Statement by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Vershinin at an open VTC of UNSC members "Protection of civilians in armed conflict: indispensable civilian objects"
I thank you, Mr. President.
At the outset, let me express appreciation to Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam H.E. Mr. Bui Thanh Son for convening this Security Council debate on a truly pressing topic – ‘Protection of civilians in armed conflict: indispensable civilian objects’.
We are also thankful to the Vietnamese side for drafting a well-balanced thematic SC resolution. The document generally reflects the endorsed approaches of the international community to the issue under discussion today.
Protection of civilians in armed conflict is an inalienable component of the international humanitarian law (IHL). In particular, the provisions of the 1947 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols address this issue. A number of previously adopted UNSC resolutions also touch upon this aspect, including UNSC resolution 2417 on the protection of civilians.
We proceed from the understanding that any deliberate attacks on civilian population and indispensable facilities are unacceptable. Among such facilities, we can list food stocks, crops, livestock, drinking water and irrigation facilities and other elements of critical infrastructure. Let me stress that under the IHL, all sides to armed conflicts must differentiate between the civilian population and combatants, as well as between civil and military facilities. The international community needs to cooperate in order to restore the damaged infrastructure and provide timely assistance to conflict-affected countries. We believe the United Nations, alongside with other international and regional organizations plays an important role at this track. However, such assistance should only be rendered upon request of the affected state.
In this context, we specifically would like to highlight the state of affairs in Syria, which was already mentioned during this debate. The current situation in that country clearly illustrates that Syrians need urgent help with restoring the critical civil infrastructure, and comprehensive assistance, free from politicizing and preconditions.
Despite some relevant stability on the ground, the humanitarian situation in Syria has dangerously deteriorated against the backdrop of a prolonged conflict, economic crisis, coronavirus pandemic, and unilateral sanctions against Syrians imposed by the US and the EU. As per data provided by the humanitarian agencies operating on the ground in Syria, the production of energy has dropped by 70%, of drinking water – by 30-40%, the number of irrigation facilities has decreased by half as compared to the year 2011. Apparently, the outage of critical water and energy infrastructure would have devastating effects on millions of Syrians – from risks of epidemics and environmental disasters to another mass migration. To say nothing of constructing residential buildings, renovating schools and hospitals that are critical in terms of creating appropriate conditions for the return of refugees and IDPs.
The devastating effect of unilateral sanctions is worth making a separate point. They not only inflict a humanitarian disaster on ordinary Syrians, but deliberately provoke negative consequences for specialized agencies, obstructing financial transactions and import of medicines and spare parts to Syria. Here is a result – Syria that before the war used to manufacture the most part of medicines at home and export them to 23 countries now is almost completely dependent on external medical aid deliveries.
Anti-Syrian sanctions are getting worse even though the UN Secretary-General called to waive restrictions amidst the coronavirus pandemic. According to the data of the United Nations, 90% of the Syrian population lives beyond the poverty line, 70% have no access to food. At the same time, the restrictions do not prevent the Americans who occupy oilfields and farmlands in the northeast of Syria from stepping up smuggle and illegal trade in oil and grains.
Another noteworthy fact is that Western sanctions do not cover the trans-Euphrates region alone, but also Idlib, which is known to be under control of 'Hayat Tahrir al-Sham' – the group that the Security Council listed as terrorist. The Western states call to enhance humanitarian deliveries to these areas that Damascus has no control over; and what’s more, do this via the cross-border mechanism rather than the Syrian Government, even though the CBM undermines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, as well as the guiding principles of humanitarian assistance stipulated in UNGA resolution 46/182.
We call on the responsible members of the international community to join Russia’s broad humanitarian efforts in mine action, restoring educational and medical facilities, residential buildings, reconstructing roads, electric lines, providing food and medical assistance.
We express our deep appreciation to the International Red Cross Committee, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as relevant national societies. Impartial humanitarian assistance is worth the highest praise. Russia keeps cooperating with them, in particular through sponsoring programs in Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine.