Suffering of civilians fleeing conflict "incalculable" says UN chief

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the Security Council on a open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Despite global efforts, civilians continue to bear the brunt of conflict around the world, the UN Secretary-General said to the Security Council on Thursday.

In his statement delivered during an open debate on the protection of civilians, António Guterres recalled the "countless horrific stories" he heard during his tenure as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, of women, men and boys who had to flee for their lives.

Their suffering is incalculable, he said, as is the wasted human potential they represent.

Ana Carmo has more.

Attacks against humanitarian workers and supplies continue in areas of conflict, the Secretary-General warned in his address to the Security Council on Thursday.

He deplored the "deliberate denial of access to aid" by warring parties and increasing "abuse of bureaucratic restrictions" in conflict zones.

People's suffering is pushed to "unbearable limits" when they are deprived of food and healthcare in sieges that can last months, or in some cases, years he said, a nod to the situation in cities like Aleppo, Syria; Juba in South Sudan and Mosul in Iraq.

These cities have become "death traps" Mr Guterres noted, while calling out the ongoing destruction of houses, schools, hospitals and markets in these areas.

"Attacks on hospitals and medical staff, and the removal of medical supplies from humanitarian convoys, are symptoms of a continued grave disregard for international law and the protection of civilians. Endemic sexual violence including rape, abduction, human trafficking, sexual slavery and forced marriage contributes to the disproportionate suffering of women and girls in conflict. Women are particularly at risk in urban warfare, during house searches and operations in residential areas and at checkpoints. This brutality has forced unprecedented numbers of civilians to flee in search of safety."

More than 65 million people are displaced by conflict, violence and persecution worldwide, two-thirds of them within their own countries, the UN estimates.

The Secretary-General listed a number of actions that can be taken to limit harm to civilians during conflict, such as providing more support to international courts, prioritizing the protection of civilians in UN peace missions, protecting refugees and tackling the root causes of displacement.

Ana Carmo, United Nations.

Duration: 1’47″

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