Ninety Per Cent of War-Time Casualties Are Civilians, Speakers Stress, Pressing Security Council to Fulfil Responsibility, Protect Innocent People in Conflicts
With civilians accounting for nearly 90 per cent of war-time casualties and humanitarians threatened with arrest for providing aid to “the enemy”, the Security Council simply must do more to ensure the protection of innocent people caught amid the conflicts raging around the world, experts from the field told the 15-nation organ today, as over 70 delegates denounced its inaction and explored ways to stanch the suffering during the all-day debate.
The calls for action took on a familiar ring, with experts and delegates alike recalling years of appeals for the world body to respect its landmark and unanimously adopted civilian protection resolutions: 2286 (2016), 2417 (2018), 2474 (2019), 2475 (2019) and 2573 (2021).
Outlining the grim reality, Ramesh Rajasingham, Director at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, one of four experts briefing the Council, said the Ukraine war and other conflicts have pushed the number of people fleeing to more than 100 million for the first time on record. In Afghanistan, attacks against health-care facilities have affected access for 300,000 people, while in Yemen, only half of health facilities are functioning. By the end of 2021, conflict drove acute food insecurity for 140 million people in 24 countries.
Globally, food, fuel and fertilizer prices are now skyrocketing, he said, with a 30 per cent jump in food prices alone threatening people across Africa and the Middle East. He pushed States and non-State armed groups to track reports of civilian harm, gauge the impact of military operations and shift course, if necessary.
Picking up that thread, Robert Mardini, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), described the appalling human cost of using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in urban areas: countless people killed, homes destroyed, hospitals overwhelmed by complex injuries and survivors left with lifelong disabilities. “This clearly raises serious questions about how parties to such conflicts interpret and apply relevant rules of international humanitarian law,” he said.
He pressed the Council to ensure that protection of civilians is a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of all military and security operations in such areas, notably by leveraging its influence with allies, partners and proxies to foster respect for the law.
In equal measure, David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, said the demand among his organization’s 30,000 staff is not for the creation of new rights or new laws. “It is for this body to fulfil the commitments it has made,” he stressed. The diplomatic, political, legal and humanitarian system for protecting civilians is failing.
Every year, aid delivery becomes harder, and not because the natural geography is more difficult, but because the man-made obstacles have become more significant, he pointed out. While the Council is not responsible for those targeting civilians or aid workers, it is responsible for the failure to hold them to account. He called for “new muscle” in the drive to prevent the strangulation and weaponization of aid.
Rachel Boketa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Country Director at Women for Women International, said that to better protect all civilians, local women’s groups must be part of the strategy “from the start”. She called for closer coordination among humanitarian country teams, Governments, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and civil society across the planning and implementation phases of humanitarian response.
Community-based, women-centred organizations are first on the frontlines to provide women with immediate support, she said, noting that the lives of women do not fall neatly into buckets of “sectors”, “agendas” or “frameworks”. Governments should think and act holistically, locally and transformatively to meet women where they are.
In the ensuing debate, delegates from across the globe underscored the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law. Many condemned the use in urban settings of explosive devices with wide-area effect, with Austria’s delegate calling for the elaboration of a strong political declaration. “It is high time we adopt it,” he insisted.
Several took the Council to task. Kenya’s representative said the nature and scope of protracted wars means that the Council — lacking the will to resolve them — now spends much of its time deliberating humanitarian matters. “Our multilateral tools are collapsing under the weight of weak political will,” he stated, adding: “The piecemeal approaches by this Council will only yield failure and the mass murder of many more thousands.”
Also calling on the Council to honour its commitments, Yemen’s representative pointed to Iran’s supply of ballistic missiles to the Houthis, in violation of resolutions 2216 (2015) and 2231 (2015), stressing: “The international community has to act. “We need true accountability here.”
Numerous delegates — including from Ireland, Norway, China, Algeria and Egypt — cited the importance of respecting the Council’s own resolutions on the protection of medical personnel, schools, missing persons and civilian infrastructure, which, when coupled with ensuring unimpeded access for humanitarian workers, would improve the fate of civilians.
In the absence of Council action, Ecuador’s representative spotlighted resolution ES 11/2, by which the General Assembly called on all parties to protect civilians, including foreign citizens — particularly students — without preconditions.
Several described the utter inhumanity of conditions in Ukraine. The United States representative, Council President for May, emphasized in her national capacity that the Russian Federation will be held accountable for the reported use of mass graves, executions and torture.
Also calling for accountability, Estonia’s representative, pointing to Moscow’s extensive shelling of Ukrainian cities and massive disinformation — including in the Council — said the aggression is being carried out with “cynical indifference” to civilian protection.
Ukraine’s delegate described such actions as part of the Russian Federation’s “Nazi-style war strategy”. However, these atrocities are committed by individuals, he said, recalling that a Ukrainian court recently sentenced a Russian serviceman for the killing of an unarmed civilian.
In turn, the Russian Federation’s delegate, noting that his country was involved in the creation of contemporary international humanitarian law and the code of conduct for warring parties, said its special military operation fully adheres to the goal of protecting civilians held hostage by the Kyiv regime.
Others highlighted their countries’ contributions to humanitarian response. Qatar’s delegate, noting that her country is among the 10 highest contributors, said it provided $18 million to the Central Emergency Relief Fund, regularly helps the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and offers direct assistance to Afghanistan, including to rehabilitate the Kabul airport.
Still others focused on the inclusion of civilian protection mandates within peacekeeping operations. In that context, Nepal’s delegate said that mandate should be treated as a whole-of-mission approach supported by adequate financial and human resources. Equally important are national ownership and political solutions for preventing countries from relapsing into conflict during mission transition and withdrawal.
Nonetheless, Brazil’s representative underscored that a solid framework to protect civilians exists, as found in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. The problem, he pointed out, is not the absence of norms but the lack of respect for them.
Also speaking today were representatives of Gabon, India, Ghana, United Kingdom, France, Albania, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Germany, Turkey, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Malta, Canada, Portugal, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Slovakia, Spain, Australia, Viet Nam, Georgia, South Africa, Armenia, Japan, Morocco, Iran, Poland, Italy, Bangladesh, Maldives, Costa Rica, Argentina, Indonesia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Republic of Korea, Cyprus, Malaysia, Israel, Croatia, Chile, Greece, Nigeria, Denmark (also for Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), Pakistan and Azerbaijan.
The Head of the European Union delegation also spoke, as did the representative of the Holy See, in their capacity as observer.
The representatives of India and Pakistan took the floor for a second time.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m., suspended at 1:08 p.m. and concluded at 6:28 p.m.
RAMESH RAJASINGHAM, Director of Coordination of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2022/381) outlines the grim reality that civilians bear the brunt of suffering in armed conflict. Conflict continued to cause widespread civilian death last year, notably in densely populated areas, where civilians accounted for 90 per cent of the casualties when explosive weapons were used, compared to 10 per cent in other areas.
In Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, improvised explosive devices, landmines and explosive remnants of war caused civilian death, hindered access to farmland, essential services and livelihoods, and disrupted water, sanitation and health services, he reported. In Yemen, parties to conflict destroyed schools, hospitals, roads, factories, houses, cars and farms, while in Gaza, fighting damaged wells, wastewater plants and water delivery networks. Schools were relentlessly attacked and occupied by fighting parties, making children more vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups. In the first nine months of 2021, more than 900 schools in Afghanistan were destroyed or damaged, while in Ethiopia, thousands of schools were entirely or partially destroyed.
By mid-2021, fighting had forcibly displaced 84 million people, with nearly 51 million of them displaced internally, he said. The Ukraine war and other conflicts pushed the number of people fleeing to more than 100 million for the first time on record. When civilians fled to safer areas, children and elders were often left behind. As well, more than one in five people are thought to have experienced depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. In Afghanistan, attacks against health-care facilities affected access for 300,000 people. In Yemen, only half of health facilities were functioning.
By the end of 2021, conflict drove acute food insecurity for 140 million people in 24 countries, he continued, including thousands of people in Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen who experienced catastrophic food insecurity. In northern Ethiopia, where belligerents took over agricultural production, people were displaced from their farms and their livestock was looted or killed. In the Central African Republic, armed groups prevented access to crops, while humanitarian operations in Somalia faced obstacles to free movement. In the Central African Republic, non-governmental organizations had to stop or scale back their activities due to insecurity.
He also highlighted how some fighting parties impose severe limits on humanitarian activities with bureaucratic measures that slowed or stalled operations, as seen with Myanmar’s lengthy travel approval processes and difficulties registering organizations or obtaining visas for international staff. The increased number of non-State armed groups complicated negotiations, while private military contractors created problems for humanitarians working to reach people in need. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria, staff from Médecins Sans Frontières were harassed for allegedly supporting terrorists by providing impartial health care.
He pointed out that 2022 is looking no better. Since 24 February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded 8,089 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 3,811 killed. Hospitals, schools, residential buildings and shelters all have come under attack, while 12 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes. Globally, food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing, with a 30 per cent jump in food prices alone threatening people across Africa and the Middle East.
