United Nations Security Council Arria-formula meeting on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Ms Eva-Maria Liimets at UN Security Council Open Debate on Protection of civilians in armed conflict

I extend warm greetings to you and to the people of Vietnam. I welcome Their Excellencies, Mr Lowcock, Maurer and Rudd to the meeting. I thank you for the insightful briefings.

We welcome today’s topic of discussion. Estonia has placed rules based international order, compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law at the centre of its work here in the Security Council.

First of all, it is important to remind that it is the primary responsibility of States to ensure the protection of their population. This includes protection afforded under international humanitarian law to objects essential to the survival of the civilian population such as food, water and medical supplies.

In the work of this Council, unfortunately we are reminded time and time again that the normative framework for the protection of civilians is too often not held up in real life – we keep learning about cases of non-compliance.

The pandemic also adds a new layer of risks. I reiterate Estonia’s support to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire during the COVID pandemic, and to resolution 2565 that we unanimously adopted in February.

Civilians, including the most vulnerable – women, children and adolescents, continue to be disproportionately affected by conflict.

I recall the situation in Ukraine with 1.5 million IDPs forced to leave their homes, in Sudan there are 2 million and in Syria 6.2 million IDPs. The return and re-settlement of displaced communities is often hindered by the destruction of essential objects and disruption of essential services.

Although the Security Council has condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, more needs to be done to help people on the ground.

The conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia has forced 1.7 million people to leave their homes in search of protection and food. Considering the ongoing fighting it will be impossible to plant seeds for the next season. This will make the food security situation in a longer term even more dire.

In Afghanistan, almost half of the children under 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, driven by poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, and exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. By March this year, 17 million people were at the highest levels of food insecurity – the second worse situation of this kind in the world.

We are not doing enough.


Mr President,

On an international level, due attention also needs to be paid to new elements: the increasing urbanization of armed conflicts, as well as climate change and environmental consequences of armed conflict. New technologies can help to find ways to improve humanitarian assistance.

At the same time, we keep seeing malicious cyber activities targeting critical civilian infrastructure, including in electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare.

As we have said also in this Council before, existing international law also applies in cyber space. Obligations deriving from international humanitarian law set boundaries to States’ activities in conflict and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. Law acts to constrain, not facilitate conflict.

In building back better after the pandemic, it will be crucial to strengthen the resilience of both indispensable objects and essential services, including through cyber capacity building. I am confident that cyber security needs to be part of both conflict prevention and resolution.


Mr President,

The urgent action we must take is two-fold.

Firstly, States must strengthen their capacity to protect the civilian victims of war more effectively. National and UN staff need to be trained in international humanitarian law. There is proof that this leads to clearly positive results.

Secondly, we have to make sure that no one is above the law. No perpetrator should escape justice. It is the responsibility of States to exercise criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes and to have relevant national legislation in place.

Where the responsibility of states fails, the international community and this Council steps in. The Council needs to fulfil its mandate to stop atrocities and restore justice. The inaction of the Council in situations where atrocities are committed speaks loudly. I urge the Security Council to make use of referrals to the International Criminal Court, if called for.


Mr President,

Finally, let me assure you that Estonia will remain committed to the protection of civilians through steps at national, regional and international levels, including here in the Council. I wish you every success in raising awareness, through this debate on the crucial need for protection of civilians and essential objects in conflict.

Thank you.