New resolution on immediate global ceasefire presented to UN Security Council
by UN News, Save the Children, Oxfam, agencies
1 July 2020 (UN News)
Stalled UN Security Council resolution adopted, backing global humanitarian ceasefire call
The UN Security Council on Wednesday echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a worldwide ceasefire, to combat the coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed more than half a million lives. The UN chief welcomed the long-awaited move, calling for countries to "redouble their efforts for peace".
Unanimously adopting resolution 2532 (2020), the 15-member peace and security body demanded “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations, on its agenda.”
It also voiced its support for efforts by Secretary-General António Guterres – who first appealed for a global ceasefire on 23 March – towards that goal.
The unprecedented extent of the novel coronavirus pandemic “is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”, it said, adding that it could also set back peacebuilding and development gains in countries emerging from conflict.
The resolution – drafted by France and Tunisia - was adopted 111 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.
Through the resolution, the Council called upon all parties to armed conflicts to immediately engage in a “durable humanitarian pause” of at least 90 days, to enable the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of lifesaving aid.
It requested the Secretary-General to instruct the United Nations’ 13 peacekeeping missions to support host country efforts to contain the coronavirus, and to provide updates on UN efforts to address the pandemic in conflict zones and humanitarian crisis areas.
UN chief António Guterres welcomed the adoption, “and the Council’s recognition of his efforts to respond to the crisis, in particular his appeal for a global ceasefire”.. “The adoption of this resolution will send an important signal to conflict parties and may help change calculations on the ground.
“The Secretary-General continues to urge individual Member States to redouble their efforts for peace in the conflicts in which they have influence”, the statement continued.
Wednesday’s resolution makes no mention of the World Health Organization (WHO) which according to news reports was a bone of contention during lengthy negotiations on the text, notably between China and the United States, which announced its withdrawal from the UN health agency in April.
In its latest situation report, the WHO on Tuesday put the worldwide total of COVID-19 cases at 10,185,374, with 503,862 deaths. Hardest hit are the Americas with 5,136,705 cases and 247,129 deaths.
The COVID-19 pandemic is “profoundly affecting” peace and security across the globe, the Secretary-General told the Security Councily, pressing the 15-member body to use its collective influence to protect the millions of people either trapped in, or fleeing conflict, and already facing acute vulnerabilities.
“The health pandemic has fast become a protection crisis”, António Guterres warned. With more than one billion children out of school, 135 million people facing starvation by year-end, and healthcare workers routinely being targeted by violence, "these wide-ranging risks require an urgent and united response.”
Collective security and a shared wellbeing are under assault on many fronts, led by a relentless disease and abetted by global fragilities. “Our challenge is to save lives today while buttressing the pillars of security for tomorrow,” he said.
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said his organization sees first-hand how COVID-19 is deepening fragility, spiking humanitarian needs, accelerating the impact of violence in conflict and reversing hard-won development gains. It is clear that pandemics cannot be addressed only as a health issue.
Sharing lessons for humanitarian response, he said international humanitarian law must be respected in order to protect civilians from pandemics. Countries where health services are destroyed, stand little chance of fighting COVID-19.
Healthcare workers - the first and last lines of defence - must be protected, he said, stressing that resolution 2286 (2016) will be “fruitless” if it does not result in meaningful behaviour change on the ground.
Assistance and protection must be available to all those in need without threat of intimidation or manipulation.
“People’s needs are the only reasonable basis on which to respond”, he insisted, and he called for the development of a “people’s vaccine” that will be equitably distributed to everyone.
He said the secondary impacts of the pandemic must be mitigated through the creation of safety nets and livelihoods, and that humanitarian responses must reach the most vulnerable, as failure to do so will only nurture the cycle of exclusion.
States also must guard against any rollback of civilian protections. Exceptional measures taken to fight the coronavirus must be time-bound and proportional to public health needs. Overall, he said, responses will only be effective if there is community trust and engagement. “Health care at gunpoint is futile”.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, underscored the urgent need for rapid and safe humanitarian access during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Council must finally embrace a broader understanding of peace and security” he said.
“Today, we know a virus can be more deadly than a gun”, he said. Today, climate change affects more people than conventional weapons.. Closing our eyes to this reality means refusing to learn.”
The United Nations must be equipped with effective capacities. While resolution 2532 (2020) was “long overdue”, the Council nonetheless has sent a sign of unity by endorsing the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.