He called for States and non-State armed groups to track reports of civilian harm, to gauge the impact of military operations and shift course, if necessary. They also should avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide effects in populated areas and integrate legal protections for the environment into military training and doctrine. In operations involving a coalition — and with security partners — States should engage in political dialogue and joint operational planning, withholding arms transfers when it is clear the weapons will be used to breach international humanitarian law. They should investigate war crimes, prosecute perpetrators, ensure reparations for victims and develop policy frameworks that build on these good practices, he insisted.
ROBERT MARDINI, Director-General, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said he is addressing the Council today with “a sense of déjà vu”, as the organization’s briefings over many years have focused on how best to respond to — and ideally prevent — the suffering seen in armed conflict around the world. “This year is no different,” he acknowledged. He pointed to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, blatant politicization of humanitarian action and States — which have the primary responsibility for respecting and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law — falling short.
Highlighting issues of particular concern, he described the appalling human cost of war in cities, especially when explosive weapons with wide area effects are used: countless people killed, homes destroyed, hospitals faced with multiple and complex injuries, quickly overwhelming emergency rooms and survivors left with lifelong disabilities. “This clearly raises serious questions about how parties to such conflicts interpret and apply relevant rules of international humanitarian law,” he said, stressing that the concept of “military necessity” is abused more often than not. Urging parties to conflict to avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, he pressed the Council to ensure that protection of civilians is a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of all military and security operations in such areas, notably by leveraging its influence with allies, partners and proxies to foster respect for the law.
Secondly, he pointed to the rapid spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech during armed conflict, which “dangerously distorts information vital to human needs, such as access to safety, shelter and health care.” False narratives about the role of humanitarian organizations not only hamper their work but create dangers for the people they are trying to protect. He urged States and parties to conflict, “at the very least”, to ensure that their own activities and information campaigns are not part of the problem, by placing civilian protection at the core of their efforts.
Finally, he voiced concern over the growing pressure on front-line humanitarian organizations to help States obtain information for criminal proceedings in armed conflict. The work of humanitarian organizations must be separated from that of investigative bodies, which is critical for preserving neutrality and impartiality, and in turn, accessing people in need. He urged States to refrain from placing the responsibility of sharing data from international humanitarian law monitoring onto operational humanitarian agencies, such as ICRC. Improving compliance with international law includes helping Governments meet their responsibilities by adopting legislation and training the armed forces and police.
It can also include providing technical assistance and practical guidance on domestic legislation. He encouraged States to take this wider view in their pursuit of accountability and to allow organizations to work according to their mandates. “The gap between ever-growing protection and assistance needs of conflict-affected people and the ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver an adequate response remains far too big,” he stressed. He called for removing measures that criminalize aid and deny access, that politicize funding or that impose requirements compromising humanitarian principles. Responsibility for removing these obstacles lies first and foremost with States.
DAVID MILIBAND, President of the International Rescue Committee, reported that last year his organization’s 30,000 staff and volunteers served more than 35 million civilians in 200 field sites in conflict zones around the world. However, their shared demand is not for new rights or new laws, he said. “It is for this body to fulfil the commitments it has made”. Despite countless Council resolutions, civilians account for up to 87 per cent of the casualties during war. Furthermore, a record 100 million people have now been forced to flee their homes by conflict and disaster. The diplomatic, political, legal and humanitarian system for protecting civilians is failing, he cautioned, pointing out that every year, the delivery of aid becomes harder, not because the natural geography is more difficult, but because the man-made obstacles have become more significant.
Humanitarian staff are kidnapped at checkpoints, shot at by armed groups, and threatened with arrest if they provide lifesaving aid to “the enemy”, he continued. Also highlighting the bureaucracy, endless waits for permissions, visas, documentation and cash delivery, he said: “this is often part of the war strategy”. Ukraine is the capstone of this age of impunity, but not the exception, he emphasized, drawing attention to the attack last week on two of his organization’s vehicles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the Council is not responsible for those targeting civilians or aid workers, it is responsible for the failure to hold them to account, he said, calling for “new muscle” in the drive to prevent the strangulation and weaponization of aid. “We do not call for new rights. We call for new determination to uphold existing rights,” he stated.
Stressing that humanitarian access, and its denial, should be a permanent agenda item for the Council, he added that when reports are issued and benchmarks set, they should be followed up. When progress stalls or commitments are abandoned, they should be called out. In addition, the Council should set a standard for defending United Nations officials who report violations of international law and they should be backed by independent assessments of access violations, which leave no room for political pressure. Welcoming the European Union’s proposal to drive independent data collection and reporting through its funding efforts, he called on Member States to commit to use this data. Early warning mechanisms should not gather dust, he stressed, highlighting how Council resolution 2417 (2018) on preventing conflict-induced hunger is undermined by weak implementation and reporting.
When the Council has direct power over access to aid, it must act on the basis of facts and law, he said, calling attention to the upcoming vote to renew cross-border access to Syria. Noting the constraints in the Council as well as in the conflict zones, he also stressed the importance of breaking the deadlock and highlighted the critical role the General Assembly can continue to play in establishing independent mechanisms to gather evidence on violations. Where humanitarian work needs guarding from the politics of Member States, including those perpetrating access constraints, the Assembly should establish independent panels to take on fact-finding missions and deliver transparent reporting on barriers imposed on humanitarian action in conflict settings, he said.
RACHEL BOKETA, Women for Women International Country Director in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said it is vital to listen to the voices of those from conflict-affected countries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to more than 5.5 million internally displaced persons — among the largest populations in the world. Overall, 70 per cent of people live below the poverty line and 27 million Congolese — more than one in four people — are highly food insecure. The country, she underscored, is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a woman.
Explaining that her organization helps women survivors of war to rebuild their lives, she said its programmes are locally led and rooted in the communities it serves. To better protect all civilians, gender transformative approaches and local women’s groups must be part of the strategy “from the start”. She noted that women are uniquely affected by poverty and displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, facing harmful patriarchal social norms and beliefs that hinder their access to social services and create barriers when they attempt to change those circumstances.
She said Women for Women International works with women in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo who have already been displaced three or four times before they settle there. The illegal exploitation of natural resources often translates to armed violence that blocks humanitarian access. Therefore, the organization must be creative and adaptive in providing services that help women develop vocational skills, start their own businesses and learn about savings. Noting that community-based, women-centred organizations are first on the frontlines to provide women with immediate support, she shared the story of Solange, who was raped four times over two decades of war, saw her husband and children tortured and killed, and who was later mocked and isolated as a rape victim. She began to heal with support from others at Women for Women.
“We see year after year that when we can build women’s power and resilience through our programmes, they are able to pay it forward” she said, highlighting the experience of Cinama, who witnessed her mother having no rights to land or inheritance because she was a widow. Cinama, now a brick maker at age 26, is teaching other women her trade and she owns her land — a legacy to the next generation that she hopes will outlast the wars that have marked the milestones of her own life. During crisis, people look to their national and local authorities, the United Nations and broader humanitarian community for support. She called for closer coordination among humanitarian country teams, Governments, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and civil society across the planning and implementation phases of humanitarian response.
