General Assembly Security Council

UNSC Open-Debate on 

“Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of Civilian Population”

[27 April 2021]

 

Statement by Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti

Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations

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Mr. President,

 

        At the outset, let me begin by thanking the H.E. Foreign Minister of Vietnam and the Vietnamese delegation for organizing this Open Debate on this important issue. I also thank USG for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, ICRC President Peter Maurer and Hon’ble Kevin Rudd, Chair, Board of Directors, International Peace Institute, for their briefings. These briefings have been useful to understand the impact of destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of civilian population in situations of armed conflict. India also appreciates Vietnam for successfully steering the resolution on this subject.

 

2. The primary responsibility of meeting the protection needs of populations, including the maintenance of essential services, rests with national Governments. However, over decades of practice and shaped by the searing experience of destructive wars, we now have a set of international principles and jurisprudence which places equal responsibility on the aggressor to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are not targeted in armed conflicts.

 

3. History has shown us that the killings of civilians and devastation of civilian infrastructure have been used as legitimate weapons of war, especially during the two World Wars. Apart from the death and destruction caused, we recall the Marshall Plan, which supported Europe’s reconstruction efforts to bring a semblance of normalcy in people’s lives.  Out of all this sprung, not just the United Nations itself, but a vast array of international jurisprudence on the responsibility of those launching wars and military attacks to fully insulate and protect innocent civilian population and infrastructure indispensable to survival from their attacks.

 

4. However, it is a matter of concern that armed conflicts till this day seem to consider civilian population and civilian infrastructure almost as legitimate targets resulting in maiming and killing of thousands and rendering millions homeless.  The situation has only become worse with the civilian population and indispensable civilian infrastructure becoming easy targets of terrorist groups and non-state actors, especially those sponsored by State actors. Countries with rich history and cultural heritage like Syria and Afghanistan are facing serious threats of armed conflict today which have devastated not just the population, especially women and children but also indispensable civilian infrastructure and   historical sites.  There are other countries still reeling from past military actions carried out without due consideration for protecting civilian population and infrastructure.  Therefore, the issue of the protection of civilians and civilian objects in armed conflicts should be sought within the framework of applicable international law and in strict adherence to the principle of respect for sovereignty of states.

 

5. India strongly condemns the use of oppressive violence against innocent civilians and targeting of civilian objects in armed conflicts, regardless of who commits them.

 

6. In recent years, the civilians and critical civilian infrastructure in urban areas have become easy targets in armed conflict situations. Access to humanitarian assistance can be easily compromised, with the destruction of hospitals, attacks on medical transport and essential services in countries experiencing armed conflict. The cyber-attacks targeting civilian infrastructure, including health care have become common which have continued even during the pandemic.

 

7. It is a matter of serious concern that in situations of armed conflict, the well-established norms, such as respecting applicable international humanitarian law and relevant human rights law, protection of civilian objects and ensuring safe and unhindered access for medical and humanitarian agencies, are not being adhered to by the parties. This is more evident in armed conflicts, where parties are being backed by member states as proxies. This is a dangerous trend which must be addressed. We need to reflect on such situations if we are to lend a sense of realism into the debate on protection of civilian objects.

 

8. In armed conflict situations, UN peacekeepers are coming under increasing pressure to protect civilian objects. UN Missions and peacekeepers are not a panacea for all problems in conflict situations. The tendency of burdening peacekeepers with responsibilities which ought to primarily lie with the State, should stop. This disincentivizes the international community from paying greater attention to strengthen the national security forces so that they can take over this responsibility from the peacekeepers.  It is, therefore, important to provide carefully though-out mandates to peacekeepers in close consultations with troop contributing countries since protection of peacekeepers is as important as protection of civilians.  Without proper equipment, training and resources to meet the mandate’s objectives and clear accountability at all levels, the expectation from peacekeeping operations to protect civilian objects is unrealistic.

 

9. In post-conflict context, rehabilitation and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and restoration of essential services should be given high priority as it will facilitate socio-economic recovery and peace building. Due to significant costs associated with it, donor countries and UN agencies should provide financial and technical assistance for capacity building.

 

10. For our part, after the end of the armed conflict in 2009 in Sri Lanka, India assisted the Government of Sri Lanka in immediately restoring some of the most basic and essential civilian infrastructure.  India deployed 7 de-mining teams on an emergency basis which enabled the IDPs to return to their homes and livelihood.  India contributed extensively to rebuild basic essential infrastructure in northern Sri Lanka, including 46,000 houses for IDPs.  India’s development portfolio of more than USD 3 billion in Afghanistan is aimed at rebuilding capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and institutions. In addition to several infrastructure and community development projects, India constructed the India-Afghan Friendship Dam and is now taking up  construction of the Shatoot dam for providing safe drinking water to the two million residents of Kabul city.

 

Mr. President,

 

11. In conclusion, India stands ready to support efforts towards strengthening the normative architecture for protection of objects indispensable to civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance in armed conflict as part of a broader endeavor. Such a normative architecture should respect principles of sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, and unity of countries affected by armed conflicts.

 

I thank you.