UN Refugee Chief urges Security Council for firm response to record-high displacement
by Filippo Grandi
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
9 April 2019
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that, during his three and a half decades as an international civil servant, he has “never seen such toxicity, such poisonous language in politics, media and social media,” directed towards refugees, migrants and foreigners.
At times, passionately pointing his finger at Security Council members, Mr. Grandi said that the stigmatization of refugees and migrants is “unprecedented,” and that traditional responses to refugee crises are increasingly inadequate.
Dissecting the term “refugee crisis” itself, Mr. Grandi asked the Security Council to consider to whom, exactly, that applied: “It is a crisis for a mother with her children fleeing gang violence; it is a crisis for a teenager who wants to flee from war, human rights violations, forced conscription; it is crisis for governments in countries with few resources that, every day, open their borders to thousands. For them, it is a crisis.”
But it is wrong to portray the situation as an unmanageable global crisis: with political will and improved responses, as enshrined by the Global Compact for Refugees, adopted last December, it can be addressed, and the Security Council has a critical role to play, particularly in terms of solving peace and security crises, supporting countries that are hosting refugees, and working to remove obstacles to solutions.
Without conflict, most refugee flows would disappear
Conflicts, Mr. Grandi pointed out, are the main drivers of refugee flows: of the nearly 70 million people that are displaced, most are escaping deadly fighting.
The vast majority of refugees are hosted in developing countries.“85 per cent of the world’s refugees are in poor or middle-income countries. That’s where the crisis is. Support must be stepped up,” he said. “Their hospitality must not be taken for granted.””
The UNHCR chief called on the the Security Council to work jointly to address lack of peace and security, the root cause of crises.
“Of the nearly 70 million people that are displaced or refugees, most are fleeing conflict.. If conflicts were prevented or resolved, most refugee flows would disappear. Still, we observe from where we are very fragmented approaches to peacemaking, very insufficient approaches to peace building.”
The UN Refugee Chief highlighted “outstanding” Latin American solidarity in the face of the outflow of 3.4 million Venezuelans to 15 countries in the region including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.
“Our appeal for humanitarian crises in that region is one of the most poorly funded globally,” he said. “Failure to support those countries will leave those governments exposed.”
The UN refugee chief also cited Libya – where UNHCR, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been working with displaced Libyans, as well as those who have fled conflicts in other countries.
The security conditions, said Mr. Grandi, are “at breaking point”: on Tuesday, the Agency relocated more than 150 refugees from an area heavily impacted by military clashes, the first such relocation since the recent escalation of violence.
UNHCR’s view is that conditions in the fractured nation are not safe for rescued or intercepted refugees and migrants, and that these people should not be returned there.
With several staff removed from the country for safety reasons, the Agency’s work is “very, very difficult and dangerous.”
The Security Council must, he said, take unified action to end the current military escalation, issue a strong call to spare civilians, including refugees and migrants trapped in the country, and take steps to address the causes of conflict, a necessity if further violence and subsequent displacement, is to be avoided.
The use of the Libyan coastguard was dismissed by Mr. Grandi as an ineffective rescue service, and he condemned the “horrific, unacceptable” conditions for refugees and migrants held in detention camps.
The UN refugee chief called on the Security council to step up support for the developing countries that host 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, to avoid leaving governments politically exposed, and refugees destitute.
With regards to the return of refugees and migrants to their countries of origin, Mr. Grandi countered the misconception that UNHCR blocks returns: refugees have both a right to return, and also a right to not return, he said, in the absence of security and basic support. The informed choice of refugees must be respected, and returns must be dignified.
Mr. Grandi concluded by returning to the consequences of the toxic language surrounding refugees and migration, citing the example of the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, which left 50 people dead.
The response of the New Zealand Government should, he said, be seen as an good example of effective leadership and how to respond to such toxicity, in a firm and organized manner, restating solidarity with refugees, and reaffirming the principle that our societies cannot be truly prosperous, stable and peaceful, if they do not include everyone. http://bit.ly/2GcRIkJ
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Aid Operations under increasing threat as State, Non-State Combatants ignore International Law
by United Nations News, agencies
1 Apr. 2019
The humanitarian space is increasingly under threat as conflicts become more complex and State and non-State combatants ignore international law, target civilians, resort to siege and starvation as a tactic of war while deliberately hindering aid operations, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs told the UN Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-nation organ, Mark Lowcock, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that 139 million people worldwide are in acute humanitarian need, most of them because of armed conflict. More so, today’s conflicts are also marked by more direct attacks against humanitarian and medical workers, as well as their facilities.
