news News

400 million children are living in or fleeing conflict zones
by ICRC, UNICEF, Save the Children, agencies
9:17am 4th Jul, 2023
June 2023
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the Oslo Conference on Protecting Children in Armed Conflict:
"Today 400 million children across the globe are living in or fleeing conflict zones, that is about 1 in every 5 of the world’s children, more than the population of entire countries.
"In war, children suffer first, and they suffer most. They lose family members and friends. They are killed or injured, often by explosive weapons in populated areas. They are sexually violated. They are recruited and used by armed forces or groups. And many are displaced multiple times, risking separation from their families, losing critical years of education, and fraying ties to their communities.
"The United Nations has verified more than 315,000 grave child rights violations in areas of conflict between 2005 and 2022.
"These are children who were killed, maimed, recruited or used by armed forces, abducted, or subjected to horrific sexual violence. In addition, thousands of schools have been attacked or destroyed. And these are only the cases that have been verified, which means the true number of violations is most certainly much higher.
"Behind each of these numbers is a story of unimaginable child suffering … of rights violated and rights denied. "I have met too many of the children affected by conflict in my travels.
"In Ukraine, I met a severely disabled teenage boy whose family struggled to get him into the shelter every time air raids sound … and they sound often as this horrible war grinds on. "In Aleppo, Syria I met children who barely survived a war and were beginning to rebuild their lives only to experience a horrific earthquake.
"In Yemen, I met a child who had lost both his legs after he was injured in a mortar attack. "And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I met a boy who was so traumatized by violence he could barely speak, while a girl shared her story of abduction and years of sexual violence.
"Each of these stories is a tragedy. Taken as a whole they are an indictment of a world that has abandoned too many children in need.
"For the sake of these children, we simply must do better. This starts with delivering a robust child protection response to reach all children in need – whether they are in areas under conflict or on the move in search of safety.
"These services must build upon existing protection systems and community structures, and support children’s rights, participation and best interests. "This is a big aspiration. But we can accomplish it by investing in Child Protection Policy, People and Programming.
"First, we must put some teeth into policies that place children and their protection at the center of humanitarian action. We have already heard how states can do this by prioritizing the best interests of children in their laws and practice.
"International organizations and NGOs must also put the protection of children at the heart of their policies and strategies.
"We must invest in the people who are the backbone of our child protection workforce – our social workers, frontline responders, and community mobilizers. "Our protection workforce must be better equipped with the ability and knowledge to monitor the impact of war on children.
"All stories and circumstances are not the same, so protection staff must respond to the different specific vulnerabilities and needs of children affected by armed conflict. And they need the tools to tirelessly advocate to keep children safe, like demanding that parties avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas.
"As you have heard throughout the conference, the United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism is critical to informing policymakers about the true impact of war on children … and to facilitating engagement with parties to conflict. This is highly sensitive work, and unfortunately, it is also very challenging to mobilize resources to support it.
"That is why today, UNICEF is committing to cover fifty per cent of the annual cost of staffing to monitor, document and verify grave violations against children … and to engage with parties to conflict. "We will work with partners to mobilize the additional resources to fulfill this critical mandate.
"We must invest in quality child protection that meets evolving circumstances and needs. This means finding better ways to collaborate and to engage children and communities. It also means delivering programming tailored to local realities.
"Protecting children is a choice. And so, too, is putting them at risk, forcing them into conflict, and blatantly denying their needs.
"War and conflict are the work of adults. Children do not start wars and they are powerless to end them. At a minimum, we must do everything in our power to keep children safe from the dangers and deprivation wrought by those who engage in conflict.
"Today, I urge all states and entities to join us in making the right choice … to protect children today so they can grow up to create a more peaceful world for future generations."
Childhood in rubbles. (International Committee of the Red Cross)
Urban warfare causes death and injury among civilians on a staggering scale. It destroys homes, communities and the social fabric. It cuts off access to health care, education, electricity, and clean water. Even so, accounts of the consequences of urban warfare for children, as a distinct segment of the civilian population, are – when composed – often incomplete. This may come as a surprise: after all, one in six children lives in a conflict zone. Urban warfare takes place in settings with children and young populations. Children usually make up a large proportion of the people displaced (either internally or across international borders) by armed conflict.
