanitarian law and the importance of compliance, he pointed out, and there can be no impunity for crimes committed in conflict. He went on to welcome the work being led by Ireland to seek a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting that the United Kingdom is committed to this process. “It must serve to increase the protection of civilians without hindering legitimate and proportionate military operations in urban areas,” he said.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said that, since the Council adopted resolution 2286 (2016), the targeted and systematic destruction of health‑care and other services and the killing and maiming of medical and humanitarian workers continues — in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria and elsewhere. Urban conflict exacerbates the specific vulnerabilities of children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, with chilling reports from medical and humanitarian agencies underscoring the deep psychological trauma air strikes inflict on children and findings that show a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Gravely concerned by the devastating impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, she said more can and should be done to reverse the pattern of harm from these weapons and to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law. In this vein, Ireland chairs international efforts in Geneva to agree on a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas that aims at improving civilian protection measures. Noting the major role civilian protection plays in United Nations peacekeeping operations, she said Ireland helped to ensure that this concept was central to resolution 2594 (2021). Moving forward, the Council should be guided by two points — international humanitarian law must be respected, and accountability must end impunity for violations — she said, emphasizing that: “The international community, this Council, needs to do better.”
ZHANG JUN (China) recalling humanitarian tragedies in Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya due to armed conflicts, urged States to pursue political settlement to disputes and to ensure all parties to conflict act in accordance with international laws. Stressing that ceasefire is the first step of any political solution, he highlighted the Olympic Truce resolution adopted last month for the Beijing Winter Olympics sponsored by 173 countries. Noting that the resolution reflected the international political consensus that all parties to conflict should cease hostilities, he strongly called on all States and parties to conflict to follow the truce and the resolution, to seize the opportunity to bridge differences through dialogue. He went on to stress the importance of eliminating the root causes of conflict and coordinating peacebuilding efforts, including helping post-conflict countries to recreate the rule of law. Further pointing out that nearly half of the Afghan population is facing extreme hunger, and 97 per cent lives below the poverty line, he called on countries concerned to immediately lift the economic blockade and unilateral sanctions against Afghanistan.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) pointed out that, although the use of explosive weapons in urban areas is not explicitly prohibited by international law, it is virtually impossible to deploy these weapons in such areas without a high risk of violating the principles of discrimination and proportionality. Therefore, the international community and the Council should recognize that the use of such weapons has unacceptable humanitarian consequences, he said, voicing hope that ongoing negotiations in Geneva acknowledge this, as well as the impact of such armaments on the physical and mental health of civilians. Deliberate collateral attacks are deplorable, as they impact vital civilian infrastructure, disrupting the supply of water, electricity and sanitation services, as well as the provisioning of humanitarian assistance. He called for the inclusion of specific data on the impact of war in urban settings in the Secretary-General’s report, so that the Council can respond more effectively. He went on to express deep concern on the impact of such conflicts on education and called on those who have not yet done so to support the Safe Schools Declaration. All States must comply with Council resolution 2573 (2021), and all international humanitarian law violations must be investigated and punished by international courts or the International Criminal Court.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) recalling the suffering of civilians during the siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stressed that civilians continue to bear the brunt of conflict in urban areas as witnessed in fighting ISIL in Mosul, Iraq, and in the conflict in Syria. He went on to question whether a war the equal of the last two world wars is possible today, and whether the Council has the will to act to prevent it. Noting a period of surging rivalries, escalations of military spending and provocative actions, he pointed out that Africa is one of the regions that has historically suffered the most from the proxy actions of great Powers. Stressing the need for urgent Security Council reforms that bring balance to permanent membership and the veto, he said: “If this famous table is to truly prevent major wars, then its membership must expand or change substantively.” He highlighted the Kampala Road Map of the ministerial meeting of the African Union Committee of Ten Heads of State and Government on the Reform of the Security Council, he said international peace and security will benefit immensely from implementation of the Common African Position articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration, emphasizing that Africa’s goal is to be fully represented in the Council.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) noted that 50 million civilians around the world are nowadays affected by armed conflicts in urban settings, pointing to the appalling cases in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Somalia and Ukraine. Urban warfare, and in particular the use of explosive weapons in the urban context, often lead to mass civilian casualties, displacement and destruction of critical infrastructure and systems and has immediate, long‑term and cumulative effects. He went on to call on States and all parties to armed conflict to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and protection of civilians in urban settings, and to void, as a matter of priority, the use of explosive weapons in populated urban areas and undertake mitigation measures to reduce the consequent risk of civilian harm. Urging all States to seek and reach consensus on measures to prevent and resolve armed conflicts as the best way to protect civilians, he emphasized that Council members should not allow political differences to undermine collective action to protect civilians. All Member States should support the United Nations and other actors to protect civilians including in urban settings, always ensure accountability for serious violations and reject impunity, he said.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said the Council cannot normalize the current situation where civilians account for the majority of deaths in armed conflicts and are often deliberately targeted. He highlighted tools parties can use to avoid — or at least minimize — civilian harm, pointing first to ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and pressing the Council to stand united in demanding this of parties. Training tailored to urban settings is key, as is proper adaptation of the means and methods of warfare to the specificities of densely populated areas. Civilian harm must be documented, including as a means to assess whether the predicted casualties of military operations correspond to the damage actually caused to civilians. Noting that Brazil has endorsed the Santiago Declaration, signed by Latin American and Caribbean States in support of a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, he urged parties to facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for relief actions that are humanitarian and impartial in character. As meaningful accountability for civilian harm goes hand in hand with effective protection, violations must be investigated impartially, with their perpetrators held accountable. “The fact that civilians live in areas controlled by non-State armed groups, or even by terrorists, does not make them combatants or terrorists,” he assured. “It generally makes them victims of a situation that they often did not create.”
