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Statement at UNSC Open Debate on War in Cities

Thank you very much indeed, Mr President, and I want to wish a warm welcome to you to the Chamber and also to thank you for convening this dedicated debate.

We really welcome the opportunity to discuss the specific legal, the moral and the operational challenges faced by parties to conflict, of course by UN agencies and by civil society in seeking to protect civilians and to alleviate the devastating humanitarian impacts.

I would also like to warmly welcome the Honourable Vice President of Ghana and the Foreign Minister of Gabon to the Chamber today and of course to thank the Secretary General and Mr. Maurer for their assessments of the Security Council’s obligations and role in this space, and what we can do to better. I want to especially thank our civil society briefer Radhya for her remarks. It is important that we heard your voice this morning Radhya – it is an important part of our considerations here today.

Mr President,

In cities like Idlib, Gaza and Taiz, millions face the unacceptable humanitarian consequences of deliberate violence. Through besiegement, starvation, the use of explosive weapons, and the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure and disruption of essential services, these populations are viscerally aware of the grim realities of war. 

Civilians face considerable risk in simply navigating their city. They must constantly determine whether a road is safe to cross, a store is safe to access for basic food, a hospital safe to enter with a desperately ill child.

Five years after this Council adopted Resolution 2286, the targeted and systematic destruction of health care and services and the killing and maiming of medical and humanitarian workers shamefully continues. It continues in Ethiopia, it continues in Myanmar, it continues in Syria – in too many conflicts.

Mr President,

Urban conflict exacerbates the specific vulnerabilities of children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

Chilling reports from medical and humanitarian agencies stress the deep psychological trauma airstrikes inflict on children. In restricting access to education, urban conflict also severely stifles children’s development. Those who have fled urban conflicts have shared harrowing testimonies, including being forced to leave behind an older relative, or a person with disabilities, in the hope of leading others to safety. Choices no one should have to make. Those displaced face further challenges, often with no prospects of returning to their homes or their families.

Urban conflict also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, including the risk of gender-based violence in humanitarian settings.

Mr President,

Ireland is gravely concerned by the devastating impact of the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. According to the Secretary General’s report, almost 90% of those killed and injured by the use of EWIPA are civilians. Moreover, explosive remnants continue to kill and maim long after the conflict is over.

Ireland believes more can and should be done to reverse the pattern of humanitarian harm from EWIPA and strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law. We are proud to be chairing international efforts in Geneva to agree a Political Declaration on EWIPA.  We are determined to deliver a meaningful Political Declaration that improves the protection of civilians during armed conflict and leads to change in policy and in practice. 

Mr President,

The protection of civilians plays a major role in UN peacekeeping operations and is a key pillar of many peacekeeping mandates.

Ireland was proud to ensure that the protection of civilians was central to resolution 2594, which the Council adopted unanimously during our September Presidency. We know risks to civilians are heightened during transitions. It is imperative that planning for their protection is a focus of any mission reconfiguration.

In conclusion, Mr President, I would like to reinforce two points that should guide the work of this Council.

First, international humanitarian law must be respected by parties to all conflicts, including in urban settings.

And finally, we know that without accountability we are condemned to repeat our mistakes.  It is essential that those responsible for violating international humanitarian law are held accountable. Countering impunity is essential to preventing future violations. The international community, importantly this Council, needs to do better.

Thank you, Mr President.

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