I am honored to take the floor on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, a cross regional network of 27 Member States.
At the outset, and on behalf of the Group of Friends, I would like to extend warm congratulations to Switzerland on its historic and first-ever presidency of the Security Council. The Group of Friends is most pleased to see one of its very own presiding over the Council this month. You have steered the work of the Council in the most efficient manner, and we wish you the best of luck for the remaining days of your presidency.
This Council must redouble its efforts to break the cycle of armed conflict, which drives and sustains many humanitarian crises around the world. And together, as the United Nations, we must do all we can to use the full range of tools at our disposal to prevent and end conflicts.
Civilians are consistently shouldering the burden of conflicts around the world. Today, 2 billion people – a quarter of humanity – live in places affected by armed conflict. Record numbers of civilians are facing the humanitarian consequences of conflict, including displacement, and food and nutrition insecurity. Among all civilians who are affected in armed conflicts, those who require our particular attention are people in vulnerable situations that are disproportionally prone to suffering, especially children.
This year’s Secretary-General Protection of Civilians report focuses strongly on conflict and hunger. The report identifies a continuously high number of persons facing crisis levels of acute food and nutrition insecurity, primarily caused by the consequences of armed conflicts. It notes that in 2022, more than a quarter of a billion people faced acute hunger in 58 countries and territories, many of which were in armed conflict. Furthermore, conflict and insecurity were the most significant driver of high levels of acute food insecurity for around 117 million people in 19 countries and territories. Stronger efforts are required to prevent and alleviate hunger in armed conflicts, including by protecting food sources and respecting and protecting humanitarian relief objects and personnel in line with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. As enshrined in IHL and reaffirmed by relevant UNSC resolutions such as 2417 and 2573, the use of starvation of civilians, including children, as a method of warfare is prohibited. The Group of Friends calls on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under IHL regarding respecting and protecting civilians and taking constant care to spare civilian objects,including objects necessary for food production and distribution such as farms, markets, water systems, mills, food processing and storage sites, and hubs and means for food transportation, and refraining from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects that are indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Furthermore, reporting and evidence of food and nutrition insecurity and famine risk must be swift and timely, and this Council must respond with rapid and decisive action. Too often our response is too little and too late. It is timely to recall that tomorrow, 24 May, marks the fifth anniversary since the adoption of UNSC resolution 2417. Yet, much more needs to be done to ensure respect for IHL and the full implementation of this resolution.
Armed conflicts also inevitably contribute to the degradation of the environment, which in turn affects essential services such as those related to the delivery of food and water. Those consequences for civilians are compounded by the effects of climate change, food systems and supply chains collapse.
Armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in urban areas, where countless civilians are killed and injured. The Group of Friends echoes the Secretary-General’s concern, which is described in his report, about the humanitarian consequences resulting from armed conflicts involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It repeats its urgent call to all parties to conflict to respect IHL and International Human Rights Law, and those with influence over them to ensure such respect. The Group of Friends notes the recent adoption of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences arising from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, in Dublin on 18 November 2022.
Furthermore, forced displacement exacerbates food and nutrition insecurity. As people flee the fighting, they also abandon their crops and often their livestock, undermining the food supply for entire regions. When they return, it is often no longer possible to cultivate the fields as they can be riddled with mines or other explosive remnants.
Protection of civilians must also be strengthened through the protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the population, which include the civilian infrastructure critical to the delivery of interconnected and essential basic services. Too often, the lack of electricity, water and other basic commodities, hamper the delivery of the most essential services such as education and medical care, placing the health and welfare of civilians at risk.
It is important to recall that this Council has adopted Resolution 2286, which strongly condemns attacks against medical facilities and personnel in conflict situations, Resolution 2573 on the protection of civilian infrastructure, and Resolution 2601, on the protection of schools, educational facilities, and civilians connected with schools, including children and teachers. The Group of Friends calls on Member States and other relevant actors to advance the implementation of these important resolutions of the Council and the IHL obligations that underpin them.
Humanitarian organizations work tirelessly to preserve and re-establish access to essential services for the affected civilian population. There is an urgent need to redouble efforts, including in this Council, to allow and facilitate full, safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access, and the safety and security of all humanitarian personnel, in accordance with IHL.
The Group of Friends commends the Security Council on the adoption of Resolution 2664, regarding humanitarian exemption to asset freezes under UN sanctions regimes. This is a pivotal step for the facilitation of humanitarian assistance in some of the most complex circumstances.
We are deeply concerned about the growing number of missing persons as a result of armed conflict. Efforts to prevent family separation and disappearances, to search and identify the missing and the dead, and to address the needs of affected families, should be an integral part of our response. Taking early action at the onset of an armed conflict is crucial. The regional and national implementation of relevant IHL and IHRL obligations, as well as of UNSC Resolution 2474 on missing persons, is key.
Lastly, the use of new technologies is becoming increasingly important for efficient and effective humanitarian operations and the protection of civilians. However, modern technologies, including social media, are all too often misused for false narratives about humanitarian organizations and their work, as well as the work of UN missions. Misinformation and disinformation endanger the security of humanitarian and UN mission staff as well as of those they are supposed to serve. It has to be vigorously combatted, including by advocating for IHL and humanitarian principles.