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Joint Nordic Statement at SC high-level open debate on "War in Cities: protection of civilians in urban settings"

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Anna Karin Eneström on behalf of the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden) at the Security Council high-level open debate on “War in Cities: protection of civilians in urban settings”

Mr. President,

I am honoured to deliver this statement on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and my own country, Sweden.

We thank Norway for organising this important signature event. We welcome the remarks by the Secretary-General and by Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC.

Armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in urban areas with devastating consequences for civilians. We share the concern of the Secretary-General and call on all parties to armed conflicts to prevent civilian harm resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly weapons with wide-area effects. In addition to civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, the delivery of basic services, such as healthcare and education, is often disrupted. This increases the burden on the humanitarian system, which is already overstretched.

This is an increasingly pressing problem that deserves the full attention of the Security Council and adequate monitoring of the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions. The Council, and the international community as a whole, has a shared responsibility to fully uphold and respect international law, including international humanitarian law, and humanitarian principles.  We recall our joint obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, as enshrined in the common Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

The Nordic countries are strong defenders of a rules based international order with international law, including international humanitarian law, at its heart. We are key humanitarian donors, and actively engaged in conflict resolution around the globe.  We would like to put particular emphasis on three aspects of today’s debate.

First, we would like to highlight the importance of safeguarding objects indispensable to the survival of civilians. The fact that the risk of collateral damage is higher in urban settings is not an excuse in this regard, but a strong imperative for even more caution and prudence. We welcome in this context the landmark resolution 2573 on protection of civilian infrastructure in armed conflicts, adopted in 2021, and call on all parties to armed conflict to adhere to its provisions in full.

Second, the targeting of healthcare- and humanitarian personnel must end. International humanitarian law is clear: medical workers, facilities and transports must be protected. The wounded and sick must be cared for and spared. Attacks on medical care protected under international humanitarian law amount to war crimes and may further aggravate ongoing armed conflicts. They may also undermine the efforts of the Security Council to maintain international peace and security. We call in this context on all parties to armed conflict to comply with relevant international law, including Security Council Resolution 2286 on attacks on hospitals, adopted in 2016.

Third, the continuation of education in armed conflict is crucial for the protection – and future – of children and youth. We call in this context for the protection of education and implementation of Security Council resolution 2601.

There is no lack of international instruments to protect civilians in urban settings. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a lack of respect and compliance of both international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles.  We would in this context like to highlight the Guidance Document for Armed Forces on the Protection of Health Care in Armed Conflict by the ICRC which can provide practical examples of how to protect health care while carrying out military operations and hopefully inspire better implementation.

Accountability is necessary not only to ensure justice for victims of breaches of international humanitarian law, but also to prevent and deter future violations. We must ensure that accountability is an integral part of how we work to strengthen the compliance with and implementation of international humanitarian law. Last but not least, we would like to pay tribute to the brave humanitarian and health care workers who work to address the needs of people affected by warfare in urban settings, often at great personal risk. Needless to say, attacks, threats and intimidation against those brave men and women are unacceptable.

Thank you.

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