IGOR V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said that, when planning military operations, it is important to use accurate and reliable information. It is unacceptable to use unmanned aerial vehicles for military strikes based on unverified intelligence. The drone attack by the United States on 29 August 2021 against a family and children in Kabul was a real tragedy. Similar examples abound in recent times. The member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and “the coalition for democracy” have a colossal negative experience related to the topic under discussion today, including air strikes in the centre of Belgrade and other Serbian population centres in 1999, as well as warfare in Iraq and Libya. Western countries continue to deploy weapons in Ukraine, instead of compelling Kyiv to comply with the Minsk agreements approved by the Security Council. The Geneva Convention of 1949 and international humanitarian law provide for enough flexibility to allow planning military operations in urban settings, he said, warning against “free” interpretation of international humanitarian law or attempts to fill supposedly existing “gaps”. These actions only dilute the established international legal norms, and international humanitarian law should not be used as “a tool of political manipulation”, he stressed.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the responsibility to protect falls first and foremost to those waging war. However, that does not exclude the international community from confronting the consequences of conflict on civilians. The Council must remain fully mobilized for parties to respect their international humanitarian and human rights law obligations and ensure implementation of its own resolutions on the protection of civilians. He encouraged States to support the call for humanitarian action presented by France and Germany in 2019, and ensure better protection of medical and humanitarian personnel, and infrastructure. Attacks on infrastructure, including in cyberspace, must be condemned. Protection of civilians must be at the core of peacekeeping operations, whose mandates must include an analysis of the threats against civilians, including those of sexual and sexist violence, and those against the integrity and rights of children. These attacks must not go unpunished. He condemned the massive indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices and use of humans as shields, stressing that the Council’s response to these events must be bolstered through the use of international criminal justice and better use of sanctions against perpetrators. France, along with the European Commission, has organized the first European humanitarian forum, to be held in March, he added.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) said history has shown that the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure has been used as a weapon of war especially during the two world wars. It is incumbent on States to protect those who put their lives in the line of fire to protect civilians, he said, stressing the need to “protect the protectors”. The dastardly terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which killed 166 innocent civilians of 15 nationalities is still a ghastly reminder to the entire international community. The attacks epitomize the sheer scale and scope of urban warfare that India had to mount against jihadi terrorists, when its police personnel had to put their lives on the line. India recognizes the importance of rendering assistance to countries that have suffered the destruction of urban infrastructure. After the end of the armed conflict in 2009 in Sri Lanka, India assisted that country in immediately restoring some of the most basic and essential civilian infrastructure.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein), recalling the ICRC decade-old call to avoid the use of explosive weapons, said respect for rules and principles governing the conduct of hostilities is eroding, notably in situations under the Council’s consideration. Parties must urgently centre military planning and operations around respect for international humanitarian law. While some claim that such innovations as increasing the precision of munitions can help to minimize civilian harm, even the most prepared State actor cannot “technologize away” the risks that any use of armed force in urban areas poses to civilians. The Security Council should backstop such efforts, as it did in resolution 2573 (2021), and should better acknowledge the preventive dimension of the civilian protection agenda, including by ensuring the credible prospect of accountability for violators of international humanitarian law — a responsibility that it has largely failed to live up to in recent years. The Council can also see that engagement with non-State armed groups, whose cooperation is often essential to protecting urban civilians, is not criminalized, but rather seen as a way to avert further suffering, including with respect to those actors under sanctions designations. Turning to civilians’ acute vulnerability to cyberattacks, which international humanitarian law limits during armed conflicts just as it restricts the use of any other weapon, he said that, as this technology continues to advance and be used by State and organizational actors, the Council must recall its power to refer situations to the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability and further deter such crimes. For its part, Liechtenstein, together with 10 other State parties to the Rome Statute, has created a Council of Advisers that contributed to a report on the application of the Statute to cyberwarfare.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), speaking for the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, a cross regional network of 27 Member States, said that only full respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and a reduction of hostilities can protect civilians. Strict compliance with such laws in all circumstances must be ensured, she said, stressing that implementation at the national level is essential, requiring legal and practical measures in times of peace and conflict. Specific training and the development of good practices in planning and conducting military operations in cities is also needed. Emphasizing the need to respect the rules and principles governing the conduct of hostilities — in particular the prohibition of direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects — she underscored the importance of disseminating international humanitarian law to all conflict parties in order to increase protection. Engaging armed groups is also essential and contacts for such purposes should not be criminalized. It is critical for all parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian activities, and equally to ensure women and girls’ participation and leadership in humanitarian processes and initiatives.
