Ladies and gentlemen,
I address you in my capacity as President of the Swiss Confederation.
- Secretary-General António Guterres,
- President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Mirjana Spoljaric
- and Aichatou Mounkaila for their statements.
Every armed conflict is different. But – as we have just heard – they have one thing in common: the suffering of civilians.
This is the case, for example, in Ukraine currently: in the past year, half of the civilians killed in conflict zones around the world were killed in Ukraine. These deaths are of course intolerable.
Civilians' lives are in constant danger. Access to food, healthcare, sanitation, clean water and other essential services is impeded.
Civilians' lack of access to essential goods and services during armed conflict costs more lives in the short and medium term than the direct impact of hostilities.
Vulnerable groups, such as children and people with disabilities, are the ones who bear the brunt.
Respect for international humanitarian law is a longstanding priority for Switzerland and one of our priorities in the Security Council.
As the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions and home to the headquarters of the ICRC, we feel all the more bound by this humanitarian imperative.
The work that the ICRC does to protect civilians is of immeasurable value. We are also concerned about accusations made recently concerning the ICRC's impartiality.
Aichatou Mounkaila's account is a reminder of the key role played by civil society – and of the need to include civil society stakeholders in our deliberations and actions.
Behind the statistics and remarks we have just heard are the lives of individual human beings.
To prepare for this debate, I visited several regions directly affected by instabilities. For example, I had the opportunity to visit the north of Mozambique, notably Mueda and Pemba, with President Nyusi.
In this context, let me recall here that Mozambique has just announced the disarmament and demobilization of the last rebel military base in the centre of the country.
I thus seize this opportunity to congratulate President Nyusi and the leader of RENAMO, Ossufo Momade, for their efforts in building peace in Mozambique. They showed the world that the most powerful weapon for achieving peace is always dialogue.
I also visited the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I went to Goma, to Bukavu, and I met civilians who had witnessed the murder of family members, the looting of their property, and women who had been raped in very vulnerable situations.
Despite such difficult situations, all the people I met were combative and optimistic about the future.
But we cannot solely rely on the resilience of local communities.
International humanitarian law imposes clear and unambiguous obligations on all parties to a conflict, and also on all of us, the states parties to the Geneva Conventions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Conflicts are the main drivers of hunger.
They generate or exacerbate food insecurity in the short, medium and long term – both directly and indirectly.
The Secretary-General explained this in some detail in his report.
More and more people are facing acute food insecurity. Their number rose to about 260 million last year.
That's 30 times the population of New York City. Thirty times!
Over two-thirds live in conflict zones, for example in the DRC, in Sudan, or in other contexts where violence is endemic, such as Haiti.
Armed conflicts have direct impacts on food security
- crops are destroyed
- land is made barren or riddled with explosive debris
- grain stores are burned down, markets are closed down.
But there are also indirect impacts.
All too often, conflicts involve attacks on civilian goods and services. Such attacks can destabilise entire food systems.
- Water supply is threatened, posing a major challenge to the protection of civilians.
- The lack of electricity/energy jeopardises cold chains and food storage.
- The displacement of entire communities by conflict results in the abandonment of crops.
Resource scarcity in one area can spread across an entire region.
We are currently witnessing Russia's military aggression against Ukraine drive up prices dramatically around the world.
Switzerland commends all actors who have made it possible for the Black Sea Initiative to be extended recently. It welcomes the good offices provided by the Secretary-General and stands ready to offer its support, including in its capacity as a host state.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Exactly five years ago, the Security Council recognised the link between conflict and food insecurity by adopting Resolution 2417.
It condemns in the strongest terms the use of starvation as a method of warfare, the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and the withholding of life-saving supplies from civilians.
In 2021, in its Resolution 2573, it reiterated its condemnation of unlawful attacks that deprive civilians of essential services.
This and other resolutions, and the international humanitarian law they uphold, provide strong legal, political and operational instruments to protect civilians from conflict-related food insecurity.
We must all do a better job of implementing them.
To this end, I would like to propose five lines of action:
First, all parties to a conflict must stop carrying out unlawful attacks and misusing resources that are essential to the survival of civilians, as proscribed by international humanitarian law.
One measure is to reduce or minimise the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Switzerland signed the Dublin Declaration last year and I call on other states to do likewise.
Second, efforts must be redoubled to ensure full, prompt, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all persons in need, as required by international humanitarian law. I would like to thank all the humanitarian actors who are working day after day to save lives.
Third, all parties to a conflict who use the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare must be held accountable: starving civilians is a war crime.
Fourth, as I underscored in the Security Council debate in March on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, women must participate fully, equally, meaningfully and safely at all levels of decision-making and in all processes aimed at protecting civilians.
Fifth, UN peace operations play a key role in protecting civilians, and it is essential that we strive to maintain a high level of protection even when these operations are in a transitional phase.
As highlighted by the secretary-general, the protection of civilians is a matter of the utmost urgency.
Respect for international humanitarian law and humans rights is of vital importance in this regard.
Together, we must redouble our efforts to protect civilians, not only on paper, but also in practice.