World ‘failing’ to protect civilians in conflict, says Guterres

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday denounced the “failure” of the international community to “protect” civilians from armed conflict, with the number of victims of combat and their humanitarian consequences having increased sharply in 2022.

“The truth is terrible: the world is failing to fulfill its commitments to protect civilians, commitments enshrined in international humanitarian law,” thundered the head of the United Nations during a meeting of the Security Council on the “protection of civilians in armed conflict”.

Alongside the Russian ambassador Vassili Nebenzia, whose country attacked Ukraine, Guterres was indignant at the use in wars in 2022 of “explosive weapons” of which “94% of victims in populated areas are civilians” .

” A hell “

Before the Security Council, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mirjana Spoljaric, hammered home “that at the moment, countless civilians are going through hell in conflicts around the world”.

“At any moment, the next missile can destroy their home, their school, their clinic and everyone in it. Every day, their loved ones can be assaulted, raped, arrested, tortured. Every week, they may run out of food or medicine,” said the diplomat.

Guterres estimated that “last year, more than 117 million people suffered from acute hunger, primarily due to war and insecurity”. At his side, the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset – whose country chairs the Security Council in May and is “depositary of the Geneva Conventions (of 1949) and headquarters of the ICRC” – warned “that voluntarily starving civilians is a war crime”.

The Swiss leader denounced the fate of civilians caught up in armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, the Sahel, Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan or “in other situations of violence, for example Haiti”.

A sharp increase in the number of civilians killed

For the French ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière, “the results are overwhelming” and “the very sharp increase in 2022 in the number of civilians killed in armed conflicts is very worrying”.

He castigated “the violations of international humanitarian law” such as “committed by Russia in Ukraine and (…) by the Wagner group, in particular in the Central African Republic and in Mali”. “Civilians have suffered for too long from the deadly consequences of armed conflict. It is time we keep our promise to protect them,” Guterres concluded.

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