“Civil society organizations — and especially women’s civil society — need additional, flexible financial resources, human resources and capacity,” she emphasized. The inclusion of civil society groups already providing aid and services is essential. Stressing that the lives of women do not fall neatly into buckets of “sectors”, “agendas” or “frameworks”, she urged Member States to think and act holistically, locally and transformatively to meet women where they are.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, spotlighting the downward spiral created by the frequent confluence of killings, forced displacement and lack of humanitarian access. Ceaseless fighting severely limits such access, and the killings of humanitarian workers make it harder to deliver aid. This lack of aid means civilians are more likely to remain displaced. The results of this vicious cycle are visible in Syria, where 14 million people rely on humanitarian assistance and 6.6 million remain internally displaced. Highlighting reports and images of mass graves, destroyed buildings, executions, torture and sexual violence in Ukraine, she called on the Secretary-General to add the situation in that country as one of concern in the upcoming annual report on children in armed conflict. “There will be justice, and Russia will be held accountable for these atrocities,” she stressed. The Security Council must act to protect civilians caught in the throes of conflict, she added, and the most immediate, effective action the organ can take is to provide and safeguard humanitarian access.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) underscored that there is only one effective way to protect civilians in armed conflict, which is to not to initiate armed conflict. However, if one does occur, the international community must mobilize to stop it immediately. Further, if war has yet to begin, it must be prevented by addressing the well-known root causes that will lead to it. The Council distances itself from its responsibility when its response to the harming of civilians “is mere rhetoric and divided opinion due to battles for influence or geopolitical or geostrategic interests”. He went on to point out that the present day conflicts are internal and urban — with a higher impact on civilians and infrastructure — straining both States’ capacity to protect civilian populations and the ability to recover. Adding that unhindered humanitarian access must be ensured and that humanitarian personnel and those in refugee camps must be protected, he also stressed that “ready-made” humanitarian responses must be adapted to specific situations.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) underscored that the humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts are severe, highlighting the over 11,000 civilian casualties in various conflicts in 2021; 140 million people reeling under conflict-induced hunger; and 84 million being forcibly displaced. The parties to the armed conflicts seem to consider civilian population and civilian infrastructure as legitimate targets, he noted, underlining that the primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of populations rests with national Governments. Terrorism today is the greatest threat faced by humankind and the Security Council should focus on the increasing challenges faced by United Nations peacekeepers in executing their protection of civilians mandate. The role of peacekeeping operations is to supplement the national efforts to advance peace and security, he said, calling on States not to ignore fundamental issues and international power politics that contribute to the accentuation of armed conflicts, including the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of States.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), citing successes in combating terrorism in Syria, said that establishing peace and stability there has been hindered by the United States illegal occupation of significant areas. That State has plundered natural resources and is expanding its smuggling operations and illicit trade in oil and grain. It and the European Union also continue to use illegal unilateral sanctions with catastrophic consequences for the Syrian people. Noting that his country was involved in the creation of contemporary international humanitarian law and the code of conduct for warring parties, he stressed that the Russian Federation’s current special military operation in Ukraine fully adheres to the goal of protecting the lives of civilians held hostage by the Kyiv regime. The United States and its allies are accomplices in the murder of those civilians, while the Ukrainian army routinely positions its posts in schools and hospitals. The shelling of civilians by Ukraine happens on a daily basis, he said, citing the manipulation of public opinion on the topic — the most glaring example being the Ukrainian provocation in Bucha splashed over the world’s media in April. He further accused Ukrainian forces of a false flag shelling operation of a railway station and of torturing prisoners of war, while Russian Federation forces maintain humane treatment as the norm, including the recent evacuation of the Azovstal factory.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) stressed that “the laws of armed conflict must, at all times, be respected and cannot be ignored even in the basest of our human weakness.” The international community must also exact accountability for egregious violations of those laws, and civilian protection must be an integral part of any settlement in the resolution of any conflict. Protection of civilians during peacekeeping operations may require the use of all necessary means, he continued, including force to prevent or respond to threats of physical violence against civilians, without prejudice to the responsibility of host Governments. The Council can also help strengthen protection by improving reporting mechanisms through such tools as the monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave violations of children’s rights in situations of armed conflict and the monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements in response to sexual violence in armed conflict. He noted that the expansion of such mechanisms to cover reporting on civilian casualty or the use of explosive weapons in populated areas would provide a clear methodology to track, mitigate and reduce civilian harm.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said 2022 has been another devastating year for civilians in conflict, including in Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine — where the Russian Federation is targeting civilian infrastructure and attacking civilians indiscriminately. Warring parties are increasingly treating the rules of international law with contempt. States need to do more on prevention by mainstreaming civilian protections into domestic law and operations, including by enacting appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements to comprehensively address violations and abuses and hold perpetrators to account. The Council must make better use of the tools available for identifying and addressing threats to civilians, including through timely, evidence-based warnings when parties to conflict are blocking access, destroying indispensable civilian objects, or using starvation as a method of warfare. Members should also do more to protect those working to aid civilians in conflict, such as tackling the spread of misinformation and disinformation which puts lives at risk.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said that despite the Council’s adoption of resolution 2573 (2021), on objects indispensable to the survival of civilians in armed conflict, and resolution 2601 (2021), on the protection of schools and education, strengthening the protection architecture has not reduced the heavy civilian toll of conflict. He urged peacekeepers to scale up the use of strategic communications to foster local engagement to, in turn, dissuade retaliatory attacks, inform local communities and discourage people from joining armed groups. All parties to conflict must facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for aid which are humanitarian and impartial in character, and he pressed the Council to adjust the sanctions framework so as to minimize civilian suffering. He cited the humanitarian carve-outs in Somalia’s and Afghanistan’s sanctions regimes as good examples. Noting that the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols provide a solid framework to protect civilians, he said the problem is not the absence of norms but the lack of respect for them. Any such violation must be subjected to impartial mechanisms of accountability, including international criminal law instruments.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) asked: “How many times must we repeat in this chamber the phrase ‘humanitarian workers must never be targets’?” In 2021, 98 per cent of humanitarians killed, injured or kidnapped in conflict contexts, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were national staff. In Tigray, millions are facing starvation. Yet, only 11 per cent of humanitarian supplies needed from July to December 2021 reached the civilian population there. In some areas, the denial of humanitarian access has evolved from a consequence of conflict to a weapon of war, with civilians representing almost 90 per cent of casualties when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. Citing the Arria formula meeting on the protection of journalists, as well as resolution 2222 (2015) and resolution 2417 (2018), she stressed that what is needed now is implementation. “It is clear that in conflicts such as Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, this Council has failed to deliver the political protection we can collectively offer,” she said, adding: “If we do not use all the tools available to us now, next year’s debate will hear of an even graver situation of the protection of civilians.”
DIARRA DIME LABILLE (France) stressing that the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers is a duty under international humanitarian law, expressed concern that parties to conflicts are deliberately incorporating humanitarian violations into their warfare. The Russian Federation’s forces are using the same methods as those used by the Assad regime in Syria, she said, pointing to the trapping of civilians, besieging of towns and targeting of civilian infrastructure. Expressing concern about the shrinking humanitarian space, she added that safe and unhindered access to aid must be guaranteed without conditions. The harassment of humanitarian workers is unacceptable, she said, calling on Member States to ensure a favourable environment for the work of neutral and impartial aid workers, including by “combating banking overcompliance” as well as using important tools such as sanctions to ensure accountability.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) declared: “Our multilateral tools are collapsing under the weight of weak political will, the untrammelled pursuit of self-interest by the powerful, and the continuing inequality between and within nations.” The result is major emerging and protracted wars with such extreme humanitarian impacts that the Council — lacking the will to resolve them — now spends much of its time deliberating humanitarian matters. Citing the impacts of terrorism committed by jihadists affiliated or inspired by Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — also known as Da’esh — he said they do not cause civilian harm as “collateral damage”, but rather deliberately in order to pursue political aims. If multilateralism is to deliver sustained peace and protect civilians, the Council must get serious about the challenge of terrorism in Africa, or face catastrophic results. “The piecemeal approaches by this Council will only yield failure and the mass murder of many more thousands,” he stressed, calling for robust, sustained military and police pressure on those groups; predictable and adequate funding; impactful sanctions; and fit-for-purpose peacekeeping mandates.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said the conclusions adopted by the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict must be implemented, as they are important practical measures both for parties to conflict and the United Nations. She also urged States to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, which in turn would enhance implementation of resolution 2601 (2021) on the protection of education in conflict. She called on the Council to adopt strong protection mandates for peacekeeping operations and political missions, including during their transition phase, and on States to implement resolution 2286 (2016) on protection of health care. Civilian suffering caused by urban warfare, such as the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, is unacceptable and she welcomed the proposal for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in such areas. Neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organizations must be allowed to carry out their mandate safely, she said, also urging caution to avoid an unintended negative impact of sanctions on humanitarian action, notably by creating humanitarian exemptions.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), while noting the significant progress made in building an international normative civilian protection framework, pointed out that compliance with those norms has deteriorated. Highlighting the plight of civilians in places with poor or destroyed health infrastructure, he added that sexual violence and gender-based violence are occurring at shocking levels. Underscoring the importance of protecting civilians in conflicts in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ukraine, he noted that the war in Ukraine has also seriously disrupted food systems and markets worldwide. All parties to armed conflicts must guarantee compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, he stressed, also underlining the importance of accountability. “Crimes not punished breed more crimes,” he said, calling on the Council to support international independent investigative and prosecution mechanisms. “When the Council is blocked or taken hostage, we must seek other ways,” he said, adding that hampering humanitarian aid equals a death sentence for those in dire need.
DAI BING (China) said that the harsh reality of large numbers of civilian victims in armed conflicts around the world serves as a reminder that the international community must work to protect these individuals by strictly abiding by international law and relevant Council resolutions, including resolution 1265 (1999). All parties to conflict must refrain from harming civilian populations and infrastructure, protect vulnerable groups, provide unimpeded humanitarian access and avoid politicizing humanitarian assistance. He went on to stress that double-standards undermine efforts to protect civilians, and that those countries that have engaged in the largest number of foreign wars “should reflect on themselves”. Further, as Member States bear the primary responsibility for civilian protection, the Council should respond to appeals by Governments and regional organizations — particularly the African Union — and adjust arms embargoes to create favourable conditions for countries to assume this responsibility. He added that relevant countries should cease drawing demarcation lines based on ideology and coercing other countries to take sides.