“Let us not forget that accountability is required by international law,” he stressed, also adding: “Garnering greater respect for international humanitarian law is one of the most effective ways to safeguard humanitarian space.”
Many countries have signed up to the relevant treaties prohibiting or restricting weapons and enshrining international criminal law, he observed, emphasizing the importance of promoting policies and practices that strengthen adherence to international humanitarian law.
Broadening the understanding of existing rules, including the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, along with providing training for armed forces and non-State armed groups on how to respect humanitarian law, is vital. Sanctions imposed by the Council can be a powerful tool to promote compliance, as well.
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), underscored that the Geneva Conventions are not up for negotiation. The license for humanitarian workers to operate should not be up for debate; it has already been guaranteed. He called on the international community to fight any attempt to manipulate or politicize principled humanitarian action.
The humanitarian space is about respecting the law. “When the principles of impartiality are breached, and humanitarian action is curtailed, families — like the ones I meet — go hungry, they go sick, they are left vulnerable to abuse,” he said.
Naz K. Modirzadeh, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, said that, when the regime of international humanitarian law crosses with counter-terrorism frameworks, tensions emerge. For instance, humanitarian actors may provide impartial care to wounded fighters under international humanitarian law, but several counter-terrorism frameworks would characterize these activities as illegitimate and unlawful.
“In my view, the question is not whether counter-terrorism measures might adversely affect principled humanitarian action, but the scope and scale of the impact,” she said. Citing recent research findings of a Harvard study showing that 69 per cent of respondents indicated that such initiatives had curtailed their humanitarian work, she called on the Council to prioritize its efforts to safeguard principled humanitarian action. “Far too much is at stake,” she said.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that conflict persists, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt. Wars have forced nearly 70 million people to flee their homes.
Combatants have resorted to siege and starvation as weapons of war causing hunger levels to increase after decades of decline. Some 60 per cent of people affected by food crises are living in conflict-affected countries.
Today’s conflicts are also marked by more direct attacks against humanitarian and medical workers, as well as their facilities. Meanwhile, protracted conflict and chronic crises have caused humanitarian needs to spiral. This year, 139 million people are in acute humanitarian need, most of them because of armed conflict.
Combatants deliberately hinder humanitarian operations, slowing them down, driving up costs and blocking aid from reaching people, he continued. International law is designed to minimize human suffering in war, including by safeguarding humanitarian activities.
“Garnering greater respect for international humanitarian law is one of the most effective ways to safeguard humanitarian space,” he stressed, pointing out that many countries have signed up to the relevant treaties prohibiting or restricting weapons and enshrining international criminal law. Promoting policies and practices to strengthen adherence to international humanitarian law is therefore critical.
Broadening and deepening understanding and acceptance of existing rules, including the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, is essential. Providing training for armed forces and member of non-State armed groups on how to respect humanitarian law can help, as well.
He also stressed the need to enable humanitarian and medical activities, underscoring that all parties should adopt clear and simplified procedures to facilitate humanitarian access. Those should include establishing civil-military coordination platforms or humanitarian notification systems to further parties’ respect for humanitarian operations.
Sanctions imposed by the Council can be a powerful tool to promote compliance. In addition, States must do better in holding to account individuals when they commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. It is crucial to prosecute suspects where there is evidence.
“Let us not forget that accountability is required by international law,” he emphasized.
PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that, in many parts of the world the space for impartial humanitarian action is under threat. Human dignity is disregarded and humanitarian organizations are increasingly placed under pressure as both State and non-State armed groups hold civilian populations and humanitarian actors for ransom.
“When the principles of impartiality are breached, and humanitarian action is curtailed, families — like the ones I meet — go hungry, they go sick, they are left vulnerable to abuse,” he said. International humanitarian law does not rely on reciprocity. It applies even if an opponent fails to comply.
The Geneva Conventions are not up for negotiation, he emphasized, adding that they are a tool, facilitated through a neutral and independent space. With political actors increasingly occupying the humanitarian space, humanitarians must find practical ways to fulfil the mission in an increasingly complex environment.
