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Protection of Healthcare in Conflict

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, at the high-level event on Protection of Health Care in Conflict, organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Norway.

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One of the most fundamental issues related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict is the right to safe access to health care. Hospitals are where the wounded, the sick and the most vulnerable go for help. Attacks on health care services often lead to loss of critical staff and the breakdown of health systems – when they are needed the most.

I am pleased to open this event to mark the 5th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 2286 on the protection of healthcare in conflict. And I am proud to be a co-host with our close partner, the ICRC, and several co-sponsors, including the resolution penholders.

The passage of Resolution 2286 in 2016 was an important milestone – but five years later, health care remains very much in peril.

Over the last few weeks, the world’s attention has been on Gaza. The images of civilian suffering and of widespread destruction, especially of vital infrastructure, are deeply troubling. Norway welcomes the announcement of the ceasefire. It is critical now to ensure that humanitarian actors have safe and unimpeded access to people in need in Gaza.

But the problem is not limited to Gaza. Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Tigray are all examples of conflicts where health facilities have been attacked and destroyed, and patients and health workers have been injured and killed.

We must emphasise the obligation of parties to armed conflict both to respect and to ensure respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances. This includes the protection of the wounded and sick, medical personnel, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.

Norway has been working at the national and international level to promote the protection of health care in conflict. Examples of the measures we have taken include:

One: Under the Norwegian Penal Code, all attacks against medical and health care personnel, facilities, materiel, units, or vehicles constitute war crimes. Universal jurisdiction is established for all war crimes.

Two: the current IHL manual used by the Norwegian defence forces includes measures to ensure the protection of health care and humanitarian organisations. This is also an integral part of education programmes. Special focus is given to the targeting process and deconfliction mechanisms to identify and protect medical facilities and humanitarian organisations during military operations.

Three: Norway actively supports ICRC, Geneva Call and other organisations that are working to strengthen compliance with IHL, including the protection of health care.

And four; Norway supports the process led by Ireland to secure a political declaration to minimise the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

There are many other examples of practical measures taken by states and other parties, some of which will be shared today.

It is imperative that we, the global community, step up our efforts to protect health care and health care providers.

I would like to close by conveying my heartfelt thanks to health care and front-line workers in situations of conflict all over the world, whose work has been rendered even more challenging by the covid-19 pandemic. Their courage and dedication should inspire us all to do more.