UN chief slams world’s ‘failure’ to protect civilians
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At a meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced the “failure” of the international community to “protect” civilians from armed conflict. In 2022, the United Nations recorded at least 16,988 civilian deaths in 12 armed conflicts, up 53% from 2021.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced on Tuesday May 23 the “failure” of the international community to “protect” civilians from armed conflicts, the number of victims of combat and their humanitarian consequences having increased by more than 50 % between 2021 and 2022.
“The truth is terrible: the world is failing to fulfill its commitments to protect civilians, commitments enshrined in international humanitarian law,” thundered the head of the United Nations before the Security Council.
The Council met on Tuesday at the request of Switzerland, which is chairing it this month, and to discuss a report by Antonio Guterres on the “protection of civilians in armed conflict”.
According to this document, “in 2022, the United Nations recorded at least 16,988 civilian deaths in 12 armed conflicts, an increase of 53% compared to 2021”. In “Ukraine alone, the United Nations counted 7,957 civilians killed and 12,560 injured, although these figures are probably higher”, according to Antonio Guterres.
Sitting next to the Russian ambassador Vassili Nebenzia, whose country has been waging war on Ukraine for 15 months, the UN chief was indignant at the use in conflicts of “explosive weapons” of which “94% of casualties in populated areas are civilians”.
Before the 15 members of the Security Council, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric, hammered home that “at this moment, countless civilians are going through hell in conflicts across the world”. “At any moment, the next missile can destroy their home, their school, their clinic and everyone in it. Every day their loved ones can be assaulted, raped, arrested, tortured. Every week they can run out of food or medicine,” said the diplomat.
Humanitarian consequences of wars, Antonio Guterres estimated that “last year, more than 117 million people suffered from acute hunger”.
At his side, the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, whose country is “depositary of the Geneva Conventions (of 1949) and headquarters of the ICRC”, warned: “Deliberately starving civilians is a war crime”. The Swiss leader denounced the fate of civilians caught up in armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, the Sahel, Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan or “in other situations of violence, for example Haiti”.
For French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, “the results are overwhelming” and “the very sharp increase in 2022 in the number of civilians killed in armed conflicts is very worrying”. He castigated “the violations of international humanitarian law” such as “committed by Russia in Ukraine and (…) by the Wagner group, in particular in the Central African Republic and in Mali”.
“Civilians have suffered for too long from the deadly consequences of armed conflict. It is time we kept our promise to protect them”, concluded Antonio Guterres.