This report aims to address this gap and sets out how international law protects children in urban warfare, and makes legal, policy and operational recommendations for the actors in a position to protect children’s lives. It draws from interviews with key stakeholders, and from a desk review, to provide an assessment of the consequences of urban warfare for children.
Children must not be regarded simply as miniature adults. The risks they face in urban warfare settings are distinct, and must be understood within the context of their social, physical, psychosocial and cognitive development.
* In 2022, approximately 468 million children were living in a conflict zone. In 2021, approximately 1.6 billion children – more than two-thirds of children globally – were living in a conflict affected country, meaning in a country where conflict incidents have occurred. Out of these children, as many as 230 million lived in high-intensity conflict, which means they lived in conflict affected countries with more than 1,000 battle related deaths over the year.
May 2023
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks to the United Nations Security Council’s open debate on “Protection of civilians in armed conflict”:
Less than six weeks have passed since war erupted in Sudan. In that time: Hundreds of civilians have been killed — including members of the United Nations family; 250,000 people have fled the country; hospitals have been occupied and attacked; the price of goods is reported to have quadrupled in parts of the country; and aid warehouses have been looted on a massive scale. Terrible as this picture is, it is far from unique.
My report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in 2022 shows that war is devastating lives around the world.
Explosive weapons continue to wreak havoc, especially in the cities: Last year, 94 per cent of their victims in populated areas were civilians.
Those able to flee the fighting did so in record numbers: The total number forced from their homes due to conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution reached 100 million refugees.
Health facilities and schools were devastated, and their workers injured, kidnapped and killed. At least 2000 schools were destroyed in three regions of Ethiopia alone.
Humanitarians also faced regular threats. Their work was hampered by violence, bureaucracy and politics, and obstructed by overly broad sanctions and counter-terrorism measur
In Afghanistan, the ban by the de facto authorities on women working in the humanitarian aid sector is having life-threatening consequences for women and girls.
War means hunger. Armed conflict is a key factor driving food insecurity around the world. Last year, more than 117 million people faced acute hunger primarily because of war and insecurity. This is an outrage.
Damage to critical infrastructure hampers food production, blocks distribution and deprives people of safe water: Syria now has 40 per cent less drinking water than at the start of the conflict. Fighters destroy crops and steal livestock; explosives contaminate fertile land; markets cannot function; and prices rocket.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to the rise in the price of food, energy and fertilizer globally, with terrible effects for the world’s poorest.
And when conflict combines with the climate crisis, harvests shrink and people go hungry. I saw this for myself during my recent visit to Somalia. After years of war, Somalis have been going through their worst drought in decades.
An estimated 43,000 people died as a result in 2022 alone, half of them children, and millions have been forced from their homes.
There has been a few actions over the past year to alleviate the impact of conflict on civilians. Some parties to conflicts have taken steps to protect children, allow humanitarians to gain access to those in need, and more.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative and the memorandum of understanding to promote Russian food and fertilizer to global markets (somewhat) helped to stabilize markets, bring down prices and ease the food crisis.
Ukraine has been able to export over 30 million metric tons of food. That includes lifesaving grain transported by the World Food Programme to support humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.
I welcome the Russian Federation’s confirmation that it will continue to participate in the Black Sea Initiative for another 60 days. Outstanding issues remain. But representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye and the United Nations will keep discussing them. And looking ahead, we hope that exports of food and fertilizers, including ammonia, from the Russian Federation and Ukraine will be able to reach global supply chains safely and predictably.
Last November, States adopted a political declaration to protect civilians by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. I urge all states to join and turn the declaration into meaningful action.
And in December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2664 (2022), which aims to prevent United Nations sanctions from harming civilians and obstructing humanitarian action. I urge all States to implement it and to exclude humanitarian and medical activities from their own counter-terrorism and sanctions measures.
These modest steps are welcome. But the terrible truth is that the world is failing to live up to its commitments to protect civilians; commitments enshrined in international humanitarian law.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols are the cornerstone of that legal framework. And I pay tribute to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the guardian of those treaties: You meet danger and brutality with bravery, compassion and humanity, and you will always have my full support.
