Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict
1. The present report, which covers the period from January to December 2015, is submitted pursuant to the request contained in the statement by the President of the Security Council of 25 November 2015 (S/PRST/2015/23). In the statement, the reporting period was modified from 18 to 12 months and the Council affirmed that it would formally consider the report each year within the same session of the General Assembly. These developments are welcome. The new annual reporting cycle, coupled with the assurance of regular consideration by the Council, will facilitate systematic monitoring and reporting in support of the efforts of the Council to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In the report, I review the state of the protection of civilians across a range of conflicts, discuss the progress made and achievements, identify upcoming opportunities and provide recommendations aimed at enhancing the protection of civilians and promoting a more consistent and systematic approach by the Council.
2. The seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, in 2015, provided a unique opportunity to reflect on achievements and prospects. Significant progress has been made, in particular at the normative level, since the Security Council took the historic step, in 1999, of recognizing the protection of civilians as central to its mandate. Nonetheless, the huge number of civilians whose lives are being devastated by armed conflict makes it clear that much more needs to be done in order to fulfil the pledge contained in the Charter of the United Nations to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. At the end of 2015, more than 60 million people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of conflict, violence and persecution. Humanitarian needs are at record levels and more than 80 per cent of United Nations humanitarian funding is directed at conflict response. The plight of civilians in conflict has been so grave that I issued an unprecedented joint statement with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross on 31 October 2015 in which we called for urgent action to uphold international law and address human suffering.
3. In the majority of today’s armed conflicts, civilians suffer most severely. Every day, they are deliberately or indiscriminately killed or injured, often with complete impunity. Sexual violence shatters the lives of women, men, girls and boys. Towns and cities are pummelled by heavy artillery or air strikes that kill thousands of civilians, destroy vital infrastructure and trigger mass displacement. Data collected in 2015 by the organization Action on Armed Violence indicated that, when explosive weapons had been used in populated areas, an astonishing 92 per cent of those killed or injured were civilians, including those in playgrounds, hospitals and crowded streets and queuing for food. Behind those figures are families separated and in mourning, entire communities devastated, a cultural heritage lost to the world and a generation of children without an education.
4. The reaffirmation of the Security Council, in the statement by the President of the Council of 25 November 2015, that the protection of civilians remains one of the core issues on its agenda is an important signal that must be translated into action. The year 2015 demonstrated that remarkable results could be attained when the international community acted together. We agreed on an ambitious sustainable development agenda to end global poverty. We adopted a universal climate change agreement, established a new framework to reduce disaster risk and enhance resilience and initiated major peace and security reforms. The inaugural World Humanitarian Summit, to be held on 23 and 24 May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey, will bring together world leaders, national and international aid organizations, representatives of conflict-affected communities and many others and mark the first major opportunity to demonstrate that those furthest behind must be given priority. In preparation for the Summit, I laid out an Agenda for Humanity (A/70/709, annex) calling upon world leaders to take action to prevent and end conflict, improve the respect for international law, enhance the protection of civilians and strengthen the response to forced displacement.
5. The international community stands at a critical juncture. Member States must seize the opportunity provided by the World Humanitarian Summit to take concrete and collective action, on the basis of clear targets and indicators, to uphold international law and protect civilians in armed conflict. In addition, the Security Council must make concerted and consistent efforts to protect the lives and dignity of civilians affected by armed conflict. We must all work together to deliver on our pledge to leave no one behind and to reach those furthest behind first.
11. In the occupied Palestinian territory, the construction of illegal settlements continued in 2015, resulting in the loss of property and sources of livelihood, threats to physical security and restrictions on access to services, as addressed in my most recent report on the subject (A/HRC/31/43). The destruction of Palestinian homes and structures displaced 781 people in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. A new wave of attacks and violence began in October 2015 in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, leaving at least 141 Palestinians, 22 Israelis and 2 foreign nationals dead as at the end of 2015.
Accountability is crucial to deterring violations, promoting reconciliation and providing justice for victims
In the occupied Palestinian territory, 18 months after the hostilities in Gaza in 2014, during which some 1,500 Palestinian civilians, 4 Israeli civilians and 1 foreign national were killed and nearly 18,000 homes were severely damaged or destroyed, accountability measures remained inadequate, notwithstanding the finding of the independent commission of inquiry that serious violations, possibly amounting to war crimes, might have been committed (see A/HRC/29/52).
22. International investigative and judicial mechanisms, including fact-finding missions, commissions of inquiry and the International Criminal Court, provide complementary avenues towards accountability where national options prove insufficient. In 2015, the United Nations supported commissions of inquiry into Eritrea, the occupied Palestinian territory and the Syrian Arab Republic,
Greater efforts are needed to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas
In the occupied Palestinian territory, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that only 30 per cent of the 7,000 explosive remnants of war estimated to remain from the hostilities in Gaza in the second quarter of 2014 had been confirmed as removed.
Collective action is needed to address forced displacement
. In Gaza, some 90,000 people remained displaced from the hostilities of 2014, while throughout the region many of the 5 million Palestine refugees became increasingly vulnerable as a result of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Document Type: Report, Secretary-General Report
Document Sources: Secretary-General, Security Council
Subject: Access and movement, Armed conflict, Arms control and regional security issues, Casualties, Gaza Strip, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Humanitarian relief, Internally displaced persons, Protection, Security issues
Publication Date: 13/05/2016