13 May 2020 (AFP, wires)
Germany and Estonia submitted Tuesday a resolution to the UN Security Council on a ceasefire in various conflicts around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, to replace one drafted by France and Tunisia that the United States has blocked.
Encompassing five major points compared to the previous draft's nine the proposal by the two non-permanent members of the Security Council and seen by AFP "demands a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda."
Such a move is intended to help some 20 countries in crisis or at war battle the coronavirus, but it is unclear if concrete steps on the ground have been taken.
The resolution borrows from the French-Tunisian proposal, using language agreed upon by the 15 Council members during negotiations that have been ongoing since March or that had been used in previous resolutions.
As in the French-Tunisian resolution, the new proposal calls for a "humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days" in order to allow for the delivery of aid to the hardest-hit communities.
A date has not yet been set for the vote, but it could happen quickly if none of the five permanent Council members threatens to use its veto, as when Washington criticized the mention of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the French-Tunisian resolution.
The German-Estonian text makes no mention of the WHO, so the uncertainty resides with China, which until the last minute insisted on a reference to the UN health group, even an implicit one.
The new resolution was proposed Tuesday during a teleconference held behind closed doors and organized by Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. The resolution was submitted in the afternoon.
One of the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China declared in the meeting that it backed swift action in the council.
The US stunned the Council on Friday by blocking the resolution from going forward, stating that Washington "cannot support the current draft."
Washington had threatened to use its veto if there were any explicit reference to the World Health Organization. Diplomats say that at the same time Beijing had brandished its own veto if the global health body were not mentioned, before ultimately accepting an implicit reference.
"We must find a way out from this deadlock," Estonia's ambassador to the UN, Sven Jurgenson, told AFP. "It is a real shame that we, the Security Council, have not been able to fulfill our responsibility on this matter," he said, adding he hoped to quickly come to an agreement.
Rob Malley, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, said Washington and Beijing "have treated these negotiations as an opportunity for a blame-game over the origins of Covid-19 rather than an opening to make a straightforward call for a reduction in violence during the pandemic." Neither country "seems able or willing to show leadership at the UN during a global crisis," Malley said.
One diplomat, speaking anonymously, said it was high time to turn the page after the first resolution failed. After two months of silence from the Security Council, the damage is done, he said, noting it was unfortunate that the human tragedy caused by the pandemic did not rapidly rally support for the UN chief's call for a ceasefire in various conflicts around the world.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appeal on March 23 was somewhat heeded in some countries, but violence has since resumed or intensified, particularly in Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya.
"The paralysis of the Security Council in the face of Covid is shameful. To millions of people, it is also incomprehensible," said David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, said the Security Council "has a historic opportunity to stop the fighting globally and to ensure aid workers have full access to those most in need."
Act to protect children caught in the crosshairs of conflict and coronavirus - Save the Children Internional.
Children's safety and protection is a key pillar of Save the Children's Agenda for Action to #ProtectAGeneration throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, the killing of 24 women and children, including two new-born babies, in the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, broke through the coronavirus din and reminded us of the horrors of conflict that remain a daily reality for millions across the globe.
Elsewhere, without hitting the headlines, the numbers of children killed or maimed in conflict this year continued to rise.
In the past week alone, three children were injured, and one killed as an artillery shell pierced the protective walls of their home in Yemen. In the Democratic Republic of Congo at least 20 civilians, including children, were massacred by an armed group in the north-east of the country. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), a teenager's future was cruelly extinguished as he was shot dead during a raid of the Al-Fawwar refugee camp.
Coronavirus or not, for children living in conflict-zones, the daily horror of war continues unabated. The virus is now one more thing to fear. The latest deadly threat to add to a long list that already includes gunfire, shelling, air-raids, sexual violence, abduction and being forcibly recruited.
Coronavirus knows and respects no borders. No-one one is safe from this crisis until everyone is. Ultimately our collective response to the global pandemic will only be as strong as our protection for the most vulnerable.
Left unchecked warzones across the globe will become tinderboxes for the virus. The consequences of community transmission in countries reeling from years of fighting will likely prove catastrophic.
Scenes beamed into our living rooms on the late-night news depicting row after row of pre-dug graves in countries like Yemen should be enough to snap us all into action. If not, then COVID-19 threatens to be the final nail in thousands of children's coffins.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not just exacerbating the pre-existing vulnerabilities of millions of the most vulnerable. It is also threatening to pull apart the very multilateral systems put in place to solve international problems and maintain peace and security.
75 years ago this October, the UN was born out of the embers of the devastation of World War Two. Back then, war was considered enough of a global challenge that it needed global governance to tackle it.
