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    HomeNewsICRC president: "People caught in armed conflict need actions, not words"

    ICRC president: “People caught in armed conflict need actions, not words”

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    Mr President,

    Thank you for inviting me to address the Council on this important topic.

    In 1999, when former ICRC President Cornelio Sommaruga briefed this body, he spoke of 20 active conflicts. Today, there are more than 120 conflicts recorded by my organisation.

    Over the past 25 years, and despite the many resolutions adopted by this Council, civilians have been attacked, displaced, violated, wounded or killed by most reprehensible means.

    In parallel, there are more and more conflicts where humanitarian action is prevented. Neutral and impartial providers of humanitarian assistance and protection, such as the ICRC, are regularly pressured in the pursuit of political or military objectives.

    What are the means to reverse some of these most devastating trends?

    The Geneva Conventions represent the strongest universal consensus on the need to preserve humanity in war. They are key to maintaining a pathway to peace and stability. The principles enshrined in this fundamental legal framework are independent of culture, religion, or social status. They constitute a common denominator, a shared understanding that humanity is non-derogable and characterized by the equal worth of all human beings.

    Mr President,

    Today I want to bring to this Council’s attention two issues which are often critical to building trust among warring parties:

    • The protection of persons deprived of liberty and those who are at risk of going missing.
    • And secondly, compliance with international humanitarian law.

    First, States must take concrete action to protect all people affected by armed conflicts

    Through the Geneva Conventions, States have given the ICRC a unique mandate and specific working modalities that enable it to play an effective monitoring role focused on ensuring that persons detained are treated humanely.

    Through ICRC’s visits with clearly defined modalities, and through confidential bilateral dialogue with detaining authorities, we can bring a critical layer of protection in places of detention.

    However, we remain deeply concerned by the fact that the dehumanization of persons deprived of liberty is so prevalent.

    Many continue to be subjected to inhumane treatment and torture, poor detention conditions, having their contact with loved ones cut off or being used as political bargaining chips.

    When I see our humanitarian access being challenged, our working modalities questioned, and when I read accounts of ill-treatment and torture, I must re-assert the ICRC’s special role and experience to support States to respect the law and preserve humanity in places of detention.

    And I urgently call on parties to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to treat all persons detained humanely, and to allow for our principled work.

    Closely linked to the question of detention is the risk for persons going missing.

    When people are detained without being registered and prevented from communicating with their families, administrative or enforced disappearances are likely to increase.

    Large numbers of people are at great risk of disappearing:

    1. as human remains are left in the rubble or abandoned on the battlefield;
    2. as they are buried in mass graves or left in overcrowded morgues not identified and documented;
    3. as they are taken hostage and used as bargaining chips.

    I urge the Security Council to recall parties to uphold international humanitarian law and resolution 2474 to prevent people from going missing in the first place, and to clarify the fates of those who have.

    Amidst hostilities and as integral part of any plan for reconstruction, States must make certain that human remains are recovered, identified, and returned to their families in a timely and dignified manner.

    They must ensure that persons detained are systematically accounted for and their families informed.

    Second, States must interpret and apply international humanitarian law in a way that genuinely strengthens the protection of civilians on the ground

    International humanitarian law is being treated with increased elasticity, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that govern the conduct of hostilities.

    This creates a dangerous inconsistency:

    1. when civilian lives are stripped of their worth,
    2. when important norms that protect civilians are implicitly reduced to mere optional guidance,
    3. when there is no consideration for the cumulative harm caused to civilians by the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure,

    then, we lose the proper balance between the military necessity and the humanitarian imperative. Restraints in the conduct of hostilities – and ultimately humanity – disappear.

    International humanitarian law is not a tool to justify death, endless suffering, and devastation. IHL’s central purpose to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being even during wars – must be promoted, defended and upheld.

    Protecting people affected by armed conflict is first and foremost a matter of compliance with the law.

    This responsibility lies with political leaders and military strategists, because they have the power to decide on the trajectory of war.

    Compliance with the law requires resolute policy decisions to prioritize the protection of civilians and other protected persons during armed conflict.

    Security Council members, in their sovereign roles, in their partnerships and alliances, and as High Contracting Parties, have a special responsibility to interpret international humanitarian law in a way that genuinely strengthens the protection of civilians on the ground.

    This requires:

    • Taking deliberate action in cabinets, in ministries of defense, in training, in the battlefield, and in the public space.
    • Taking a hard look at the situation of civilians and set the protection of civilian lives and health as a central guiding objective in the conduct of hostilities.
    • Ensuring that in the inevitable political transactions that occur between parties, international humanitarian law and humanitarian considerations are not used as bargaining chips.

    States must collectively and individually use their influence to ensure that humanitarian space is respected, and humanitarian action is proactively enabled, that humanitarian access is granted, and humanitarian personnel protected at all times.

    Mr President,

    The way forward to any political agreement and long-term stability starts with humanitarian measures – such as the release of prisoners or the return of human remains.

    As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC can help implement these steps, to alleviate the suffering, and to build trust between all sides.

    For the Security Council, negotiating humanitarian access cannot be a substitute for the lack of political decision.

    Humanitarian relief is a lifeline for millions of civilians, but it will not provide the safety they have a right to and are constantly demanding.

    States must commit to full compliance with international humanitarian law and to a true collective responsibility for peace, that translate into concrete and positive impacts on the ground.

    People caught in armed conflict need actions, not words.

    I thank you.

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