Switzerland chairs UN Security Council debate on the protection of civilians from armed conflict

Press releases, 23.05.2023

On Tuesday, 23 May, as part of Switzerland’s presidency of the UN Security Council, President Alain Berset chaired an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. He began by stating that international humanitarian law places clear and unambiguous obligations on all parties to a conflict. Speaking on behalf of Switzerland, he proposed five ways to ensure that existing Security Council resolutions are better applied.

“We have the legal, political and operational instruments to protect civilians from armed conflict”, said President Berset, referring to the unanimously adopted resolutions of 2018 and 2021 on food security and the protection of civilian infrastructure. Such instruments would have to be better applied by the Security Council and all UN member states in future. Speaking on Switzerland’s behalf, Mr Berset suggested five ways in which this could be achieved, while stressing that political will was crucial.

The five points include, firstly, ending attacks on supplies of essential goods. Second, assuring full, rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need. Third, parties to the conflict that use the starvation of civilians as an instrument of war must be held accountable. Fourth, Switzerland calls for the full inclusion of women in all processes to protect the civilian population. And fifth, the civilian population must remain well protected when UN peace missions withdraw.

More lives are lost in armed conflicts as a result of shortages of essential goods and services such as water, food and access to healthcare than through the direct effects of hostilities. Those taking part in the open debate included members of the UN Security Council and representatives of other states, as well as UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, and a civil society representative from West Africa.

The debate highlighted the importance of international humanitarian law in armed conflicts, an issue that Switzerland, as depositary state of the Geneva Conventions and host state of the ICRC, has long been strongly committed to. The visits that President Berset paid to Mozambique in February and to the Democratic Republic of Congo in April were devoted to this topic, among others. Mr Berset used his stay in New York to hold a number of bilateral talks, including with the UN Secretary-General and the ICRC President.

Swiss presidency in May
Switzerland holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month. The presidency provides Switzerland with the opportunity to focus on its thematic priorities for Council membership in 2023-2024, and to provide impetus for the Council's action. A first flagship event organised by Switzerland in this framework took place on 3 May under the chairmanship of Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), and was dedicated to the promotion of sustainable peace.

On Monday, 22 May, President Berset opened an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York entitled ‘Digital Dilemmas’. The immersive experience, organised by Switzerland and the ICRC, is dedicated to the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation in the field of humanitarian work. Data can be important for accessing medical care and food, but at the same time, it can also render civilians vulnerable and make them targets.

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GS FDHA Communications, Tel. +41 58 462 85 79,media@gs-edi.admin.ch


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