Arria: Humanitarian action and Counter-terrorism

Statement by Deputy Permanent Representative Odd-Inge Kvalheim at the Arria-Formula Meeting on 'Humanitarian Action: Overcoming challenges in situations of armed conflict and counter-terrorism operations', 11 August 2021.

Allow me first to commend Kenya for convening today’s Arria meeting on this important topic. My gratitude also goes to the briefers for their comprehensive presentations.


Civilian populations suffer the most in today’s conflicts- which are, more often than not, characterised by asymmetrical warfare and terrorist activity. Too often, we see the civilian population being intentionally targeted; civilian infrastructure compromised or damaged; and people left with no access to essential services or protection from violence. Such situations pose serious challenges for humanitarian action. Yet the need to provide humanitarian assistance and protection is critical.

While States, regional, and multilateral organisations seek different methods to meet these threats, one common thread is that policies and measures employed too often have unintended consequences for populations, and the organisations trying to assist them.

Some counter terrorism measures can make it very difficult for humanitarian organisations to get access to those in need, and to operate in line with the humanitarian principles.

Furthermore, terrorist groups routinely target humanitarian workers, including through kidnapping, illegal detention, and arbitrary killing. It goes without saying: this is unacceptable.

All parties to armed conflict are obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, and to ensure conditions for humanitarian actors to conduct their work safely, and unimpeded- in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

This Council too has an important responsibility. We must consistently, and forcefully, call upon parties to fulfil their legal obligations. To this end, sanctions regimes constitute an important tool for the Council in influencing parties to conflict to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Thus - when functioning as intended - they also serve to protect humanitarian space.

Yet, we must also acknowledge that sanctions can have unintended negative consequences. For instance, humanitarian actors have reported difficulty in accessing funds, reaching at-risk populations, and insulating themselves from criminal liability in the context of certain regimes. The Council therefore must do its part to ensure that the obligations it imposes are specifically crafted to minimise these risks.

Equally important is for countries imposing unilateral sanctions to ensure the appropriate application of humanitarian exemptions. In this regard, Norway supports the inclusion of effective humanitarian exemptions in sanctions regimes. 

And in the UN context: a general, stand-alone resolution may be appropriate in the long-term. Yet, this is a complex option that requires further study.

In the short term, the Council should adopt a pragmatic approach on a case-by-case basis- adopting tailored language suited to the measures and scope of the particular regime in question. By way of example, we welcome the humanitarian language added in the recent renewal of the DRC 1533 sanctions regime. The adoption of such language demonstrates that the Council takes seriously its responsibility to tackle this issue. And gives grounds for optimism for further progress moving forward.

For our part, we will continue our dialogue to ensure effective counter terrorism frameworks. All while protecting humanitarian space, and facilitating principled humanitarian action. With a particular focus on avoiding negative unintended consequences of sanctions, and promoting humanitarian exemptions and efficient exemption procedures.