NEW YORK/United Nations (May 13, 2019) – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres released an annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict on May 7, 2019. The report comes as the UN Security Council marks twenty years since taking up the protection of civilians as an item on its agenda.
While noting progress in the protection of civilians agenda over the past twenty years, the Secretary-General’s report issues a stark warning that parties to armed conflict are failing to uphold their obligations under international law – with devastating consequences for civilians. The report states that the UN recorded the death and injury of more than 22,800 civilians in just six conflicts during 2018; though this is certainly an underestimate of civilian casualties and does not capture the totality of harm inflicted on civilians in conflict. The Secretary-General calls for all governments to take national efforts to enhance compliance with the law and ensure accountability.
Upon publication of the report, Federico Borello, Executive Director of Center for Civilians in Conflict, issued the following statement:
“The Secretary-General’s report presents a bleak view of the protection of civilians in armed conflict after twenty years of Security Council action on the issue. Civilians continue to suffer the devastating impact of conflict, particularly as war moves into cities and civilians are caught in the crossfire. More must be done to minimize harm to civilians. The UN chief’s call on parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas is a particularly urgent one and should be heeded.
“Prioritizing the protection of civilians in arms transfers and security partnerships is an essential recommendation in the report. Countries should ensure that they have rigorous safeguards in place in any security partnership to ensure compliance with international law, particularly where there are serious concerns of violations. The Secretary-General also emphasizes the role of multinational military coalitions, like those operating in Iraq and Syria, Yemen, or the Sahel, in protecting civilians, and specifically highlights CIVIC’s recommendations calling on the civilian and military leadership of such operations to prioritize protection in their planning and operations.
“UN peacekeeping operations have become a central and essential tool, particularly for the Security Council, in protecting civilians and interrupting cycles of violence that threaten international peace and security. The Secretary-General highlights the need to better match peacekeeping mandates with resources and deliver on critical reforms. This must be a priority for the UN and all Member States to ensure peacekeeping operations can protect civilians in complex conflicts like those in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and South Sudan.
“The Secretary-General’s most pressing priority is for governments to take action to prioritize the protection of civilians at the national level, which has been a focus for CIVIC since our founding. This is a crucial step that all UN Member States can and should take. Positive steps at the national level in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Ukraine have paid dividends in terms of protecting civilians, and CIVIC is proud to be a partner in these efforts. These countries have shown that, even in the midst of conflict, concrete steps can be taken to reduce harm to civilians.”
The Security Council will hold an important Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on May 23 under the Council Presidency of the Republic of Indonesia. CIVIC’s Executive Director will brief the Council alongside Secretary-General Guterres and Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On May 7, 22 non-governmental organizations issued a strong joint statement calling on the Security Council, UN Secretary-General, and all governments to prioritize the protection of civilians in armed conflict.