People's Stories Peace

View previous stories

Autonomous weapons systems that require no meaningful human control should be prohibited
by Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, agencies
Nov. 2018
Autonomous weapons: States must agree on what human control means in practice. (ICRC)
Should a weapon system be able to make its own “decision” about who to kill?
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes that the answer is no, and today is calling on States to agree to strong, practical and future-proof limits on autonomy in weapon systems.
During the annual meeting of the States party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva November 21-23, the ICRC will urge that the new mandate of the Group of Governmental Experts focuses on determining the type and degree of human control that would be necessary to comply with international humanitarian law and satisfy ethical concerns. Several questions need to be answered:
What is the level of human supervision, including the ability to intervene and deactivate, that would be required during the operation of a weapon that can autonomously select and attack targets? What is the level of predictability and reliability that would be required, also taking into account the weapon’s tasks and the environment of use?
What other operational constraints would be required, notably on the weapon system’s tasks, its targets, the environment in which it operates (e.g. populated or unpopulated area), the duration of its operation, and the scope of its movement?
"It is now widely accepted that human control must be maintained over weapon systems and the use of force, which means we need limits on autonomy," said ICRC President Peter Maurer. “Now is the moment for States to determine the level of human control that is needed to satisfy ethical and legal considerations."
Only humans can make context-specific judgements of distinction, proportionality and precautions in combat. Only humans can behave ethically, uphold moral responsibility and show mercy and compassion. Machines cannot exercise the complex and uniquely human judgements required on battlefields in order to comply with international humanitarian law. As inanimate objects, they will never be capable of embodying human conscience or ethical values.
Given militaries’ significant interest in increasingly autonomous weapons, there is a growing risk that humans will become so far removed from the choice to use force that life-and-death decision-making will effectively be left to sensors and software.
“Humans cannot delegate the decision to use force and violence to machines. Decisions to kill, injure and destroy must remain with humans. It is humans who apply the law and are obliged to respect it,” said Kathleen Lawand, the head of the ICRC’s arms unit.
Aug. 2018
Basic humanity and the public conscience support a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Countries participating in an upcoming international meeting on such “killer robots” should agree to negotiate a prohibition on the weapons systems’ development, production, and use.
The 46-page report, Heed the Call: A Moral and Legal Imperative to Ban Killer Robots, finds that fully autonomous weapons would violate what is known as the Martens Clause. This long-standing provision of international humanitarian law requires emerging technologies to be judged by the “principles of humanity” and the “dictates of public conscience” when they are not already covered by other treaty provisions.
“Permitting the development and use of killer robots would undermine established moral and legal standards,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Countries should work together to preemptively ban these weapons systems before they proliferate around the world.”
The 1995 preemptive ban on blinding lasers, which was motivated in large part by concerns under the Martens Clause, provides precedent for prohibiting fully autonomous weapons as they come closer to becoming reality.
The report was co-published with the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, for which Docherty is associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection.
More than 70 governments will convene at the United Nations in Geneva from August 27 to 31, 2018, for their sixth meeting since 2014 on the challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons, also called lethal autonomous weapons systems. The talks under the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a major disarmament treaty, were formalized in 2017, but they are not yet directed toward a specific goal.
Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urge states party to the convention to agree to begin negotiations in 2019 for a new treaty that would require meaningful human control over weapons systems and the use of force. Fully autonomous weapons would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.
To date, 26 countries have explicitly supported a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons. Thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts, more than 20 Nobel Peace Laureates, and more than 160 religious leaders and organizations of various denominations have also demanded a ban. In June, Google released a set of ethical principles that includes a pledge not to develop artificial intelligence for use in weapons.
At the Convention on Conventional Weapons meetings, almost all countries have called for retaining some form of human control over the use of force. The emerging consensus for preserving meaningful human control, which is effectively equivalent to a ban on weapons that lack such control, reflects the widespread opposition to fully autonomous weapons.
Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic assessed fully autonomous weapons under the core elements of the Martens Clause. The clause, which appears in the Geneva Conventions and is referenced by several disarmament treaties, is triggered by the absence of specific international treaty provisions on a topic. It sets a moral baseline for judging emerging weapons.
The groups found that fully autonomous weapons would undermine the principles of humanity, because they would be unable to apply either compassion or nuanced legal and ethical judgment to decisions to use lethal force. Without these human qualities, the weapons would face significant obstacles in ensuring the humane treatment of others and showing respect for human life and dignity.
Fully autonomous weapons would also run contrary to the dictates of public conscience. Governments, experts, and the broader public have widely condemned the loss of human control over the use of force.
Partial measures, such as regulations or political declarations short of a legally binding prohibition, would fail to eliminate the many dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons. In addition to violating the Martens Clause, the weapons raise other legal, accountability, security, and technological concerns.
In previous publications, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic have elaborated on the challenges that fully autonomous weapons would present for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, analyzed the gap in accountability for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons, and responded to critics of a preemptive ban.
