Water

There is a bloody surge” impacting humanitarian crises around the world, with civilians in conflict zones paying the highest price, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council on Friday.

UN’s and media reports said:

The UN secretary general’s speech to the U.N. Security Council was read by UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

The UN chief cited Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria as examples of the “bloody surge in humanitarian crises.”

“In Afghanistan, brutal attacks killed at least 24 civilians, including five health workers, during just one week in June,” The UN chief said in the written speech. “Civilian casualties in the first quarter of this year increased by 29% compared to last year; the increase for women was 37%.”

The secretary-general said in Yemen, at least five civilians are killed or injured every day on average, 20 million people are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and five million “are face-to-face with famine.”

In Tigray, 12 aid workers have been killed since the conflict started in November 2020 and many more have been intimidated, harassed and detained, he said.

The speech painted a grim picture of civilian executions, arbitrary arrests, detentions, forced displacement and sexual violence against children, on a massive scale, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

The UN chief also spoke of “brutal attacks” in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, where 20 million people are living “face-to-face” with hunger.

“We are in uncharted waters,” he said, with the “sheer scale of humanitarian needs” never greater.

Around the world, he said, security incidents affecting humanitarian organizations including shootings, assaults, sexual violence, kidnappings and raids “have increased tenfold since 2001.”

So far this year, Guterres said, the World Health Organization has recorded 568 incidents affecting the delivery of medical care in 14 conflict zones including shootings, shelling, threats, equipment removals, and the militarization of medical facilities causing 114 deaths of health care workers and patients.

This year the UN and its partners are seeking to assist 160 million people – its highest number ever.

‘Relentless’ attacks 

The “hurricane of humanitarian crises” is compounded by a “relentless wave of attacks” on humanitarian and medical workers, and the imposition of ever narrower constraints on humanitarian space, according to the speech.

“The secretary-general urges this Council to take strong and immediate action to support its numerous resolutions on the protection of civilians, humanitarian and healthcare workers, and humanitarian space”, Ms. Mohammed told ministers and ambassadors.

Surge in Incidents

Shootings, bodily and sexual assault, kidnappings and other attacks affecting humanitarian organizations, have increased tenfold since 2001, according to the speech.

“In the five years since this Council’s landmark resolution calling for an end to impunity for attacks on healthcare systems, workers and patients have suffered thousands of attacks”, the UN chief said. It is becoming ever more difficult to provide vital humanitarian aid to people in need.

Delaying Tactics

Some authorities impose restrictions on the movements of humanitarian staff and supplies, long visa and customs procedures and delays at checkpoints. Other obstacles include high taxes and fees on humanitarian supplies.

Every country need to act against terrorism, each also has a responsibility to make sure its counter-terrorism efforts do not undermine humanitarian operations.

As Governments create systems around humanitarian aid delivery, the UN chief reminded, “it is essential” that they support, rather than block aid.

Protect Humanitarian Space

Because the best way to protect humanitarian space is by ending violence and conflict, the secretary-general had called for a global ceasefire to focus on the common enemy: the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the UN chief issued a call for silencing the guns in the run up to the Olympic and Paraolympic Games in Tokyo: “People and nations can build on this temporary respite to establish lasting ceasefires and find paths towards sustainable peace”, he said.

“Turbo-charged” by COVID, humanitarian needs are outpacing the capacity to meet them, said the UN chief.

While the UN engages in difficult negotiations to create lasting ceasefires and build sustainable peace, the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid must continue and that requires the necessary humanitarian space.

Member States and the Security Council have “a responsibility to do everything in their power” to end attacks on humanitarians and assets, and seek accountability for serious violations, he underscored.

Key Steps

He said there needed to be greater respect for international humanitarian law that does not “blur the lines” between military operations, political objectives and humanitarian efforts.

“Upholding the principles of humanitarian action … is essential to building trust with political, military, security, non-State armed groups and others.”

Secondly, “investigation and accountability” are essential to prevent attacks on aid workers, which he said was “completely unacceptable and may constitute war crimes” adding that “what goes unpunished will be repeated.”

Thirdly, governments need to protect the ability of humanitarian organizations to engage with conflicting parties, including non-State armed groups, because when humanitarian agencies are perceived as part of a political agenda, it puts workers in danger “and reduces their effectiveness”.

Counter-terrorism measures should include clear provisions to preserve humanitarian space, he said, minimizing the impact on humanitarian operations and ensuring that humanitarian and healthcare personnel are not punished for doing their jobs.

Finally, the Council must use its influence to immediately stop attacks against schools and hospitals.

“The unprecedented healthcare emergency cause by the COVID-19 pandemic makes the protection of medical facilities and workers more critical than ever”.

Calls to Action

Member States were urged to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to protect all educational institutions from the worst effects of armed conflict and support the Health Care in Danger initiative.

Due to the enormous challenges faced by humanitarian agencies, the secretary-general has asked his incoming Humanitarian Affairs chief to appoint a Special Adviser on the preservation of humanitarian space and access, and to strengthen humanitarian negotiations.

The secretary-general said he has asked the new U.N. humanitarian chief to appoint a special adviser on the preservation of humanitarian space and access to strengthen negotiations on these issues.

“The international community owes humanitarian aid agencies and healthcare and humanitarian workers its full and unwavering support in their difficult and often dangerous work”, the UN chief concluded.

International Committee of the Red Cross

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, echoed Guterres’ concern at the increasing gap between humanitarian needs and the ability to respond “because of the compounded crises and overlap of armed conflict, the consequence of climate change (and) increase of COVID cases in many places from Afghanistan to Tigray.”

Humanitarian budgets are under increasing pressure, he said, “so we are dealing with these terrible dilemmas to be able to set priorities where the most pressing needs are.”

Mardini told the council meeting, which focused on protecting civilians and preserving humanitarian space, that humanitarian workers must be able to work in close proximity to those in need, and conflict-affected people and communities must be able to reach aid “in a safe and dignified way.”

When there is no humanitarian space, he said, there is “a dire lack of protection and assistance for those who need it most” and humanitarian workers are put “in mortal danger, far too many of them traumatized, missing, maimed or killed.”

He highlighted three ICRC concerns: the politicization and manipulation of humanitarian aid, countries insisting on armed escorts to ensure safety for those delivering aid often resulting in “less safety and more security incidents,” and “the growing negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian aid.”

Mardini said divisions in the Security Council, “notably on access to populations in need, are increasing suffering on the frontlines.”

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country holds the council presidency and chaired the meeting, called the shrinking of humanitarian space “extremely worrisome.”

He said the Security Council must raise awareness and reiterate the principles of humanitarian law, including to armed forces that are parties to conflict and to armed groups.

Le Drian announced that during France’s presidency of the European Union during the first half of 2022 it plans to organize a humanitarian conference along with the European Commission.

 


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