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Number of UN civilian casualties falls despite spike in direct attacks against the Organization – new report

The United Nations flag flies at UN Headquarters in New York. (file)
UN Photo/Mark Garten
The United Nations flag flies at UN Headquarters in New York. (file)

Number of UN civilian casualties falls despite spike in direct attacks against the Organization – new report

Despite an increasingly complex global security environment and an unprecedented increase in direct attacks against the United Nations, the number of casualties among UN civilian personnel has declined, Secretary-General António Guterres has said.

In his report transmitted Thursday to the General Assembly on the Security and Protection of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of United Nations Personnel, the Secretary-General stresses that the global security environment is unlikely to improve in the future as long as the social, political and economic stakes underlying the insecurity persist.

Moreover, Mr. Guterres notes that even as millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, tempering the socio-economic conditions in which instability thrives, the number of conflicts is on the rise and they are lasting longer, with devastating consequences for civilian populations.

Against this backdrop, the report analyzes the overall security and security incidents involving United Nations personnel and premises, as well as non-governmental organization (NGO) staff, during the year 2016 and the first half of 2017.

“The world's insecurity does not seem to be diminishing,” Mr. Guterres underscores, even as the international community continues to ask the UN to be present in the most dangerous places in the world.

The report indicates that direct attacks on UN premises increased from 35 in 2015 to 56 in 2016, making it the worst year recorded for such incidents. It also notes that, locally recruited and female personnel were particularly vulnerable to certain types of security and safety incidents.

“The steady rise in the number of reported gender-based incidents against United Nations female personnel merits particular attention,” said the UN chief, stressing that the Organization has a duty to support those most exposed to security risks, and a special responsibility towards locally recruited personnel.

According to information provided by relief agencies, more than 51 NGO personnel were killed in 2016 and the first half of 2017. An alarming increase in attacks on NGO vehicles seems to continue. In addition, the level of violence that affects medical staff and facilities is of particular concern.

Relatedly, 28 UN personnel lost their lives in 2016 and in the first half of 2017 because of acts of violence and security incidents. This includes the two members of a group of experts deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The report indicates that the UN civilian casualty rate has fallen to one of its lowest levels in the past five years, largely due to the strengthening of the Organization's security capabilities, while highlighting the difficulties which are faced by UN programmes and personnel in today's uncertain security environment.

Also, the report notes with concern the propaganda of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or Da'esh), which has recently focused on personnel and international diplomatic institutions, including the United Nations.

According to the Secretary-General: “Protection of United Nations and humanitarian personnel is the collective responsibility of the international community.” As such he calls on host governments to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against the United Nations.