UN deputy aid chief calls on Security Council for ‘full’ protection of civilians

Annual briefing to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict by Joyce Msuya, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, on behalf of Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

as delivered

Thank you, Mr. President.

This year we mark 25 years since the Security Council added the protection of civilians to its agenda. We also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, a cornerstone of international humanitarian law aimed at protecting victims of armed conflict.

It is an important moment to reflect on the state of the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. And examine the measures necessary to ensure that international humanitarian law and the decisions of this Council are respected and that civilians are protected from harm.

Mr. President, I regret to inform you that the situation of civilians in the armed conflict in 2023 was absolutely terrible. It was a year in which we saw the horrors of the October 7 attack by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups against Israel and the intense Israeli military response in Gaza that caused death, destruction and suffering at a pace and scale unprecedented in the past. recent. .

About 75 percent of Gaza’s population has been forcibly displaced. A man-made famine is coming. Thousands of children have been killed and injured in what UNICEF colleagues have called a “war on children.” An estimated 130 people remain hostage and concerns remain over the humane treatment they will receive.

In April 2023, we saw the outbreak of an equally brutal conflict in Sudan, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and injured. Millions of people have been displaced, acute food insecurity has skyrocketed, and there have been reports of horrific attacks and inhumane treatment.

Conflicts continued to have serious and long-lasting consequences for civilians in many other places, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Sahel, Somalia, Syria and Ukraine.

In total, the United Nations alone recorded more than 33,000 civilian deaths in armed conflict last year, a staggering figure, especially considering that the real figures are probably higher and represent a horrific 72 percent increase in compared to the previous year.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas had devastating effects on civilians in numerous conflicts. In Sudan and Ukraine, for example, United Nations sources indicate that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was the main cause of civilian casualties. In all conflicts, civilians accounted for 90 percent of those killed and injured when explosive weapons were used in populated areas.

Civilians were also severely affected by widespread damage and destruction of critical infrastructure. This disrupted the supply of electricity, water and healthcare to millions of people.

In 21 conflicts, more than 2,300 incidents of violence and other forms of interference against workers, facilities, equipment, transportation and medical patients were recorded.

Forced displacement also remained a defining characteristic of armed conflicts. By mid-year, a record 110 million people around the world were displaced due to conflict, persecution, violence and human rights violations or abuses. Sixty percent were internally displaced.

And conflict was the main driver of staggeringly high levels of hunger. In 19 conflict-affected countries or territories, 117 million people experienced critical levels of acute food insecurity or higher.

In the midst of this, the humanitarian community’s efforts to support and meet the needs of civilians were severely compromised by widespread access restrictions. In addition to active hostilities and logistical challenges, the main ones were the parties’ bureaucratic impediments and an excessive number of attacks that harmed humanitarian workers.

In 14 conflicts in 2023, not counting the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 91 humanitarian workers were tragically killed, 120 injured and 53 kidnapped. In Gaza alone, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East lost 142 staff members in the violence between October and December. The United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization each lost one staff member.

I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all civilians, including humanitarian workers, who died in the conflict this year.

Mr. president, The harm and suffering caused to civilians in 2023 indicates an alarming lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. It also indicates that Council resolutions on protection of civilians from the past 25 years remain largely ignored. We must redouble our efforts to strengthen compliance with these obligations by the parties to the conflict.

This includes third States assuming responsibility for ensuring respect for the rules of war. This involves political dialogue, training and policy dissemination, and withholding arms transfers where there is a clear risk that they will be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.

And while some progress was made in 2023, we must continue to strengthen accountability for violations. This must include defending the independence and impartiality of the International Criminal Court.

Mr. president – As the Secretary-General sets out in his report, the reality is that much of the civil harm we see in current conflicts occurs even when the parties claim to be acting in accordance with the law.

It is time to complement existing measures by adopting a more holistic approach, one that considers the perspective of civilians and takes into account the complex, cumulative and long-term nature of the full range of civilian harms in conflict.

We have already seen some important points on this trip. The 2015 Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas and the Declaration on Safe Schools are good examples of ways in which States can commit to greater protection of civilians in armed conflict, complementing their compliance with international humanitarian law.

We urge all States to support these instruments and fully implement them.

We urge you to follow the steps taken by some national and regional authorities to develop and adopt proactive civilian protection policies, processes and tools aimed at better understanding and mitigating a broader range of harms to civilians.

And we need States, parties to conflict, United Nations actors and international and civil society organizations to reflect on how we can further develop and implement the full protection of civilians approach.

Mr. President, 25 years after the Security Council first discussed the protection of civilians as an item on its agenda, much has been achieved.

A culture of protection has taken hold and a comprehensive protection framework is now in place. United Nations peace operations mandated by the Security Council have protected and saved countless civilian lives. Security Council resolutions on the protection of health care in armed conflict and on conflict and famine have given importance and urgency to these issues.

Yet in too many conflicts, civilians continue to suffer unacceptable harm.

The Security Council and Member States must demand and ensure compliance with international humanitarian law, international human rights law and Council resolutions.

And, if it is to have any real meaning for the millions of civilians affected by the conflict, it is time to go beyond compliance: fight for the full protection of civilians against the full range of harms they are suffering during our mandate. Thank you.