AMEIRA AL HEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), urging the Council to consider how the mandates of peacekeeping operations can be adjusted to improve the essential role they play in protecting civilians, said appropriate consideration should be given to unarmed approaches to complement the physical protection provided by peacekeepers. She also called on States and the private sector to redouble efforts to detect, assess and respond to online misinformation, disinformation and hate speech through fact-checking, content-moderation tools and further research regarding how these phenomena proliferate online. Further, efforts must continue to ensure that sanctions measures imposed by the Council neither impede the work of humanitarian actors nor prevent aid from reaching those in need. In practical terms, this means considering humanitarian carveouts that exclude the application of sanctions to humanitarian activities. She added that, by listing those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance, the Council could use sanctions as leverage and send a clear message to support humanitarian efforts and ensure accountability.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) said the war in Ukraine presents a new challenge in protecting civilians. Noting the Russian Federation’s delegate referred to that State’s contribution to international humanitarian law, he stressed that the legitimate use of force must be limited to weakening the enemy and not annihilating it — expressing hope that the principle will be observed in the 56 conflicts currently under way. It is absurd, he said, that in a world still facing the COVID-19 pandemic, there remain attacks on medical and humanitarian staff, with 143 incidents in 14 countries in 2021, further impeding universal vaccination. He called on the international community to fight the politicization of humanitarian activities, and to prevent unilateral sanctions from impacting them or violating international humanitarian law. The wide availability of small arms and light weapons fuels conflict and the spiral of violence, he stressed, and the use of explosive weapons in urban areas remains a worrying trend. It is therefore imperative that there are consequences for those responsible for crimes against civilians.
SUSANNE BAUMANN, State Secretary of Germany, pointing to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded more than 8,000 civilian casualties so far, many of them victims of the Russian Federations’ indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas and air strikes, among others. She also recalled the haunting pictures of victims in Mariupol, Charkiw and Bucha, as well as those in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Ethiopia, to name a few. She called for establishing accountability for Russian perpetrators in Ukraine at the International Criminal Court and in the Human Rights Council and its Commission of Inquiry.
She also called for strengthening the humanitarian space, including the need for safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access and safety for humanitarian workers. In addition, States must put survivors’ rights and needs first, including children in armed forces and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Peacekeeping remains crucial for protecting civilians. Thus, Germany will continue its contribution to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Voicing support for “Action for Peacekeeping”, she highlighted the importance of digital transformation towards achieving real gains on the ground and the support of MINUSMA’s work on conflict-related sexual violence. “Russia’s war is a wake-up call in many ways […] that we need to do better protecting civilians in armed conflict — wherever that conflict occurs,” she said.
ÖNCÜ KEÇELI (Turkey) said that attacks on civilians in Ukraine have disrupted the global food supply chain, showing the world that an attack on one civilian is an attack on all of humanity. Turning to Syria, he recalled footage from 2013 which documented horrific crimes against people in Damascus, with the Syrian regime routinely targeting its own people, cutting off facilities and depriving them of potable water. He also recalled atrocities committed by the terrorist organization of PKK-YPG [Kurdish Workers’ Party] and the offshoot so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, urging all who support them to cease doing so immediately. The status quo will not suffice; a renewed principled approach to protecting civilians is required. The Council and international community must step up. He reiterated the call to extend the United Nations mandate of cross-border humanitarian operations to Syria, expressing hope that by next year’s open debate on protection of civilians, some of the 100 million displaced people will have returned home safely.
MOHAMED ENNADIR LARBAOUI (Algeria), noting that malnutrition is one of the side effects of conflicts, stressed that use of hunger as a tool of war is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. The current crisis in humanitarian access reflects the collective failure to find a political solution to armed conflicts, he said, also noting that the pandemic and political instability have affected the channels of production, supply and distribution. Affirming the importance of Council resolution 1265 (1999), which prioritizes the protection of civilians, he voiced support for a mechanism that automatically informs the Council of gross and documented violations of humanitarian law. Underscoring the need for increased accountability, he called for a comprehensive and coordinated approach. Further, mobilizing the necessary capabilities for aid delivery means all donors must meet their pledges, he said.
OBAIDA ABDULLAH ABOU ELABASS ELDANDARAWY (Egypt) said it is essential to continue to advocate for civilian protection as well as safe access to, and the delivery of, health care in situations of armed conflict. Medical staff and humanitarian workers must also be protected. During its tenure on the Council, Egypt worked with other members to introduce resolution 2286 (2016), which was adopted unanimously, on the protection of medical personnel and facilities in armed conflicts. However, the continuation of many armed conflicts today highlights the need for a comprehensive approach that also considers the root causes of conflict in a more long-term manner. Emphasizing the need for sustainable development, job creation, economic growth, poverty eradication and effective political solutions, he said collective action is also needed to counter threats posed by terrorist groups. Peacekeeping operations have an important role to play in protecting civilians through assistance, capacity-building and strengthening State institutions, all while focusing on promoting national ownership, he added, noting that Egypt is a major contributor to such operations.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, highlighted the importance of implementing international humanitarian law at the national level. Noting the trend to more conflict-driven hunger in 2021, he called for more efforts to prevent and alleviate hunger in armed conflict, in line with international humanitarian law and Council resolutions 2417 (2018) on conflict and hunger and 2573 (2021) on critical civilian infrastructure. Noting that entire generations of children are growing up without ever having lived in peace and calling on all actors to prevent grave violations against children’s rights, he welcomed the adoption of resolution 2601 (2021) that places a particular focus on safeguarding of the right to education.
Noting the important efforts made to improve the protection of civilians by peacekeeping operations through the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, he called on the Council and Member States to ensure that protection is anchored as a priority in early planning and implementation of transitions to avoid gaps in the security of civilians. Speaking in his national capacity, he added there is ample evidence that counter-terrorism measures and sanctions can have unintended negative impacts on humanitarian engagements. Further, climate change, environmental degradation and armed conflict create a mutually reinforcing negative spiral, he said, adding that climate change can also prolong ongoing conflicts, and thus increase the toll on civilians. As a candidate for the Security Council, his country is committed to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he added.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union and the Groups of Friends on the protection of civilians and of the responsibility to protect, expressed deep shock over the Russian Federation’s unprovoked, unjustified aggression against Ukraine, marked by the brutality of Russian forces against civilians, human trafficking, rape and other forms of sexual violence. Between 24 February and 17 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) verified 226 attacks against health-care facilities in the country, comprising two thirds of all attacks against civilian infrastructure documented by the organization globally since start of 2022. He called for the implementation of resolution 2601 (2022), on the protection of schools, while more broadly condemning all attacks targeting displaced people. Stressing that international humanitarian law is among the most powerful instruments to ensure civilian safety, he called for redoubled efforts to foster compliance and establish the foundation for peace in all conflict settings, notably Ukraine, Afghanistan, Mali, Syria and Yemen. “Impunity has to stop,” he insisted, citing the importance of the International Criminal Court in bringing perpetrators to justice.
BOŠTJAN MALOVRH (Slovenia), associating himself with the European Union, said the world is now witnessing further civilian deaths, suffering and massive displacement due to the unprovoked Russian military aggression against Ukraine. Condemning it in the strongest terms, he said water and other crucial civilian infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to indiscriminate attacks in densely populated conflict areas around the world. He therefore welcomed initiatives to enhance the protection of water infrastructure and installations — such as the Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure produced by the Geneva Water Hub — and said Slovenia also supports activities to strengthen human security and enable the recovery and development of conflict-affected States. However, “preventive action should be our key investment”, he said, urging compliance with international law and greater efforts to combat impunity. International mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court have an important role to play, as do effective and comprehensive peacebuilding and peacekeeping with robust mandates flexible enough to provide protection and assistance to civilian populations.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), associating herself with the European Union, said the Council must systematically demand that all parties to armed conflict respect and implement their obligations under international humanitarian law. Restrictions on humanitarian access are still too frequent, and often, their impact is felt most by women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Meanwhile, humanitarian access and assistance must never be politicized, she stressed, highlighting the crucial role of principled humanitarian groups in engaging with non-State armed actors. “It is regrettable that the international community has been too silent when violations of this body of law are perpetrated,” she said, calling for accountability — including through the complementary, and sometimes necessary, role of such judicial bodies such as the International Criminal Court — and emphasizing that today’s challenges are not due to an absence of laws and norms, but the inability to enforce them.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador), citing food insecurity figures, said the military aggression against Ukraine exacerbated those conditions. In March, Ecuador had to evacuate more than 700 Ecuadorians from Ukraine on humanitarian flights. He called for respecting resolution ES 11/2, by which the General Assembly, in the absence of a Council decision, called on all parties to protect civilians, including foreign citizens — particularly students — without preconditions. He welcomed the 6 May presidential statement through which the Council finally showed itself to be united. On that basis, efforts must be stepped up to reach a permanent ceasefire. Citing the Council’s January open debate on the theme of “Wars in cities: protection of civilians in urban settings”, he said 2022 is a crucial year for implementing the New Urban Agenda, adopted in Quito, which acknowledges the humanitarian impact of war in urban areas. Pressing the Council to prevent the use of wide area explosive devices in urban areas, he also condemned attacks against humanitarian workers six years after the adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) and denounced the alarming figures of journalists killed in conflict zones in 2021.
