I am honored to take the floor on behalf of the Group of Friends (GoF) of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (PoC), a cross regional network of 27 Member States*.
We thank the United States for organizing this important debate and the distinguished briefers for their contributions. As the report of the Secretary-General highlights, the global state of the protection of civilians is grim. In Afghanistan, the DRC, Ethiopia, Mali, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and in too many other places, civilians suffer most from the consequences of armed conflict. This must change, and it can only change with strict respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by all parties to armed conflict, in all circumstances. We would like to particularly highlight the importance of incorporating and implementing IHL at the national level.
Fundamental services such as medical care for the wounded and sick are hampered or willingly attacked in many contexts. The GoF recalls IHL and resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of the medical mission, both of which must be rigorously implemented by all parties to armed conflict. Further, with the trend to more conflict-driven hunger last year, more efforts are urgently needed to prevent and alleviate hunger in armed conflict, in line with IHL and resolutions 2417 (2018) on conflict and hunger and resolution 2573 (2021) on critical civilian infrastructure. Also, the number of forcibly displaced persons is at a record high, almost two thirds of whom are IDPs. We therefore welcome the development of the Secretary-General’s Action Agenda on internal displacement and encourage all relevant actors to implement its recommendations, in close consultations with concerned Member States.
In some contexts, entire generations of children are growing up without ever having lived in peace. The GoF calls on all actors to prevent grave violations against children’s rights and ensure their specific protection needs. In this regard, we welcome last year’s adoption of resolution 2601 that places a particular focus on safeguarding of the right to education. Conflict-related sexual violence affects children, women and men, with 97% of recorded victims being women and girls. The stigmatization of survivors must end so that survivors feel able to come forward, access services and seek accountability. In that regard, strengthening judicial systems is also essential. Preventive measures to ensure that such horrible acts do not recur are paramount.
The GoF stresses the importance to respect IHL and the need to enhance the protection of civilians, including from the humanitarian impacts that could arise when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. The GoF takes note of the ongoing consultations led by Ireland
Turning to peace operations, we acknowledge the important efforts made to improve the protection of civilians by peacekeeping operations through the A4P initiative and the A4P+. Furthermore, we emphasize that transitions to other forms of UN presence require a particular focus on the protection of civilians. We call on the Council, the UN and the Member States to ensure that protection is anchored as a priority in early planning and implementation of transitions to avoid gaps in the security of civilians.
This year’s report describes the overlapping challenges for humanitarian operations. I would like to stress two points in that regard.
First, the security of humanitarian actors and their assets must be improved. This is one of the most important prerequisites for rapid, safe and unimpeded access to all those in need. And second, the non-criminalization of contacts to all parties to armed conflicts, including all armed groups, with the aim of negotiating access and respect for IHL is paramount.
Finally, we echo the SG’s recommendations contained in the report and strongly encourage the Council, the Member States and the UN to implement them.
Allow me to add two points in my national capacity and to endorse the following words of the President of the ICRC: "The very essence of humanitarian work and of the Geneva Conventions is that neutral and impartial organizations should be able to act in times of war”.
In response to this statement, Switzerland would like to underline that there is ample evidence that counter-terrorism measures and sanctions can have unintended negative impacts on humanitarian engagements. As the adoption of resolution 2615 (2021) on Afghanistan confirms, when there is political will, there are solutions to mitigate this challenge, such as comprehensive humanitarian exemptions. We call on the Council to include such exemptions in all sanctions regimes and counter-terrorism measures, and on the Member States to implement them accordingly.
Second, climate change, environmental degradation and armed conflict create a mutually reinforcing negative spiral, threatening the safety and security of the affected population. The adverse consequences of climate change can also prolong ongoing conflicts, and thus not only increase the toll on civilians, civilian infrastructure and livelihoods, but also threaten peace and development efforts in the longer run. This has to be tackled comprehensively without delay.
As a candidate for the Security Council, Switzerland is committed to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and to the full implementation of IHL. We work to be a plus for peace and a plus for human dignity in war.
*Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Uruguay and Switzerland.