The latest Report of theUN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflicthighlights the appalling humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts on persons who are protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In some armed conflicts, violations of IHL are widely reported as strategic methods of warfare. It is clear that the characteristics of modern conflict have changed overtime:
- Wars last twice as long as they did years ago as military victories are harder to achieve and negotiated settlements often don’t stick
- Conflicts are increasingly played out in urban settings, where the civilian population is highly concentrated.
- The number of armed groups has increased esponentially, making it difficult to negotiate with the relevant parties.
- We are seeing the emergence of trans-national terrorist groups, like Daesh and Al-Qaeda, whose ideologies reject the laws of war.
- Military and economic warfare go hand-in-hand.
At today’s event “Civilians Under Fire: Humanitarian Protection and Respect for International Humanitarian Law”,USG Mark Lowcock stressedhow these characteristics have created major humanitarian challenges:
- Civilians are routinely killed or maimed, towns and cities are damaged and destroyed, in targeted or indiscriminate attacks. People are cut off from food, water and life-saving assistance, in some cases, starved as a deliberate tactic of war.
- Humanitarian and medical personnel are killed, injured, kidnapped or otherwise prevented from reaching people in need. They are exposed to legal obstacles and even forms of punishment for impartially providing aid and care to people who need it to survive.
- Record levels of displacement – not just refugees but also internally displaced people – often accompany mass destruction of livelihoods.
- Displacement and destruction of livelihoods exacerbate hunger and disease.
- All these factors combined prolonge humanitarian need. The average length of humanitarian appeals has risen from four years in 2005 to seven years by 2017.
USG Lowcock identified four critical avenues for progress to reverse such trends:
- Ensure that combatants – both State and non-State armed groups – know their obligations under the law.
- Make sure IHL norms are more consistently integrated into military doctrine, standard operating procedures and rules of engagement.
- If armed groups are encouraged to adopt internal policies or codes of conduct, that can have a “self-disciplining” effect.
- Strengthening civil-military coordination can help improve compliance with laws of war.
“There are a range of things we can do”, concluded USG Lowcock. “It’s instructive to recall that most States have signed up to limitations in the way that wars are conducted. Remember the St. Petersburg declaration of 1868 which basically said the only legitimate purpose for the military in war is to deal with the military on the other side. We need to get closer to that original precept.”
World leaders see first ever living petition
Thousands of selfies are on display at this year’s General Assembly in an innovative first for the United Nations and our humanitarian partners. As leaders gather to discuss the state of today’s world, the first ever ‘living petition’, created for this year’s World Humanitarian Day campaign, shows Governments and heads of States the huge groundswell of support towards better protection of civilians in conflict.
Mobilizing citizens, decision makers, celebrities, and the humanitarian community, thousands have rallied together to support the #NotATarget movement. The selfie is a more personal and committed action supporting the call for Governments and non-State armed groups to better protect civilians and humanitarian workers caught in the crossfire of conflicts.
“It is unconscionable that civilians and aid workers who are trying to help them are killed and maimed in conflict zones with utter impunity,” said USG Lowcock. “We need this to end.”
The living petition will be at the UN HQ in New York until the end of October 2018.