OLOF SKOOG, Head of the European Union delegation, speaking in his capacity as an observer, expressed concern about the pervasiveness of armed conflicts across the globe and the impact of widespread and indiscriminate use of explosive weapons on civilians and civilian infrastructure, noting the bloc’s support for a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas. He noted with deep concern the increasing number of attacks against health facilities and medical personnel, including in Ukraine, where the World Health Organization (WHO) documented over 200 attacks as of May 2022.
He went on to voice concern about the figures on conflict-driven hunger, calling for the strong coordination of international efforts to address food crises. Noting also that the Union is committed to mitigating climate change, he emphasized that it would continue to advocate for the protection of the natural environment in armed conflict. He also expressed concern about the ever-increasing number of forcibly displaced people in the world, including millions of civilians fleeing ongoing armed conflicts, and children in armed conflict, who face grave human rights violations. The bloc is committed to the protection of women and girls and to supporting the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, as well as impacts on sexual and reproductive health. Further, he stressed that securing rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need is of the utmost importance.
ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada) said violence against civilians and civilian infrastructure is increasing — and becoming deadlier — as seen in the horrors taking place in Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s unprovoked and illegal invasion has spotlighted two problems undermining the protection of civilians in conflict — namely, the abuse of the veto power to thwart action by the Security Council and the glaring lack of accountability for violations of international law. It is incumbent upon all Member States to challenge the Council when its collective will is blocked by the use or threat of the veto, and to pressure it to uphold its responsibilities — or find alternative avenues of redress, including through the General Assembly. Noting that the recently adopted resolution in that body opens the door for greater scrutiny of the veto, he cautioned against the impulse to create new laws or pass new resolutions in the face of emerging horrors. “The most pressing need, however, is for parties to armed conflict to convert obligations into practice,” he stressed, noting that all States must examine their own practices and demand scrupulous adherence by both State and non-State actors.
ANA PAULA ZACARIAS (Portugal), aligning herself with the European Union, the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians, and the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Group of Friends on the responsibility to protect, said that deliberate attacks on civilians constitute war crimes and, as such, demand accountability. On this, she recalled Portugal’s support for the International Criminal Court and called for the universal ratification of the Rome Statute. Expressing concern over the widespread, disproportionate use of explosive weapons in populated areas on civilians and civilian infrastructure, she supported the ongoing process to develop a political declaration on this subject. She went on to say that the Russian Federation’s war of aggression in Ukraine — a global breadbasket — is disrupting commodity supply chains, contributing to a rise in food prices and, therefore, food insecurity across the world. Against that backdrop, she stressed that full compliance with international humanitarian law “must remain our guiding star”.
MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein), condemning attacks against civilians and civilian objects such as hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and shelters by the forces of the Russian Federation, said humanitarian law is very clear that such actions are illegal. “They are war crimes and must be investigated and prosecuted as such, including at the International Criminal Court when national judiciaries are unwilling or unable to do so themselves,” she said, voicing Liechtenstein’s support for more Council action to address the growing impacts of conflict on infrastructure. Calling for renewed global efforts against impunity, she also drew attention to the growing inequality between States — as illustrated by COVID-19 vaccine disparities — and stressed that nowhere is that contrast starker than in situations of armed conflict. While women and girls are disproportionately affected by the trauma of conflict, pathbreaking research by All Survivors Project also highlights the devastating impact of sexual and gender-based violence on men and boys and the need to support all victims and survivors, she said, also spotlighting the devastating impacts of climate change on civilians.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) noted that, in conflict, civilians pay the highest price. In 2021, the United Nations reported over 11,000 civilian deaths across 12 armed conflicts. Further, the continued attacks on health-care workers are unacceptable, she said, emphasizing that “even war has rules”. Stressing the need for greater determination from the Security Council to discharge its responsibility to maintain international peace and security, she noted that the Russian Federation’s abuse of its veto has led to inaction by the Council in the face of an act of aggression. Member States must demand universal compliance with international law and deploy accountability mechanisms. Further, the Council should prioritize the protection of civilians in United Nations peacekeeping operation mandates, including trained personnel and resources to support those mandates, and take into consideration early warning of threats to civilians and mechanisms.
KRISTEL LŌUK (Estonia), associating herself with the European Union, said there is an enormous gap between party obligations under international humanitarian law and the reality of conflicts around the world. She called for compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, underlining that international law applies in cyberspace. She described increasing attacks against humanitarian and health-care workers as abhorrent, stressing that of the scores killed or wounded, 95 per cent are national staff, while the civilian toll includes dozens of journalists. She noted the potential for digital technologies to help assess humanitarian need, as well as the challenge of adapting strategies to address their malicious use to undermine humanitarian action. Stressing that the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine is being carried out with cynical indifference to the protection of civilians, she said its violations amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Its actions include targeting of the most vulnerable, extensive shelling of cities and massive disinformation — including in the Council — about its intent, with claims that its actions comply with international law. She called for accountability for all violations through national, regional, international and hybrid mechanisms, including investigation and full accountability for Russian crimes in Ukraine. She underlined the need for safe, unhindered humanitarian access throughout Ukraine, pressing the Council to step up its action to protect civilians everywhere by demonstrating political will and providing adequate protection for peacekeeping missions. “Otherwise, it continues to fall short of the aims set for its role in the United Nations Charter,” she stressed.
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), pointing to the Russian Federation’s illegal war in Ukraine, stressed that in cases where explosive weapons are used in populated areas, civilians comprise nearly 90 per cent of the casualties. “Full compliance with international humanitarian law is essential,” he stated, underscoring support for elaborating a strong political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas. “It is high time we adopt it,” he said. He called for the implementation of Council resolutions by all Member States, and swift reaction by the Council itself if these texts or international humanitarian law are violated. He cited implementation of resolutions on persons with disabilities, protection of medical personnel, missing persons and civilian infrastructure in this regard, which, when coupled with ensuring unimpeded access for humanitarian workers, would “go a long way” to improve the fate of civilians. The Council must ensure accountability. “You owe it to the thousands of civilian casualties we witness every year,” he said.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia) called on the international community to beef up endeavours to avoid, minimize and mitigate the adverse impact of military operations on civilian populations, based on the fundamental understanding that all parties to conflict must distinguish between civilians and combatants. Urging all Member States to implement the Safe School Declaration, he said it is appalling that attacks on education continue to rise. He further condemned the Russian Federation’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, with its impact felt by undernourished victims across Africa and the Middle East, as low supplies and skyrocketing prices directly impact dozens of countries — many of which were already food insecure before the war. Hunger is not only the consequence of conflict but also its cause, with increased social tensions already seen in middle- and low-income countries. He called for the Russian Federation to suspend its military operations in Ukraine immediately.
MARÍA BASSOLS DELGADO (Spain), aligning herself with the European Union, said that the Russian Federation’s illegal, unjustified aggression against Ukraine demonstrates the enormous vulnerability of the civilian population. Further, it showcases the ills of disinformation, as civilians face both a violation of their rights and the denial that such violation is occurring. The international community must demand respect for human rights, the rights of refugees and international humanitarian law, and must also strengthen mechanisms to investigate violations and hold perpetrators accountable. She went on to stress the need to prevent attacks on schools and the military use of educational institutions pursuant to resolution 2601 (2021), as well as the need to protect girls and women as sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war. On this, she noted that Spain has devoted a high percentage of its humanitarian budget for Ukraine to gender programmes.
MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia) pointed out that the Russian Federation’s wanton disregard for the protection of civilians in Ukraine demonstrates that “conflict is ruinous to societies”. Civilians are impacted daily by conflict in many parts of the world, and those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable to ensure justice and deter future perpetrators. In this, national prosecutions — along with complementary efforts by the International Criminal Court — play a critical role. He also stressed the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls, including by appointing gender-protection advisers and ensuring participation and leadership in all stages, and at all levels, of conflict-resolution and peace processes. He went on to note that misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are used to inflame armed conflict, welcoming constructive ideas on how multilateralism can better counter these insidious, destructive tools of conflict.
