The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks epitomise the sheer scale and scope of urban warfare that India had to mount against jihadi terrorists, the country’s envoy to the UN has said, asserting that any debate on protection of civilians would be incomplete without taking into account the carnage wrought by terrorist forces, especially those backed by State actors, a thinly-veiled reference to Pakistan.
Addressing the UNSC Open Debate ‘Protection of civilians in armed conflict: Wars in cities – protection of civilians in urban settings’, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti on Tuesday told the Council that 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.
“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. 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,” said Tirumurti.
Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) is the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai terror attacks. Saeed has been serving jail sentence at the Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore in Pakistan for his conviction in terror financing cases.
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“In recent memory, the Mumbai terror attacks epitomise 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 said.
He underlined the need for international community to stand firm on its opposition to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and reject any attempt to provide any justifications for terrorist acts.
“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.
“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 terrorising the urban populations,” Tirumurti said.
Tirumurti noted with concern that the world is 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.
“People in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen have witnessed the devastation caused by urban conflicts. 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.
He said civilian population and infrastructure are easy targets of terrorist groups and non-state actors and 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 open debate, held under Norway’s current Presidency of the Council, was chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Council that from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond, the risk of harm to civilians rises when combatants move among them and put military facilities and equipment near civilian infrastructure.
“Conflict in urban areas goes far beyond its immediate impact on civilians. It also puts people at risk of sieges and blockades, which have had a horrific impact on civilians, up to and including starvation,” Guterres said.
Tirumurti added that there has been an unprecedented resurgence in armed conflicts around the globe which has been further complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With over half of the world’s population living in urban centres today and this figure projected to increase to more than two-third by 2050, Tirumurti said, “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.
Subsequent wars and armed conflicts have also witnessed such acts under the guise of collateral damage”.
With the growth in urbanisation, it is inevitable that the impact of armed conflicts on people living in cities will increase, he said.
While the primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of populations, including the maintenance of essential services, rests with national governments, Tirumurti said 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.
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 added that nations should not ignore fundamental issues and international power politics that contribute to accentuation of armed conflicts.
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 said, adding that the debate on effects of conflicts in urban settings cannot be de-linked from the post-conflict role.
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.
After the end of the armed conflict in 2009 in Sri Lanka, India assisted its government in immediately restoring essential civilian infrastructure and deployed 7 de-mining teams on an emergency basis which enabled the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes and livelihood. India had also invested three billion dollars in infrastructure and community development projects in Afghanistan, he said.