UN Security Council Virtual Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Conflict
Note: This year, verbal statements were limited to current members of the Security Council. Non-Council members, observers and other delegations were also invited to provide written statements for the debate. This will be compiled and circulated as an official document of the Council. Ahead of the debate, INEW issued a briefing paper ahead of the debate calling on states to acknowledge harm caused by EWIPA, endorse the UNSG and ICRC’s recommendations, and express support for the political declaration.
On 27 May the UN Security Council held a virtual debate on the Secretary General’s recent report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, in which he emphasised the “striking contrast” between the pledges of states to protect civilians and the realities of conflict for affected civilians. In his opening briefing to the Council he focussed on the threat posed by COVID-19 to conflict-affected states and displaced people, and reiterated his call for a global ceasefire. He also emphasised the particularly severe impact of explosive weapons and urged “all governments to make a strong commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas” and to “review and rethink their approach to urban warfare, committing to the protection of civilians in their doctrine, strategy and tactics”. He later repeated his call to States to develop national frameworks to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
The ICRC President Peter Maurer similarly reiterated the call for states to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting their “devastating impacts for civilians” and the “serious questions about IHL compliance” their use raises. In his statement to the Council, he signalled an urgent need for a change of behaviour to protect civilians and expressed the ICRC’s commitment to a “strong, unequivocal Political Declaration committing states to take concrete action”.
The statements of most Council members focussed on the effects of COVID-19, but several also expressed concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, with Dominican Republic in particular noting that such use undermines efforts to combat the coronavirus. Germany reported that it is “actively engaged” in the process to develop a political declaration, while France struck a more negative tone, noting that though they too are engaged in the process, they are concerned that the final declaration does not “stigmatise explosive weapons themselves” and that it is restricted to their indiscriminate use. INEW has strongly opposed this approach: Article 36 explains here why such a restriction to use rather than effects would be insufficient to mitigate civilians harm and would undermine the humanitarian value of a future declaration by reducing it to simply a political reaffirmation of states’ obligation to follow the law.
In statements posted online, Ireland echoed serious concerns over the destruction caused by explosive weapons and highlighted the ongoing process they are chairing to agree a political declaration to address the humanitarian consequences of use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting the “widespread and cross-regional level of engagement”. The European Union recognised “the challenges associated with the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas and their impact on civilians”, while Austria emphasised that a 90% civilian casualty rate when explosive weapons are used in populated areas is “unacceptable”.
Additional written statements will be made available online here over the coming weeks.
Image: © UN Photo/Evan Schneider