DANG HOANG GIANG (Viet Nam) said conflicts and security threats are raging in larger scale, from Europe to Africa. Meanwhile, the pandemic is still raging across countries in conflict situations where health-care services are minimal. Also citing the challenges of rising food insecurity and supply chain disruptions, he said urgent situations now have to compete for the already scarce humanitarian resources. Against that backdrop, all parties to armed conflicts must refrain from attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure. In the short run, the international community must take immediate measures, sustaining the political will to scale up humanitarian assistance. However, in the longer term, aid cannot replace the imperative to resolve disputes peacefully, prevent conflicts and build resilience to emerging challenges. The Council should expand its discussions on civilian protection and adopt measures to tackle its specific elements, such as critical infrastructures, mine action and food and water security. As an elected member in 2020–2021, Viet Nam facilitated the adoption of resolution 2573 (2021) and remains committed to its principles, he said.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) underscored that conflict prevention is the only way to spare civilian suffering. At the very least, parties should follow international humanitarian law by avoiding harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure. Further, the safety and security of health-care and humanitarian workers should be guaranteed. Expressing regret that 20 reporters were killed in conflict in 2021, she denounced Israel’s killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera correspondent, and the wounding of a producer, emphasizing that “these people were wearing clear markings identifying them as members of the press”. The Council must ensure that an immediate, transparent and impartial investigation is carried out and that accountability is ensured. Spotlighting General Assembly resolution 74/274 put forward by Qatar on ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines, she noted that Qatar is among the 10 highest humanitarian assistance contributors. It provided $18 million to the Central Emergency Relief Fund, regularly helps the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and offers direct assistance to Kabul, Afghanistan, along with work to rehabilitate the Kabul airport so that humanitarian assistance can be safely delivered.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) urged the Council to take measures to protect civilians in both cities and refugee camps from terrorist attacks by Houthi militias supported by Iran, and to protect civilian objects in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Despite the truce in Yemen, the Houthis have committed numerous violations in Marib, where 2 million of the 4 million inhabitants are displaced. In Hudaydah and other governorates, civilians are being targeted by the militia’s use of drones and ballistic missiles, including against schools and mosques. Children are recruited and brainwashed with terrorist thinking, while civilians are being used as human shields in schools, where militias are also storing weapons. Hunger is being used as a weapon of war. Pointing out that Taiz has been besieged by the Houthis for almost seven years, he pushed the international community to honour its responsibility to end the blockade, open humanitarian corridors and enable the passage of basic goods, without preconditions. Yemen signed the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997 and destroyed all such mines. The Houthis nonetheless are using 2 million mines and improvised explosive devices in areas located beyond Government control, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, among them children. Moreover, Iran is supplying ballistic missiles to the Houthis, in violation of resolutions 2216 (2015) and 2231 (2015). “The international community has to act,” he said. “We need true accountability here.”
AKAKI DVALI (Georgia) called the findings of the Secretary-General’s latest report deeply alarming. Recalling the Russian Federation’s full-scale military aggression against his country in August 2008, he said that more than 400 civilians and military personnel were killed and more than 1,700 wounded. Since 2008, the security and humanitarian situation in the Russia-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia has been deteriorating daily and human rights violations have been aggravated, including ethnic discrimination, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detentions, to name a few. Such methods by the Russian Federation have been applied against Ukraine on a larger scale, with a total of 3,838 civilian deaths caused by Moscow’s full-scale military aggression, including 256 children. Furthermore, 4,351 civilians were injured, he said, adding that it is believed the real numbers are much higher. Over 500 schools and 52 hospitals have been shelled, with entire cities razed to the ground. Urging the Russian Federation to comply with the provisional measures by the International Court of Justice of 16 March, he also called for safe, rapid and unhindered access to populations in need.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) noted that civilians remain the victims of direct, deliberate, systematic and violent targeted attacks by armed forces. The continuing lack of safety and protection of humanitarian workers and the politicization of humanitarian corridors continues to have detrimental effects on civilians in the greatest need of humanitarian aid, he said. Where possible, the Security Council and Member States should continue to support non-violent and community-based protection mechanisms, such as political mediation, early-warning activities and unarmed civilian protection, including promoting the grass-roots peacemaking efforts, he added. Emphasizing the need to promote and implement the applicable legal and policy frameworks, including efforts to ensure accountability for violations, he commended the continued efforts of United Nations peace operations in protecting civilians and promoting human rights.
MHER MARGARYAN (Armenia) said his country continues to face humanitarian consequences of the premeditated military attack, of which Azerbaijan has openly admitted having initiated in the fall of 2020 amidst an outbreak of an unprecedented global health-care crisis. The Interim Report of the Human Rights Defender of Nagorno-Karabakh provides evidence of targeted attacks by Azerbaijan on the civilian population. He further cited the disproportionate impact upon the older ethnic Armenian population, including extrajudicial killings and torture in detention and systematic violent acts and provocations that seek to disrupt the normalcy of life in the border areas. Azerbaijan also continues to deny the return of prisoners of war and civilian captives. He called on the international community to address that country’s open military threats, distorted interpretations of history and incessant territorial claims and manipulative reversals of agreed commitments. More so, the United Nations system must address the issue of the obstruction of safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, he stressed.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) said the Russian Federation must immediately cease hostilities against Ukraine, noting that his country’s emergency humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and neighbouring countries amounts to $200 million. Japan will continue to stand by Ukraine’s people, he affirmed. After Yemen’s first nationwide truce in six years, he said Japan provided $10 million through the World Food Programme in response to the food crisis in that country. Such assistance is expected to make much difference against the backdrop of rising food prices, he added. Additionally, Japan provided $12.4 million in December 2021 to support internally displaced persons affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia, as soon as access to humanitarian assistance was improved.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said civilian protection still registers the largest number of victims, despite the pandemic. Further, the growing number of conflicts involving extremist groups and non-State actors makes efforts to protect civilians all the more difficult. While the responsibility for protection of civilians belongs to States, during conflict their capacity is sometimes limited or non-existent. It is therefore crucial to ensure that the United Nations system plays an important role in supporting those Member States. Noting humanitarian action must be disassociated from political motives and not used by any parties to conflict, he condemned the targeting of civilians and infrastructure. All parties must comply with international humanitarian law and ensure access and the provision of assistance. In addition, accountability for all violations must be a fundamental element of all strategies for civilian protection.
MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) spotlighted the impact of the pandemic, uneven distribution of vaccines and climate change in exacerbating conflict-related vulnerabilities. Drawing attention to the flagrant violations of international humanitarian law in his region, he said that attacks against schools, hospitals, and other civilian objects have resulted in acute food insecurity in Yemen. As well, the Occupied Palestinian Territory has the highest number of injured health-care workers in the world, and the continuing occupation, terrorism, and unilateral sanctions have displaced millions of people in Syria. Stressing that humanitarian assistance must not be politicized under any circumstances, he said that unilateral sanctions, which hamper humanitarian aid delivery in various ways, must be lifted immediately. Reaffirming the importance of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, he stressed that the achievement of a long-term political solution is the only way to keep civilians safe.
JOANNA SYLWIA SKOCZEK (Poland), aligning herself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, said that the Russian Federation's unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has placed millions of civilians in existential danger. Of the 100 million people around the world who have been displaced by war, violence and discrimination — the highest figure on record — 14 million people are from Ukraine. Against that backdrop, the number of persons who crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border since February 24 has exceeded 3.4 million. Her country closely cooperates with the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor in the investigation into the situation in Ukraine, she said, also noting the joint initiative by Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania to collect and preserve evidence of crimes committed in that country. Calling on the Russian Federation to abide by the March 16 decision of the International Court of Justice on provisional measures in the case Ukraine v. Russia, she stressed that international humanitarian law is one of the greatest achievements of the international community in its efforts to reduce suffering of civilians during armed conflict.
MAURIZIO MASSARI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, expressed particular concern about the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, pointing to the situation in Ukraine. If and when the Council is unable to agree on a ceasefire, the United Nations should be able to step in quickly, at least to allow humanitarian corridors and humanitarian access, he said, describing the evacuation mechanism established in Mariupol as a positive example. It is of paramount importance to prioritize the protection of civilians in the planning and execution of all military operations and to enshrined it in all national military guidelines, he emphasized, also highlighting targeted training on humanitarian access and humanitarian corridors. He went on to stress that the presence of women personnel in the military can have a significantly positive impact on the protection of civilians.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal), pointing to the Secretary-General’s report, which states that conflicts have resulted in 11,075 deaths and displaced 84 million people, with 140 million people facing acute food insecurity, called on States to ensure compliance with international law and relevant Council decisions on unhindered access to humanitarian aid and civilian protection. He strongly condemned the indiscriminate attack on civilians and civilian infrastructures by all parties in conflict. The State has the primary responsibility to protect its civilians and prevent violence against them, he said, calling for strengthened national capacity in that regard. Underscoring the significance of promoting political dialogue, social harmony and understanding for the protection of civilians during conflict as well as post-conflict reconstruction, he said Nepal has always been supportive of the United Nations normative framework aimed at safeguarding and protecting civilians in armed conflict and currently is the second-largest troop- and police-contributing country to peacekeeping, providing high-quality pre-deployment and in-theatre training to peacekeepers on applicable international humanitarian and human rights laws to protect civilians. The protection of civilians mandate should be treated as a whole-of-mission approach supported by adequate financial and human resources, he said, emphasizing national ownership and political solutions for preventing countries from relapsing into conflict during mission transition and withdrawal.
