On Tuesday, 23 May, as part of Switzerland’s presidency of the UN Security Council, President Alain Berset chaired an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. “We have the legal, political and operational instruments to protect civilians from armed conflict”, said President Berset, referring to the unanimously adopted resolutions of 2018 and 2021 on food security and the protection of civilian infrastructure. Such instruments would have to be better applied by the Security Council and all UN member states in future. Speaking on Switzerland’s behalf, Mr Berset suggested five ways in which this could be achieved, while stressing that political will was crucial.

The five points include, firstly, ending attacks on supplies of essential goods. Second, assuring full, rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need. Third, parties to the conflict that use the starvation of civilians as an instrument of war must be held accountable. Fourth, Switzerland calls for the full inclusion of women in all processes to protect the civilian population. And fifth, the civilian population must remain well protected when UN peace missions withdraw.

More lives are lost in armed conflicts as a result of shortages of essential goods and services such as water, food and access to healthcare than through the direct effects of hostilities. Those taking part in the open debate included members of the UN Security Council and representatives of other states, as well as UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, and a civil society representative from West Africa.

The debate highlighted the importance of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts, an issue that Switzerland, as depositary state of the Geneva Conventions and host state of the ICRC, has long been strongly committed to.

Speech by President Alain Berset on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, UN Security Council, 23.05.2023