Brutality still rampant despite progress in protecting civilians: UN official

28 June 2006

While noting that the efforts of the Security Council and humanitarian agencies have made much of the world safer, the United Nations top humanitarian official today pled for more comprehensive action to end the massive suffering of civilians still caught up in armed conflicts.

“In Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, civilians continue to bear the full brunt of armed conflict and terror,” Under-Secretary-General Jan Egeland told the Security Council in an open briefing.

“Despite all our efforts, women are still raped and violated as a matter of course, children are still forcibly recruited, and defenceless civilians continue to be killed in violation of the most basic principles enshrined in centuries of international lawmaking,” he said.

He said that systematic engagement of the Security Council in more crisis areas, more comprehensive peacekeeping plans, better humanitarian response, more effective legal tools and the results of other international efforts have already cut down on much of the suffering.

As a result, refugee flows have been reduced and long-running conflicts have been resolved in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other places, he noted.

However, the untold thousands still suffering and under dire threat mean that the “protection tools” created by the international community for civilian populations must be both strengthened and used more effectively.

States, he said, have the primary responsibility for the protection of their own people – but are often unable or unwilling to do so. The presence of humanitarian workers can often help, but they can be prey to same insecurity that threatens other civilians.

For that reason, much of the hope for the protection of civilians lies with the creation of better, more comprehensive peacekeeping mandates and the means to fulfil them with well-trained and well-equipped peacekeepers, as well as the beefing up of political mediation and the better targeting of sanction regimes.

In addition, joint planning is essential between all sectors of UN response, whether humanitarian, peacekeeping or political, and the legal protections already on the books of international law must be consistently enforced, he stressed.

“We must work together at all levels and using every tool at our disposal to provide adequate protection for those living in the midst of conflict around the world,” he said.

Driving home the urgency of that imperative as he spoke to reporters after his briefing, Mr. Egeland pointed out that “in the time today we were discussing and briefing, in those few hours, dozens died in some of the worst cases of protection crises around the world.”