SERHII DVORNYK (Ukraine), aligning himself with the European Union and the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians, pointed out that millions of civilians and foreigners in Ukraine are “struggling not just for their rights but, rather, for their lives”. Russian troops continue indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian cities with missile strikes and heavy artillery, dozens of thousands have lost their lives and millions have been forced to flee. Noting that this refugee crisis is the worst in Europe since the end of the Second World War, he said that the Russian Federation is deliberately attacking Ukrainian civilians “as a part of its Nazi-style war strategy”. However, he pointed out that these atrocities are committed by individuals, recalling that a Ukrainian court recently sentenced a Russian serviceman for the killing of an unarmed civilian. He further called on all Member States to engage actively in the process of ensuring justice for all civilian victims of the Russian Federation’s atrocities.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that the entire edifice of international humanitarian law was built on the primary objective of protecting those who do not take part — or have ceased taking part — in hostilities. Yet, these are the primary victims of the Israeli occupation. Every day is a stark reminder that the Palestinian people are left defenceless in the face of repeated attacks by Israeli occupation forces and settlers, he stressed, adding that “nowhere are our people safe”. Recalling the recent killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, he noted that she “dedicated her life to giving voice to victims until she became one herself”. Her killing is, unfortunately, an integral part of the Palestinian story — of always being under threat, but also of resilience — and this insecurity is a direct result of full-scale Israeli impunity. Council resolution 904 (1994) was never implemented, and he stressed that calls to uphold international law and the Charter of the United Nations cannot coexist with a refusal to hold Israel accountable.
RABAB FATIMA (Bangladesh), associating herself with Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends on protection of civilians, noted nearly 7,000 Bangladesh peacekeepers are currently serving in missions, while the country is also providing shelter to over 1 million displaced Rohingya civilians, who faced atrocities and persecution in Myanmar. The situation in that State remains unsafe for civilians, she stressed, with the continued defiance of its authorities to granting humanitarian access, which requires decisive action by the Council. The international community must step up efforts by all stakeholders and those arising from Council resolutions, including to protect medical personnel and critical infrastructure, with the ICRC and United Nations agencies being crucial in that regard. However, the Council also needs to use its tools including the sanctions regime to address and prevent recurrence of attacks. Peacekeeping missions should also be adequately resourced and equipped to fulfil their mandates, she said. Attacks on civilians and their infrastructure and on humanitarian actors cannot be condoned, she said, calling for resolution 2601 (2021) on “protecting the protectors” to be implemented.
LAUZA ALI (Maldives) condemned the targeting of civilians and emphasized the need for full and effective implementation of relevant international obligations on the protection of civilian infrastructure. Such attacks result not only in civilian deaths, but also in psychological and mental health trauma, she said. Emphasizing that no power will come from above to enforce international rules and norms, she said the multilateral system requires a principled approach to violations. A system guided by political motives will undermine efforts to address violations, and that must be avoided, she cautioned.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica) noted that in 2021, global military spending reached $2 trillion for the first time, and without proportionate regulation, this will have serious consequences for conflict. She called for more urgent action by the Council, in coordination with the United Nations Military Staff Committee, to regulate armaments, reinforce arms embargoes, and provide greater roles for peacekeeping missions to conduct arms monitoring. Disarmament starts at the beginning of the lifecycle of weapons, she stressed. Noting the use of cyberoperations as a method of warfare poses risk to civilians and infrastructure, including power grids and hospitals, she called for stronger commitments to protect them, including by enforcing international law. With the World Bank estimating that by 2050 60 per cent of people will be living in cities, the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons and the intensity of cyberattacks will increasingly fall on populations in dense areas. She called on the international community to supply the means and methods to prevent such scenarios.
MARTÍN JUAN MAINERO (Argentina), expressing concern that armed conflicts feature a high level of deaths, torture and sexual violence, said that 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Over 1,000 incidents involving explosive weapons in highly populated urban areas took place in 2021, he noted, adding that protection of civilians must become a comprehensive effort that includes close cooperation between the various components of every peacekeeping mission, the local authorities and humanitarian workers on the ground. Also noting that access to aid is often hampered by unreasonable bureaucratic roadblocks, he added that despite the adoption of Council resolution 2286 (2016), medical personnel and facilities continue to be attacked. The Geneva Conventions offer a tool to investigate potential infractions of humanitarian laws, he said, calling for more robust application of existing tools.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), condemning the use of explosive weapons, especially in urban and densely populated environments, noted that when homes, hospitals and schools are destroyed, those who survive are left in devastating conditions. The world wishes to see the Security Council exercise more of its moral weight in protecting civilians in armed conflict, he said, adding that safe passage must be guaranteed without impediment for civilians wishing to evacuate and for humanitarian personnel. Underscoring the role of a people-centred approach, he said that local communities must become part and parcel of the development and implementation of any civilian protection strategy. Commending the approach taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, South Sudan and Abyei in incorporating community engagement, he acknowledged the expectation of peacekeepers to do more to protect civilians. Such an expectation should also be followed up with adequate resources, he said, calling on Member States to make their financial contributions in full, on time and without conditions.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala) welcomed progress made in strengthening the protection of civilians component in the United Nations framework since the adoption of resolution 1265 (1999). He pointed out, however, that his country’s experience as a troop contributor demonstrates the need for a comprehensive focus on protecting civilians that accounts for the various political, economic and security factors on the ground. He went on to say that there is much room to improve and strengthen the implementation of civilian-protection mandates in the framework of United Nations peacekeeping missions, especially with regard to such missions fully cooperating with humanitarian organizations to immediately assist the most vulnerable populations. He also welcomed the fact that the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations will update its mandate next year to further encourage the protection of civilians, which is one of the most important components of peacekeeping.
CARLOS AMORÍN (Uruguay), aligning himself with the Group of Friends on the protection of civilians and the statement to be delivered by the Group of Friends on the responsibility to protect, spotlighted the link between civilian protection and the agendas of women, peace and security and children in armed conflicts. Uruguay’s experience as a troop-contributing country demonstrates that the protection of civilians is one of the tasks that brings the United Nations closest to those suffering from violence. Noting the increased number of attacks on educational institutions in 2021, he called on all Member States to support the Safe Schools Declaration. He went on to say that peaceful solutions — based on the principles of justice, human rights, international law, early warning, inclusive political dialogue, strong State institutions and sustainable socioeconomic development — are essential elements for creating a conducive environment for civilian protection.
CHO HYUN (Republic of Korea) noted that ensuring humanitarian access is one of the key elements of protecting civilians in armed conflict. It is simply unacceptable that more than 800 humanitarians were killed or wounded in the past five years. That number surpasses the 1,000 kidnappings, he said, calling upon the Security Council to strengthen its voice in that regard. Stressing the need to ensure respect for and compliance with international law, he pointed out that it is critical to ensure the systematic collection of evidence related to the denial of humanitarian access and violations of relevant international law. She emphasized the need to make such information available to the public so that any attempt to spread misinformation and disinformation can be countered. He stressed that the situation in Ukraine is concerning and miserable, and noted that his country has provided humanitarian aid to that country and will continue to examine ways in which to assist Ukraine and impacted neighbours.
ANDREAS HADJICHRYSANTHOU (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union, said the ongoing war in Ukraine is a demonstration of the tragic repercussions of conflict on civilians, and the Council must use all tools at its disposal to protect them. He noted the number of persons displaced by conflict continues to grow, with more than 50 million in 2021. He expressed concern about situations of protracted displacement, where the Council can take more robust action to ensure the right of return as early as possible, recalling that Cyprus has been subjected to all of that as a result of foreign aggression. The number of persons who are missing due to conflict is also exceedingly high, and the Council must build on resolution 2474 (2019) as well as more robust provisions in Council resolutions on situations where the fate and whereabouts of missing persons remain unknown for decades, such as in Cyprus. He further cited the issue of civilians living under occupation, largely overlooked by the Council, with persistent harassment and intimidation of these civilians often resulting in indirect forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of an area’s indigenous population.
MOHD HAFIZ BIN OTHMAN (Malaysia) said he was appalled by attacks on civilians, including journalists and humanitarian personnel in conflict situations. In many situations such as in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and other Arab territories, the cycle of impunity enjoyed by the occupier continues to deepen the occurrence of further violations. He called on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under international law and facilitate safe, unimpeded access for humanitarian and medical personnel. Conflict represents a systematic risk for civilians, he said, requiring a ceasefire as a first step, followed by efforts to address the root causes of conflict, further noting that prevention and de-escalation must be achieved through peaceful means. Local civil society actors play a crucial role in protecting civilians, and the capacity and methods of peacekeepers must be strengthened, with adequate training. The international community must do more to protect civilians, ensuring perpetrators are held accountable.
NOA FURMAN (Israel), noting that her country has faced incessant conflict from the moment of its founding, highlighted Israel’s commitment to protecting civilians in conflict, beyond its borders. However, those aiming at her country’s destruction not only target its civilians, they use their own people as human shields, she said. Hamas has terror tunnels under hospitals and schools, and uses them as weapons storage sites and rocket launchpads, she said, calling that a “double war crime.” During the previous year’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls”, she said, over 4,000 Hamas rockets, fired from residential neighborhoods in Gaza, rained down on Israeli cities. But even while her country was under fire, it worked with the United Nations to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza. It was Hamas which targeted the crossing, preventing the aid from reaching the Palestinians in Gaza, she said, also adding that Hizbullah’s terror army is entrenched along her country’s northern border. While Israel takes every measure to prevent the deaths of civilians, those who seek the country’s destruction do not take any such measures, she said.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ (Croatia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the responsibility to protect, said that even though all Member States have committed to the responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, more than 82 million people are currently displaced due to conflict, atrocities and persecution worldwide. Noting that increasingly Member States and other parties to conflict engage in the deliberate denial of humanitarian access, including through blocking passage and delivery of humanitarian assistance and services, or deliberately attacking aid and medical workers and assets, he highlighted the alarming impact of this on vulnerable civilian populations. All parties must allow the full, safe, immediate and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel, equipment and supplies and the timely delivery of aid to populations in need, he stressed.
