Africa: Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UNSC High-Level Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

press release

Thank you very much, President Berset. And I particularly want to thank Switzerland for making the pressing issue of conflict-induced food security a centerpiece of its presidency. This is also a very high priority for the U.S. government. I thank Secretary-General Guterres for being here with us today, and for his sober report to the Council. I also want to express my deep appreciation to President Spoljaric, the International Committee of Red Cross, and Aichatou Mounkaila, President of the Network of Women-led Organizations of the Lake Chad Basin for your presence with us today. I welcome the many heads of state and ministers here, your presence reflects the importance of this issue to all of us.

Colleagues, today’s briefing paints a dire picture of life for too many around the world. A dire picture of a world where civilians continue to bear the burden of conflict. Earlier this month, I read this year’s annual protection of civilians report. It is a heartbreaking reminder of the enormous responsibility this Council has to protect those in harm’s way.

In 2022, the United Nations recorded nearly 17,000 civilian deaths across 12 armed conflicts, a 53 percent increase compared with 2021. These numbers of course, will go up in 2023 due to Ukraine and the situation in Sudan. In Ukraine alone, the UN recorded almost 8,000 civilian deaths, although actual figures are likely higher. This is the human cost of Russia’s unprovoked, brutal war of aggression in Ukraine. And we must never become numb to the senseless violence one man – President Putin – has wrought.

Of course, this war has also had a devastating impact on vulnerable populations in countries far from Ukraine. Millions and millions more people have been pushed into food insecurity as a result of this conflict. Why? Because Russia has used food as a weapon of war in Ukraine.

And for months and months, Ukrainian grain leaving the Black Sea was blocked. Grain that many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, rely on. That’s what makes the Black Sea Grain Initiative such a critical arrangement – one that has been a beacon of hope to the world.

Last year, the Black Sea Grain Initiative facilitated the safe export of more than 15 million tons of food, including wheat used for humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. We must ensure this life-saving aid continues to flow to those in need, including women and girls, older adults, disabled persons, and other marginalized groups that are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. And I particularly want to thank the Secretary-General for his efforts to keep this channel open.

The protection of civilians report also tells the bleak story of those who have been forced from their homes, unsure when, or if, they will be able to return. More than 100 million people have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, violence, persecution, and human rights violations and abuses. Burkina Faso, Somalia, Burma, and Ukraine face some of the fastest-growing displacement crises. And according to the UN Refugee Agency, fighting in Sudan could displace an additional one million people.

This past weekend, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States announced that Sudanese security forces have again agreed to a short-term ceasefire and humanitarian arrangements. We call for both parties to fulfill their commitments under the seven-day ceasefire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access. Aid workers must be guaranteed safe passage. And I sadly note that at least six humanitarian workers have senselessly been killed since this war started.

Parties to the conflict must remove bureaucratic impediments in Sudan that are delaying aid. And humanitarian cargo arriving at Port Sudan must be expedited and responsive to UN needs. The stakes could not be higher.

Five years ago, this Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2417 in response to growing levels of conflict-induced hunger. As a result of this resolution, we now receive reports on instances where conflict is causing acute food insecurity or famine.

But let’s be clear: we are not getting all the information we need. The White Notes this Council receives are irregular. Too often they are delayed. Now more than ever, it is critical that we receive OCHA’s White Notes twice a year. There must be a regular reporting cycle. This could depoliticize the issue and ensure that we have timely information to act on.

Conflict and hunger must be at the top of the Council’s agenda. And that’s why, when I started this job two years ago, I made this issue the United States’ first signature event in the Security Council. And a year later, after Russia’s further invasion into Ukraine, we held an open debate on conflict and hunger during our May 2022 Presidency.

We must all do more to stamp out hunger and to save lives. For our part, the United States remains the largest donor to the World Food Program, providing more than half of all contributions. And tomorrow, I’m looking forward to joining the Horn of Africa Ministerial Conference to shine a brighter light on the dire situation in the Horn.

At the same time, we must all recognize that no amount of aid will meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable if it cannot reach the world’s most vulnerable. Too often, warring parties intentionally block humanitarian access. And too often, the very people who dedicate their lives to saving others are targeted.

Last year, more than 250 humanitarian and health care workers were killed. Many others were injured, assaulted, or kidnapped. The kidnapping of medical personnel continues across conflicts. Targeting aid workers is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, and must be roundly and universally condemned.

Colleagues, Mr. President, we must do more, together, to protect civilians facing armed conflict. We must encourage regional actors to get more involved in peace-building efforts. We must build on the work of Resolution 2417 and 2573, and hold those who violate international humanitarian law to account. And we must see our common humanity in those that are suffering. Let us do everything in our power to alleviate that suffering, and to secure a more peaceful and just future for all.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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