Speaking in her national capacity, she quoted Zlata Filipović, a girl who was trapped in the siege of Sarajevo, almost 30 years ago: “Boredom, shooting, shelling, people being killed, despair, hunger, misery: that’s my life.” Today, too many people still find themselves in this reality in conflict zones. “We must strive to ensure that cities remain spaces of life and hope, even during armed conflict,” she said. Strict respect for international humanitarian law is essential in this regard.
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria) said the impact of urban warfare has increased, as larger shares of populations live in cities, pointing out that 90 per cent of casualties are civilians. Emphasizing that the principles of necessity, proportionality, distinction and humanity are flouted “just when adherence to them would be needed most”, he called on all parties to fully comply with international humanitarian law in all circumstances. “This especially applies to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas,” he stressed. Destruction of schools and children staying at home in fear of explosive-weapon attacks must not be overlooked either and he expected a strong political declaration on this matter, currently being negotiated under Ireland’s leadership. The Council must focus on implementing resolution 2573 (2021) on the protection of civilian infrastructure and continue to call for unimpeded access for humanitarian workers to cities in conflict areas, notably where urban conflict leads to food insecurity and malnutrition. In this context, he reiterated Austria’s strongest condemnation of the use of starvation as a method of warfare which can amount to a war crime.
OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt) expressed concern about the alarming increase in armed conflict worldwide, including in cities, and noted that the Secretary-General’s latest report highlights the impacts of such conflict in several parts of the world, including on the provisioning of essential services, and the disproportionate effect on women and children. Expressing concern about the impact of such conflicts on medical personnel and health‑care facilities, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, he underscored the importance of prioritizing the protection of health‑care delivery and humanitarian staff, including medical personnel, in situations of armed conflict. Egypt joined efforts to do so, through its support of Council resolution 2286 (2016). An integrated approach and effective political solutions are needed to tackle the role played by non-State actors, who target civilians and contribute to regional instability through their involvement in the proliferation and smuggling of weapons, he said. States have a primary responsibility in protecting civilians, including through State institutions and national mechanisms. Peacekeeping operations also play an important role, and must be supported with adequate resources, he said.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), associating herself with the European Union, said that, for the past few years, civilians have borne the brunt of fighting in urban areas, from Aleppo, Mosul and Sana’a, to Marawi, Mogadishu, Donetsk and Mekelle. Too often, citizens are deprived of food, water, sanitation, electricity and health care, she said, pointing out that even in the aftermath of urban conflict, explosive remnants of war or unexploded ordnance delay reconstruction, prevent the return of those displaced and prolong suffering. Reiterating that all parties to conflicts must ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, she underscored the need to ensure that life-sustaining humanitarian assistance and relief continues to be delivered, and for reports of war crimes to be investigated. The Security Council has a fundamental role to play in advancing compliance with international humanitarian law and ensuring accountability. As well, it must ensure the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, she said, highlighting several texts, including resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of health-care workers, in this regard. She went on to echo the Secretary-General’s call for parties to conflict to avoid using wide-area explosive weapons in densely populated areas, and voiced support for the Ireland‑led initiative that seeks to adopt a political declaration on the issue.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy) said that, during urban warfare, civilians have few possibilities to find a secure place to hide or live, while the existence of military objectives within densely populated urban areas makes it difficult for the combatants to respect international humanitarian law. The respect of international humanitarian law must be always ensured and in all circumstances, including the need to comply with the obligation to pursue accountability. In this regard, Italy reaffirms its support for the work of the International Criminal Court. Specific attention should be paid also to the continuity of key infrastructures and services, such as hospitals and schools. Italy would like to reiterate its full support for the Safe Schools Declaration, stressing the vital importance to protect education from attacks and to restrict the use of schools and universities for military purposes.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said recent attacks against the United Arab Emirates underscore the importance of focusing on the issue of protection. “These are attacks on civilians who are sometimes considered to be terrorists or combatants, which they are not,” he clarified. He called for respecting international humanitarian law, as well as proportion in the planning of military attacks, which require an analysis of related measures. Noting that natural disasters force displacement, he said refugees often seek protection in urban centres. Protecting civilians is incumbent upon States. However, all actors involved have an important role to play. Actions require adequate funding, capacity-building and training. Explaining that humanitarian action must proceed, regardless of political considerations or goals, he said aid should be encouraged and allowed in all circumstances and able to reach its intended populations. Humanitarian actors must have the opportunity to fulfil their mandate without political interference. He called for bolstering States’ capabilities to protect human rights, cultural heritage and putting in place early warning mechanisms to prevent conflicts from turning into open urban warfare.
ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany), endorsing the statement to be made by the European Union, drew attention to several important areas, first calling on all parties to armed conflict to fully comply with international humanitarian law. Recalling the Council’s adoption of resolution 2573 (2021), which calls on warring parties to avoid establishing military positions in densely populated areas, she said all parties to conflicts must grant access to humanitarian assistance. Noting that these are among the core demands of the Humanitarian Call for Action to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law and principled humanitarian action, launched by France and Germany in 2019, she called on Member States to join the 52 signatories. Turning to the major threat to densely populated areas posed by unexploded ordnances, she said humanitarian mine action is an important first step to protect civilians in urban settings after the fighting ends, adding that Germany contributed to related projects in Tripoli. Armed conflict in urban settings and impeded humanitarian assistance affect genders differently, she continued, highlighting that Germany has joined the Call to Action to End Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. More broadly, she called on the United Nations and Member States to do more to protect the most vulnerable in armed conflict and to ensure the protection of civilians.
BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia) deplored the humanitarian consequences of urban warfare, including its negative impact on lives and the environment, stressing that it is imperative to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law. Protection of civilians must be reinforced at the national and regional level. The mandates of United Nations peacekeeping operations should reflect the realities on the ground, including in urban settings, he said, emphasizing the importance of planning and training. Urban warfare destroys civilian infrastructure, including water supplies, which is unacceptable. Water is a relevant topic, he said, noting that Slovenia chairs the Group of Friends on Water and Peace in Geneva.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said civilian protection in cities requires efforts to abide by international law, with the United Nations role to ensure this being more vital than ever before. States must do more to ensure compliance and to resolve conflicts through peaceful means. With the 1949 Geneva Conventions constituting the cornerstone of legal protections for civilians, he said the International Court of Justice has also provided guidance, including on the distinctions between combatants and civilians. The international community currently faces a serious challenge of impunity, he said, pointing to the Middle East, where Israel is alarmingly violating humanitarian law in targeted attacks against Palestinian civilians and infrastructure. To address this effectively, violators must be held fully accountable, he said, calling for action in this regard.
FRANCISCO DUARTE LOPES (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians, said that the increasing urbanization of warfare poses formidable challenges and disproportionately impacts persons and objects protected by international humanitarian law. Such challenges are likely to endure, given that two thirds of the global population is expected to live in cities, he pointed out, adding that the appropriate response is a networked multilateralism, which addresses the triple nexus of peace, development and humanitarian action. Improvised explosive devices and new technologies with integrated autonomy pose a particular challenge. While the political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in crowded areas promoted by Ireland is a good step, detailing best practices based on international humanitarian law, he pointed out that improving respect for such law will necessitate the adjustment of military training and doctrine, such that it prioritizes the protection of civilians in operations. Portugal has formed a national commission on international humanitarian law this year, which provides a tool to promote compliance.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) called for full compliance with international humanitarian law and urgent action to strengthen civilian protection in armed conflict. He also called for full implementation of resolution 2475 (2019) on persons with disabilities in armed conflict, stressing that explosive weapons use in urban areas not only damages or destroys water, electricity and sanitation infrastructure, but also causes severe disruption to critical health-care services. He strongly condemned attacks against humanitarian and medical workers, reiterating Poland’s commitment to bring perpetrators to justice and recognizing the unique capacity of the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide aid in hard-to-reach areas. In its assistance efforts, Poland concentrates on areas where humanitarian crises overlap with violence, with a focus on Syrian civilians and hosting communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, as well as more broadly in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.