He called on the international community to fight any attempt to manipulate or politicize principled humanitarian action.
“We ask that you fight the double standards which delegitimize law and weaken its protective force,” he said. The humanitarian space is about respecting the law. He called on Member States to lead by example and train and instruct their troops so that they know the law and respect it.
With regards to the proliferation of arms, he urged that safeguards and precautions be put in place and that no weapon is transferred if there is a clear risk it would be used to violate international humanitarian law.
ICRC sees the enormous civilian costs of bombing and shelling, including death and long-term damage. The noose is tightening on humanitarian action. “But, our license to operate should not be up for debate; it has already been guaranteed,” he emphasized.
NAZ K. MODIRZADEH, Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, highlighted the intersections between international humanitarian law and counter-terrorism initiatives. Raising several key considerations, she underscored the importance of ensuring that such measures, including those adopted by the Security Council, do not inhibit principled humanitarian action.
Counter-terrorism measures may be interpreted and applied in ways that might diminish commitments to humanitarian action. The Council should build on a recently adopted resolution that takes more robust and concrete steps to ensure the implementation of international humanitarian law protections for humanitarian action. In addition, particular attention must focus on settings where such measures overlap with armed conflict.
The assumption that the relationship between counter-terrorism frameworks and international humanitarian law is of alternative sets of norms aimed at solving the same problems can be misunderstood, she said, proposing a different approach that may require political solutions crafted by Member States. States have developed international humanitarian law as the primary legal framework to regulate the exceptional situation of armed conflict.
Meanwhile, counter-terrorism measures aimed at preventing, suppressing and punishing terrorist acts through an ever growing range of laws, policies and initiatives contrasts with the relatively narrow and specific purview of international humanitarian law.
When the two regimes cross, tensions emerge, she continued. For instance, humanitarian actors may provide impartial care to wounded fighters under international humanitarian law, but several counter-terrorism frameworks would characterize these activities as illegitimate and unlawful.
Likewise, where principled humanitarian action is considered to constitute a type of illegitimate support to terrorism, counter-terrorism measures may inhibit or even impede their work in wide-ranging ways.
“In my view, the question is not whether counter-terrorism measures might adversely affect principled humanitarian action, but the scope and scale of the impact,” she said, citing recent research findings of a Harvard Law School pilot empirical survey study showing that 69 per cent of respondents indicated that such initiatives had curtailed their humanitarian work.
The Council itself had increasingly recognized some of these possibilities and the imperative to safeguard principled humanitarian action in counter-terrorism contexts, she observed. That included the adoption of resolution 2462 (2019) on terrorist financing and its establishment of a limited sectoral humanitarian exemption in relation to the Somalia sanctions regime.
The General Assembly, in 2016 and 2018, also urged States to guard against counter-terrorism risks to humanitarian and medical activities. Yet, the Security Council is in a position to do much more.
Its generic references to complying with international humanitarian law and other applicable rules of international law while combating terrorism do not sufficiently comprehend and address the diverse and consequential ways that counter-terrorism measures and international humanitarian law protections for related actions may conflict in practice.
She called upon the Council to expand upon and prioritize its efforts to safeguard principled humanitarian action, noting that counter-terrorism measures may prove to be difficult to amend once instituted. Nonetheless, any tension with the agreed-upon norms of international humanitarian law should be of urgent concern to the Council.
In addition, counter-terrorism measures must respect, not degrade humanitarian action. Urging the Council to take several steps, she said it may guard against overly broad and vague notions of what constitutes unlawful support to terrorism, including its own practice concerning designated individuals and entities.
The Council and its subsidiary bodies may ensure that none of the activities that underlie principled humanitarian action form part or all of the basis to subject individuals or entities to sanctions or other restrictive regimes.
The Council may also urgently consider comprehensive exemptions for humanitarian action in line with international humanitarian law and uphold and ensure respect for hard-won legal protections for related activities amid the tumult of war.
“Far too much is at stake for the millions of people suffering in armed conflict to pursue anything less,” she said.
http://news.un.org/en/story/2019/04/1035861 http://news.un.org/en/story/2019/04/1035961 http://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/02/un-security-council-resolution-undermines-aid-human-rights-work
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