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EU Statement – UN Security Council: War in Cities

New York

25 January 2022, New York - European Union Statement delivered by H.E. Ambassador Olof Skoog, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations, at the Security Council Open Debate on War in Cities: Protection of civilians in urban settings, under the agenda item: Protection of civilians in armed conflict

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Thank you to Norway for convening this important debate. I am pleased to address the Council on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries Turkey, the Republic of North Macedonia,* Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.

As many densely populated cities have become the primary battleground for armed conflicts, protecting civilians in the face of urban warfare remains a critical challenge. The humanitarian consequences of hostilities in urban areas are direct and indirect; immediate and long-term; invisible and visible. On numerous occasions, the Security Council has addressed the protection of civilians, as well as the infrastructure and essential services necessary for their survival, including the protection of education. Yet, the situation on the ground remains deeply worrying.

Against this backdrop, the European Union welcomes this discussion about the ways in which contemporary urban conflicts are fought, the devastating humanitarian consequences they cause, and the actions needed to improve the protection of civilians.

The responsibility of protecting civilians is, first and foremost, on those fighting wars in cities. In this respect, the EU calls on parties to conflicts to ensure that they comply with IHL, with due respect to the specific challenges that urban contexts pose to civilians and civilian infrastructure. The EU is also deeply concerned about the challenges associated with the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, including near hospitals, schools or universities, or along routes to or from them, and their impact on civilians. In this regard, we thank Ireland for the transparent and inclusive consultation process on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare, aimed at developing a political declaration to address humanitarian harm.

The international community also must take a more outspoken stance in calling on all parties to armed conflict to respect IHL, including by condemning violations of IHL, finding political and practical solutions to protect civilians and objects that are vital for civilian populations, guaranteeing services are maintained or restored, ending the military use of schools when unlawful, and ensuring accountability for all violations of IHL and human rights abuses, in order to ensure justice for victims.

The Security Council must do more to play a leading role in protecting civilians in situations of urban warfare. Specific statements by the Council noting the particular concerns of urban warfare, including recognising the differential impact of urban armed conflict on women and girls, can be helpful in bringing this issue to the forefront of the UN agenda. We note with appreciation the Secretary-General’s annual reports on the protection of civilians. It is also necessary to adequately monitor the implementation of thematic Security Council resolutions related to the protection of civilians, such as 2286 on protection of health care workers, 2475 on persons with disabilities, 2417 on hunger and conflict, and 2601 (2021) on the protection of education in conflict.

In line with the EU’s strong commitment to IHL, we will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to promote compliance with the laws of armed conflict, including the protection of education from attack. This will also be a key theme at the upcoming European Humanitarian Forum. As a humanitarian donor, the EU is committed to supporting humanitarian actors during the active conflict phase, addressing the critical needs of the populations, undertaking light rehabilitation of key infrastructure such as water stations and networks, hospitals or schools, and ensuring at least minimal services. It is also necessary to create space for humanitarian workers to operate during conflicts.

Authorities, donors, humanitarian and development actors must also play a key role in better preparing and responding to the long-term impact of protracted conflict in urban settings, by investing in the sustainability and resilience of infrastructures, as soon as the opportunity arises. In this respect, strengthening the humanitarian, development, and peace nexus can enhance a holistic approach to address urban warfare. Among other actions, development agencies could provide a wealth of information on urban services and technical guidance to humanitarian actors at the outset of an emergency, and humanitarian actors could actively strive to work together with development actors during the early recovery phase, including by clearing explosive remnants of war.

Given the increasing scale of urban warfare, we all need to redouble our efforts to protect civilians and the infrastructure necessary for their survival.


* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.