Yet now while the humanitarian sector steadies itself for dealing with the virus in countries with decimated heath systems, weak governance and an erosion of basic services, we are left clinging to the hope that the realignment of politics can tackle the problem at its core.
Almost two months have passed since the UN Secretary General Antnio Guterres called for a global ceasefire. Guterres asked warring parties around the world to lay down their arms and refocus their efforts on mitigating and suppressing COVID-19.
It was a bold call and we have seen momentum growing with eleven countries having so far 'responded' to the call. On the ground however the real picture appears far more mixed.
While progress is encouraging at local levels, at the global level the UN Security Council stands accused of watching from the side-lines as this crisis unfolds.
Even during the worst tensions of the Cold War resolutions and agreements were found when it came to global health, including a consensus around polio vaccinations. If the Security Council fails at this most critical time history will surely judge them harshly.
It is not hyperbole to say that millions of children's lives in some of the most fragile contexts across the globe depend on it.
In the short term a global ceasefire would put an end to the daily drumbeat of death and destruction. Critically, it would allow life-saving aid to reach the most vulnerable communities and support them to mount an effective response to coronavirus.
Make no mistake, even if a UN Security Council Resolution on COVID-19 was adopted there would still be a huge amount of work to do. Yet as we're seeing on a daily basis, there are energised communities and organisations all over the world ready to step up if they are given the opportunity.
Recently, in a crowded camp in Idlib, North West Syria, a fourteen-year-old boy told our team, "We're used to the war now. Even when it hits nearby, we hide in caves. But with this virus, we can't hide." With these words he captured the fears of 149 million children living in high-intensity conflict zones around the world.
For him, and the millions of children currently caught in the crosshairs of conflict, a genuine pause in fighting could provide the respite they so desperately need and stop them becoming just another sad statistic in the daily news.
Armed conflict displaces 660,000 since UN call for global ceasefire
Armed conflict forced more than 660,000 people around the world to flee their homes between March 23 and May 15, leaving people more exposed to Covid-19, and is preventing global efforts to control the pandemic.
"At a time when health experts tell us to stay at home, men with guns are forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes and into extreme vulnerability," said NRC's Secretary General Jan Egeland. "This not only hurts those who are forced to flee, it seriously undermines our joint efforts to combat the virus."
New figures released today by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) show that armed hostilities have continued despite a call on March 23 from the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of the 661,000 internally displaced in 19 countries in two months, the highest number by far was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where clashes between armed groups and the country's military forced more than 480,000 people to flee their homes.
Even in countries where warring parties have expressed support for a ceasefire call, the fighting has not stopped. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition announced that they would implement a unilateral ceasefire. However, airstrikes have continued, and the other parties have undertaken armed operations resulting in the displacement of 24,000 people since March 23.
"My cousin tried to flee the farm with his family, but an airstrike hit them. Three were killed, including a baby," said Ali, a Yemeni father, who was forced to flee on May 6.
The Lake Chad region has also experienced an internal displacement surge with Chad and Niger worst affected. Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar all saw more than 10,000 people displaced in the same period.
The UN Security Council has failed to provide leadership for ceasefires, peace talks or protection of civilians during the pandemic. While there is broad agreement on the call for a global ceasefire, powerful countries including the US and China, are stalling progress by bringing their bilateral disagreements into council deliberations.
NRC appeals to UNSC members to issue a clear call to warring parties to halt the conduct of hostilities and to settle their conflicts through talks and allow for a systematic response to the pandemic.
"While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN Security Council squabble like children in a sandbox," Egeland said. "World leaders must rise to the occasion and jointly push parties to cease their fire and unite in protecting all communities from Covid-19. Now is not the time for kindergarten politics."
3 Apr. 2020
UN Secretary-General reiterates Appeal for Global Ceasefire. (UN News)
Ten days ago, I issued an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in all corners of the globe to reinforce diplomatic action, help create conditions for the delivery of lifesaving aid and bring hope to places that are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This call was rooted in a fundamental recognition: There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19.
We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security.
We see it, for example, in postponement of elections or limitations on the ability to vote, sustained restrictions on movement, spiralling unemployment and other factors that could contribute to rising discontent and political tensions.
The global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world. The call has been endorsed by an ever-growing number of Member States, some 70 so far, regional partners, non-State actors, civil society networks and organizations, and all United Nations Messengers of Peace and Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Religious leaders - including Pope Francis - have added their moral voice in support of a global ceasefire, as have citizens through grassroots mobilization online. Just to mention one example, an appeal launched by [the non-governmental organization] Avaaz has already gathered support from more than 1 million people. To all, I express my deep gratitude.
