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Annan: instruments to protect civilians in wartime must be updated

Annan: instruments to protect civilians in wartime must be updated

The instruments available today for the protection of civilians in armed conflict are "in urgent need of updating," Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a just released report to the Security Council that recommends new strategies to deal with the changed nature of contemporary wars.

"[Current instruments] were developed in a world where State actors were overwhelmingly dominant, and they reflect that fact," the Secretary-General writes in his second report on the subject. "The forms of conflict most prevalent in the world today are internal [...] and involve a proliferation of armed groups. These circumstances reflect, to varying degrees, the erosion of the central role of the State in world affairs."

Noting that civilians are the principal victims in today's wars, the report says the establishment of a culture of protection depends on the extent the UN and the international community are able to be engaged with the changing world.

"These are not abstract questions," Mr. Annan writes. "They are questions which emerge daily in the struggle to reduce the suffering of civilians in conflict."

Making 14 new recommendations, the report urges the Security Council and/or Member States to provide funding to international human rights tribunals, strengthen domestic legislation to try violators of international criminal law, engage warring parties in dialogue to facilitate relief operations, conduct more fact-finding missions to conflict areas to identify people's needs, further explore regional approaches to crises, and develop criteria for the separation of armed elements among displaced populations.

Mr. Annan also recommends, among other measures, integrating in peacekeeping missions a mechanism to monitor "hate media," emphasizing in Council resolutions the responsibility of armed groups under international humanitarian law, investigating the linkages between wars and illicit trade in natural resources, and preventing the private sector to engage in commercial activities that lead to human rights violations.

The Secretary-General expressed regrets that only a few of the 40 recommendations contained in his first report, submitted 18 months ago, have been implemented.