Compliance accountability crucial to boost civilian protection in war – UN

The lack of compliance by parties to conflict “leads not only to the death and injury of hundreds of civilians in conflicts every week, but to the displacement of thousands more,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council.He underscored that the term “displaced” does not “do justice to the reality – that is thousands of innocent civilians being forced every single week to flee attacks and the destruction of their homes, their communities and livelihoods, and to fall into an existence marked by danger, suffering and psychological anguish.”Civilian deaths in places such as Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are reminders of the need for parties to be far more cautious in efforts to spare non-combatants from the effects of hostilities, Mr. Holmes said at the start of the day-long open debate, which is expected to hear from dozens of speakers.In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the eruption of fighting – marked by bombings and street battles – last month between Government forces and insurgents has killed hundreds and driven 160,000 others from their homes.Meanwhile in Afghanistan, civilian deaths and injuries continue to mount as the conflict in the South Asian nation intensifies, Mr. Holmes said. In May alone, 261 civilians lost their lives, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).For its part, the far east of the DRC has witnessed a wave of attacks, including “all too common acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence” by a rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which have forced nearly 400,000 people to flee their homes, he noted.The culture of impunity overshadowing many conflict situations must also be tackled, stressed Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Relief Coordinator.“It is to a large degree the absence of accountability and, worse still, the absence in many instances of even any expectation or fear of accountability, that allows violations to thrive,” he said.Combatants must be trained to understand the law, he said, with manuals and instructions laying out their obligations and disciplinary measures to ensure its observance.Further, national legislation must be adopted to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of human rights law, Mr. Holmes said, as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.The Security Council, for its part, must insist on countries’ cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and, “if necessary, enforcing it through targeted sanctions,” he said.For example, in the DRC, there must be accountability for the “seemingly endless and appalling stream of acts of sexual violence attributable to all parties,” including the national armed forces (FARDC), which must step up efforts to instill discipline and respect for the law into its troops.The 15-member Council, Mr. Holmes added, must also take action against individuals in conflict situations obstructing access to aid agencies or that perpetrate attacks against relief workers. 26 June 2009The top United Nations relief official today called for enhancing compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as countering impunity for perpetrators of abuses, to strengthen the protection of civilians caught up in armed conflict. read more