UN Relief Officer: “Do the right thing” and protect civilian infrastructure during conflict


Mark Lowcock, the Head of Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the ambassadors who had met virtually examining how attacks on sites like hospitals and water systems affected people during the war, including in the context of war. Covid-19 Pandemic and climate emergencies.

Respect the rules

“The world has a strong legal framework that governs the behavior of parties to war. We have a growing set of good practices to put them into practice. What we need now is the political will from member states and all parties to armed conflict to respect the rules and do the right thing.” He said.

Lowcock fears that developments, such as the emergence of transnational terrorist groups, could lead to the collapse of decades of hard-won progress in compliance with civilian protection.

He said these groups “do not even pretend to adhere to basic humanitarian standards,” because they view civilians, including aid workers, as legitimate targets.

“At the same time, the major military powers are reorienting their military planning, training and spending to deter and defeat enemy states,” he added.

“When states and armed groups do not respect or undermine international humanitarian law, states and other non-state actors regard it as an invitation to do the same.”

Healthcare is under fire

The UN Relief Secretary-General provided examples of how these trends are occurring in critical areas such as food, water and medical care. He found that the systematic attacks on medical facilities in Syria “are particularly difficult to tolerate.”

Between 2018 and 2020 alone, there were about 250 attacks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).Who is the), While about 1,000 healthcare workers have been killed during the past decade.

The “horrific” use of rape and sexual violence as a means to achieve political and military goals is another important area of ​​action. Lowcock recalled hearing the horrific stories of Rohingya refugee women who were forced to leave Myanmar after being raped by men in uniform.

And this is also what we’ve seen in the past six months in northern Ethiopia. The rapes did not stop there. He said that they are deliberately and systematically organized, targeted, based on ethnicity, and aiming at intimidation, humiliation and brutality. ”

Accountability challenge

Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law is just one way to enhance the protection of civilians and the infrastructure essential to their survival. Improved positioning, and their inclusion in updated “Do Not Strike” lists, is just one example.

“At the same time, we need to continue to benefit from political dialogue, sanctions and arms transfers to ensure that the law is respected and that civilians and the things they depend on for survival are protected,” Lowcock added.

United Nations Mission in South Sudan / Eric Kanalstein

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, meets with South Sudanese displaced by the conflict in Central Equatoria, who have taken refuge on the island on the outskirts of Yei (archive).

He added that avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the second step, which the UN Secretary-General has repeatedly emphasized. The humanitarian affairs official referred to examples of “good practices” from Afghanistan and Somalia, where the multinational forces’ use of certain air-launched weapons has been restricted.

His third point emphasized the importance of accountability because without it, things would get worse.

He revealed that “ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is one of the biggest challenges we face in enhancing the protection of civilians.” “It is especially important to ensure accountability for serious violations when these violations are in and of themselves a tactic and deliberate choice by the perpetrators.”

Environmental concerns

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, stressed the need for the international community to address these issues.

“In the face of this urgent situation, it is my call to us to work together, and decisively for the Council to show leadership, so that the suffering of women, men and children who have already lived through the horrors of wars does not worsen,” he said.

Like Mr. Lowcock, he highlighted the need for greater respect for international humanitarian law and the adoption of a “avoidance policy” regarding the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

Mr. Maurer stressed the need to protect health care and “interconnected services”, such as water, sanitation and electricity, to protect against public health risks.

“We often see infectious diseases, such as cholera, spreading in communities where water and sanitation infrastructure has been destroyed during the fighting. Preventable diseases cost many lives, including epidemics spreading beyond the borders of war zones.

The ICRC president also called for a better understanding of how the conflict threatens the natural environment. “Damage to critical infrastructure poses a wide range of threats to the environment, which in turn can have devastating effects on environmental health.” “Climate risk now amplifies this damage to approved communities.”

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