The targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure has often been used as a weapon of war

Noting that the primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of populations, including the maintenance of essential services, rests with national Governments, India at the UN Security Council on Tuesday said that it is equally incumbent on States to protect those who put their lives in the line of fire to protect civillians.

A statement by Ambassador TS Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to UN at the Security Council’s Open Debate ‘Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Wars in cities - protection of civilians in urban settings’ said that people in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen have witnessed the devastation caused by urban conflicts.

“We have witnessed an unprecedented resurgence in armed conflicts around the globe which has been further complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Amb Tirumurti said.

“According to the UN figures, over half of the world’s population lives in urban centres today. This figure is projected to increase to more than two-third by 2050. History has shown us that the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure has been used as a weapon of war, especially during the two World Wars,” he informed.

“Subsequent wars and armed conflicts have also witnessed such acts under the guise of "collateral damage. With the growth in urbanization, it is inevitable that the impact of armed conflicts on people living in cities will increase,” India’s UN envoy added.

“We are already witnessing the effect of urban warfare and terrorist attacks in cities. According to the Secretary General’s report, more than 50 million people were affected by conflict in urban areas,” he said.

‘The use of explosive weapons, particularly those with wide-area effects, continues to expose civilians to a high risk of indiscriminate effects. People in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen have witnessed the devastation caused by urban conflicts,” Tirumurti stated.

“There are other countries as well which are still reeling from military actions carried out in the past either without due consideration for protecting civilian population, or through deliberate targeting of civilians amounting to genocide as was done in the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1971, now Bangladesh,” he added.

“The primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of populations, including the maintenance of essential services, rests with national Governments,” the Indian envoy explained.

“However, over decades of practice and shaped by the calamitous experience of destructive wars, we now have a set of international principles and jurisprudence which places no less responsibility on the aggressor to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are not targeted in situations of armed conflicts,” he clarified.

“In the face of this aggression, especially in the urban areas, it is equally incumbent on States to protect those who put their lives in the line of fire to protect civilians. In other words, we also need to protect the protectors,” Tirumurti said.

He further said that it is a matter of concern that the parties to the armed conflicts till this day seem to consider civilian population and civilian infrastructure as legitimate targets and such despicable approach has resulted in maiming and killing of thousands and rendering millions homeless.

“Civilian population and civilian infrastructure are also easy targets of terrorist groups and non-state actors. Vulnerable groups, women, children and minorities, as well as indispensable civilian infrastructure, hospitals and irreplaceable cultural heritage have been the first casualties of attacks by such actors,” the Indian envoy to UN said.

“Having suffered the scourge of cross border terrorism for decades, India has always been at the forefront of global counter-terrorism efforts. We have witnessed dastardly terrorist attacks on our cities targeting innocent civilians,” he further stated.

“Any debate on protection of civilians in urban areas would be incomplete without taking into account the carnage wrought by terrorist forces, especially those backed by State actors,” Tirumurti said.

“The dastardly terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which resulted in the killing of 166 innocent civilians of 15 nationalities is still a ghastly reminder to the entire international community,” he told the UNSC.

“In recent memory, the Mumbai terror attacks epitomize the sheer scale and scope of urban warfare that we had to mount against jihadi terrorists, when our police personnel had to put their lives on the line to secure the city’s safety,” he recalled.

“The international community should therefore stand firm on its opposition to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and reject any attempt to provide any justifications for terrorist acts,” the Indian Ambassador argued.

“We should remember that the consequences of any relaxation of our guard on this count would be borne not only by civilians but even by the security forces which combat them in extremely difficult conditions in urban areas,” he maintained.

Mentioning that it is important to deliberate on the devastating consequences of armed conflict in the urban setting, Tirumurti said, we should not ignore fundamental issues and international power politics that contribute to accentuation of armed conflicts.

“Today, we need to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of States. All conflicts must be resolved by peaceful means and through political and diplomatic efforts in line with international law and principles of the UN Charter,” he further said.

“Similarly, the debate on effects of conflicts in urban settings cannot be de-linked from the post-conflict role,” Tirumurti observed.

“In the post-conflict context, rehabilitation and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and restoration of essential services should be given high priority to facilitate socio-economic recovery and peace building,” he noted.
“Due to the significant costs associated with it, donor countries and UN agencies must provide financial and technical assistance for capacity building,” the Indian envoy to UN reasoned.

He held that India recognizes the importance of rendering assistance to countries that have suffered the destruction of urban infrastructure.

“After the end of the armed conflict in 2009 in Sri Lanka, India assisted the Government of Sri Lanka in immediately restoring some of the most basic and essential civilian infrastructure,” Tirumurti informed.

He said that India stands ready to support efforts towards strengthening the normative architecture for protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance in armed conflict in urban areas as part of a broader endeavor.

“Such a normative architecture should respect principles of sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of countries affected by armed conflicts,” the Indian ambassador said.