Unequivocal stand against terror essential to protect civilians in urban conflicts: India

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If civilians are to be protected in urban conflicts, the international community should take an unequivocal stand against terrorism and oppose attempts to justify it, India has told the Security Council.

Speaking at a debate on protecting civilians in urban settings on Tuesday, India’s Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti said, “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. Such despicable approach has resulted in maiming and killing of thousands and rendering millions homeless.”

“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,” he said.

Tirumurti pointed out that the security forces that protect the civilian under “extremely difficult conditions in urban areas” are themselves the first targets.

“We need to protect the protectors,” he said.

He warned, “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.”

“We have already seen implications of such an approach in Europe, where lone wolf attacks have resulted in killings of civilians in urban areas and terrorizing the urban populations,” he said.

The debate, “Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Wars in cities – protection of civilians in urban settings,” was organised by Norway, which holds the Council presidency this month.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store who presided over the session, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres focused on war or civil war type of situations, but Tirumurti drew attention to the havoc caused mostly in urban areas by terrorists and the toll on civilians.

“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 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai that resulted in the killing of 166 civilians from 15 countries “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,” Tirumurti said.

“We are already witnessing the effect of urban warfare and terrorist attacks in cities,” he said.

While there are contemporary examples of the devastation caused by urban conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, Tirumurti reminded the Council of the experience of the civilian population of Bangladesh, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its final liberation last month.

“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 said.

Guterres said that to deter attacks on civilians, UN members “must demonstrate the political will to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes to the maximum extent, whenever they occur.”

He said that parties to conflicts “should adapt their choice of weapons and tactics when they wage war in cities, recognising that they cannot fight in populated areas the way they would in open battlefields.”

He added, “The facts on the ground underline the need for warring parties to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.”

Norway’s Prime Minister Store said, “Civilians must be protected whether or not the individual military attack is considered legal. This is not just a question of complying with IHL, International Humanitarian Law.”

He added, “The choice of weapons and methods of warfare must be adapted to the urban context. The use of weapons designed for the open battlefield, including heavy explosive weapons should be minimised in urban areas.”

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in and followed @arulouis)

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