The 26 countries that have called for the ban are: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China (use only), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, the Holy See, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which began in 2013, is a coalition of 75 nongovernmental organizations in 32 countries that is working to preemptively ban the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. Docherty will present the report at a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing for CCW delegates scheduled on August 28 at the United Nations in Geneva.
“The groundswell of opposition among scientists, faith leaders, tech companies, nongovernmental groups, and ordinary citizens shows that the public understands that killer robots cross a moral threshold,” Docherty said. “Their concerns, shared by many governments, deserve an immediate response.”
Apr. 2018
Artificial intelligence researchers from nearly 30 countries are boycotting a South Korean university over concerns a new lab in partnership with a leading defence company could lead to “killer robots”.
More than 50 leading academics signed the letter calling for a boycott of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and its partner, defence manufacturer Hanwha Systems. The researchers said they would not collaborate with the university or host visitors from KAIST over fears it sought to “accelerate the arms race to develop” autonomous weapons.
“There are plenty of great things you can do with AI that will save lives, but to openly declare the goal is to develop autonomous weapons and have a partner like this sparks huge concern,” said Toby Walsh, the organiser of the boycott and a professor at the University of New South Wales. “This is a very respected university partnering with a very ethically dubious partner that continues to violate international norms.”
The boycott comes ahead of a United Nations meeting in Geneva next week on autonomous weapons, and more than 20 countries have already called for a total ban on killer robots. The use of AI in militaries around the world has sparked fears of a Terminator-like situation and questions have been raised about the accuracy of such weapons and their ability to distinguish friend from foe.
Hanwha is one of South Korea’s largest weapons manufacturers, and makes cluster munitions which are banned in 120 countries under an international treaty. South Korea, along with the US, Russia and China, are not signatories to the convention.
Walsh was concerned when a Korea Times article described KAIST as “joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms” and promptly wrote to the university asking questions but did not receive a response.
Subsequently KAIST’s president, Sung-Chul Shin, said he “would like to reaffirm that KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots,” Shin said in a statement.
“As an academic institution, we value human rights and ethical standards to a very high degree.. I reaffirm once again that KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”
Toby Walsh said the reponse sets a very clear precedent for the future. I hope now that KAIST will lobby the Republic of Korea to call for meaningful human control at next week’s UN meeting on the topic of killer robots. Such small steps we hope will eventually lead to an outright ban.
Apr. 2018
April 2018 marks five years since the launch of Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. It is also the fifth time since 2014 that governments are convening at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva to discuss concerns over lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots.”
The campaign urges states to participate in the CCW Group of Governmental Experts meeting, which opens at the United Nations (UN) on Monday, 9 April, and to commit to retain meaningful human control of weapons systems and over individual attacks.
Why the concern about killer robots?
Armed drones and other autonomous weapons systems with decreasing levels of human control are currently in use and development by high-tech militaries including the US, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the UK. The concern is that a variety of available sensors and advances in artificial intelligence are making it increasingly practical to design weapons systems that would target and attack without any meaningful human control.
If the trend towards autonomy continues, humans may start to fade out of the decision-making loop for certain military actions, perhaps retaining only a limited oversight role, or simply setting broad mission parameters.
Several states, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, artificial intelligence experts, faith leaders, and Nobel Peace Laureates, among others, fundamentally object to permitting machines to determine who or what to target on the battlefield or in policing, border control, and other circumstances. Such a far-reaching development raises an array of profound ethical, human rights, legal, operational, proliferation, technical, and other concerns.
While the capabilities of future technology are uncertain, there are strong reasons to believe that devolving more decision making over targeting to weapons systems themselves will erode the fundamental obligation that rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law be applied by people, and with sufficient specificity to make them meaningful.
Furthermore, with an erosion of human responsibility to apply legal rules at an appropriate level of detail there will likely come an erosion of human accountability for the specific outcomes of such attacks. Taken together, such developments would produce a stark dehumanization of military or policing processes.
What is a “killer robot”?
A weapons system that identifies, selects and employs force against targets without meaningful human control should be considered a lethal autonomous weapons system. It would have no human in the decision-making loop when the system selects and engages the target of an attack. Applying human control only as a function of design and in an initial deployment stage would fail to fulfill the IHL obligations that apply to commanders in relation to each “attack.”
Why the need for “human control”?
Sufficient human control over the use of weapons, and of their effects, is essential to ensuring that the use of a weapon is morally justifiable and can be legal. Such control is also required as a basis for accountability over the consequences of the use of force. To demonstrate that such control can be exercised, states must show that they understand the process by which specific systems identify individual target objects and understand the context, in space and time, where the application of force may take place.
Given the development of greater autonomy in weapon systems, states should make it explicit that meaningful human control is required over individual attacks and that weapon systems that operate without meaningful human control should be prohibited. For human control to be meaningful, the technology must be predictable, the user must have relevant information, and there must be the potential for timely human judgement and intervention.
