Security Council

Protection of civilians in armed conflict - Security…

The members of the Security Council will review the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2022/381).
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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.

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