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Consiglio di Sicurezza – Dibattito Aperto su “Protection of civilians in armed conflict: War in cities – protection of civilians in urban settings”

Discorso pronunciato dall’Ambasciatore Maurizio Massari, Rappresentante Permanente dell’Italia presso le Nazioni Unite, al Dibattito Aperto in Consiglio di Sicurezza su “Protection of civilians in armed conflict: War in cities – protection of civilians in urban settings” —

Madame President,

Italy aligns itself with the statements delivered by the European Union and by Switzerland on behalf of the Group of Friends for the Protection of Civilians.

We thank Norway for bringing to the attention of the Security Council the issue of the protection of civilians in urban warfare. We are also grateful for the interventions of the Secretary-General, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the civil society representatives.

This debate comes at a particularly challenging time for the protection of civilians, as several conflicts in urban settings are currently raging throughout the world. Civilians continue to account for the vast majority of casualties in armed conflicts and are widely affected by gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating this situation, as many of the affected civilians are also more exposed to the effects of the virus.

Wars in cities challenge the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law, with devastating consequences on civilian population and infrastructures, as well as on cultural heritage. War in urban settings has also triggered the creation of new warfare tactics, causing even more disruption and casualties among the civilian population.

During urban warfare, civilians have few possibilities to find a secure place to hide or live, while the existence of military objectives within densely populated urban areas makes it difficult for the combatants to respect IHL provisions. As cities grow and expand, armed conflicts tend to spill more and more into urban areas, making cities the battlefields of our time.

In this particularly worrisome context, it is key to make the protection of civilians a priority in the planning and conduct of military operations and to find ways to ensure the full respect of international humanitarian law, namely in the context of urban warfare, in line with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977.

The respect of international humanitarian law must be ensured at all times and in all circumstances, which includes the need to comply with the obligation to pursue accountability through all available international justice and ad hoc mechanisms. In this perspective, Italy reaffirms, in particular, its support for the work and the independent role of the International Criminal Court.

As stated in UNSC Resolution 2573, all parties to armed conflicts should distinguish between civilian population and objectives, on one hand, and combatants and military objectives, on the other.

Specific attention should be paid also to the continuity of key infrastructures and services, such as hospitals and schools. In this respect, Italy would like to reiterate its full support for the Safe Schools Declaration, stressing the vital importance to protect education from attack and to restrict the use of schools and universities for military purposes.

Italy also firmly condemns the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, which cause unbearable urban destruction and human suffering.

Last, but not least, all efforts must be put in place to safeguard humanitarian and aid workers, including in urban settings. It is not only a moral imperative, but also an obligation for the international community and, specifically, for the Security Council, to make sure that those who put their lives at risk in order to save other lives are adequately protected.

I thank you.