Global perspective Human stories

Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan present new challenges in protecting civilians, Security Council told

Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan present new challenges in protecting civilians, Security Council told

USG Jan Egeland briefs the Council
The armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have presented new, more difficult challenges to the task of protecting civilians and the United Nations has had to call on religious and cultural leaders to plead the cause of independent humanitarian activities, the world body's top relief official said today.

Addressing a Security Council session on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said, "In Iraq and Afghanistan we may be witnessing a disturbing new development where recent hostage-taking incidents indicate a merging of commercial and political motives.

"These are difficult and substantial challenges which require creative solutions that use both humanitarian and political diplomacy."

As head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mr. Egeland called on religious and community leaders to help by "(speaking) out strongly against those who attack unarmed humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere, in blatant violation of religious and cultural values."

He encouraged the Security Council to consider making greater use of sanctions targeting "those individuals responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law, or for inciting public hatred and violence."

Military and political leaders should distinguish between impartial humanitarian work and political and military activities, Mr. Egeland told the Council meeting chaired by Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem of Algeria, which holds the 15-member body's rotating presidency for December.

Without humanitarian attention, more than 1,000 civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were dying of malnutrition and war-related diseases each day, according to a survey by the International Rescue Committee, while in the eastern DRC, where "forces" had recently moved in, the mortality rate for children younger than 5 was 90 per cent higher than the regional rate, he said.

Urging the media to be more even-handed in their coverage, he added that the mortality rate in Somalia, a "neglected emergency," was the same as that in Darfur, western Sudan, which was under a media spotlight - two per 10,000 per day.

Turning to sexual violence in times of war, he said its casualties were victimized many times over: "victims of trauma, victims of HIV/AIDS, victims of social and economic distress, left destitute and outcast long after the fighting is over."

"If sexual violence is so intolerable, why is it so pervasive?" he asked. "Surely the thousands of brutal rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Darfur, in Uganda, in Liberia should already have resulted in people being brought to justice."

Of some 25 million people made homeless by conflict, more than 10 million were in just four countries: Colombia, the Sudan, the DRC and Uganda, Mr. Egeland said.

He congratulated the Governments of Uganda, Liberia and Somalia on working out protective national polices using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which identify the rights and guarantees persons suffering forced displacement should enjoy during displacement, return or resettlement, and reintegration.

In a wide-ranging statement read out at the end of the daylong discussion by Mr. Belkhadem, the Security Council stressed "the need to adopt a broad strategy of conflict prevention, which addresses the root causes of armed conflict in a comprehensive manner in order to enhance the protection of civilians on a long-term basis."

The requirements to head off strife included promoting sustainable development, good governance, democracy and the rule of law, as well as protecting human rights and eradicating poverty, the statement said.

"The Security Council strongly condemns the increased use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war, as well as the recruitment and use of child soldiers by parties to armed conflict in violation of international obligations applicable to them," it said.

It also re-affirmed the Council's readiness "to ensure that peacekeeping missions are given suitable mandates and adequate resources so as to enable them to better protect civilians under imminent threat of physical danger."

The resources would include using the UN Stand-by Arrangement System, which enables rapid deployment of military and civilian personnel.

Reintegration of former combatants, especially child and woman soldiers, should be part of the UN peacekeeping mandate, Mr. Belkhadem said.

More than 30 speakers participated in the debate.


Video of meeting:

- Morning session [2hrs 40mins]

- Afternoon session [2hrs 45mins]