Today, I am releasing an update on the impact of the global ceasefire appeal. A substantial number of parties to conflict have expressed their acceptance for the call. As the update details, these include parties to conflict in the following countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.
But, there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds - between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people.
There are enormous difficulties to implementation as conflicts have festered for years and distrust is deep, with many spoilers and many suspicions. We know that any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible.
And in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting, and some conflicts have even intensified.
We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges. To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace.
In all these situations, my Special Representatives and Special Envoys - and in some countries, the Resident Coordinators - with full support from Headquarters and, whenever required, my personal involvement - are engaging with conflict actors to help move towards ceasefires on the ground as a prerequisite to lasting peace.
Allow me to give four examples of this intense diplomatic push. In Yemen, despite expressed support for a ceasefire by the Government, Ansar Allah and many other parties the conflict has spiked. My Special Envoy is working on preparations to convene the parties to discuss COVID 19 crisis management and a nationwide ceasefire mechanism. I call on all Governments and movements involved and their supporters to end this catastrophic conflict and humanitarian nightmare and come to the negotiating table.
In Syria, where the first COVID 19 related deaths have now been reported, my Special Envoy appealed for a 'complete and immediate' nationwide ceasefire in the country to allow for an all-out effort against COVID-19. The Idlib ceasefire previously negotiated by Turkey and the Russian Federation is holding. But, it is essential that a permanent nationwide ceasefire take effect to allow for expansions in humanitarian access to all those suffering for the last decade.
In Libya, the Government of National Accord and Marshal Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army welcomed calls to stop the fighting. Yet, clashes have escalated drastically on all frontlines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19.
I urge both parties and all others directly and indirectly involved in this conflict to immediately halt hostilities to allow authorities to effectively address the COVID-19 threat, ensure unhindered access to humanitarian aid and realize the ceasefire they have been discussing under the auspices of the United Nations.
Finally, in Afghanistan, while fighting increased, on 26 March, it was announced that a 21-member team, which includes 5 women, was formed for direct negotiations with the Taliban. The Government and the Taliban have also established technical contacts for an initial prisoner release. I believe the time has come for the Government and the Taliban to cease hostilities as COVID-19 looms over the country. I pledge my full support.
In all these enormously difficult circumstances, as in others, I make a special appeal to all countries with influence on parties waging war to do everything possible for the ceasefire to become a reality. I call on all those that can make a difference to make that difference to urge and pressure combatants around the world to put down their arms.
There is a chance for peace, but we are far from there. And the need is urgent. The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict.
The virus has shown how swiftly it can move across borders, devastate countries and upend lives. The worst is yet to come. We need to do everything possible to find the peace and unity our world so desperately needs to battle COVID-19. We must mobilize every ounce of energy to defeat it.
12 May 2020
Efforts to forge a global ceasefire a "catastrophic failure", says Oxfam.
There has been a catastrophic failure by the international community to forge a global ceasefire in order for countries in conflict - and the world at large - to stop the coronavirus and save millions of lives, said Oxfam today.
In its new report 'Conflict in the time of Coronavirus', Oxfam showed that acts of aggression and fighting by many parties across many conflict-torn countries continue unabated today.
This is compounded by a diplomatic failure at the UN Security Council, years of weak investment into peace-building efforts, and arms continuing to flow into conflict zones.
'We expected leadership from the Council as well as many of those countries who say they support a ceasefire, but who nevertheless remain active participants in conflicts around the world, conducting military operations, selling arms and supporting third parties', said Oxfam Interim Executive Director Jose Maria Vera.
On Friday 8 May the US finally refused to vote on a UN resolution for a global ceasefire. Oxfam says that this was merely the latest of a litany of failures that are sustaining conflicts at a time when peace and international cooperation is needed.
Two billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected states are now at heightened risk from the coronavirus pandemic.
These conflicts are trapping millions of people in areas where health systems are crippled and hospitals bombed or are forcing them to flee into crowded camps where conditions are rife for the virus to spread.
'I fear that the ceasefire will take place after the Covid-19 virus will spread, so what would be the benefit of peace to a land without a people' said a Yemeni woman peace activist and Oxfam partner in Aden.
In the last year alone, the international community topped $1.9 trillion in military spending. This would have paid for the UN's coronavirus appeal over 280 times.
