Italy and the UN on protecting civilian infrastructure during conflict

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NEW YORK, APRIL 27 – Ensuring warring parties respect international humanitarian law is the first step towards protecting civilians and critical infrastructure during conflict, the UN’s top aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday. Humanitarian Affairs chief Mark Lowcock briefed ambassadors who met virtually to examine how attacks on sites such as hospitals and water systems affect people during wartime, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency.

“The world does have a robust legal framework governing parties’ behaviour in war. We have a growing body of good practice to put it into motion.  What we need now is the political will from Member States and all parties to armed conflict to respect the rules and do the right thing,” he said.

“Protecting foodstuffs as well as infrastructures necessary for food production and supply and water distribution is crucial for the overall protection of civilians and, therefore, also for maintaining international peace and security.

Italy is proud to be part to all of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols on International Humanitarian Law and to be among the co-sponsors of Resolution 2417 of 2018, which recognizes the link between hunger and conflict and condemns the use of hunger as a means of conflict”, an Italian representative stated during the meeting.

Italy observed that since the adoption of the two Additional Protocols more than 40 years ago, the International Humanitarian Law has evolved significantly. As pointed out in the latest Secretary General’s Report on the Protection of Civilians, the contemporary notion of essential infrastructures includes also hospitals and schools.

Notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 2286 of 2016 on the protection of medical personnel and facilities in armed conflicts, which Italy co-sponsored, in too many cases we continue to witness attacks on hospitals and frontline doctors, which is the more unacceptable in the current pandemic scenario.

Italy is also among the States that have subscribed the 2015 “Safe Schools Declaration” for the protection of education from attack and is a strong advocate of its implementation: “We are also willing to do our part in helping to build resilient societies, as we are aware of the crucial role of education in situation of emergency. Consistently, several humanitarian aid initiatives supported by the Italian Cooperation in areas of crisis are dedicated to the education sector”, the Italian delegate said.

Addressing the Council, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, highlighted the need for greater respect of international humanitarian law and adoption of an “avoidance policy” on the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

Mr. Maurer stressed that healthcare and “interconnected services”, such as water, sanitation and electricity, must also be protected to ward against public health risks.

“Frequently we see infectious diseases, such as cholera epidemics, rip through communities where water and sanitation infrastructure have been destroyed during fighting. Preventable diseases are costing too many lives, including as epidemics spread beyond the borders of war zones”, he said. (@OnuItalia)