UN Security Council failing civilians caught in conflict
The UN Security Council must live up to its decades-old pledge to minimize civilian suffering caused by war, Amnesty International said ahead of an open debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict due to take place today [27 May].
“This year marks 21 years since the Security Council promised to protect civilians caught up in armed conflict. But any cursory scan of wars around the world shows that Council members have little to be proud of in that time,” said Sherine Tadros, Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.
Far from being able to prevent civilian suffering, the five permanent members of the Council have played a part in causing it. Some indiscriminately bomb hospitals, schools and homes; while others are in denial about their role in killing thousands of civilians, or provide other countries with arms that get used in war crimes and fuel the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“Far from being able to prevent civilian suffering, the five permanent members of the Council have played a part in causing it. Some indiscriminately bomb hospitals, schools and homes; while others are in denial about their role in killing thousands of civilians, or provide other countries with arms that get used in war crimes and fuel the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”
In the past year, Amnesty International has continued to document how civilians bear the brunt of suffering in conflicts around the world, with groups such as older people, people with disabilities, women and children facing specific risks. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 70 million are currently displaced by conflict – a record high since World War II.
A new Amnesty International report out today documents how an entire generation of children in Northeast Nigeria has been brutally impacted by the ongoing conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military.
In Afghanistan, recent deadly attacks on a maternity clinic and a funeral underscored yet again the cruelty of a conflict that continues to claim upwards of 10,000 civilian casualties per year.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International documented a string of 18 Syrian and/or Russian strikes on medical centres and schools in north-west Syria, part of an offensive that displaced almost 1 million people amid an already dire humanitarian crisis.
In Libya, the organization documented how arms flows and military support from a range of states in violation of a UN arms embargo were killing and endangering civilians as militias battled relentlessly for control of Tripoli.
In South Sudan, earlier this month, clashes between government soldiers and rebels displaced thousands, and civilians have been killed and raped.
Even a planet-wide emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to galvanize the Security Council’s efforts to protect civilians.
Taking action to protect civilians
The UN Security Council can and should do much more. Upcoming votes on 29 May could bring about positive change by renewing the mandate of the hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s Darfur region and the arms embargo on South Sudan.
Council members should use an upcoming vote in July to ensure cross-border humanitarian aid can continue into north-west Syria.
And they should ensure that all states are called out and face consequences, without fear or favour, when they put civilian lives at risk in war. All states are bound by the laws of war, but Security Council members and their allies continue to commit or be complicit in violations, including the following:
- Russian forces carrying out war crimes and bolstering Syria’s campaign of crimes against humanity;
- the USA’s aerial bombardment of Somalia, which has killed and injured dozens of civilians since 2017. More than 1,000 civilian casualties were recorded in Somalia last year, mainly attributed to indiscriminate and targeted attacks by the armed group Al-Shabaab.
- the UK and France hiding behind the US-led Coalition to downplay their role in more than 1,600 civilian deaths in Raqqa, Syria and elsewhere in Syria and Iraq;
- the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led Coalition’s catastrophic assault on civilians in Yemen, bolstered by arms transfers and military support from many countries, including several Security Council members;
- and Myanmar, which has been accused of genocide and which the outgoing UN Special Rapporteur warned could again be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Myanmar is a close ally and key buyer of arms from China.
Amnesty International research on the ground in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond in recent years has documented how the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has greatly increased civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The organization supports the ongoing diplomatic process calling on states to make a clear and strict commitment against using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.
“It’s high time for the Security Council to move beyond petty political dramas on the world stage and truly stand up for what it says it believes in – protecting civilians in armed conflict,” said Sherine Tadros.