Departing UN aid chief urges Security Council to never falter in defending civilians
Although there has been a steady decline in the number of conflicts in the past 15 years, violent attacks against civilians have surged over the same period, the top United Nations humanitarian official told the Security Council today.
Jan Egeland, the departing Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict that the number of attacks leapt by 55 per cent between 1989 and 2005 – with much of that increase taking place in the past five years.
Mr. Egeland said the proliferation of informal or non-State groups with access to sophisticated weapons and the “the intentional, reckless and often times disproportionate use of military weaponry and tactics with little or no regard for their impact on the civilian population” were among the key reasons for the surge. He cited recent events in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as examples.
Reviewing events during his three-year tenure as Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Egeland noted the “vast progress” in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan, attributing those results in part to united action by UN Member States.
“We have not had the same unity of purpose nor action in Darfur or in Gaza,” he lamented. “Our readiness to act, to sanction and to fund must be the same in Uganda, Chad or Côte d’Ivoire as it is in Afghanistan, Kosovo or Iraq. Our responsibility to protect must transcend singular interests and become a core principle of humanity across all civilizations.”
Mr. Egeland added: “When the lives and safety of civilians is at stake, regardless of where, neither strategic, nor economic or other political interests should deter you from acting swiftly upon your united responsibility to protect.”
He called on the Council to make more effective use of mechanisms of its disposal to prevent violations of human rights and humanitarian law, pointing to targeted sanctions as one option that could be deployed more frequently.
The Under-Secretary-General also called for greater guidance and support for UN peacekeeping operations so that they have the resources to strengthen civil order, judicial systems and the rule of law. Comprehensive and predictable aid funding is critical, he stressed, hailing the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) launched earlier this year as “a significant advance.” Mediation must be undertaken at the earliest of opportunities so that conflicts do not deteriorate further, he added.
Later, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, which holds the Council presidency this month, read out a press statement stressing the Council’s commitment to translating the words of resolution 1674 (adopted in April) – which deplored attacks on civilians during armed conflict – into concrete action.
Mr. al-Nasser also briefed journalists today on the Council’s programme of work for December, forecasting that it would be a busy month, with formal meetings, briefings and reports expected on topics ranging from Iraq to Sudan to Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.