ROBERT RAE (Canada) said the topic of the debate is “not a theoretical discussion; there are real lives at stake”. Noting that conflicts in urban areas had reduced once-thriving centres to decimated landscapes with mountains of debris, reminiscent of those seen during the Second World War, he said: “These examples must not be added to or repeated.” Member States must avoid aggression and recall the Charter of the United Nations, which calls on members to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country. Recalling the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, which is foundational to international humanitarian law, he called on States that had not done so to ratify international humanitarian treaties, and enshrine their principles in national law, as well as integrate them into military doctrine and decision-making. The complexity of urban environments necessitates thinking through important questions, about who will die, who will be displaced, and whose health will be affected, he said, emphasizing the need for all parties to prioritize the protection of women and girls. In the case of armed non-State actors, the Security Council must “go beyond ritual action, and take action”, he stressed. However, he pointed out that its ability to do so had been curbed by the veto, which was used to block action, including urgently needed action on Syria, 16 times since 2011, adding that it is incumbent on all members of the United Nations to pressure the Council to achieve its mandate. He stressed the need for all Member States to prevent armed conflict and aggression, and to put in place practical measures to ensure parties to armed conflict abide by international humanitarian law, adding: “We have the means to do so; the question is, do we have the will?”
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), associating himself with the Group of Friends of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, stressed that his country attaches great importance to protecting civilians, especially in urban settings. Co‑sponsoring resolution 2573 (2021) on the protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, he said that Japan is gravely concern about indiscriminate attacks and the establishment of military positions in densely populated areas. He also pointed out Japan’s active engagement in operational activities to help civilians affected by armed conflict, particularly in urban settings, including by contributing to the conflict preparedness and protection project of the United Nations Mine Action Service in Gaza and its explosive risk reduction project in Ethiopia.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador) drew attention to the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III, in Quito and recognizes the humanitarian impact of war on the urban environments. Its paragraph 30 underscores the need for the Governments and civil society alike to support the provision of resilient urban services during armed conflict and to ensure full respect for international humanitarian law. Moreover, the Quito Declaration embodies a shift, from a reactive to proactive approach to meeting the needs of those affected by conflict. He rejected attacks against health‑care workers and schools, as well as attacks against critical infrastructure. He urged the Council to its utmost to protect civilians, noting that Ecuador co-sponsored resolution 2573 (2021) from a belief that the Council must do better in countering the use of explosives in populated zones. With that, he underscored Ecuador’s commitment to supporting efforts by United Nations and ICRC to promote international humanitarian law.
ÖNCÜ KEÇELI (Turkey) said his country hosts about 4 million Syrian refugees, many of whom fled from targeted cities. The Syrian regime and its backers continue to destroy civilian infrastructure in cities. Most recently, the Arşani water distribution and pumping station close to central Idlib was hit, affecting a quarter million Syrians. The terrorist organization PKK/YPG also targets civilians and civilian infrastructure in northern Syria. More than 20 years after the Security Council formally recognized the protection of civilians in armed conflict as a matter of international peace and security, the internal dynamics of the 15-member organ has reduced the United Nations role to aftermath intervention, he said, urging the Council to uphold its responsibility to prevent and ease suffering around the world.
OLOF SKOOG, Head of the European Union delegation, speaking in his capacity as an observer, stressed that the responsibility of protecting civilians is, first and foremost, on those fighting wars in cities. The bloc calls on parties to conflicts to ensure that they comply with international humanitarian law, with due respect to the specific challenges that urban contexts pose to civilians and civilian infrastructure. The bloc is also deeply concerned about the challenges associated with the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, including near hospitals, schools or universities. Thanking Ireland for the transparent and inclusive consultation process aimed at developing a political declaration, he urged the international community to take a more outspoken stance in calling on all parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law. As a humanitarian donor, the Union is committed to supporting humanitarian actors during the active conflict phase and undertaking light rehabilitation of key infrastructure, including water stations and networks, hospitals or schools.
JORGE VIDAL (Chile) said rapid urbanization has revealed the impact of war on the world’s 50 million urban inhabitants, noting that belligerents also use humans as shields. Conflicts irreparably affect civilian life by damaging access to food, health care, electricity and fuel, among other critical services, which impedes the full enjoyment of human rights and human dignity. The impact is particularly felt by children, who see their schools destroyed. Stressing that civilian protection must be at the heart of international concerns, especially for the most vulnerable groups, he called on parties to avoid using explosives that impact densely urban areas, and rather, to adapt such weapons according to the principles of international humanitarian law. Member States are obliged to protect civilians, he affirmed.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), aligning himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, said the issue of war in cities has been painful to his country, which just commemorated an anniversary of the Russian Federation’s 24 January 2014 attack on Mariupol, which killed and wounded more than 100 people. The United Nations has labelled this attack as an operation targeting civilians, he said, providing further examples of Russian Federation aggression and occupation, which have cumulatively killed 4,000 people and wounded thousands of others in the Donbass region. Civilian infrastructure was also damaged, leaving many without access to basic services in the region. While the Russian Federation has currently amassed 100,000 soldiers at Ukraine’s border, it has presented itself as a victim. Ukraine has no intention of military action in response to this situation and will continue to seek any viable option to achieve peace. Since the Council bears the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security, it must ensure it makes full use of its mandate.
