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 Norway for organizing this important debate. According to the Secretary-General’s 2021 report, a large majority of casualties in armed conflicts in urban settings are civilians. Ample evidence of the devastating impact of war in cities has been collected, including negative long-term and systemic consequences on basic health and education services, for example. Therefore the GoF stresses the importance to respect International Humanitarian Law (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.
I will concentrate our remarks today on actions the Security Council and Member States should take to remedy this tragedy.
First, strict application of IHL rules and principles, including those of distinction, proportionality, as well as precautions, are required by all parties to armed conflict. The GoF emphasizes that only full respect for IHL, international human rights law and a reduction of hostilities can protect the civilian population, including in cities. The GoF echoes its constant calls for ensuring strict compliance with IHL in all circumstances and for political settlements of armed conflicts. We welcome the adoption of the landmark resolution 2573 (2021) on attacks on critical infrastructure and emphasize the call to avoid, to the extent feasible, establishing military positions within or near densely populated areas.
Secondly, implementation of IHL on a national level is key and requires both legal and practical measures in times of peace and of armed conflict. Military doctrine and practice should provide the basis for the development of military competence in protecting civilians during military operations in cities. This should include specific training and the development of good practices in planning and conducting military operations in cities during armed conflict.
Third, respect for the rules and principles governing the conduct of hostilities, in particular the prohibition of direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects is eroding – including in situations on the agenda of this Council. Therefore, dissemination of IHL to all parties of a conflict is important to increase compliance and to generate better protection of civilians. Also engaging armed groups is essential and contacts for such purposes should not be criminalized.
Fourth, war in cities has altered and shrunk humanitarian space. These complex security environments lead to access restrictions and impede humanitarian assistance and protection, in particular for women and children. Therefore, it remains all the more important for all parties to armed conflicts to allow and facilitate humanitarian activities. It is equally essential to ensure women and girls’ participation and leadership in humanitarian processes and initiatives. Furthermore, even when parties comply with IHL, warfare often leads to civilian loss and destruction that must be addressed. Comprehensive approaches by humanitarian and development actors, including preventing further negative impacts of armed conflict, are highly important, especially in addressing protracted armed conflict in urban areas.
Allow me to add the following in my national capacity.
“Boredom, shooting, shelling, people being killed, despair, hunger, misery: that’s my life” – those were the words of author Zlata Filipović, who, as a girl, was trapped in the siege of Sarajevo. Almost thirty years later, too many girls, boys, women and men still find themselves in this reality in conflict zones around the world. We must strive to ensure that cities remain spaces of life and hope, even during armed conflict. Strict respect of IHL is key for achieving this.
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.