At least 10 million people caught up in 20 separate wars around the world are cut off from access to aid workers, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official said today as he urged the Security Council to strengthen its efforts to protect civilians in armed conflicts.
Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Council that not enough progress has been achieved in the past decade in establishing what Secretary-General Kofi Annan has previously labelled as a “culture of protection” towards civilians.
Mr. Egeland outlined a grim picture for civilians enduring many of the world’s armed conflicts, highlighting the obstruction or denial of humanitarian access, the dangers – often deadly – faced by humanitarian workers in providing relief, the particular vulnerability during conflicts of women and children, the plight of refugees and internally displaced people, and the climate of impunity surrounding human rights abuses.
Sexual violence continues to be a weapon of war, and many conflicts have become “forgotten emergencies,” dropping off the radar of the foreign media and the governments of Member States, he said.
Mr. Egeland, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said this year’s 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda “provides a chilling impetus for us to reflect on ways to better protect vulnerable civilian populations in the height of crises and in their immediate aftermath.”
He made the comments as he presented the Secretary-General’s fourth report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts to the Council, which was holding a debate on the issue.
Mr. Egeland said the time is now right for the Council to adopt a resolution showing it will maintain an aggressive stance on protecting civilians, pointing out the Council’s last resolution on the subject was issued four years ago.
“We need to find better ways to provide humanitarian assistance quickly and efficiently, as soon as the security situation on the ground allows, whenever civilians are in desperate need,” he stressed.
Mr. Egeland said he was especially concerned by the current situations in the Darfur region of western Sudan, and northern Uganda, but added he was also disturbed by events in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Liberia, Colombia, Chechnya, Guinea, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory and Somalia.
After Mr. Egeland’s briefing, more than two dozen speakers addressed the Council, with many stressing that individual States must bear the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of their civilians.
Several speakers indicated that some improvements have been made in the past decade in setting up formal mechanisms to protect civilians, but they said the international community should be more flexible in finding the right solutions to helping civilians caught up in different conflicts.
- Morning session [2hrs 58mins]
- Afternoon session [1hr 58mins]