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António Guterres’ Three Points to Shield Civilians from Armed Conflict

At a Security Council meeting U.N. Secretary-General delivers his formula to better protect civilians in urban warfare.

A family displaced by fighting in the village of Shora, 25 kilometres south of Mosul, Iraq, walk towards an army checkpoint on the outskirts of Qayyarah. (Photo: UNHCR/Ivor Prickett)

The U.N. Security Council special meeting dedicated to the protection of civilians in armed conflict saw the participation of the U.N. Secretary General, along with Red Cross Director-General Yves Daccord. Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi also delivered a speech with an emphasis on children and gender based violence, and the protection of hospitals.

Yesterday at the United Nations Security Council meeting about civilians in armed conflict, Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the council with three recommendations for governments. He began his speech by asserting “the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent conflicts and to end them”. He then listed many jarring statistics concerning civilians in the crossfires of conflict: “last year, the United Nations recorded the death and injury of more than 26,000 civilians in just six countries affected by conflict: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen”.

However, this figure comes accompanied with an extreme damage to infrastructure, as the same bombs that are killing and injuring civilians are also destroying their homes, schools, and power and water systems. This damage to infrastructure furthers the suffering of civilians as they are deprived of lifesaving resources.

Guterres speech ended with three recommendations to governments to protect their civilians, along with a final emphasis on unity in achieving these efforts.  His first point was for all governments to develop national policy frameworks to protect civilians in conflict. This tactic consisted of creating measures to mitigate and respond to civilian harm, making arms exports conditional depending on abidance to humanitarian law, and finding alternatives to explosives in urban warfare to further protect civilians.

His second point advocated for support of the United Nations and others engaging with non-State armed groups developing plans to protect civilians.

His third point advocated for accountability of serious violations of policy protecting civilians in order to “end the climate of impunity”. This included full support of the International Criminal Court in their cases against human rights violations.

At the end of his speech, Guterres ended with several pleas of unity from different nations to protect civilians, setting aside political differences in favor of preserving humanity.

The United States also gave remarks about increasing civilian protection at the meeting. In place of U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Representative on the Economic and Social Council at the U.N. Ambassador Kelley Currie spoke. Ambassador Currie’s speech echoed Secretary-General Guterres remarks about accountability, with sentiments of unity as well. She contended, “accountability is essential to provide both justice for victims of such violations and to end the culture of impunity that leads to them in the first place”. In order to enforce this accountability of all U.N. Member States, Currie asserted that there must be a committed and united effort from the Security Council in enforcing different penalizations for those that violate humanitarian efforts.

Additionally, the concern raised about damage to hospitals was reiterated by Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross Yves Daccord. He stressed the need for the completion of the UNSC Resolution 2286 which was adopted two years ago. Daccord remarked that “the gap between words and actions is rather dramatic” since after the resolutions adoption, there have been 1,200 incidents in 16 countries, consisting of health workers killed, hospitals bombed, and medical supplies destroyed.

At the meeting, other nations who are not part of the Security Council requested to speak, including Italy. Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi also endorsed completion of the UNSC Resolution 2286 like Red Cross Director-General Daccord. Cardi stressed the “urgent and full implementation [of the resolution], as attacks on hospitals and humanitarian convoys continue unabated.” Cardi continued with statements specifically concerning attacks towards children and gender based violence, stating ” Italy condemns in the strongest possible terms attacks directed against schools, as well as any military use of schools, recalling in this regard the Safe School Declaration, which we urge more Member States to subscribe to. In line with our strong commitment to the “Call to Action on Protection from Gender Based Violence in Emergencies”, Italy believes a gender-oriented approach is key to prevent and respond to emergency situations”.

The Italian Ambassador concluded: “peace-keeping missions should effectively and proactively implement their protection of civilians mandate, in line with the Kigali Principles, that Italy has subscribed.”

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