Let me start by thanking Switzerland for organizing this Open Debate, the Secretary-General and the distinguished briefers for their statements. Latvia aligns itself with the statement of the European Union.
I would like to note that as the consequences of over 100 armed conflicts worldwide civilians continue to endure injury, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, death and other suffering. It’s accompanied by the increase in prices of food, fuel and other crucial items, negative effects of climate change, destruction of civilian infrastructure and exacerbated socio-economic vulnerabilities. The recent report of the UN Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts outlines this grim reality and the fact that armed conflicts continue to be a primary driver of hunger. It is our joint duty to ensure a lifeline for civilians in armed conflicts to access food and essential services.
Joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program monitoring food security in conflict situations has listed Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen as “hunger hotspots of highest concern”, with populations facing or projected to face starvation or at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions as they already have critical food insecurity.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine also demonstrates the connection between war, food insecurity, and critical civilian infrastructure. Russia has systematically targeted water systems, agricultural sector, electrical plants, interrupted power, heating, healthcare, drinking water supply, as well as communications services in Ukraine. These attacks have resulted in significant civilian casualties, growing food insecurity across the globe and have denied access to essential services, including those provided by humanitarian aid workers.
We are appalled by the recent reports by the OHCHR regarding the possible execution of more than 500 hundred civilians by the Malian troops and foreign military personnel in Mali in March 2022. There are numerous reports of Russia’s Wagner military group’s involvement and crimes against civilians in Mali, CAR and other countries, which also correspond with inhumane conduct by Wagner mercenaries in Syria and Ukraine. It is paramount to ensure that all such crimes are being thoroughly investigated and all perpetrators are held accountable.
We have to pay special attention to the vulnerable groups. In Ukraine and elsewhere, forcibly displaced women and girls continuously face an increased risk of gender-based and sexual violence. Reports of forced deportations and transfers of unaccompanied children by Russia accounts to war crimes. Many persons with disabilities have been unable to access food, medical services and other types of humanitarian assistance. Since the very first days of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Latvia rapidly allocated funds for physical and emotional rehabilitation of war victims, especially targeting women and girls, who have suffered from sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers.
In this context, we highly value the work of the UN and its agencies in their efforts to provide humanitarian aid to people in Ukraine and across the world. We are deeply concerned about the fact that the space for female humanitarian workers is rapidly shrinking, Afghanistan and Yemen being stark examples of it. Additionally, we strongly condemn increasing attacks on humanitarian workers and assets. These acts should be stopped immediately and all perpetrators must be held accountable.