ICRC’s role is unique. It has a mandate to respond, and that mandate must be respected: by every Government, every armed group and every fighter.
We must never lose sight of the meaning and purpose of international humanitarian law: It is the difference between life and death; between restraint and anarchy; between losing ourselves in horror and retaining our humanity.
But law overlooked is law undermined. We need action and accountability to ensure it is respected. That depends on political will. Peace is the best form of protection.
We must intensify our efforts to prevent conflict, protect civilians, preserve peace and find political solutions to war.
Where war continues, all countries must comply with international humanitarian law and members of this Council have a particular responsibility. Governments should incorporate international humanitarian law into national laws and military rules and training.
Humanitarians must be assured safe access. Attacks against them must cease. And their work must be facilitated, including by removing deadly bureaucratic barriers. It is unconscionable that vital aid languishes in ports and warehouses while people die.
The Security Council has a special role to play in urging States to respect the rules of war. Governments with influence over warring parties should engage in political dialogue and train forces on protecting civilians. And countries that export weapons should refuse to do business with any party that fails to comply with international humanitarian law.
Those who commit war crimes must be held to account. States must investigate alleged war crimes, prosecute perpetrators and enhance other States’ capacity to do so.
And we must do everything in our power to break the deadly cycle of armed conflict and hunger:
Addressing the underlying causes of hunger by strengthening vulnerable countries’ economies; honouring commitments to support countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis; and increasing contributions to humanitarian operations, which are — shamefully — just 15 per cent funded.
Civilians have suffered the deadly effects of armed conflict for too long. It is time we live up to our promise to protect them.
23 May 2023
Speech by President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric to the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians:
For the International Committee of the Red Cross, the issue of protection of civilians lies at the core of our mandate. As we meet, countless civilians in conflicts around the world are experiencing a living hell.
Any minute, the next missile can obliterate their home, their school, their clinic and everyone in it. Any day, their loved ones might be abused, raped, detained, or tortured. Any week, they might run out of food or medicine.
Everywhere I look – and in my short time as president of the ICRC, I have visited conflict-affected countries in Africa, Europe and the Near East – I see a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation. Entire regions are trapped in cycles of conflict without an end in sight.
ICRC’s figures show that the number of non-international armed conflicts has, over the past 20 years, more than tripled from less than 30 to over 90.
Many of these are protracted conflicts, bringing ceaseless suffering – suffering that is compounded by climate shocks, food insecurity and economic hardship.
Civilians are gravely unprotected because they suffer a relentless accumulation of attacks, threats, destruction, as well as political stalemates.
When conflicts are characterised by widespread destruction and violation of international humanitarian law; then development and peace become an unachievable ambition.
It is clear: the protection of civilians is a pre-condition of stability, peace, and recovery.
My calls to States today are urgent. First, protect civilians and critical infrastructure in urban areas. The widespread and often indiscriminate destruction of homes and critical infrastructure disproportionately raises the cost of war.
Across the places I visited in the past months, I saw how the shock of losing one’s home is compounded by the interruption or prolonged absence of essential services such as water, electricity, healthcare, and education.
As fighting envelops towns and cities, such as in Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, the ICRC is seeing large-scale and compounding patterns of harm. We need to break the pattern of violations: and this can be done through strong political will and sustained action.
State and non-state parties must do more to prevent, reduce, and mitigate the damage that armed conflict causes in urban centres. In adopting resolution 2573 more than two years ago, this very Council demanded that parties to armed conflict do more. I echo that call again today.
The ICRC urges all parties engaged in urban warfare to:
Ensure that the protection of civilians is prioritized in urban settings; Comply fully with international humanitarian law and notably the principles on distinction, proportionality, and precaution; Avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas - and endorse and faithfully implement the Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas; and Ensure that the protection of essential services encompasses the infrastructure, people and consumables that keep hospitals, water, and power functioning.
Second, States must step up to prevent and mitigate food insecurity in conflict-affected areas.
During my visit to the Horn of Africa earlier this year, I saw how conflict and climate shocks are having a devastating impact on already vulnerable communities. In Somalia, more than seven million people are in urgent need of food and water.
The combination of drought, lack of investment in climate adaptation in conflict zones and the knock-on effects of the international armed conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine is seriously impacting people in conflicts around the world.