Some of the cases outlined in Oxfam's report include:
In the Central African Republic, The armed groups have broken the ceasefire amid a surge of violence, in spite of the UN's peace appeal, and 14 armed groups signing a peace agreement with the government in February 2019.
In Myanmar, the army has rejected domestic and international calls for a comprehensive ceasefire as fighting in Rakhine state increased, with frequent airstrikes and shelling in populated areas. Across Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced, often living in overcrowded shelters with extremely limited access to health care. Close to one million people are cut off from the internet when information about the virus is lifesaving.
Saudi Arabia announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen from 9 April and later extended it a month but fighting continues by all sides in the conflict. Barely half of Yemen's health facilities are still working and there have been over 100,000 suspected cases of cholera this year.
In Colombia, the rebel ELN have declared a ceasefire but other armed groups and the government has not.
In Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan peace negotiations scheduled in March have been delayed and the Taliban is refusing a ceasefire without the government reciprocating.
In Burkina Faso, on-going violence means that people are often unable to access essentials such as water, healthcare, and food. Restrictions put in place to prevent the transmission of the virus has made it even more of a challenge.
In South Sudan, some peacebuilding funding has been paused by donors, who are prioritizing the coronavirus response above all else.
Vera said: 'Decades of conflict have devastated the health systems and economies of war-torn countries, leaving two billion people vulnerable to diseases like coronavirus. Managing coronavirus is hard enough when a country is at peace but fuelling conflict on top of a pandemic is reprehensible'.
* Oxfam Report: "Conflict in the Time of Coronavirus": http://bit.ly/3fOiRtW
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Protecting civilians affected by conflict-induced hunger
by Jan Egeland
Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council
21 Apr. 2020
Briefing to the United Nations Security Council on protecting civilians affected by conflict-induced hunger:
I wish to thank you for this opportunity to speak about conflict-induced hunger and what Security Council members can do to follow up on their commitment to 'break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity' as expressed in resolution 2417 (2018).
The importance and urgency of global food needs has been well presented by my colleagues from FAO and WFP. I will therefore concentrate on the need for help from the Security Council with our field-based obstacles to reach the hungry in war.
In my 40 years of humanitarian work there has never been as many, more than 70 million, displaced by horrific violence and conflict. Linked to more, longer and crueler conflicts we see mounting hunger caused by political violence and violent extremism.
Conflict forces families to flee their homes, their farms, their fields and their livelihoods, and become dependent on the generosity of host-communities who themselves are often in a precarious situation.
To make this storm even worse climate change is also hitting the displaced and their hosts, which in turn deepens hunger and further displacement.
Perhaps nowhere else is this vicious cycle clearer than in central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin in Africa. I witnessed this first-hand when I visited Burkina Faso earlier this year, just before the coronavirus pandemic. Nowhere else in the world have we seen such a tenfold increase in forced displacement in just a year from 70,000 to 750,000.
In the small northern town of Barsalogho, the population had increased manifold due to continuous brutal attacks throughout the region by different armed groups.
Most of the families were single mother-led. Men were targeted by extremist violence, and fathers and husbands were dead or had fled further away. These women and children were suffering alone and unprotected. We were only a couple of aid groups present in this large area, and we are overstretched and underfunded. There are no public services nor any law and order in sight.
Most families had gotten some basic shelter. But they were in acute need of everything else: food, water, sanitation and education. A family of 7 or 8 shared 20 litres of water per day.
How can you avoid the coronavirus with a thousand huts next to each other, with ten people in each small shelter and 3 litres of water for drinking, food and hygiene per person per day? There was no school as teachers had fled the targeted violence against education. Food insecurity has increased threefold.
The emergency in Northern Burkina Faso is not unique. We see the same food and basic relief crisis across the Sahel from Mali to Lake Chad. There is an overreliance on counter-terrorist military responses. Too little is done to address such root causes of violence as massive unemployment, lack of education, abject poverty, lack of good governance and lack of hope for the large generation of young people. And if we go beyond the Sahel to Syria, Yemen, DRC or Somalia, we see the same need for a real reboot.
So what should be done? Having consulted with many field colleagues let me focus on five asks:
We need safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all populations in need.
As frontline humanitarian agencies, you must help us to reach all communities in need in conflict areas. States have an obligation to facilitate impartial humanitarian aid according to humanitarian law. Yet, when we try to reach children, women and men - all civilians - with lifesaving relief, we face every day and in multiple conflict settings obstacles, roadblocks and prohibitions. Both assertive governments and non-state armed groups are blatantly denying civilians access to relief.
