Wherever there is war or armed conflict, civilians are always caught in the crossfire: UK statement to UN Security Council

Thank you very much, Madam President, and thank you again for bringing us together today on this crucial issue. And, we are very grateful to our rapporteurs – it was very good to hear their views on the really practical and impactful steps that this Council, but also other Member States, should take if we are to protect civilians and the humanitarians.

As I think Mr. Miliband said, it is not a question of taking new initiatives, but of the determination to ensure the application and the realization of existing commitments. Because wherever there is war or armed conflict, civilians are always caught in the crossfire.

2022 has been another devastating year for civilians in conflict, including in Myanmar, Syria and Ukraine, and, as we heard again today, the number of displaced has surpassed 100 million, a desperate threshold.

In Ukraine, Russia targets civilian infrastructure and attacks civilians indiscriminately. No one can escape this fact.

In Myanmar, aid workers are murdered along with the women and children they help. And we heard today of the IRC aid workers being attacked in the DRC, and our thoughts are with the victims – but they need more than our thoughts.

In many conflicts, access to aid is weaponized as a military strategy, increasing the human cost of war.

And we have also seen parties to conflict treat with growing disregard international rules and humanitarian law aimed at protecting civilians in conflict.

Just last month, this Council discussed ways to help prevent the scale of conflict-related sexual violence around the world.

And, if I may say to Mrs Boketa, although she is not seated, I was really struck by the very practical response that her organization provides, and by the incredible stories of Solange and Cinama, but we owe them our part to negotiate as they strive to improve their own situation.

Action can also be supported in other ways by us as states, and I want to talk about three ways we can do that today:

The first is that States can do more in terms of prevention by integrating civil protections into their own national legislation and operations.

This includes putting in place appropriate legislation and institutional arrangements to comprehensively address violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, and to hold accountable those who commit such violations and abuses. .

And that’s the really important point – we can’t overestimate the deterrent power, or the cost of impunity.

The UK continues to produce voluntary reports on its own national implementation of international humanitarian law, and we encourage others to do the same to establish this pattern of behaviour.

With the help of the British Red Cross, we offer support to other states to produce their own reports to help identify best practice, identify gaps in national legislation and ultimately to improve compliance.

The second area where we can act is that as members of this Council, as many of our speakers have said this morning, we can better use the tools we already have to identify and deal with threats against civilians.

This includes the tools established in resolutions 2286, 2417, and 2573. They are designed to give us timely, evidence-based warnings when parties to conflict block access, destroy vital civilian property, or use starvation as a method of war.

As Mr. Miliband said, they should not be allowed to gather dust, and we should all think about that.

And once the threats are identified, we must be ready to act. This Council must make decisions that advance humanitarian access and, once again, we call on the entire Council to renew and expand Resolution 2585, granting UN cross-border access to millions of Syrians.

And the third and final point is that we need to do more to protect those who help civilians in some of the world’s most risky environments, including by addressing, as we heard again today, the dangerous spread of false information and misinformation about the work of humanitarian organizations. This endangers the lives of humanitarian actors and vulnerable civilians.

And indeed, when it comes to disinformation, I fear that we have experts in this dangerous technique within this same Council. The Russians, today, have followed their reduced and blatant nonsense about biological labs in Ukraine with more attempts to obfuscate and distract us with more revisionist accounts of what happened at Bucha.

As far as the Russian delegation is concerned, fiction is stranger than truth. But, such attempts at distraction cannot hide the blood of civilians on their hands, forged day after day during this illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Frankly, it is remarkable that they have the nerve to speak out on this agenda item. And it’s no surprise that they didn’t address the real issues.

Madam President, this Council has passed numerous resolutions calling for accountability for attacks on humanitarian workers and civilians. We must translate these words into deeds and ensure that those responsible for these attacks are held accountable.

But the reality is that time and time again, Members — particularly some Permanent Members of this Council — block our attempts to protect civilians. They often use spurious arguments, intended to obscure their true motives of self-interest, and when they do, they deny the true purpose of this Council: to save civilians from the horrors of war.

And sometimes the record of certain States in our work does not match the rhetoric that they themselves hold in this room, and we should reflect on that as well.

For its part, the UK will continue to use our headquarters here to do the opposite – to support those delivering relief and to use the tools at our disposal to take action to prevent conflict before it starts and help civilians and humanitarians caught there.

Thank you, Madam President.

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