Statement delivered by Italy at the Security Council Open Debate on the “Protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”. —
Italy would like to thank the Vietnamese Presidency for organizing this open debate and aligns itself with the statement of the European Union. We were also pleased to join the statement of Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts. At the same time, we would like to make some considerations in our national capacity.
The protection of indispensable objects to the survival of the civilian population was enshrined in the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, which refer to the prohibition of attacks towards objects that includes foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Protecting foodstuffs as well as infrastructures necessary for food production and supply and water distribution is indeed crucial for the overall protection of civilians and, therefore, also for maintaining international peace and security.
Italy is proud to be part to all of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols on International Humanitarian Law and to be among the co-sponsors of Resolution 2417 of 2018, which recognizes the link between hunger and conflict and condemns the use of hunger as a means of conflict.
At the same time, it must be observed that since the adoption of the two Additional Protocols, more than 40 years ago, the International Humanitarian Law has evolved significantly. As pointed out in the latest Secretary General’s Report on the Protection of Civilians, the contemporary notion of essential infrastructures includes also hospitals and schools.
Notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 2286 of 2016 on the protection of medical personnel and facilities in armed conflicts, which Italy co-sponsored, in too many cases we continue to witness attacks on hospitals and frontline doctors. This is all the more unacceptable in the current pandemic scenario, where health infrastructures are not only providers of primary health care services but also indispensable pillars of the vaccination campaign and irreplaceable tools to improve the resilience and preparedness of the national health systems. From this latter perspective, hospitals should be considered important factors in promoting a better recovery from the pandemic.
As the additional protocols provides only a non-exhaustive list, educational facilities also represent essential infrastructures. In humanitarian crises, millions of children are deprived of their access to schools, which are too often attacked or used for military purposes. UNICEF estimates that in emergency settings, education is the first service to be suspended and the last to be reactivated. Without access to education, children are more at risk of being victims of violence and abuses, including sexual violence, child labour, human trafficking and harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage. School dropout in crisis contexts is, in most cases, a direct consequence of war attacks against school facilities, military use of school buildings, or forced recruitment, use or abduction of children, mainly in non-state armed groups. This situation exposes children to disproportionately greater and prolonged suffering, which, if not adequately addressed, can undermine the human development of individuals and, consequently, the social and economic development of communities themselves. This seems particularly true in this period marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, as school closures and the limitations in accessing social and health services expose children to even greater risks of violations and abuses.
For all the reasons outlined above, Italy is among the States that have subscribed the 2015 “Safe Schools Declaration” for the protection of education from attack and is a strong advocate of its implementation. We are also willing to do our part in helping to build resilient societies, as we are aware of the crucial role of education in situation of emergency. Consistently, several humanitarian aid initiatives supported by the Italian Cooperation in areas of crisis are dedicated to the education sector.
From a humanitarian perspective, the protection of civilians in conflict areas is also pursued through mine action activities, such as: clearing territories of anti-personnel mines and other remnants of war; stockpile destruction; mine risk education; medical assistance to survivors and international advocacy activities. For this reason, Italy supports humanitarian demining activities in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. In that same spirit, Italy supports the draft of a political declaration aimed at protecting the civilian population from explosive weapons in densely populated areas.
The need to protect objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population is emblematic of the multifaceted nature of today’s security challenges. As our societies and economies become increasingly complex and interconnected, the growing interdependence of food production, water systems, power grids, hospitals and schools should be recognized and taken into account.
The Security Council should increase its attention to these crosscutting issues and support a comprehensive and preventive approach to address their potential impact on global security. For this reason, we welcome the adoption of today’s resolution, which Italy convincingly co-sponsored.
We stand ready to support an enhanced role of the United Nations in identifying best practices to protect these essential infrastructures and to raise awareness of the importance of an effective application of International Humanitarian Law.