ARRMANATHA C. NASIR (Indonesia) stressed the need for the Council to exercise its moral weight to protect civilians in armed conflict, especially women and children, and reiterated calls for a global ceasefire to help create corridors for life-saving aid and provide a chance for peace negotiations. Further, he underlined the need to enhance community engagement in protecting civilians, calling for civilian protection policies to be strategic, inclusive and “tailor‑made to the needs of affected communities”. Genuine community engagement is one of the most effective tools for peacekeepers to prevent loss of life. Moreover, the empowerment of women is crucial to the protection of civilians, he said. Indonesia is committed to increasing the number of female peacekeepers, in line with resolution 2538 (2020).
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) said that, 76 years after the founding of the United Nations, humanity still suffers from armed conflicts. The international community has not been able to provide necessary means to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. Countries in the global South, including those in Africa and the Arab region, have been most affected by armed conflicts and their devastating consequences, as highlighted earlier today by the Secretary-General, who referred to the destruction of Gaza in May 2021. Parties to internal conflicts do not acknowledge that international humanitarian law applies to domestic conflicts. Some armed conflicts are justified as legitimate fights against terrorists, he said, stressing the need to ensure the applicability of international humanitarian law to internal armed conflicts. The Council must show to the parties to conflict that the international community is watching.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the European Union, expressed his country’s strong commitment to international humanitarian law and the principles underpinning it. He called for bolstering efforts to avoid, minimize and mitigate the adverse impact of military operations on civilians through an approach based on the core humanitarian principles, under which the protection of civilians is an obligation of all conflict parties. “The Council plays a crucial role in condemning every breach of this obligation,” he assured. He urged the international community to “seize every opportunity” to call on parties to avoid fighting in urban settings. He also highlighted the paramount importance of strengthening data collection on civilian harm, supporting the establishment of investigative and data‑collection mechanisms and holding accountable criminal perpetrators. “We must go beyond the traditional understanding of the protection of civilians and adapt our approach to new realities and challenges,” he added, notably related to the development of new technologies and their deployment in armed conflicts.
ANNA KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that urban warfare, entailing the use of weapons with a wide area effect, led to the disruption of the delivery of basic services, and imposed a heavy burden on already overstretched humanitarian service delivery. The protection of civilians in urban settings requires the full attention of the Council, including through the adequate monitoring of relevant resolutions. Further, the Council and the international community must ensure international humanitarian law and principles, as enshrined in article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, are upheld and respected. The Nordic countries emphasize the need for a rules-based international order, with humanitarian law at its heart, and are actively engaged in conflict resolution around the world. She went on to call for adherence by all parties to landmark Council resolutions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including resolutions 2573 (2021), 2286 (2016) and 2601 (2021). “There is no lack of international instruments to protect civilians; however, there is a lack of respect and compliance for international humanitarian law,” she stressed, highlighting in this regard the publication of the ICRC’s Protecting healthcare: Guidance for the Armed Forces, which provides practical examples on carrying out military operations while protecting health‑care facilities and personnel. Moreover, accountability is necessary, as it deters future violations of international humanitarian law.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said that the stateless persons’ documents, widely known as “Nansen passports”, introduced by the High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations at that time, were instrumental for the protection of civilians, including tens of thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. His country faces the consequences of brutal use of force by Azerbaijan against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. The cities of Stepanakert, Shushi, Martakert, Martuni and Hadrut were targeted by multiple launch‑rocket systems, heavy artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles and prohibited weapons, such as cluster munitions. Launching a war in the middle of the global pandemic is a gross violation of existing ceasefire agreements and international humanitarian law. Obstruction and politicization of safe and unhindered humanitarian access by the United Nations agencies to Nagorno-Karabakh has undermined the international efforts to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian situation. The activities of the Russian Federation forces’ Humanitarian Response Centre in Artsakh have been instrumental in providing vital assistance and services to the population.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians, noted that re-establishing damaged critical infrastructure can take years, and sometimes entire cities are destroyed to such an extent that it would be impossible to rebuild them, for example in Syria. He went on the point out that when schools are attacked and closed, children start to work due to the lack of educational facilities, and it is almost impossible for them to return to school, which reinforces a cycle of exploitation and poverty, and makes them vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups. Highlighting Luxembourg’s firm commitment to the Safe Schools Declaration, he pointed out that it has made the promotion and protection of the rights of children, including those affected by armed conflict, a priority of its mandate at the Human Rights Council for 2022-2024. Stressing that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable, he underscored the important role of International Criminal Court. He also noted that Luxembourg continues to support the drafting of a political declaration in which States commit to refraining from using of explosive devices in urban settings.