Statement delivered by Italy at the Security Council VTC Open Debate on Protection of civilians in armed conflicts —
I would like to thank the Estonian Presidency for organizing this annual Open Debate. Italy aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union and to the one made by Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians.
This debate comes at a really challenging time for the protection of civilians. Several conflicts are currently raging throughout the world, and violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law have been widespread last year. As pointed out by the Secretary-General in this year’s report, civilians continue to account for the vast majority of casualties in armed conflicts, including as a consequence of targeted attacks, and are disproportionately affected by gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws. Furthermore, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the suffering of people living in conflict settings. The most vulnerable, who account for many of the civilians adversely affected by armed conflict, are also more exposed to the effects of the pandemic.
Hence, it is crucial to ensure unimpeded, fast, and safe access to people in need, in order to provide them with adequate medical assistance and to ensure the effective delivery of humanitarian aid. In this view, Italy supports the Call of the UN Secretary-General for a Global Ceasefire, which invited the conflict parties to lay down their weapons and to comply with their obligations deriving from the international humanitarian law. We commend the launch of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan by the Secretary-General, which will contribute to addressing the risks and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable people in Countries affected by humanitarian crises.
Italy is really concerned by the ever-growing number of deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law, resulting in attacks against humanitarian and medical personnel and facilities, which are especially heinous in the context of the pandemic; the arbitrary denial of humanitarian access; attacks against schools; use of starvation as a method of war; genocide; sexual and gender-based violence. We strongly condemn that sexual and gender-based violence continues to be widely employed as a tactic of war. It is imperative to ensure the respect for International Humanitarian Law, in all circumstances, in international and non-international armed conflicts, as contemporary warfare poses new significant challenges. Parties to armed conflicts continue to bear the primary obligation to respect the right of civilians and to meet their needs, guaranteeing that the principles set by the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols are fully respected. In this regard, the national implementation of International Humanitarian Law remains key. Italy commends the First Resolution adopted by the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (“Bringing IHL home”) and will continue to work with determination, also in collaboration with the International Red Cross Committee, to disseminate IHL knowledge and to promote respect for IHL, which remains as relevant today as ever before.
The most effective way to ensure the full implementation of the Protection of Civilians Agenda is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation, and recurrence of armed conflicts, thus avoiding the occurrence of human rights violations and atrocity crimes. We believe that conflict prevention and the peaceful settlement of disputes must be a political priority of each Member State and the United Nations, and we have always underlined the need to focus more on mediation and peace-building. At the same time, when political dialogue does not pay off and conflict occurs, it is crucial to ensure the protection of civilians on the ground.
Peacekeeping operations can play a key role in this regard, in particular when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable segments of the population, through their engagement with national authorities, security and military forces, and capacity building activities. We should enhance our efforts in strengthening the PKOs impact on PoC, fulfilling the commitments we took in the framework of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, which provides a comprehensive and whole-of-mission approach to the protection of civilians. In this view, we consider that peacekeepers should be adequately trained and equipped in order to fully implement their protection of civilians’ mandate and we commend the launch of the updated ”Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping Handbook’’.
Promoting stronger accountability for serious International humanitarian law and human rights law violations is another staple of the protection of civilians. In the past, the Security Council has taken significant steps to enhance accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. However, Member States have the primary responsibility to promote and ensure accountability and should take concrete, credible and practical actions to this end.
We must fight against impunity for the most serious international crimes, and to continue supporting international justice and accountability mechanisms. It is paramount to conduct credible investigation and prosecution wherever and whenever international crimes occur, in order to prevent the recurrence of these violations and to provide justice to victims, who must be at the center of our efforts.
Italy has traditionally been at the forefront in the efforts to ensure the protection of civilians in armed conflict: during our mandate on the United Nations Security Council, in 2017, we promoted the systematic inclusion of provisions on the protection of civilians in the mandates of peacekeeping operations, where necessary, and we tabled Resolution 2382 (2017) on an enhanced role of Police components in peacekeeping operations, in order to step up the protection of civilians.
We are committed to protecting and promoting international humanitarian law and implementing the principle of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in situations of armed conflict. In this perspective, Italy ensures its firm support to international justice and accountability mechanisms, including the work and independence of the International Criminal Court as an important actor in the global fight against impunity, and urges all UN Member States to do the same.
Moreover, Italy shares the deep concern of the international community on the extremely serious humanitarian impact of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Such impacts are extensive and include both direct damage, in the form of death and injury, and indirect and long-term effects relating to the destruction of essential infrastructure, cultural heritage, loss of services, obstacles to humanitarian intervention, high costs of reconstruction and recovery; displacement and denial of return.
Italy considers that the legal framework applicable to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is clear and that the crux of the matter is to implement it in the changing dynamics of current conflicts. In particular, in the context of the increasing relevance of population-centric warfare, it becomes necessary for States and their armed forces to adapt their policies, doctrines, and military tactics to the challenges posed by conducting military operations in populated areas, so to properly take into account civilian vulnerabilities.
We, therefore, support the ongoing process to develop a political declaration aimed at strengthening the protection of civilians from risks arising the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It would be extremely important to reinforce the collective commitment to addressing civilian harm in urban warfare, reaffirming that the cardinal rules and principles of International Humanitarian Law must be complied with in all circumstances and by all parties of a conflict and promoting best practices and the highest standards of conduct.
In the context of the protection of civilians, we have to pay special attention to the most vulnerable.
First and foremost, it is a moral imperative to put an end to the worst forms of violations of the rights of the children during armed conflicts, which not only endanger their lives but also undermine the stability and welfare of societies as a whole, depriving the new generations of their fundamental right to hope for a future after the war. Italy presented an open pledge on the occasion of the 33rd Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to guarantee that children can live safely and enjoy their rights even in conflict situations. It is fundamental to guarantee that education is provided also in times of war, in the base of the principles set by the Safe Schools Declaration.
Our commitment to the issue encompasses not only political initiatives and programs but also specific Cooperation projects. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the two Optional Protocols to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child that we celebrate this year, Italy will continue to work with determination, in collaboration with Save the Children and the other relevant civil society organizations, to allow children to enjoy their childhood and to hope for a better future, even in time of war. We planned a high-level side-event to the last session of Commission on the Status of Women on violence against girl children in armed conflicts and the role of the international criminal justice, in particular the International Criminal Court, that couldn’t take place due to the COVID 19 emergency and will be rescheduled as soon as possible.
Italy has long been supporting a policy of zero-tolerance against sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers and civilian personnel. We are a committed member of the Circle of Leadership to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse, and we have signed the related voluntary pact. We are also very proud to be the main contributor to the UN Trust Fund to support the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Finally, to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, we call for the full implementation of the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, and we co-sponsored Resolution 2475 (2019) on disabled persons and armed conflicts.
To conclude, in order to strengthen the protection of civilians on the ground, which is a cornerstone of the activity of the Security Council and a fundamental duty and responsibility of the international community as a whole, we must keep the Protection of Civilians high on the agenda of the Security Council as the spread of the pandemic has further highlighted.