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Conflict continues to inflict widespread civilian death and injury
by UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
May 2022 (UN News)
Conflict continues to inflict widespread civilian death and injury, by Ramesh Rajasingham - UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Conflict continues to inflict “widespread civilian death and injury” a senior UN official told the UN Security Council, outlining the “grim reality” for those caught up in the crossfire of war.
Updating the ambassadors on the latest UN report on protecting civilians in armed conflict, Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of the Coordination Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that hostilities in densely populated areas, “sharply” increased the risks of death and injury for civilians.
“When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, about 90 per cent of casualties were civilians, compared to 10 per cent in other areas”.
War damages and erodes critical infrastructure, by disrupting vital water, sanitation, electricity and health services, and puts education at risk – depriving hundreds of thousands of children of tuition, while rendering them vulnerable to forced recruitment, and other dangers.
“In the first nine months of last year, over 900 schools in Afghanistan were destroyed, damaged or closed and their rehabilitation hindered by explosive hazards,” he stated.
Conflict also damages the natural environment not just through fighting, but due to a lack of good governance and neglect.
“We are all too familiar with the cycle of violence and displacement, and 2021 was no exception,” said Mr. Rajasingham. “By midyear, fighting and insecurity had forcibly displaced 84 million people, with close to 51 million of them internally displaced”.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported over the weekend that the Ukraine war and other conflicts have pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution, to over 100 million, for the first time on record.
When civilians flee, they often left behind people with disabilities and those who manage to leave frequently confront difficulties in accessing assistance.
“More than one in five people living in conflict-affected areas were estimated to suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD,” said the deputy humanitarian chief.
Medical workers, facilities, equipment and transport continued to come under attack, while parties to conflict interfered with medical care.
“In northern Ethiopia, healthcare facilities, equipment and transport were attacked and looted, and hospitals used for military purposes,” he elaborated.
And the pandemic has intensified human suffering and strained weakened healthcare services.
“Nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first vaccine, many of them in conflict situations where health systems are weak and public trust is low,” Mr. Rajasingham told the Council.
At the same time, parties to conflicts have heightened food insecurity by destroying supply chains, as aid workers continued to face complex challenges depriving civilians of life-saving assistance.
And as non-State armed groups further complicate humanitarian access negotiations, private military and security contractors have increasingly thrown up roadblocks for humanitarians desperately trying to deliver aid, said the deputy relief chief.
As sanctions and broad counterterrorism measures interfere with humanitarian work, misinformation and disinformation have eroded trust – putting humanitarians at risk of harm and further jeopardizing operations.
“When humanitarian activities were politicized, community acceptance was jeopardized,” detailed the OCHA chief. “Humanitarian staff were intimidated, arrested and detained while carrying out their functions.”
Last year, some 143 security incidents against humanitarian workers were recorded in 14 countries and territories affected by conflict, along with 93 humanitarian deaths. Of those killed, injured or kidnapped, 98 per cent were national staff.
In Ukraine: Suffering and loss
Since 24 February, OHCHR has recorded 8,089 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 3,811 killed and 4,278 injured, although the actual casualties numbers are acknowledged as being most considerably higher.
Hospitals, schools, homes, and shelters have come under attack, 12 million have been forced from their homes, and tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped and cut off from food, water and electricity.
“The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” said the Deputy Relief Coordinator.
Turning to the war’s impact on exports, he said that food, fuel and fertilizer prices have skyrocketed globally – with increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods affecting people across Africa and the Middle East – “hitting the poorest people the hardest…and planting the seeds for further political instability and unrest worldwide.”
Mr. Rajasingham underscored that all States and non-State actors must comply with international humanitarian law (IHL), including by avoiding explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. He also upheld the need to integrate legal protections into military training, doctrine, and policy and legal frameworks. “Parties to conflict and States must apply much greater political will and commitment to respect the rules of war”.
The Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Robert Mardini, reminded ambassadors that humanitarian principles must never be compromised. Recalling that ICRC has been briefing the Council year after year on the circumstances of civilians, he argued that civilian protection should be made much more of a strategic priority by States, particularly “in populated areas, which includes avoiding the use of heavy explosive weapons.”
http://reliefweb.int/report/world/report-secretary-general-protection-civilians-armed-conflict-s2022381-enarruzh http://starvationaccountability.org/news-and-events/un-protection-of-civilians-week-address/ http://starvationaccountability.org/news-and-events/protection-of-civilians-four-years-on-from-the-adoption-of-unsc-resolution-2417/ http://humanitarianaccess.acaps.org/ http://www.unicef.org/press-releases/staggering-scale-grave-violations-against-children-conflict-revealed-new-unicef
* Statement by Catriona Murdoch, Global Rights Compliance, on Armed Conflict, Starvation and International Humanitarian Law to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. April 2022: http://bit.ly/3MSpxHz
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UN Refugee Agency opposes UK plan to export asylum
by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
14 Apr. 2022
Following public announcements made today, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed strong opposition and concerns about the United Kingdom’s plan to export its asylum obligations and urged the UK to refrain from transferring asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda for asylum processing.
“UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards. Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.
“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.”
UNHCR urged both countries to re-think the plans. It also warned that instead of deterring refugees from resorting to perilous journeys, these externalization arrangements will only magnify risks, causing refugees to seek alternative routes, and exacerbating pressures on frontline states.
While Rwanda has generously provided a safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and persecution for decades, the majority live in camps with limited access to economic opportunities. UNHCR believes that wealthier nations must show solidarity in supporting Rwanda and the refugees it already hosts, and not the other way around.
The UK has an obligation to ensure access to asylum for those seeking protection. Those who are determined to be refugees can be integrated, while those who are not and have no other legal basis to stay, can be returned in safety and dignity to their country of origin.
Instead, the UK is adopting arrangements that abdicate responsibility to others and thus threaten the international refugee protection regime, which has stood the test of time, and saved millions of lives over the decades.
The UK has supported UNHCR’s work many times in the past and is providing important contributions that help protect refugees and support countries in conflicts such as Ukraine. However, financial support abroad for certain refugee crises cannot replace the responsibility of States and the obligation to receive asylum seekers and protect refugees on their own territory – irrespective of race, nationality and mode of arrival.
While UNHCR recognizes the challenges posed by forced displacement, developed countries are host to only a fraction of the world’s refugees and are well resourced to manage claims for asylum in a humane, fair and efficient manner.
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