Protecting Essential Infrastructure During Times of War to Protect Human Rights

The protection of civilians during times of war has always been an important and essential subject when it comes to discussions of human rights. Damaged infrastructure such as restricted or highly limited access to electricity, medical supplies and services such as hospitals, and food and water supplies, can have lasting negative impacts. Last year on April 27, 2021, United Nations Humanitarian Affairs chief, Mark Lowcock spoke about his concern about enforcing the policies centered around human rights and protection of civilians during times of war. Lowcock urged fellow Member States as well as all members to armed conflict to “respect the rules and do the right thing.” There are already extensive rules in place, like the Geneva Conventions regarding human rights during times of war. They cover a multitude of subjects, including the rights of civilians during times of conflict, addressing things like access to essential resources, such as electricity and food. However, the primary concern, according to Lowcock, is that groups often do not comply with international law, which could lead to other Member States taking it as an invitation to do the same.

Currently, international laws and treaties such as the Geneva Conventions have protocols in place that help to ensure the safety and wellbeing of civilians during times of war. These include things like prohibiting the attack or removal of food and water sources, as well as ensuring access to proper irrigation systems. Article 69 of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions ensures needs such as food and medical supplies if the supplies of the current occupied area are inadequate.

In 2021, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2573 “Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population” which stresses mutual cooperation between Member States and demands that all parties comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. This resolution further enforces the importance of already standing international laws, as well as condemning actions such as denying access to essential resources. The resolution is a large step toward mutual cooperation under international humanitarian law, and sets in place clear standards and boundaries for the future.

Protecting these resources is essential for the protection of civilians and their wellbeing. Matthew Lowcock, in his briefing to the United Nations Security Council cited incidents such as the attacks in Yemen on livestock and fishing boats, calling any attacks on food supplies and infrastructure “unacceptable”. Additionally, attacks and threats on medical care systems are “particularly hard to stomach”, as these attacks continue to impede their ability to function. Between 2018 and 2020, a span of just two years, the World Health Organization (WHO) counted 250 attacks on such systems, leaving many without access to proper medical care. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these attacks have the potential to leave millions without proper health care access.

In the General Assembly, your job will be to find additional solutions that will ensure the protection of civilian’s right to essential infrastructure during times of war, by collaborating with fellow Member States and finding creative solutions to help guarantee and provide access to these resources.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Has your country engaged in any actions that have deprived civilians in your country or another of access to vital civilian infrastructure?
  2. Are there any steps that your country has or is currently taking to protect essential infrastructure?
  3. How should the current laws in place be further strengthened and enforced to ensure protection?
  4. How can this be done without infringing on another country’s sovereignty?
  5. Do you believe that total cooperation under these laws is possible? What steps should be taken to achieve this?

Resources to Consider:

MacLachlan, Dr Karolina. “Protection of Civilians: A Constant in the Changing Security Environment.” NATO Review, Nato Review, 17 June 2022, 

“Security Council Strongly Condemns Attacks against Critical Civilian Infrastructure, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2573 (2021) | UN Press.” United Nations, United Nations, 

“UN Documents for Protection of Civilians.” Security Council Report, 

“UN Documents for Protection of Civilians: Security Council Resolutions.” Security Council Report, 

“United Nations Peacekeeping.” United Nations, United Nations, 


“’Do the Right Thing’ and Protect Civilian Infrastructure during Conflict: Un Relief Chief | | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, 

The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 . 

Resolution 2573 . 

“Security Council Strongly Condemns Attacks against Critical Civilian Infrastructure, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2573 (2021) | UN Press.” United Nations, United Nations, 

“United Nations Homepage.” United Nations, United Nations,