Ban, Red Cross chief voice concern over ‘brazen and brutal erosion’ of respect for humanitarian law

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) at press encounter with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer. UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferre

31 October 2015 – Warning of rising number of 'deliberate' attacks on civilians across the world, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the international community to end the 'callous disregard for human life' and stressed on stronger commitment from Member States to bring perpetrators of such attacks to account.

“From Afghanistan to the Central African Republic, from Ukraine to Yemen, combatants and those who control them are defying humanity's most basic rules. Every day, civilians – ordinary women, men and children – are being deliberately or recklessly injured and killed, tortured and abducted. Every hour, people in dire circumstances are being denied the medical care, food, water and shelter they need to survive,” said Mr. Ban at a joint press encounter with Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva.

The UN chief said that airstrikes are increasing in besieged populated areas and cited the killing of dozens of people yesterday, when Syrian government forces fired missiles into a marketplace in Douma and the continual indiscriminate firing of rockets in Damascus.

“Such deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian areas is a clear breach of international law. The continuing violence is a clear indication that a political solution to the conflict in Syria is desperately needed – the fighting must stop now. There is no military solution to the crisis – not in Syria or anywhere else,” said Mr. Ban.

Additionally, he deplored the attacks on healthcare facilities and reiterated that they hold a special protected status under international humanitarian law.

Mr. Ban said that the attack on a Yemeni hospital in Saada last week is the 39th health centre attack since March and added that more children may die in Yemen from a lack of healthcare and medicines than from bullets and bombs.

He also condemned the bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital earlier this month in Kunduz, Afghanistan and said that the supposed surgical strike “instead destroyed a surgical ward”.

“These violations have become so routine there is a risk people will think that the deliberate bombing of civilians, the targeting of humanitarian and healthcare workers, and attacks on schools, hospitals and places of worship are an inevitable result of conflict,” said Mr. Ban.

He sounded alarm over the constant flouting of international humanitarian law across the world and added that the international community should bring the attackers to account.

“Enough is enough. Even war has rules; it is time to enforce them,” said Mr. Ban. “The continued failure to act is a disgrace and a stain on the conscience of the world,” he added.

He stressed that protecting civilians in wartime is the cornerstone in the international system and the UN and added that indifference on such issues will only make the world less secure.

“Today, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are calling for an end to impunity, an end to the callous disregard for human life, and a recommitment to international humanitarian law,” said Mr. Ban urging collaborative action from the international community.

He further called for all influential parties to “pressure all parties in conflict to treat civilians with humanity and to abide by the law” and initiate political and diplomatic measures by bringing referrals to national and special investigative tribunals or courts.

Mr. Ban also urged on ending the use of heavy explosive weapons in densely populated urban areas, causing deaths of civilians.

He also called for allowing humanitarian access in conflict-prone regions to help people who need aid and asked the international community to give additional support to displaced population and refugees.

He added that the UN and ICRC are taking immediate steps to address these issues and added that the one of the main themes of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next May will be protecting civilians in conflicts.

“But international humanitarian law is not a solution. It is a way to mitigate the damage caused by war. Most of all, we call for greater commitment and effective action to prevent and end conflicts. Long-term solutions lie in treating the root causes of war and in negotiating sustainable peace,” added Mr. Ban.

He called for stronger commitment and partnerships among the Member States to maintain peace and security failing which “we can expect only greater chaos and suffering”.

Additionally, in a separate statement, Mr. Ban said that he welcomed the talks on Syria that began yesterday in Vienna and said that it was encouraging to learn that participants have reached mutual understanding on a number of key issues, including the need to accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war.

He also commended the efforts and commitment of the 17 countries and the European Union (EU) for launching this much needed political process.

“This is the first meaningful understanding among international actors since the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, and the first one to have been reached in the presence of all the countries that hold the key to a resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Let me also praise the leadership of US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for facilitating this outcome,” said Mr. Ban.

Lastly, he added that although substantial differences still remain between the conflicting parties, Mr. Ban expressed hope that further progress towards Syrian-led political solution to the crisis can be achieved in the near future.

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