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said urban warfare can devastate critical civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, sanitation systems, schools and places of worship. In recent years, the Council has taken steps to rectify the issue of inadequate recourse to the principles of distinction and proportionality by parties to armed conflict. Resolution 2573 (2021) demands that parties to conflict refrain from attacking objects critical to the survival of civilian populations and rightly expresses grave concern at the “establishment of military positions in densely populated areas”. In this regard, the Holy See welcomes and continues to support efforts responding to the call by the Secretary‑General “to develop a political declaration in which States commit themselves to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas”, including the ongoing consultations process led by Ireland.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) said the Geneva Conventions and principles of international humanitarian law stipulate the obligation of warring parties to protect civilians and civilian objects and he urged all actors to comply with these obligations. It is regrettable that the plight of civilians in protracted conflicts, as in Palestine and Western Sahara, does not receive adequate attention and accountability remains elusive. In Gaza, the conflict exposes the devastating impact of heavy explosive weapons on civilian areas, seen in the destruction of houses, schools and hospitals. The Council must be “pragmatic and innovative” in developing solutions tailored to the needs of affected communities. It should carry out Mission drawdowns using a benchmark system, such as that used in the Central African Republic, to better gauge conditions on the ground. For their part, Member States should engage in partnerships with ICRC and local populations to build resilient essential urban services, while the international community more broadly must shore up the political will to act immediately and without selectivity to protect human lives. Indeed, it must not be seen to protect some and ignore the plight of others, he observed.
RYTIS PAULAUSKAS (Lithuania), associating himself with the European Union, speaking in his national capacity, said the challenges of urban combat pose severe dangers to civilians who are trapped in these areas. The international community must therefore be outspoken in ensuring their protection, including through deploying practical and political solutions to protect civilians and civilian objects, and ensure that those who violate international humanitarian law are held to account, while paying special attention to vulnerable groups, such as children, women and girls, as well as persons with disabilities. He went on to outline the Russian Federation’s activities in eastern Ukraine, which “do little to inspire confidence”, including indiscriminate shelling, causing widespread damage to civilian infrastructure, including water pumping stations, the killing of 4,000 people and the displacement of 1.5 million people. He voiced regret that the Russian Federation is continuing its military deployments, including in Belarus, and called on the international community and the Council to call out breaches of international humanitarian law.
PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, stressed that civilians represent close to 90 per cent of the casualties of urban warfare. Proposing a multidimensional approach, which also ensures child-protection mainstreaming and pays particular attention to the most vulnerable groups, he called on all parties to armed conflict to strictly comply with international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, to protect access to essential services and to facilitate rapid and unimpeded access to humanitarian relief. Emphasizing the fight against impunity as one of Belgium’s priorities, he expressed concern about reports of a lack of accountability for crimes against children in armed conflicts and called for the systematic recognition of children as a category of victims in their own right within judicial processes so as to strengthen accountability in that regard. Belgium remains committed to addressing the needs of children affected by armed conflict, facilitating access to education and intensifying efforts to prevent and address grave violations against them, he said.
KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia) recalled Moscow’s military aggression against his country in 2008, when more than 30 cities and villages, including the capital, were shelled and more than 400 civilians and military personnel were killed and more than 1,700 wounded. Despite the recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Federation continues building a considerable military footprint in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region and is taking steps towards their de facto annexation. He went on to point out that after eight years of aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation, Ukraine is once again witnessing unprecedented military build-up and looming military threats from Moscow. It is of particular necessity that international organizations are firm and vocal on the Russian Federation’s responsibility in terms of human rights violations, as well as the denied access of international human rights mechanisms on the ground. Moscow must fulfil its international obligations, including the European Union-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement and Minsk agreements, and withdraw its forces from the territory of its sovereign neighbouring States, he said.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) expressed his delegation’s surprise at the selection of a briefer from Sana’a, whose remarks were biased and lacked integrity. She failed to refer to the crimes committed by the Houthis. The Council must use caution and maintain objectivity and impartiality. Rejecting all allegations against his country’s Government, he welcomed voices of civil society. The Houthi’s terror attacks in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates violate international humanitarian law. Yemen is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention. While Yemen removed its stock of mines, the Houthis planted nearly 2 million mines and explosives in many areas, paralysing millions of internally displaced persons. Iran’s supply of weapons to the Houthis clearly violates relevant Security Council resolutions, he said, calling on the 15-member organ to hold perpetrators accountable.
