Security Council Open Debate on
“Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”
New York, 25 May 2022
The Holy See would like to thank the United States of America for calling today’s important debate.
In the past few months, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of armed conflict return to Europe on a scale not seen for a generation. Faced with violence, nearly thirteen million Ukrainians have fled their homes to avoid becoming casualties of war. The same reality is visible in every country and region affected by conflict and war across the globe: in the Middle East, in the Sahel, on the Horn of Africa, in South-East Asia, thousands upon thousands have been forced to decide whether to flee their homes or to remain in place and risk physical harm and even death. Despite the humanization of warfare being an aspirational concept for centuries, the brunt of conflict still falls disproportionally upon the innocent and defenseless.
Since first adding this item to its agenda in 1999, the Council has elaborated on protections owed to those who face heightened risks during conflict, including humanitarian personnel, healthcare workers, journalists, displaced persons, women, children, and persons with disabilities. The Council has also urged all parties to armed conflict to protect civilian infrastructure critical to the provision of essential services. The Holy See commends such efforts, while underscoring the need to implement these protections fully and to further incorporate such protections in all peacekeeping mandates. In this regard, my delegation would like to offer some concrete recommendations on three key issues for the Council’s consideration.
First, the Holy See urges the Council to keep the protection of civilian objects high on its agenda. This includes the protection for places of worship. Religious sites not only provide believers with a place where they can live their faith, but often play a crucial social, cultural, and educational role in society, and are – especially in conflict situations – a source of assistance, aid, and even protection. Places of worship are objects akin to schools or hospitals and thus should benefit from similar protection.
Second, efforts to protect civilians must respond to the secondary consequences of war and conflict, which linger long after guns fall silent. Of paramount concern is ending the production, stockpiling, and use of indiscriminate weapons, such as anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Such weapons, along with other explosive remnants of war, contaminate the lived environment and continue to threaten civilians with severe injury or death even after hostilities conclude. For adequate civilian protection, greater resources are needed for programs to clear areas of unexploded ordnance. In this regard, my delegation commends the vital work of the UN Mine Action Service.
Third, my delegation expresses deep concern regarding the growing number of attacks on humanitarian personnel. These impede the provision of vital assistance and, as the world continues its efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, prevent widespread distribution of vaccines. Furthermore, when perpetrators escape accountability, a culture of impunity takes hold, placing more humanitarian workers at risk and weakening the rule of law more broadly. To end this cycle, greater efforts are needed by both States and this Council.
In closing, the Holy See reiterates its call for all parties to conflict, State and non-state actors alike, to fully comply with international humanitarian law until that point when humankind reaches its highest aspiration, as reflected in this Organization’s Charter, of abolishing war in all its manifestations.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Address to the Participants in the Conference on International Humanitarian Law, 28 October 2017.