UN Chief: "Protection of civilians more challenging than ever" – Security Council Open VTC Briefing

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Opening remarks by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, during the Security Council Open VTC.

UN chief António Guterres said COVID-19 makes the protection of civilians in armed conflicts “more challenging than ever – and our support more important than ever.”

Addressing a virtual meeting of the Security Council today (27 May), Guterres said his latest report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict “shows little progress on the protection of civilians, and on compliance with international law, in 2019.” He added, “It is only through respect for human rights and international humanitarian and refugee law that we can protect civilians, including health and humanitarian workers and infrastructure, and relieve pressure on health systems; but the prospects are bleak.”

Guterres reported that more than 20,000 civilians were killed or injured in just ten conflicts, millions of people were displaced as a result of armed conflict, and tens of thousands of children were forced to take part in hostilities in 2019.

He said women and girls in places affected by conflict were subjected to appalling levels of sexual and gender-based violence, while conflict also remains the main driver of hunger around the world.

The Secretary-General stressed that his call for a global ceasefire in March was aimed at ending the fighting to allow the world to focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations:
“A global ceasefire would create conditions for a stronger response to the pandemic and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable people and would open space for dialogue. I am encouraged by expressions of support. However, this support has not been translated into concrete action. In some cases, the pandemic may even create incentives for warring parties to press their advantage, or to strike hard while international attention is focused elsewhere. Both scenarios could lead to increases in violence. And civilians always pay the price.”

Guterres repeated his call to States to develop national frameworks to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict and urged them to move beyond rhetoric and close the accountability gap through national legislation and coordinated international action.

“Civilians caught up in violence now face a new and deadly threat from COVID-19. The pandemic is amplifying and exploiting the fragilities of our world. Conflict is one of the greatest causes of that fragility. Protecting civilians requires us to do much more to ensure compliance with international law and accountability for violations. We must also do more to prevent, reduce and resolve conflicts.”

Full Remarks [as delivered]:https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2020-05-27/secretary-generals-remarks-the-security-council-open-debate-the-protection-of-civilians-armed-conflict-delivered