I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.
The protection of civilians in armed conflict remains of key importance for the EU and its Member States. We welcome the Secretary-General's report and note with great concern the alarming picture that it paints. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated protection concerns. The fighting continues in many conflicts, despite the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.
First, full compliance with International Humanitarian Law remains central for the protection of civilians. We call on all parties to armed conflict to respect their obligations. The EU remains committed to put the promotion of and adherence to IHL at the heart of its external action. This includes supporting training and exercises to respect IHL, in particular for military and security forces, as well as for non-State armed groups. It also includes leveraging the EU’s political, economic and military weight to promote IHL compliance, as outlined by the European Commission’s recent Communication on the EU’s humanitarian action.
The EU is also committed to continue advocating for the universalisation of IHL instruments, and supporting the fight against impunity for serious violations of IHL. The EU calls on states that have not yet done so to ratify and fully implement important IHL instruments, such as the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, as well as the Rome Statute, and to develop and adopt any necessary implementing legislation, policies and practical measures.
Ensuring compliance with IHL is crucial when armed conflicts are increasingly fought in urban areas, exposing civilians and civilian infrastructure to substantial risks. We recognise the challenges associated with the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas and the impact on civilians particularly in many recent conflicts, and we strongly call on all parties to armed conﬂict to fully comply with IHL. Promoting compliance with IHL has always been, and remains, a top priority for the EU and its Member States. We also fully support the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 2573, 2532 and 2565.
Furthermore, effective investigations into and prosecutions of alleged war crimes are equally indispensable to ensure deterrence and provide justice for victims alike. To this end, the EU and its Member States are strong supporters of international criminal justice, in particular the ICC, as the world’s beacon of accountability and the only permanent international criminal court. It also commends the key supporting role of international investigation and investigation mechanisms to the prosecution by competent courts and to the establishment of truth. Additionally, the exercise of universal jurisdiction at the national level can serve as an effective mechanism to ensure accountability for serious international crimes.
Second, addressing the protection risks and needs of civilians affected by conflicts remains crucial. Supporting IASC efforts to advance Centrality of Protection and ways to strengthen protection outcomes is critical in this regard. This is a key component of the EU’s humanitarian assistance. The EU is specifically committed to addressing the needs of children affected by armed conflict, facilitating access to safe education supporting initiatives to roll out the Paris Principles and Commitments, and intensifying work to prevent and addressing grave violations against them. In this regard, the UE welcomes the efforts of the 108 endorsing Member States of the Safe Schools Declaration and strongly supports the CAAC mandate and the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. The EU remains equally committed to the protection of women and girls, and to supporting the prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, levels of which have increased drastically during the pandemic, as well as its impacts on sexual and reproductive health. Importantly, the high number of persons with disabilities affected by conflict need to be appropriately taken care and should not be left behind.
Within the UN, there is a specific role for UN Peacekeeping to ensure the protection of civilians. To be able to adequately and effectively carry out this responsibility, missions require mandates with clearer protection of civilians’ strategies and peacekeepers need to be appropriately trained. Protection of civilians is a core, collective responsibility within UN Peacekeeping, and more can be done to effectively carry out this task.
Third, the adverse consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, including in relation to armed conflict and on the protection of civilians, remain of the utmost concern and need an urgent collective response. The EU condemns the use of the destruction of the environment as a means of warfare, especially where there is direct dependency of the civilian population on its natural resources for water, food and livelihoods or scarce access to either. The EU and its Member States are committed to advocating globally for the protection of the natural environment in armed conflict, through supporting IHL compliance and by taking all appropriate measures to address the protection needs of civilians.
Fourth, the EU and Member States note with grave concern the latest figures on food insecurity, which are unprecedented in both scale and severity. We welcome the international efforts to address this crisis, such as the “G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact”, and the increased allocations for humanitarian assistance by the main global donors, including the EU. However, these efforts are still insufficient to cover the needs. We call on increased contributions from international partners, including by broadening the base of donors to the UN-coordinated financial system, and to explore possibilities to increase flexible and unearmarked funding. Conflict remains the main driver of hunger and more efforts are needed to alleviate hunger in armed conflict in line with UNSC resolution 2417. Conflict displaces people, damages vital infrastructure, disrupts local markets and reduces access – resulting in the destruction of food systems and widespread food insecurity. In conflict-affected areas, securing rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and respect of IHL is of utmost importance. The EU and its Member States are intensifying their advocacy efforts in this respect, and call on Security Council members to join forces in this endeavour.
Fifth, attacks on medical facilities and medical workers in armed conflicts have a devastating impact on the protection of civilians, both in the short and long term. Five years after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2286, drafted by Spain, together with Egypt, Japan, New Zeland and Uruguay, and in light of the current pandemic, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that medical workers and facilities are no longer subject to attacks. Action is needed at the multilateral, national and community level. The EU is committed to supporting the collection and analysis of data on attacks against medical workers and facilities by WHO through the surveillance system for attacks on health care, to promoting peer-to-peer exchanges on data collection and to protecting victims of IHL violations. Perpetrators must be held into account. The EU remains firmly engaged in supporting partners to ensure continuity of medical care in high-risk contexts and assist front line medical personnel.
For the protection of medical personnel and infrastructures, the adoption and implementation of adequate military policy at the strategic, operational and tactical level throughout military operations is also essential. Training of the armed forces is key. IHL conformity and awareness about the protection of civilians are central elements in the planning and conduct of all the civilian and military EU crisis management missions and operations. The ICRC has also been instrumental in providing practical guidance to this end through the adoption of the guidance document “Protecting Health Care: Guidance for the Armed Forces.”
Beyond medical care, we need to strengthen our efforts to protect humanitarian workers from attacks and safeguard humanitarian space. The EU, together with France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Niger, and Switzerland, has started co-hosting a discussion series on the protection of humanitarian and medical workers in armed conflict. This will contribute to the development of key elements of the “Call for Action to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law and principled humanitarian action”, launched by Germany and France and endorsed by all the co-hosts of the discussion series. The EU is committed to avoid any potential negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on principled humanitarian action.
Finally, the EU and Member States consider the immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good and advocate for equitable, timely and affordable access to effective, safe, and quality vaccines and any other health products related to Covid-19 for all. The EU and its Member States support the COVAX Facility and welcome the establishment of the Humanitarian Buffer. We will continue to ensuring that vaccines reach all who need them, including conflict-affected people, leaving no one behind. We support distribution and vaccination campaigns, promote vaccine sharing and provide support to production capacities.
The effective protection of civilians in armed conflicts requires sustained collective efforts. We count on the Security Council, and the international community, to take firm and continued action in this endeavour.
* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.