SC: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Statement by Deputy Permanent Representative Trine Heimerback on 'Protection of civilians in armed conflict', 25 May 2021.

We thank the Presidency for organising this debate, and for the briefings given by ERC Lowcock, ICRC President Maurer and also AREU Director Nemat. We are appalled by the increase in attacks deliberately targeting civilians in Afghanistan that you have mentioned.


We are struck by the levels of civilian death, injury, psychological trauma, and destruction of infrastructure reported by the Secretary-General.

This is particularly alarming as we know that the extent to which civilians are protected during a conflict, can determine the ultimate prospects for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation.

Norway therefore urges all parties to armed conflicts to comply with their obligations under international law- including international humanitarian law. Alleged violations of IHL must be thoroughly, impartially, and effectively, investigated. And accountability for violations must be ensured through credible national or international criminal justice mechanisms.


We are deeply concerned about the consequences of persistent, and increasing, levels of violence, threats, and attacks against medical care- thus amplifying the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attacks against medical and healthcare facilities, and medical personnel and transports - including through cyber means - are always unacceptable, and prohibited under IHL.

We call for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions 2286 and 2565. And we support the Secretary-General’s Global Ceasefire Appeal. We will continue to encourage all parties to adhere to it; and call for direct support to make these ceasefires more robust and durable.


In conflict, children have to carry the heaviest burden on their shoulders. They must be better protected.

We are appalled by attacks on education, and remain concerned that the COVID pandemic has fuelled absenteeism and school closures, exposing children to risk of a wide range of threats. Including: child marriage, child labour, sexual and gender-based violence, and recruitment and use by armed forces and groups.

The right to education must be upheld. Education protects children. And we call on all states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration. We applaud the 108 States which have already done so- including 10 members of this Council.


The widespread and increasing level of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict settings- now intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic- is also of a grave concern.

The Council must use all means at our disposal to prevent and protect against SGBV and other gendered threats.

Perpetrators must be brought to justice. And there must be an end to the widespread use of sexual violence as a tool of political repression and tactic of war and terror.


On top of the pandemic, the threat of famine, conflict, environmental degradation, and climate risks converged in 2020. More people were forcibly displaced by mid-year than in the entire year before. This considerable increase is a harsh reminder that we must shift the Council’s focus from recognition to action. Additionally, the cycle between conflict and food insecurity can only be broken through an integrated response. 

We 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. And we urge States Parties to the Rome Statute to ratify or accept the recent amendment concerning the war crime of starvation in non-international armed conflict.


Efforts must continue to strengthen the capacity of UN peace operations to protect civilians- including by prioritising support to political dialogue as a means of establishing a protective environment.

Missions must receive adequate resources, and engage all components, to deliver on protection mandates- including to combat SGBV and ensure child protection.

The SG report also shows the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly those with wide-area effects where 88% of the casualties are civilian.

We support the Irish-led initiative for a political declaration to minimise the use of such weapons.


There is no doubt that the prevention of conflict is key. And the primary responsibility lies with Member States.