Top UN official urges Human Rights Council to protect civilians caught in war

4 June 2009

The top United Nations human rights official, highlighting the suffering of civilians caught up in armed conflict, has urged the Human Rights Council to protect this vulnerable group.

“The condition of civilians in armed conflict continues to cause grave alarm,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Geneva-based Council today.

“Their suffering has been a tragic feature of confrontations in many countries and regions of the world. A neglect of basic human rights, as well as discriminatory practices, are often to be found at the roots of such conflicts.”

Ms. Pillay cited 11 countries where fighting is having a serious negative impact on the lives of civilians.

In Afghanistan, for instance, there was concern “over the continuing high rate of civilian casualties in the context of the deteriorating security situation,” she stated.

“Anti-government elements remain responsible for the largest proportion of conflict-related civilian casualties – mostly from suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices and targeted killings, including those of high-profile women.

“Civilians continue to be killed by pro-Government forces as well, particularly in the context of air strikes,” she said.

“The Government of Afghanistan and all States involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians, and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims,” she said.

Turning to Sri Lanka, Ms. Pillay stressed the importance of “unfettered humanitarian access to, as well as freedom of movement for,” the large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) held in closed camps.

“A comprehensive process of accountability for human rights violations committed by all sides should be carried out,” she added. “To that end, I have called for an independent international inquiry.”

The High Commissioner also briefed the Council on conditions in Pakistan, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory, Colombia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Chad and Nepal.

Continuing its 11th session, the 47-member Council also discussed women’s human rights today. Opening the discussion, Ms. Pillay, said there is a “wide gulf” between international human rights treaties that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and their implementation.

“When race, religion, ethnicity, poverty, disability, social status, and other forms of discrimination were factored in,” she said, “the picture was one of even greater disparity.”


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