Underscoring the constructive role of the Council, he said many civilian deaths could be avoided if all parties to conflict respected international humanitarian law and human rights. Reminding delegates that indiscriminate attacks and attacks targeting medical facilities and civilian objects may amount to war crimes, he called on States that have not yet done so to put in place appropriate legislative and institutional arrangements to address such violations and hold those who commit them accountable. Further, support for the protection of civilians should be responsive to gender, age and other core demographic considerations, he stressed. Calling on all Council members to address the risk or commission of mass atrocities, he highlighted the initiatives on the use of veto in case of mass atrocities, including the French-Mexican initiative and the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group code of conduct.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, pointed out that “despite the humanization of warfare being an aspirational concept for centuries, the brunt of conflict still falls disproportionately upon the innocent and defenceless”. Urging the Council to keep the protection of civilians high on its agenda, he called for places of worship to also be protected, as they are civilian objects akin to schools and hospitals. Further, efforts to protect civilians must respond to the secondary consequences of war and conflict, including the explosive remnants of war that contaminate the environment and continue to threaten civilians with severe injury or death even after hostilities conclude. He went on to express concern over increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, stating that, when perpetrators escape accountability, a culture of impunity takes hold. This places more humanitarian workers at risk and weakens the rule of law more broadly, and he called for greater efforts by both States and the Council to end this cycle.
JORGE VIDAL (Chile) urged the Council to discuss the civilian protection agenda beyond security on the ground, calling on the organ to adopt a prevention approach that aims to identify the root causes of conflict. He went on to say that, in the context of a global pandemic, it is “reprehensible” that health-care personnel and hospitals are targeted by attacks. Further, school closures in several areas of conflict have rendered tens of thousands of children more vulnerable, as they have been forced to abandon their role as students to head to the front lines. As such, they face a greater risk of abduction, sexual violence and recruitment, and their physical and mental health will be gravely affected in the medium- and long-term. He also called for strengthening national institutions’ capacity to provide access to justice and stressed that international oversight and reporting mechanisms are vital for halting impunity.
MARIA THEOFILI (Greece), associating herself with the European Union, said the world is currently faced with unprecedented food insecurity due to protracted armed conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, while ongoing crises, such as in Syria and Afghanistan, seem no closer to resolution. Impeding humanitarian access, which could constitute a war crime, appears to be deliberately utilized in cases such as Mariupol, while in Yemen, a fragile humanitarian ceasefire has allowed sorely needed food aid to be delivered to some of the most vulnerable. Still, she noted the ongoing situation with the oil tanker Safer risks rendering millions of Yemenis, living on the verge of famine, beyond reach of humanitarian actors. She stressed that the humanitarian corridors are vital for saving lives, as dramatically witnessed during the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine, calling for improved donor coordination mechanisms, both on the field and at the political level, and compliance of States and non-State actors with international humanitarian law. “Moreover, we need to safeguard that no attacks against civilian infrastructure take place, in particular against schools and medical facilities,” she stated.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAND-BANDE (Nigeria) noted schools have become targets for armed conflicts, and schoolchildren and educators have become vulnerable to attacks. Nigeria has faced attacks on schools and educational facilities by the Boko Haram/Islamic State of West Africa, or ISWAP, terrorist groups, including kidnapping of children for ransom. The Government launched the Safe School Initiative in 2014, now a driving force in response to the growing number of attacks on the right to education, including the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok. He noted Nigeria hosted the Fourth International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration in 2021 with Argentina, Norway, Spain and the African Union Commission, which has resulted in better fortification of schools in the country — encouraging all stakeholders to learn from Nigeria’s experience in protecting schools from attack. The African Day is a day of celebration for Africans and the people of African descent all over the world, he stated — an opportunity to reflect on the progress made by the African Union in achieving its goals. “Africa has had its fair share of armed conflict,” he said, “and now is the time to put an end to such and focus on our development.”
MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), speaking also for Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, underscored the urgent need to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Citing the unprecedented destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, he called on the Russian Federation to end its unjustified war, pointing to destruction in Mariupol as evidence of the tragic consequences for civilians when international humanitarian law is so blatantly ignored. “We must never, and the Nordic countries will never, accept impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” he assured. All States should engage in ongoing consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Noting that international humanitarian law also provides rules for protecting the environment during conflict, he said these rules must be put into action, with work by the International Law Commission guiding those efforts. Citing food security in the Sahel, Yemen and elsewhere, he said more efforts are needed to alleviate hunger during conflict, in line with resolution 2417 (2018). All parties must ensure protection for those most in need, ensure safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access and guarantee respect for humanitarian principles. They must also counter the misinformation and disinformation that is eroding trust in the humanitarian mandate and denying civilians the protection they need.
KARL LAGATIE (Belgium) said respect for international humanitarian law has dropped to an all-time low, while humanitarian needs have reached an all-time high. He denounced urban warfare, condemning the fact that civilians represent nearly 90 per cent of casualties. As the Russian Federation’s illegal aggression against Ukraine has exacerbated these trends, he said parties to conflict would end widespread civilian harm during conflict only when they make it a political priority to strictly comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and prohibit attacks against civilians. He called on them to facilitate safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian relief, ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel and remove barriers to such operations. In particular, humanitarian agencies and donors should support cash assistance and localization of efforts to ensure that assistance reaches the most vulnerable. He also called for full implementation of commitments outlined in resolution 2573 (2021) and on donors to provide flexible, multi-year funding to such organizations. Finally, he urged all parties to implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Safe Schools Declaration.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) noted that in 2021, the United Nations recorded at least 11,075 civilian deaths across 12 armed conflicts, a decline compared to the previous year. This decline was due, in large measure, to the cessation of the conflict in Afghanistan after 15 August 2021, he said, commending the United Nations for its extensive humanitarian operations in that country. Stressing the role of adequate external support to restore Afghanistan’s banking and financial system, infrastructure and economy, he stressed that holding back such support will not promote the international community’s objectives. Turning to the question of how to protect civilians when the suppression of civilians is the very object of a military's operations, he pointed to what “India's leaders have themselves ominously called a ‘final solution’ for Jammu and Kashmir”. Highlighting the extrajudicial killings, collective punishments, violence against peaceful protestors and the use of “pellet guns” that have blinded hundreds of Kashmiri children, he said that India is trying to transform occupied Jammu and Kashmir from a Muslim majority State to a Hindu majority territory by issuing millions of fake domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris, seizing and selling off their land and gerrymandering electoral constituencies.
TOFIG F. MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan), recounting multiple war crimes committed by Armenia against his country since the 1990s that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, stressed that accountability and transitional justice must be an inevitable consequence of the offences committed. These are also essential tools in preventing recurring violations and important parts of the path towards building, strengthening and sustaining peace and promoting reconciliation and development. On humanitarian activities, he said that the reasons that lead to the erosion of trust and jeopardize relief efforts are often rooted in attempts to advance hostile political narratives. He underscored that humanitarian actors’ engagement in both conflict and post-conflict situations must be exclusively humanitarian in nature and conform with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and consent of the affected country, rather than being misused for political purposes.
VIDISHA MAITRA of India, taking the floor a second time in response to comments by her counterpart from Pakistan, said such misuse of the United Nations for malicious propaganda against her country must be treated with the contempt it deserves. The union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladac, were, are and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India. This includes those areas under illegal occupation by Pakistan. The only contribution Pakistan can make is to stop State-sponsored terrorism. The spirited defence by Pakistan’s representative is in support of a person who has himself pleaded guilty to charges of terror financing.
QASIM AZIZ BUTT of Pakistan said Jammu and Kashmir is not integral to India. Rather, it is disputed territory, per all United Nations maps and official documents. Resolution 47 (1948), noting the desire of India and Pakistan, states that the question should be decided through the democratic method, a free, impartial plebiscite, a call reiterated in resolution 91 (1951) and 122 (1957), among other resolutions of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, notably those of August 1948 and January 1949. India accepted this decision and is bound to comply with it, in line with Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations.
He said only an occupier would oppose implementation of Council resolutions that promise self-determination to the people of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir area. If India had any respect for international humanitarian law, it would withdraw its troops and allow the Kashmiris to freely decide their future, per the Council’s resolutions. He accused India of being one of the world’s largest purveyors of State terrorism, notably against each of its neighbours, including Pakistan. At home, State-directed terrorism is being unleashed against all minorities. Under the “RSS BJP Government”, actions are guided by a supremacist ideology that has fomented Islamophobia in political discourse. Some 200 million Muslims minorities in India face frequent lynching, pogroms by “RSS thugs” and discriminatory laws. With such a horrendous track record, India does not deserve a place on the Council nor in the wider law-abiding international community.