SC: Water and Protection of Civilians – Nordic Statement

Joint Nordic statement by Denmark in the Security Council Arria-formula meeting on water and protection of civilians, 22 March 2023.

The statement was delivered by H.E. Magnus Heunicke, Minister of Environment in Denmark, on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

Mr. President,

Members of the Security Council,

I have the pleasure to deliver this statement on behalf of the Nordic countries: Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and my own country Denmark.

Water and sanitation are human rights.

Water and sanitation should never be targets of warfare. Disturbingly, there are situations where aggressors are deliberately denying or restricting access to water as a tactic of war – or damaging facilities that supply water, treat wastewater or provide electricity. We see this in Ukraine, in Palestine and in the Sahel. 

Destruction of infrastructure and disruption of water and sanitation services disproportionately affects vulnerable groups such as women, children, youth and persons with disabilities.

States must respect and ensure respect of international humanitarian law, including the numerous provisions related to water-related infrastructure.

Parties to a conflict, including an occupying power, must respect, protect and fulfill the human right to water and sanitation in line with international agreements.

International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate attacks on civilian objects, including the natural environment. Whatever the motive, attacking "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" is never justified and remains a grave breach of International Humanitarian Law.

In other words, such acts are war crimes.

Attacks against water facilities must be monitored and reported, and treated like grave violations. We want to recall the particular provision in the International Criminal Court (ICC) statute according to which these may also amount to a war crime and must be punished.

Furthermore, international law requires that parties to a conflict must respect, protect and fulfil the human right to water.

Protection of Civilians mandates including Security Council resolution twenty-five seventy-three have underlined the obligations of parties to a conflict to protect civilian infrastructure. Other mandates have on several occasions directly contributed to safe access to water.

We commend humanitarian organisations who work for access to clean water for civilians. And we commend armed or unarmed escorts of peacekeepers have helped women access water points, protected water trucking in conflict areas and more broadly supported safe and resilient water infrastructure in the Protection of Civilian sites (PoC) in South Sudan.

However, peacekeepers cannot be the main guardians of access to safe water in conflict areas. We call on states to ensure safe and rapid humanitarian access to all people in need of humanitarian aid. The international community must support local community-led protection initiatives and local and international humanitarian organizations working to ensure access to clean water for civilians.

We must ensure that people can realize their right to access water without having to risk rape, landmines, extortion or abuse.

We must ensure that the rights to water and sanitation are rights for all and not a privilege of few.

Thank you.