Statement by Ambassador Byrne Nason at UNSC Debate on Protection of Civilians
Statement25 May 2021
Thank you, Mr President,
I thank China for organising today’s debate on this important topic. I also thank Mark Lowcock, Peter Maurer and Dr. Orzala Nemat for sharing their comprehensive and concerning briefings.
The Secretary General’s report sets out in stark terms the urgency of continued attention by the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It describes a year of widespread use of force against civilians, as well as violations of international human rights violations, refugee and international humanitarian law.
A year where conflict, COVID-19, environmental degradation and climate risks converged with devastating consequences by any standard a bad year.
Regrettably, five years from the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2286, deplorable attacks on medical facilities and personnel continue. As we have heard, today these attacks have a devastating impact on local populations who are deprived access to fragile health systems in the midst of a global health pandemic. Persons with disabilities face even greater barriers in accessing medical care and protection in conflict. Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, who are overwhelmingly women and girls, are deprived of treatment and support just when it is most critically needed.
Already this year, attacks on health facilities in Aleppo, Gaza and Tigray have left the most vulnerable people without access to critical care. Grave violations against children continue to be committed with impunity with thousands of children killed, maimed or forcibly recruited, including in Afghanistan, Somalia and Myanmar. We really must ensure compliance and respect for international humanitarian law and continue to strengthen accountability for all violations.
Ireland remains gravely concerned at the devastating impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The Secretary General has consistently highlighted that civilians account for almost 90% of those killed and injured by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; exacting a horrific toll on vulnerable communities and persisting long after the conflict has ended. The manner in which explosive weapons are used in populated areas has severe short and long-term effects, including widespread loss of life; physical and psychological injuries; and long-lasting damage to critical civilian infrastructure.
Ireland shares the Secretary General’s view that we must do more to reverse this pattern. That is why Ireland is leading consultations in Geneva on a Political Declaration on EWIPA. Despite the pandemic, good progress has been made and, with the support of the international community, we are determined to finalise a Political Declaration that will result in lasting change.
UN peacekeeping operations play a major role in the protection of civilians, including in the area of prevention. However, we also know that transitions from peacekeeping missions often occur when political stability is fragile or peace processes remain tenuous. As peacekeeping missions prepare to transition, this Council must ensure that the process places the needs of civilians at its core and that measures are in place to protect conflict-affected civilians from new or persistent risks of harm.
For most of us, protection of civilians, at its most basic, means ensuring the most vulnerable trapped in conflict are able to meet their fundamental needs, not least freedom from hunger.
Conflict, Mr President, is the number one driver of hunger worldwide.
This is something we know all too well in this Council where we are regularly briefed on the food crises directly flowing from conflict in places like DRC, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen. Too often, starvation is used as a weapon of war. By the end of last year, 99 million people - the majority of those 99 million people are women and girls - were suffering crisis levels of acute hunger due to conflict. Conflict leads directly to the destruction of crops and pastures and the defilement of wells and water sources. It results in displacement and the inability to maintain livelihoods. Indirectly, economic blockades, currency devaluations and unemployment exacerbate food insecurity.
The unanimous adoption of Resolution 2417 was a real testament to the Council’s unity on the need to counter conflict-induced hunger. Resolution 2417 gives us the tools we need to tackle the issue of conflict and hunger. What we need now is the collective political will to use them. While rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access is vital during an acute food crisis, the Council must look at early action to prevent severe food insecurity and famine, especially to safeguard child and maternal health. We know that early warning and early action is effective in preventing the onset of hunger.
Finally, Mr. President, I want to address the dreadful protection crisis unfolding in Tigray which is a matter of grave concern. Allegations of mass killings, horrific conflict-related sexual violence, destruction and looting, as well as abductions, forced displacement and forcible returns of refugees must be addressed by this Council.
As a direct result of the conflict, we now are hearing early warnings of famine in Tigray. And despite the large humanitarian operation in the region, the intentional denial of humanitarian access by all sides, the intentional protection violations by all sides, and worst of all, the intentional killing of medical and humanitarian staff is driving a catastrophic downward spiral that will lead to continued human suffering, malnutrition and quite conceivably famine.
We have seen the note prepared by Under Secretary General Lowcock, in line with resolution 2417. We are carefully examining it, including given our role as co-focal point with Niger on conflict and hunger.
Mr. President, the alarm bells are ringing. None of us here in this meeting can afford to ignore them.