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Five times more civilians die in city offensives, new report finds
by International Committee of the Red Cross, agencies
14 June 2017
Iraq, Syria and Yemen: Five times more civilians die in city offensives, new report finds.
A new ICRC report launched today reveals five times more civilians die in offensives carried out in cities than in other battles.
The report, called ''I Saw My City Die'', also found that between 2010 and 2015, nearly half of all civilian war deaths worldwide occurred in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the main focus countries of the report.
"Over the past three years, our research shows that wars in cities accounted for a shocking 70% of all civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria", said the ICRC''s Regional Director for the Middle East, Robert Mardini.
"This illustrates just how deadly these battles have become. This is all the more alarming as new offensives get underway in cities like Raqqa in Syria, or intensify in Mosul, Iraq. A new scale of urban suffering is emerging, where no one and nothing is spared by the violence."
The research findings are based on preliminary analysis of battle trends and data over the past three years in Iraq and Syria. The report includes testimony from residents in Syria''s Aleppo, Iraq''s Mosul and Yemen''s Taiz, and expert analysis. It vividly illustrates the effects of siege warfare, the use of explosive weapons and the extensive damage caused to key infrastructure.
The conflicts in these countries have resulted in internal displacement and migration levels unprecedented since WWII. More than 17 million Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis have fled their homes.
And these battles risk becoming even more protracted if real political solutions are not found soon. Wars in cities are so devastating because of the way in which they are being fought.
Armed parties are failing to distinguish between military objectives and civilian infrastructure or worse, they are using or directly targeting them.
"It''s beholden on those with power to act. Warring sides must realise the full impact the fighting has on the people they ultimately hope to govern. Will the victors be able to keep the peace if people feel they have respected neither the law nor the basic humanity of local citizens? The consequences of this violence will resonate for generations and there is the very real danger that cities experiencing these conflicts will simply act as incubators for further violence in the future", said Mr Mardini.
"States supporting parties to conflict must also do their utmost to restrain their allies and ensure better respect for international humanitarian law. And once the guns fall silent, it is local people and organisations which must play a full part in the rebuilding of the communities."
The report also considers Lebanon''s 15-year civil war and examines the lessons Beirut can offer to help ensure the recovery of urban communities after such overwhelming and protracted violence.
ICRC Director General Yves Daccord says there are 80 conflicts currently raging in some 40 countries. The ICRC estimates that fifty million people currently bear the brunt of war in cities around the world.
Mr. Daccord is currently seeking more support to assist those affected. "With adequate funding will be able to better assist civilians who fled war zones, and those who chose to stay... If we want them to be able to survive in Syria and Yemen, we need to do humanitarian actions," he said.
"But also at the same time, try to make sure that water, sanitation systems, health system, can continue to function.
"When you are trying to reconstruct, it''s not just about reconstructing building or infrastructure. It''s about reconstructing society, and really thinking about how the social fabric of a society is living."
"We need to learn from the past, and we see that we are dealing with really protracted crises which impact people over time," he said.
Tens of thousands killed by war
The ICRC report found the most deadly conflicts were in the Middle East, with nearly half of all deaths in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
The Syrian war has claimed more than 400,000 lives in seven years, and civilians who stayed said they were reliving the trauma on a daily basis.
In two years Yemen''s civil war has caused at least 10,000 civilian deaths, and like Syria and Yemen, many Iraqi cities have been bombed repeatedly.
At the general hospital in Mosul in Iraq, just a kilometre from the frontline of the conflict Doctor Julia Schurch said: "All the traumas we see, more than 90 per cent, are directly war wounded traumas - gunshots and shell injuries, which means from blasts," she said. "Here it is really a very high number of war wounded cases, from very small superficial lesions from flying elements to deadly injuries."
With a humanitarian crisis unprecedented since the Second World War, the Red Cross said international assistance remained imperative.
The report makes 10 key recommendations to all parties that are either directly or indirectly involved in these conflicts; all of which are intended to limit the impact of urban warfare by reducing suffering and addressing the urgent needs of civilians.
The recommendations urge strict adherence to international humanitarian law which include among others the cessation of sieges as tactics of war, protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure and allowing access to humanitarian aid.
* Access the ICRC report via the link below.

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Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict
by Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General
May 2017
Armed conflicts are tearing apart vast swathes of the world and record numbers of people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Some 97 per cent of humanitarian assistance goes to complex emergencies, the majority of which involve armed conflicts.
Globally, more than 65 million people have been displaced by conflict, violence or persecution. More than 20 million people, including 1.4 million children, are on the brink of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. At the same time, among the international community there is a growing sense of fatigue, even resignation, in addressing the suffering of civilians in conflict.
All State and non-State parties to conflict must respect international humanitarian law, and all States must ensure such respect. Yet, in many conflicts, parties flout their obligations and show contempt for human life and dignity, often with impunity.
Civilians are routinely killed in direct and indiscriminate attacks. As conflict becomes increasingly urbanized, the impact on civilians reaches new lows, with bombs and rockets destroying schools, hospitals, markets and places of worship, while children are pulled from the rubble of their homes.
Sexual violence shatters lives and undermines community cohesion. These horrors are exacerbated when civilians are deprived of basic relief items and services, sometimes even besieged for months at a time. Faced with such brutality, millions of civilians are forced to flee their homes in search of safety. The result is a global protection crisis.
In the present report I set out a path to protection my vision for collective action to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict. My overarching priority is to galvanize the international community to prevent and resolve conflicts and build sustainable peace.
In the long term, the best way to protect civilians is to tackle the root causes of conflicts, promote human rights and the rule of law, strengthen governance and institutions and invest in inclusive and sustainable development.
There must be a shift from perpetual reaction to early action, including the ability to identify and act upon signs of impending or potential conflict and threats to civilians.
A commitment to conflict prevention also compels us to address illicit and irresponsible arms transfers, which enable conflict and undermine protection and peacebuilding efforts. Indeed, although beyond the scope of the present report, my vision of prevention encompasses not only violent armed conflict, but also the increasingly complex array of crises that take a significant toll on humanity and produce unsustainable levels of human suffering.
Where prevention fails, we must make every effort to protect the lives and dignity of civilians caught up in conflict. In this regard, three protection priorities clearly emerge across conflicts.
First, we must enhance respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law and promote good practice by parties to conflict.
Second, we must protect the humanitarian and medical mission and accord priority to the protection of civilians in United Nations peace operations.
Third, we must prevent forced displacement and pursue durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons. These protection priorities are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. In particular, strengthening respect for international law is a prerequisite to achieving priorities two and three.
Achieving these goals necessitates a multi-faceted approach encompassing a diversity of actors. An intensified global effort is needed at the international, regional and national levels to raise public understanding of the human cost of conflict and enhance respect for international law and the protection of civilians. The Security Council and Member States must be at the forefront of this effort.
In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States committed themselves to leaving no one behind and to reaching those furthest behind first. The World Humanitarian Summit, held in 2016, reinforced this vision.
Member States must now take specific action to implement their commitments and ensure that civilians in conflict, who are among the most vulnerable, are protected. I am personally committed to ensuring that this becomes a priority in all aspects of United Nations work.

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