UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN chief on Tuesday denounced the “terrible truth” that the world is failing to deliver on its commitments to protect a growing number of citizens entangled in conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of treaties enshrining these commitments, lamented that countless citizens are experiencing “hell.”
From Ukraine and Sudan to the African Sahel and the Middle East, civilians are scrambling to dodge missiles and explosives and to find food and medicine – and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Security Council should urge countries to respect the rules of war.
“Governments with influence over warring factions should engage in political dialogue and train troops to protect civilians,” he said. “And countries that export arms must refuse to do business with parties that do not comply with international humanitarian law.”
His recent report on protecting civilians in conflict in 2022 points to more than 100 conflicts worldwide and an average duration of more than 30 years. Last year, however, saw new highs for forcibly displaced people and a 53% increase in UN-recorded civilian deaths to nearly 17,000, including nearly 8,000 in Ukraine.
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said during recent visits to Africa, Europe and the Middle East that she saw a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation with “entire regions caught in cycles of conflict with no end in sight “.
Spoljaric said many of the conflicts are exacerbated by climate shocks, food insecurity and economic hardship. She urged countries to protect civilians and critical infrastructure in urban areas, pointing to large-scale destruction in Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. She also urged that food be provided to all civilians in conflict areas and that access be granted to humanitarian workers.
“We need to break the pattern of violations, and this can be done through strong political will and sustained action,” she said.
Switzerland, serving its first two-year term on the Security Council, took the protection of civilians in conflict as its flagship policy. Representatives from more than 80 countries were scheduled to speak, reflecting widespread concern.
Swiss President Alain Berset, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said that as the depository state for the Geneva Conventions and home to the Geneva-based ICRC, respect for international humanitarian law has long been a priority for the country.
The number of people facing acute food insecurity rose to 258 million last year. Somalia, Myanmar and Afghanistan, or in countries where violence is widespread, such as Haiti, Berset said.
He urged all countries to implement a 2018 Security Council resolution against the use of starvation as a method of war and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and lifesaving supplies to civilians, and a 2021 resolution condemning unlawful attacks that target civilians deprive essential services.
The meeting saw clashes between Ukraine’s and Russia’s Western supporters, as the council has seen at many sessions since Moscow’s February 24, 2022 invasion of its neighbour.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the increase in civilian casualties shows the human toll of the war. She also accused Russia of pushing millions of people in Africa and the Middle East into food insecurity by using “food as a weapon of war in Ukraine,” including blocking Ukrainian grain shipments for months.
She said the agreement allowing the shipment of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports, which was extended for two months on May 17, was a “beacon of hope for the world”.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that very little of the more than 30 million tons of grain shipped under the Black Sea Agreement has gone to developing countries, and that the shipment of ammonia from Russia – an important fertilizer ingredient – which was part of the July 2022 deal “actually hasn’t even started yet”.