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Statement by Foreign Secretary at the UN Security Council Briefing on Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Preserving humanitarian Space

July 16, 2021

Mr. President,

I would like to begin by thanking the delegation of France for taking the initiative to organize this meeting on an important issue. France has been a key advocate for the protection of the humanitarian space and this timely initiative deserves appreciation.*

2. I thank Ms. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Mr. Robert Mardini, Director General, International Committee of the Red Cross for their comprehensive briefings. I thank Madam Lucile Grosjean of ‘Action Contre la Faim’ for sharing her insights. I would also like to welcome the presence of the Foreign Ministers of Kenya, Mexico and Tunisia at today’s meeting.

3. The world today is engulfed in a range of humanitarian crises. Most of these are caused by armed conflicts that severely impact the lives of millions of innocent civilians. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this situation.

4. While international humanitarian law, as we see it today, has its genesis in the recent past, civilizations and cultures throughout history have developed rules of warfare for the protection of non-combatants and civilian populations.

5. The humanitarian law principles found their existence in India long before modern humanitarian jurisprudence evolved. India has followed the path of ‘Dharma’ or ‘righteous conduct’ and provided refuge to persecuted people over centuries. The Dharma-based norms for armed conflict in ancient India were founded on the principle of humanity and humanitarian norms and had many rules protecting civilians during conflict. High importance was attached to distinguishing combatants and non-combatants during armed conflicts. In a "Dharma-yuddha” or ‘Righteous War”, civilians were not attacked. On the contrary, they had to be protected.

6. In this regard, we condemn the killing of Indian Photo Journalist Danish Siddiqui while he was on a reporting assignment in Kandahar in Afghanistan yesterday. I extend our sincerest condolences to his bereaved family.

Mr. President,

7. The complex nature of humanitarian situations around the world today demands urgent attention of the Council.

8. We believe that the primary responsibility for providing protection and assistance in a humanitarian crisis lies with the concerned country and its national government. However, international humanitarian assistance, when provided, must be given impartially, in accordance with the guiding principles outlined in General Assembly resolution 46/182 and other relevant resolutions. India remains committed to preserving the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence in responding to all humanitarian situations. Being party to all the four Geneva Conventions, India's legal framework is fully aligned with supporting the principles of international humanitarian law and its implementation.

9. We also believe that respect for the principles of the UN Charter, including sovereignty, political independence and the territorial integrity of Member States, should remain the basis for all humanitarian actions taken by the Council. The Council must avoid politicization of humanitarian work and of humanitarian actors involved in conflict. Humanitarian action should not be used as a ploy to undermine the territorial integrity of States. Too often we have seen humanitarian assistance being linked to coercive measures by external players in order to force outcomes desired by them. Such actions run the risk of being counter-productive to achieving a resolution of the conflict itself and could further shrink the necessary space for much needed humanitarian action or assistance.

Mr. President,

10. Violence against humanitarian workers in situations of armed conflict remains a matter of serious concern. I extend condolences to the families of the 99 humanitarian workers who were reported to be killed over the last year. We strongly condemn attacks against humanitarian personnel. Member States must take all measures to implement Security Council resolutions 2175 (2014) and 2286 (2016) to ensure the protection of humanitarian personnel and actors.

11. Ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law remains one of the key challenges before us. States must accord high priority to addressing this issue. We must assist national authorities in developing capabilities and capacities to strengthen their national legal frameworks and related structures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

12. Terrorism further compounds the twin problems of violence against humanitarian personnel and lack of accountability. Access to new and emerging technologies has enhanced the capacities of terrorist groups to obstruct humanitarian action, including safe and unhindered access for medical and humanitarian agencies. There needs to be zero tolerance for terrorism.

13. Sanctioning individuals and entities perpetrating serious violations of international humanitarian law, especially attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel, is an effective tool for the Council to check and cease violations. We, however, do believe, however, that such measures should have wider regional and international support, in the absence of which, there may be further deterioration of the humanitarian crisis and shrinking of the humanitarian space. For example, in the context of Syria, both the UN Secretary General and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have repeatedly spoken about the worsening impact of such measures on humanitarian operations on the ground.

Mr. President,

14. To conclude, we call upon all States to respect and adhere to the UN Charter, international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. This alone will prevent any further shrinkage of the humanitarian space. India remains committed to working with the international community to address global humanitarian challenges in an effective and comprehensive manner.

I thank you, Mr President.*

*(Delivered in French; Approximate Translation)

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