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 25 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 that, over the last year, civilians continued to bear the brunt of military operations and that “[a]rmed conflict continued to be characterized by high levels of civilian death, injury and psychological trauma…as well as damaged and destroyed homes, schools, markets, hospitals and essential civilian infrastructure such as electrical and water systems.”
In his opening briefing to the Council, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock cited AOAV’s data showing that some 90% of casualties when explosive weapons are used in populated areas are civilians. He emphasised that alongside civilian casualties, “these weapons also inflict a devastating toll on essential civilian infrastructure”. Taking Yemen as an example, he flagged how the use of explosive weapons has “disrupted almost every essential resource or public service, including water, electricity, sanitation and health care”. He repeated the Secretary-General’s call on parties to conflict “to avoid using wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas” and insisted that “fighting parties must change their choice of weapons and tactics”.
The ICRC President Peter Maurer similarly reiterated the call for parties to conflict “to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact in populated areas due to the significant indiscriminate effects”. In his statement to the Council, he also expressed the ICRC’s support for “a Political Declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians from these weapons’.
The statements of most Council members focussed heavily on the effects of COVID-19 and on attacks on healthcare. Several, nevertheless, took the opportunity to express concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians and the European Union, though both focussed primarily on the issue of compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). INEW has strongly opposed attempts to reduce the a political declaration to simply a political reaffirmation of states’ obligation to follow the law, arguing that the political declaration should call for the revision of existing, or the development of new, operational policies and practices that place clear restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as the only genuine means of strengthening the protection of civilians and civilian objects from such use.
Speaking on behalf of the A3 + 1 (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and SVG), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines condemned the use of explosive weapons in populated areas for placing millions of civilians at risk of injury, displacement and death. Mexico also flagged the disproportionate impact of explosive weapons use on civilians when those weapons are used in populated areas.
Ireland similarly expressed concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting that “civilians account for almost 90% of those killed and injured… exacting a horrific toll on vulnerable communities and persisting long after the conflict has ended”. Ireland also flagged its role in leading negotiations on a political declaration, noting that despite the pandemic good progress has been made, and expressing their determination to finalise a text that will result in lasting change.
In a written submission, Austria termed the civilian casualty rates from explosive weapons “unacceptable” and described civilian protection from the use of such weapons “a matter of urgency”. Austria expressed support for the development of a poltiical declaration, and ;looked forward to “an early adoption…and its implementation in order to effectively enhance the protection of civilians in urban warfare.”
Additional written statements will be made available online here over the coming weeks.
Image: © UN Photo