Statement by DPR Kristel Lõuk at UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Thank you, Mr President.

We thank the US for hosting today’s debate and the briefers for their presentations. Estonia aligns itself with the statement made by the European Union.

Mr President,

Protection of civilians is an essential part of the Council’s agenda. With an overwhelming majority of harm caused by conflicts borne by civilians, we cannot address the maintenance of international peace and security without a strong focus on their protection in every conflict.

The Secretary-General’s report, yet again, reflects an enormous gap between the parties’ obligations under international law and the reality in situations of conflict around the world. Estonia reiterates its call for compliance with international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law. We underline that the existing international law also applies in cyber space.

With tens of thousands of civilians in need of assistance, we find the consistent and increasing attacks against those who strive to help them – humanitarian and healthcare workers – abhorrent. Hundreds of health-care workers killed and facilities damaged in 2021 – a number which will increase exponentially this year due to the attacks conducted systematically and ruthlessly by Russia in Ukraine. Scores of humanitarian workers killed, wounded or kidnapped, 95% of them national staff – most notably in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Syria. The civilian toll continues to include dozens of killed and injured journalists, whose work adds to the information and awareness of the impact of conflict.

We welcome the focus of today’s debate on ways to ensure better humanitarian access. We note with concern the various emerging challenges outlined by the Secretary-General, including restrictions on the activities of female humanitarian personnel who are essential in reaching those most vulnerable; the fragmentation of armed groups; and difficulties for humanitarian engagement as a result of the growing number of private military and security contractors, including in CAR. We also note the increasing risk borne by local humanitarian workers due to the increased risks associated with humanitarian operations.

Denial of humanitarian access is a violation of international law. Increased and consistent Council scrutiny, enhanced data collection, monitoring and reporting, and ensuring accountability for violations are key tools to counter the obstacles to humanitarian access. Estonia underlines and continues to focus on the contribution of digital technologies to identifying and assessing humanitarian needs. However, we take note of the SG’s emphasis on the need to adopt strategies to address their malicious use undermining humanitarian action.

Mr President,

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has been carried out with cynical indifference towards the protection of civilians. It has been characterised by violations of international law, amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity; targeted systematic violence against the most vulnerable, including women and children; and extensive shelling and sieges of living cities. It has led to millions being displaced; thousands deported, disappeared, tortured or subjected to sexual violence. It has also been characterised by massive disinformation, also here at the Council, about the Russian actions towards the civilians in Ukraine and their inhuman intent, as well as cynical and surreal attempts by Russia to claim that its actions fit under international law.

Estonia has continued to emphasise the importance of accountability for all violations of international law through national, regional, international and hybrid mechanisms. This includes the investigation and full accountability for the Russian crimes in Ukraine. We commend the tireless efforts of the humanitarian organisations, in particular local organisations as well as the UN and ICRC in working to ensure humanitarian access and deliver assistance to the people in dire need. We underline the need for safe and unhindered humanitarian access throughout Ukraine.

Mr President,

The Security Council needs to step up its action to protect civilians everywhere, including through showing political will and providing adequate protection capacity for its peacekeeping and political missions. Otherwise it continues to fall short of the aims set for its role in the UN Charter.

Thank you.