LUIS ANTONIO LAM PADILLA (Guatemala), recalling his country’s role as a contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations, said the host State bears the primary responsibility for protecting civilians, with peacekeepers providing complementary support. Their goal requires an integrated effort by civilian, police, military and penitentiary components, in close coordination with national authorities, local communities and humanitarian organizations. Implementation of civilian protection mandates is the responsibility of all parties, and depends on various factors, including well‑defined mandates, political will, accountability at every level, appropriate resources and well-equipped police and civilian personnel. He expressed concern over incidents involving the use of improvised explosive devices in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Mali, noting that the transition phase of any mission requires comprehensive planning that brings together the United Nations, Member States, civil society and the international community. He cited the negative experience of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) transition to the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), stressing: “We should learn from the failures.” He recommended that protection mandates be improved by prioritizing political partnerships, accountability and sufficient resources.
ARIEL R. PENARANDA (Philippines) said “success in peacekeeping operations must be measured by how well we protect civilians”. Modern warfare in urban settings must be confronted in a more proactive stance, using advanced weapons systems designed for effective and responsible military operations. He encouraged troop- and police-contributing countries to prioritize civilian protection through all means when required, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, mission mandates and international law. Expectations regarding protection tasks must be succinct and clear, connected to political strategies in the field and focused on prevention. In addition, an advanced guided munitions system, coupled with well-designed target development capabilities, is an effective tool for responding to the challenges in complex urban warfare. These systems, along with a sound mitigation mechanism, should help anticipate the choices, means and methods of attacks by armed actors. He called for the adoption of a global civilian harm mitigation policy, with unequivocal commitment among Member States engaging in urban warfare. Noting that his country upholds the 1949 Geneva Convention and its 1977 Additional Protocols, he highlighted the importance of close collaboration between the United Nations and the host country on contingency planning, information exchange and risk assessment in the context of good mutual cooperation.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) asked how civilians can be protected in situations where their suppression is “the very object of a military’s operations”, as is the case when foreign occupation forces forcibly deny the right of peoples to self‑determination in perpetuating their illegal occupation. He said such a situation is taking place in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where, since January 1989, Indian forces have killed 96,000 Kashmiris, widowed 23,000 women, raped over 11,250 women and girls, and destroyed over 100,000 dwellings, including schools and houses. He noted that, since 5 August 2019, 900,000 Indian troops have been stationed in the region to impose “what India’s leaders have themselves ominously called a ‘final solution’ for Jammu and Kashmir”, carrying out extrajudicial killings of innocent Kashmiri youth, and destroying Kashmiri neighbourhoods and villages. Noting that, last year, his country released a dossier, comprising audio and video accounts of 3,432 cases of war crimes perpetrated by senior officers of the Indian occupying forces since 1989, he called on the Council to take cognizance of these crimes and hold their perpetrators accountable. “India is not a victim of terrorism; it is the mothership of terrorism in South Asia,” he stressed, adding that while counter‑terrorism operations since 2014 have cleared Pakistan of terrorist groups, it continues to contend with terrorist attacks that are sponsored and supported by India, including from Afghanistan. Further, he called on the Council to take note of the words of the head of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, who said last week that “genocide can happen in India”.
MADHU SUDAN RAVINDRAN (India), taking the floor a second time, denounced the “Pavlovian and frivolous” remarks by his counterpart from Pakistan as an attempt to deflect from the “sad state” in his own country, where terrorists are given a free pass, while the lives of ordinary people are turned upside down. Noting that Pakistan has a history of harbouring, aiding and supporting terrorists, he said it is a globally recognized sponsor of terrorism, hosting the largest number of Council-listed terrorists. In fact, Pakistan’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have been called out for being supporters of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. He recalled that the perpetrators of the 2008 attack in Mumbai now enjoy Pakistan’s patronage. Affirming that Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were, are and always will be an inalienable part of India, including those areas under Pakistan’s illegal occupation, he called on Pakistan to vacate all such areas. India desires good‑neighbourly relations with Pakistan and is committed to addressing outstanding issues, if any, bilaterally and peacefully, in line with the Lahore Declaration. The onus is on Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere free from terror, hostility and violence. Until then, India will take firm and decisive steps to respond to cross-border terrorism, he said.
Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan) said terrorism in South Asia originated in India, a country that has also sponsored such actions in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and in other neighbouring countries. Jammu and Kashmir are a territory whose destiny the Council has stated should be decided by its people through a free and fair plebiscite conducted under United Nations auspices. It is not an integral part of India. “If you look at any United Nations map, it is stamped on that [as] disputed territory,” he explained, asking India’s representative whether his country subscribed to the United Nations Charter’s Article 25 and whether its leaders would denounce the call for genocide against Muslims, issued on 17 December 2021 in Haridwar, Uttarakhand Province.