Protection of civilians in armed conflict – SecGen report (excerpts)

   Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict 

   I.  Introduction 

 1.  The present report, submitted pursuant to the request contained in the statement by the President of the Security Council dated 12 February 2013 (S/PRST/2013/2 ), is my tenth report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. 

2.  The 18 months since my previous report on this topic (S/2012/376 ) have borne witness to further tragic and brutal reminders of the fundamental importance of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. This is not simply as a thematic item on the agenda of the Security Council but also as a fundamental objective that we must all — parties to conflict, States, the United Nations and other partners — work tirelessly to achieve. Ensuring the protection of civilians requires uncompromising respect for international humanitarian and human rights law and serious efforts to ensure such respect. 

3.  The need to strengthen efforts to prevent and respond to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in situations of conflict and violence has been at the forefront of discussions within the United Nations and its agencies, funds and programmes as we have considered our own response to the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and the recommendations made by the Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka. We are strongly committed to learning from past failures and have agreed upon an action plan, entitled “Rights up front”, which contains important proposals to strengthen the role of the United Nations. The plan is based on recognition that the United Nations can meet its core responsibilities only when it operates with the firm, unified and vocal support of Member States, both within and outside the Security Council. Equally important, the plan recognizes that protecting people from atrocities is an overarching responsibility that must bring together all the critical functions of the United Nations: human rights, humanitarian, political and peacekeeping. This requires close coordination, better information sharing and advocacy, more robust preparedness, greater efforts in prevention work and a coherent and effective strategy owned and delivered by the Organization as a whole. 

4.  We must not forget that, whatever the United Nations can do to strengthen its own efforts to protect civilians, the ultimate responsibility rests with parties to conflict. Combined with efforts to strengthen the operational response to protection further, the Organization is doing what it can with the resources that it has. As we look towards the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, parties to conflict, the Security Council and Member States must play their part and be accountable when it comes to fulfilling their responsibilities.


7.  The present report covers the period since May 2012. I take stock herein of the current state of the protection of civilians and highlight some continuing and emerging concerns. I also provide an update on progress made in responding to the five core challenges to the protection of civilians, namely, enhancing compliance by parties to conflict with international law; enhancing compliance by non-State armed groups; enhancing protection by United Nations peacekeeping missions; improving humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability.

 II.  State of the protection of civilians 


16.  The occupied Palestinian territory witnessed a significant increase in civilian casualties from January 2012 to August 2013, with 265 people killed, including 46 children, and more than 6,500 injured during hostilities and law-enforcement operations. Most fatalities occurred during hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza from 14 to 21 November 2012. During those hostilities, 101 Palestinian civilians were reportedly killed and more than 1,000 injured. Four Israeli civilians were also reportedly killed and 219 injured. At least 14,000 Palestinians have been displaced since my previous report, most during the hostilities of November 2012. While some 12,000 of those have now returned to their homes, tens of thousands of Palestinians are at risk of displacement as a result of multiple factors, including policies and practices relating to the continuing occupation, recurrent hostilities, violence and abuse. Recent relaxations notwithstanding, prolonged restrictions imposed primarily by Israel on the free movement of people and goods to, from and within Gaza continue to impose hardship on the civilian population. 


 III.  Continuing and emerging concerns: new weapons technologies 

 25.  Full respect for the law is essential in all conflicts. Just as we must be concerned with the reality of today, we must also consider the future, including the implications of emerging weapons technologies for the protection of civilians.

26.  One such weapons technology is the remotely piloted aircraft, or drone. I remain concerned by reports of civilian casualties resulting from armed drone attacks in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territory and Pakistan, for example, which raise questions over compliance with international human rights law and with the international humanitarian law rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution, in addition to the obligation to investigate grave violations resulting from drone attacks. I am also concerned by the continuing lack of transparency surrounding attacks involving armed drones and the consequences thereof for, among other things, accountability and the ability of victims to seek redress. That the surveillance capabilities of drones are said to significantly improve overall situational awareness before an attack, coupled with the use of precision weapons and the strict application of international humanitarian law, should reduce the risk of civilian casualties resulting from an attack. The lack of transparency concerning the use of such weapons, however, renders it extremely difficult to verify the extent to which this is the case. 


IV. Five core challenges


 D.  Enhancing humanitarian access


55.  In many situations, humanitarian operations are severely constrained by restrictions on movement, both of humanitarian workers and people in need of assistance. With regard to the latter, in the occupied Palestinian territory, for example, Palestinians’ access to essential services in the Gaza Strip is undermined by long-standing restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of people and goods. Israel continues to impose wide-ranging restrictions on the movement of Palestinians from Gaza to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which in turn restricts access to specialized health and other services unavailable in the Gaza Strip. In recent months, Egypt has imposed restrictions on movement of people from Gaza to Egypt through the Rafah crossing. Although intended to counter illegal activities and insecurity in the Sinai, the restrictions have also affected access to medical referrals. 




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