High-Level UNSC Debate "Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Mr. President,

Let me begin by thanking the Permanent Mission of Vietnam for holding this very important High-Level VTC debate of the Security Council on the “Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population” under the agenda item on Protection of Civilians in armed conflict.

We also thank the Under-Secretary General OCHA, President of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and others for their insightful briefings.

Mr. President,

Civilians have always been the main victims of war, subjected to mass extermination, indiscriminate attacks, deportations, hostage taking, pillage and internment, which often takes a high toll of civilian life.

The international community responded to the brutalities of wars through codification of two sets of protection through international humanitarian law: i) protection of civilians and civilian objects; and ii) other objects specifically protected against attack.

Protecting civilians during armed conflict is therefore a cornerstone of IHL.

Article 54 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (1977) provides protection for objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, inter alia, food products, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works.  IHL also prohibits starvation as a means of warfare.

Despite the categorical prohibition, it is quite evident that the implementation of these laws and norms have often been observed in the breach.

The Secretary General’s 2020 annual report on Protection of Civilians highlighted that direct or indiscriminate attacks against homes, schools, hospitals, markets, places of worship, and essential civilian infrastructure have increased manifold. According to UNICEF, such attacks impede long-term development and have an impact on an entire generation’s access to education.

Mr. President,

Empirical evidence shows that attacks on cultural and religious sites, military siege and collective punishment have often been used to advance military or political objectives in situations of foreign occupation and suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination.

Quite often such occupied territories are subjected to round the clock curfews, communications blackouts, closure of educational institutions, bar on religious and public assembly, illegal and arbitrary detention of public figures, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of youth, shutting down of local businesses and economic activity – all of which are critical to people's livelihood and survival.

Undoubtedly, such tactics to coerce the civilian population into submission constitute violations of UNSC resolution 2417 (2018) and international humanitarian law.

Mr. President,

The destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and the disruption of essential services have also been identified as major challenges to the safe and voluntary return of refugees.

In a post-conflict context, we must prioritize the rehabilitation and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and the restoration of essential services, as those measures have the potential to facilitate socioeconomic recovery and create enabling environment for voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Owing to the significant costs associated with infrastructure rehabilitation and reconstruction, the vast UN Resident Coordinator System should be utilized to help countries in post-conflict situations to build the capacity to develop and implement good infrastructure projects.

Mr. President,

An important question for today’s debate is how to protect civilian populations and objects indispensable for their survival. But how can this be addressed when the suppression of civilian population is the very object of the conflict?

The Special Rapporteur on Promotion of Human Rights while countering terrorism has repeatedly underlined that the rationale of suppressing terrorism should not provide an escape route for the suppression of civilians seeking respect for their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination.

The challenge of addressing gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are further exacerbated by the inequity in the international response. In some situations, there is a quick and even robust response. In others, the perpetrators enjoy virtual impunity to commit crimes.

The Security Council, as the primary organ of the UN tasked with maintaining international peace and security, must not fail and act boldly in all situations where the survival of millions of civilians, caught in the vice of violence and war is threatened.

I thank you.