Like my colleagues, I would like to start by thanking Under-Secretary-General, Rosemary DiCarlo, and OCHA Advocacy Director Edem Wosornu for their presentations – dark as they may be – and also welcome the participation of the representative of Ukraine, as well as representatives from other delegations.
160 years ago, Henry Dunant of Geneva, marked by the horror of the battlefield of Solferino, provided the impetus for the development of modern international humanitarian law (IHL).
75 years ago, the international community, scarred by the horrors of the Second World War, adopted the four Geneva Conventions, reinforcing the protection of civilians.
This right must always be respected by all parties to an armed conflict. Yet just two weeks ago, Russia launched one of the heaviest waves of missile and drone attacks on populated areas since the beginning of the military aggression. These attacks have not only claimed civilian lives, but have also destroyed homes and civilian infrastructure. Added to this are the enormous humanitarian needs and freezing temperatures. As Denise Brown, Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, put it: for the Ukrainian people, the New Year has begun in "loss, pain and anguish".
One look at Ukraine - and at conflicts around the world - should be enough to convince us of the urgent need to reaffirm one of the fundamental principles of the Geneva Conventions: civilians must neither be targeted nor subjected to indiscriminate attacks. Switzerland calls on all parties to the conflict to strictly respect international humanitarian law, in all circumstances and in all places.
The enormous humanitarian needs in Ukraine continue to grow. Solidarity from the international community is needed - and it can make a difference: for example, the support provided last winter, including the donation of generators, made residents and internally displaced people less vulnerable to the cold. Investments in repairs and maintenance have strengthened infrastructures in the face of attacks. Switzerland has contributed and continues to contribute to the resilience of Ukraine's energy infrastructure and population with its winter aid program, worth almost USD 100 million.
On 15 January, the joint launch of the humanitarian and regional response plans in 2024 will take place in Geneva. It is essential that these two plans receive adequate financial resources.
Responding to humanitarian needs is necessary, but not a long-term solution.
What is really needed is for Russia to finally begin de-escalation. We call on it to cease all combat operations and to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory without delay.
The recent exchange of prisoners is a positive, albeit insufficient, step. Like the Secretary-General, we hope that further de-escalation initiatives will follow.
Another constructive step was taken last May, with the five principles for protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and avoiding a nuclear accident. In view of the Russian strikes in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant, we need to remind ourselves of these principles. Above all, it is essential that the International Atomic Energy Agency has access to the entire site.
De-escalation is all the more urgent as the global consequences of this war persist. Russia's decision to withdraw from the Black Sea Initiative jeopardizes food security far beyond Ukraine.
After almost two years of war, peace is urgently needed. As such, we look forward to hosting a discussion as part of the Ukrainian peace formula in Davos on January 14. By organizing this meeting, Switzerland is helping to support discussions aimed at achieving a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.
I thank you.