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Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Preserving…

16 July 2021


Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Preserving humanitarian space - Security Council, 8822nd meeting

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16 Jul 2021

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Amid spiking humanitarian needs, Security Council must use all available tools to reverse ‘relentless wave of attacks’ on aid workers, experts stress.

Government Ministers Join Meeting on Civilian Protection to Demand Unhindered Access, as Some Raise Concerns about Impact of Sanctions

Today’s unprecedented global need for humanitarian assistance — in concert with escalating violence against those providing it — requires robust action by the Security Council, experts told the 15-member organ today, as delegates grappled with a shrinking space for aid delivery fuelled by persistent disregard of its resolutions around the globe.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, in 2021, the United Nations and its partners will provide humanitarian assistance to a record-high 160 million people amid a “hurricane of humanitarian crises compounded by a relentless wave of attacks on humanitarian workers”. Noting that security incidents affecting such personnel have increased tenfold around the world since 2001, she reiterated the Secretary-General’s calls for the Council to take strong, immediate action to support its resolutions designed to protect civilians and the humanitarian space.

To that end, she pointed out that the Council has access to an array of practical tools designed to foster greater respect for international humanitarian law. Those include facilitating the training of national militaries, applying diplomatic pressure and imposing sanctions when no other remedies remain viable. She also stressed that clear lines must be drawn between military operations, political objectives and humanitarian efforts, and that counter-terrorism measures must explicitly ensure that humanitarian workers “are not punished for doing their jobs”.

Robert Mardini, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), echoed that point, stating that the politicization and manipulation of humanitarian aid by States and non-State armed groups puts humanitarian organizations under pressure and holds civilian populations for ransom. Emphasizing that divisions among Council members over access to those in need increase suffering on the front lines, he stressed that words spoken in New York must be translated into reality in conflict zones and urged States to incentivize better behaviour by their armed forces, allies, partners and proxies.

Lucile Grosjean, Delegate Director for Advocacy for the humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, noting that the Council has been unable to arrest the shrinking of the humanitarian space due to growing disdain for international humanitarian law, also emphasized that inertia and deadlock among its members threatens the lives of both those in need and those helping them. While the Council frequently expresses concern over humanitarian access, parties to conflict are often convinced that the organ will not follow up on its own resolutions. “We need swift condemnation followed by ambitious action when humanitarian space is ignored,” she emphasized.

In the ensuing debate, Council members voiced concern over increasing attacks on humanitarian workers, stressing the need to ensure accountability for the perpetrators of such crimes in order to end the cycle of impunity that persists from conflict to conflict. Many also pointed to the negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on the delivery of humanitarian aid and stressed that such policies must not hinder the work of humanitarian workers and their organizations. Others emphasized the need for such operations to avoid politicization and spotlighted the primacy of national jurisdiction in protecting humanitarian workers, even as some called for referring cases to the International Criminal Court when States are unwilling or unable to prosecute offenders.

Ireland’s representative noted that, when the Council fails to call for accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, a culture of impunity can spread from one conflict to the next. “From Yemen to Syria to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we continue to tolerate such impunity,” he said, urging the Council to ensure that clear, people-centred approaches are in place to protect civilians and the broader humanitarian space, especially as United Nations peacekeeping missions prepare to transition.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines cautioned that moral and legal obligations are not enough to secure adherence to international humanitarian law and, therefore, context-specific, pragmatic arrangements to secure access for aid are essential. She further called for increased monitoring and reporting on the impact that sanctions regimes have on humanitarian action, which can be undertaken by the Secretariat and should precede the establishment and renewal of all such measures.

On that point, the representative of the Russian Federation criticized the wanton practice of imposing flawed sanctions and blockades and rejected the use of unilateral sanctions to overthrow so-called “rogue regimes”. Expressing support for unhindered humanitarian access — so long as aid operations are conducted with the consent of the host Government — he raised concerns about the concept of so-called “humanitarian space”, which could, in practice, lead to breaches of State sovereignty. He also sounded alarm over the recent dangerous trend of launching baseless accusations against the Governments of countries mired in conflict, claiming without evidence that they are blocking humanitarian access.

Viet Nam’s representative also underscored the need for those delivering international humanitarian aid to respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference, along with domestic law. He emphasized that the primary responsibility to protect civilians rests with the State, while calling for efforts to enhance local resilience, reduce humanitarian need and address the root causes of conflicts.

Raychelle Omamo, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya, also highlighted the importance of building resilience, pointing out that many of the States to which people flee from conflicts are themselves fragile. Burden-sharing must go beyond the provision of financial resources to encompass a genuine sharing of responsibility. Stressing that humanitarian interventions should be temporary in nature, she called on the Council to collaborate more with regional organizations such as the African Union on peacekeeping mandates and the use of sanctions.

Also speaking were the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of France, Mexico, Tunisia and India, along with representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, Estonia, Niger, China and Norway.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:09 p.m.

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