SC: Protection of Civilians indispensable civilian objects

Statement by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Jens Frølich Holte in the UN Security Council meeting on the Protection of Civilians in armed conflict: indispensable civilian objects, 27 April 2021.

We would like to thank Vietnam for hosting this debate and the briefers for setting the stage.

The destruction of civilian infrastructure has devastating consequences for the civilian population, and we welcome the resolution adopted today.

The protracted nature of today’s conflicts, the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the malicious use of new technologies, exacerbate this problem. We have seen all too clearly that the failure to protect civilians and critical civilian infrastructure has immediate humanitarian ramifications as well as long-term impacts for individuals and communities.


Protecting schools and universities is essential. The right to education must be upheld in peacetime and armed conflict alike. Education protects children and youth from a wide range of violations and threats to their health and lives, including sexual and gender-based violence and recruitment and use by armed forces and groups. Increasingly, educational facilities are attacked or used for military purposes. This is unacceptable and a dangerous trend which hinders safe access to and the enjoyment of the right to education. We must all take steps to strengthen protection of education in conflict. We therefore encourage all states to join the 107 states that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and are working together to implement it.

Attacks on healthcare facilities, personnel and their means of transport are unacceptable. Facilities are destroyed, patients and staff are killed, maimed, or displaced. The destruction of water and electricity systems affects the health of the population and the quality of health services. Essential services crumble and disappear. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, this has an immediate effect on individuals and their communities, and a global impact on health. Now more than ever, we must ensure the protection of health infrastructure, including to be able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and similar outbreaks in the future. We call for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions 2286 and 2565.


We must strengthen the protection of civilians from humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We support Ireland’s leadership in negotiating what we hope will be a strong political declaration. A declaration that will encourage the parties to conflict to minimise the use of such weapons, and to develop policies and practices that will strengthen implementation of international humanitarian law and increase the protection of civilians in armed conflict.


The destruction of infrastructure leads to environmental degradation. Syria - with damage to oil refineries and destruction of water and waste management systems, Yemen - with the destruction of water and sanitation facilities, and Tigray - where farmland is burned to the ground, are all examples of destruction that cause long-term damage to the environment.

Environmental degradation coupled with the impacts of climate change in many conflict-affected areas, has a devastating effect on food security, health and livelihoods. In this context the ICRC Guidelines on the Protection of the Natural Environment in Armed Conflict is a useful tool that identifies a range of concrete measures. Recognising the scale and consequence of this issue, we welcome the opportunity to discuss it in the Security Council.

We recall Security Council resolution 2417 that links armed conflict, conflict-induced food insecurity and the threat of famine, and call on all parties to spare infrastructure needed for food production and distribution. The intentional use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime. We urge States Parties to the Rome Statute to ratify the recent amendment concerning the war crime of starvation in non-international armed conflict. 


Hostile cyber operations conducted in armed conflict pose a serious threat to objects indispensable to the survival of, and delivery of essential services to, the civilian population. We reaffirm that international humanitarian law applies.


Fundamentally, in order to truly protect civilian populations, all parties to armed conflicts must fully respect and implement their obligations under international humanitarian law. Impunity for any violations must end. All states must investigate, within their jurisdiction, attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Those responsible must be held to account.


We hope to come away from this discussion with joint recognition of the need to support humanitarian rehabilitation of infrastructure. Humanitarian action to maintain and repair indispensable civilian objects and infrastructure is crucial to the survival of the civilian population.

Strengthening the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure is also an important part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including those on health, education, food security, peace and justice.

The protection during a conflict of civilians and civilian infrastructure that delivers essential services can determine the prospects for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation. It will affect the ability to ensure the voluntary and dignified return and reintegration of displaced persons, and to prevent conflicts from recurring. We recall the words of Secretary-General Guterres in the 2018 debate on protection of civilians: “Protecting civilians in conflict is the only way to lay the foundations for sustained peace”.

To sum it up: only if protection succeeds, can peace succeed.

Thank you.