The ICRC calls on states and other actors to:
Respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including rules on the conduct of hostilities, to reduce the risk of food insecurity and famine. Invest in practical solutions and adaptation measures to mitigate the effects of climate change in conflict-affected regions.
Third, I call on States to enable neutral and impartial humanitarian access:
This means: access to civilians in need, notably besieged communities… Access to overcrowded detention facilities where we continue to see worrying trends in relation to ill-treatment and torture… Access to the estimated 175 million people who live in areas fully or partially controlled by armed groups.
This requires enabling a humanitarian dialogue with non-state armed groups, for instance through the implementation of the humanitarian carve-out to sanctions regimes adopted by this Council in resolution 2664. This is critical for an organization like the ICRC which maintains a dialogue with more than 300 armed groups worldwide.
In today’s operating environment, misinformation and disinformation also present a threat to populations and hinder humanitarian operations. Misinformation can fuel dangerous community divisions and undermine community acceptance of humanitarian organisations.
We urge States and other actors to take all necessary measures to prevent and mitigate the impact of harmful information on the safety, dignity, and rights of civilians, and to preserve the space for neutral, impartial humanitarian action and to protect it from political instrumentalization.
Finally, I must underscore: the protection of civilians means the protection of all. There is no chance of enduring stability or security until international humanitarian law is upheld for all genders.
The ICRC urges states to:
Ensure that all persons, regardless of their gender, are protected in conflict and equally benefit from humanitarian assistance. Ensure that the clear prohibition of sexual violence under international humanitarian law is integrated into national laws, military doctrine, and training. Commit to applying a gender perspective into the application and interpretation of international humanitarian law.
The ICRC continues to insist on the preventive and protective effects of international humanitarian law. Compliance with the law protects civilians. It prevents violations and abuses.
It reduces the cost of war while maintaining a pathway to ceasefire agreements, and eventually to lasting peace, functioning economies, and a healthy natural environment.
I call upon all states to uphold international humanitarian law, including through their influence over others.
In times of compounding global trends and geopolitical tensions, compliance with international humanitarian law must become a political priority.
12 May 2023
Report of the Secretary-General: Protection of civilians in armed conflict 2022
With over 100 armed conflicts worldwide, civilians have continued to endure profound and lasting hardship. In 2022, as in previous years, armed conflict led to death, injury, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and other suffering and loss. The destruction of critical infrastructure had far-reaching consequences, including disruptions to electricity, health care, water and sanitation services, and deprived many of the essentials to live. Health-care personnel and facilities were targeted, leaving thousands without care.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas had devastating effects well beyond their intended targets. The rise in prices of food, fuel and fertilizers, combined with the effects of climate change, further intensified civilians’ needs. The number of people forcibly displaced reached new highs.
Humanitarian organizations faced a variety of obstacles in their efforts to alleviate suffering, including violence, bureaucratic impediments and shortages of vital supplies such as food and medicine.
Armed conflict continued to be a primary driver of hunger. Valuable farming equipment was stolen, agricultural land was littered with explosive ordnance, and livestock and crops were destroyed. Conflict also disrupted agriculture and trade, leading to a shortage of basic supplies and agricultural products.
This, coupled with additional factors such as the armed conflict in Ukraine, led to higher food prices and reduced access to necessary supplies for food preparation and distribution. Furthermore, the destruction of vital infrastructure, shortages of electricity and fuel, and extreme weather events all contributed to the scarcity of water.
Throughout 2022, armed conflict exacted a massive human toll, eroding resilience and straining what remained of essential infrastructure and services. Civilian death and injury, enforced disappearance, torture, rape and ill -treatment were reported across many armed conflicts...
* Note: The civilian casualities cited in this report are only official state recognised calculations and are a most considerable under-estimation of the terrible toll inflicted on civilians in conflict. For example this: "In 2022, the United Nations recorded at least 16,988 civilian deaths across 12 armed conflicts.. although actual figures are likely higher". When consideration is given to the uncounted victims of conflict and the indirect impacts of conflict, particularly on the health of populations, the calculations should tragically cite many hundreds of thousands..

Visit the related web page
Next (more recent) news item
Next (older) news item