We would urge the Security Council to avoid politicizing access to aid, and rather by default enable us as frontline humanitarian actors to provide relief wherever and whenever there are unmet needs - across frontlines, across borders, across political, religious and ethnic lines. Women, children, the elderly and the disabled must get aid always and everywhere. UN Security Council resolution 2165 for cross-border relief in Syria is an example of the type of mechanisms needed.
We need stronger humanitarian diplomacy to promote humanitarian access
Missions deployed by the UN Security Council, as well as your bilateral diplomatic missions, must give priority to humanitarian diplomacy with parties and actors that can eliminate access challenges and ensure we can reach people with food and other assistance. Access challenges are nearly always manmade. Your intervention can enable lifesaving food and other aid.
From 2016 to end 2018, I chaired a Humanitarian Task Force on access in Syria with some 25 influential UN member states. The task force was set up after horrific reports of children starving to death in besieged towns in Syria. Within 72 hours of the creation of the task force, convoys were rolling into several besieged areas that had not received any food or other relief for many months.
Humanitarian diplomacy by States and the UN system was a key factor in enabling this. States with influence over the parties to conflict have a particular responsibility in this regard.
When many besieged areas were again denied food and hunger took hold, it was primarily because the pressure on the parties by States was waning. A criminal military logic won over compassion and humanitarian law.
We must strengthen the instrument of deconfliction with parties to armed conflicts.
Deconflicting by informing parties of protected humanitarian and medical sites, is a key tool to enable food, medical relief and humanitarian assistance to reach civilians without being attacked. The protection of neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian relief is a basic tenant of humanitarian law. To attack medical and humanitarian sites are war crimes.
When military commanders are informed of when, where and what will be supplied of food and other relief items, they have an obligation to ensure the safety and security of a relief convoy for the entire operation.
In many conflicts and with many parties this has worked. But too often the parties, their sponsors and the humanitarian system fail to get deconfliction effectively organised and respected. We have often seen convoys get through to places of hunger and hopelessness after having been successfully deconflicted with multiple governmental armed forces and non-state armed groups.
In other places we have seen deconflicted convoys, hospitals, schools, camps, and humanitarian offices and warehouses attacked and bombed.
Deconfliction and humanitarian diplomacy can work even in the cruellest of wars, but the information provided must always be verified and accurate, and most importantly there must be accountability for attacks on protected sites.
States must work to ensure respect for international humanitarian law among their own armed forces, and among those they support and can influence.
Standard exemptions for humanitarian aid, including food and agricultural products, must be included in counter-terrorism laws and sanctions regimes.
Humanitarian work, access, supply, procurement, visas and movements in conflict zones are increasingly affected by counter-terror legislation, measures and sanctions regimes.
A well known example is the drought-related food crisis that became a famine in south-central Somalia in 2011 and where sanctions imposed on Al-Shabaab greatly complicated the response to the famine. It delayed donor funding and caused widespread risk aversion among humanitarian organizations who believed they could not respond in these areas owing to the legal risks. Exemptions were introduced too late, and too many died.
Today, in many of the conflict areas where NRC's 15,000 humanitarian workers struggle to get food and other relief to civilians in the crossfire, we are delayed or restrained by the lack of clear cut exemptions for provision of humanitarian aid in all sanctions regimes and counter-terrorism measures.
In a similar vein, the many current Covid-19 restrictions put in place by States should also always include provisions that allow coronavirus-safe humanitarian assistance to continue, for example by designating humanitarian workers as essential personnel just like medical personnel. Otherwise, the current health crisis may provoke a food crisis with even graver consequences for vulnerable populations.
Monitoring, reporting and accountability mechanisms must be strengthened.
The starvation of civilians in warfare and the denial of humanitarian relief are grave violations of humanitarian law for which perpetrators must be held to account. The recent amendment of the Rome Statute expanding the war crime of deliberate starvation to situations of non-international armed conflicts is a welcome step. States parties should ratify or accept this amendment to ensure it enters into force.
There must be consequences when men with guns and power prevent children and families from accessing food through harvests or aid, and hunger is the consequence.
The Security Council must ensure investigations and accountability through a mechanism to monitor and report on humanitarian access and starvation crimes. Only then will generals, commanders and politicians think twice before they deny civilians food.
Starving civilians is a war crime and will never achieve legitimate military objectives. We urge the Security Council to renew its commitment to break the vicious cycle of conflict and food insecurity, and consider the five points I have listed.
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