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I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its 28 Member States.
The Candidate Countries Montenegro* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.
Thank you for bringing us together today to discuss this topical subject, and we thank the briefers for their insightful testimonies.
The EU and its Member States, as staunch defenders of international legal norms and principled humanitarian assistance, are deeply concerned about the continued reports of attacks and violence against healthcare facilities and aid workers. The recurrent failure of parties to armed conflicts to comply with their obligations under IHL continues to pose critical challenges to the protection of medical workers. This not only endangers the physical security of such personnel, but also prevents the delivery of essential – often lifesaving – services to civilians in need.
Under international law, attacks intentionally directed against hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, as well as attacks intentionally directed against objects and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions, may amount to war crimes. The EU has always been a leading advocate on IHL compliance. From the outset, we have therefore been a strong supporter of the landmark commitments reflected in the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2286 on medical workers. We are adamant to retain momentum around this text and its obligations, which are reflected in the Political Declaration of 31 October 2017, and call for the effective implementation of SCR 2286.
Attacks on both schools and hospitals are also among the six grave violations affecting children in situations of armed conflict that have been identified by the Security Council. The most recent annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, found that there were 96 verified attacks on hospitals last year alone. In Afghanistan, there were 58 verified incidents of attacks on hospitals and protected personnel in 2017, while South Sudan saw 24 attacks on hospitals.
Indeed, South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid workers, including health workers. At least 112 aid workers have been killed there since the conflict began in 2013. The most recent large-scale incident saw the attack against 15 humanitarian organisations in Maban refugee camp, including a number of health facilities, which were vandalized, destroyed, looted and burned within two hours. An already fragile health system is continuously targeted, jeopardising the lives of those who depend on it. The EU thus reiterates its calls on parties to the conflict and armed groups to abide by the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, and to fully and effectively protect health facilities and health workers from any kind of violence.
We also wish to stress the need for counter-terrorism measures to respect the applicable rules of international humanitarian law relating to the non-punishment of any persons carrying out medical activities compatible with medical ethics. In this respect, the EU welcomes Operative Paragraph 64 in the latest GA Resolution on the Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, the so-called Humanitarian Omnibus. We also recall the unique role of the Security Council in this matter – what is lawful under IHL must not be made unlawful by counter-terrorism regulations.
Finally, the EU firmly supports innovative approaches in addressing compliance with IHL, including by non-state actors. In this respect, we welcome the recently launched Deed of Commitment on the protection of medical care in armed conflict by Geneva Call, whose activities are financed, among others, by the EU’s humanitarian budget.
Mr Chair, Excellencies,
As conflicts are increasingly recognised as the main drivers of current humanitarian crises, the lifesaving work of medical personnel becomes ever-more important. The protection of the medical mission is not only a legal obligation but also a moral one. We urge everyone to join us in upholding it.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.