States should come prepared to the CCW meeting provide their views on the key “touchpoints” of human/machine interaction in weapons systems. These include design aspects, such as how certain features may be encoded as target objects; how the area or boundary of operation may be fixed; the time period over which a system may operate; and, any possibility of human intervention to terminate the operation and recall the weapon system.
Based on these touchpoints, states should be prepared to explain how control is applied over existing weapons systems, especially those with certain autonomous or automatic functions.
What does the Human Rights Council say about killer robots?
The first multilateral debate on killer robots took place at the Human Rights Council in May 2013, but states have not considered this topic at the Council since then. Countries such as Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Sierra Leone, and South Africa affirm the relevance of human rights considerations and the Council in the international debate over fully autonomous weapons.
In February 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association issued a report recommending that “autonomous weapons systems that require no meaningful human control should be prohibited.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions last addressed a CCW meeting on lethal autonomous weapons in April 2016. Human rights are no longer considered relevant in the CCW talks, which raises the question of how to address human rights concerns with these weapons, particularly their use in law enforcement, border control and other circumstances outside of armed conflict.
Aug. 2017
UN Secretary-General''s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu: “There are currently no multilateral standards or regulations covering military Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications.
The United Nations says it is “closely following developments related to the prospect of weapons systems that can autonomously select and engage targets, with concern that technological developments may outpace normative deliberations.” It expresses hope that UN member states “make meaningful progress toward a shared understanding on how to ensure the core values of the international community are safeguarded in this context.”
That’s according to a 22 May 2017 letter sent to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots by the new Under Secretary-General High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, on behalf of the new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. Guterres began his term on 1 January 2017, while Nakamitsu became the new UN disarmament chief on 1 May after working for the UN in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping.
Nakamitsu first elaborated the UN’s “fundamental concerns” over killer robots in an address to the high-level “Artificial Intelligence for Good” summit convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva on 7 June. The six-page statement finds that fully autonomous weapon systems raise serious questions, including over their potential impact on international peace and security, the implications for global norms and mechanisms governing warfare, likely proliferation, and possibility they will be “sought after by unscrupulous actors with malicious intent.”
Under the heading of “What can we do?” the UN disarmament chief finds “there are currently no multilateral standards or regulations covering military AI applications.” She expresses the UN’s support for the process to discuss lethal autonomous weapons at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva.
Nakamitsu says that states should decide “what they consider to be the acceptable degree of human control over the lethal functions of a weapon system, and whether a specific international treaty or instrument is required to ensure that control is maintained.”
However, the CCW process on killer robots is faltering and will not convene until November 2017 at the earliest, more than a year after the last substantive talks on the topic. A crucial week of formal discussions on killer robots that was due to take place in Geneva in April 2017 and then rescheduled to August has been cancelled because several states, most notably Brazil, failed to pay their dues for the convention’s meetings.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots strongly regrets this development and is working with Brazil and others to help resolve it so that the CCW process can continue. At this time, the campaign is intensifying its outreach in national capitals to check on the status of policy development and encourage legislative initiatives to ban fully autonomous weapons.
The campaign aims to engage at the regional level to build awareness and support for a collective response and it continues to explore other avenues that could lead states to adopt a new international instrument to retain meaningful human control over the critical functions of weapons systems.
Both the UN’s letter and statement call for “inclusive and comprehensive dialogue” on the concerns posed by lethal autonomous weapons systems. Nakamitsu recommends a “multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder exchange” between governments and “civil society activists, the scientific community and the private sector.”
She views “human dignity and human security” as “essential” elements or principles to guide discussion, including the development of “human-centred norms.”
On 29 June 2017, Nakamitsu met with Campaign to Stop Killer Robots representatives Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams and Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch in New York, where they discussed the revolutionary nature of fully autonomous weapons and paradigm shift they constitute for the conduct of warfare in future.
The UN letter was in response to March correspondence from the campaign. Since its launch in 2013 the campaign has engaged in regular dialogue with the UN disarmament chief, including previous representatives Angela Kane (until 2015) and then Kim Won-soo (until 2017)
In his remarks to the AI for Good summit, the Secretary-General of campaign co-founder Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, reiterated the urgent need for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Dec. 2016
Formalize ‘Killer Robots’ Talks; Aim for Ban - Fully Autonomous Weapons on Disarmament
Governments should agree at the upcoming multilateral disarmament meeting in Geneva to formalize their talks on fully autonomous weapons, with an eye toward negotiating a preemptive ban, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 49-page report, Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban, rebuts 16 key arguments against a ban on fully autonomous weapons.
Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems and ‘killer robots,’ would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control.
These weapons and others will be the subject of the five-year Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) from December 12-16, 2016.
“It’s time for countries to move beyond the talk shop phase and pursue a preemptive ban,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Governments should ensure that humans retain control over whom to target with their weapons and when to fire.”
The report is co-published with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, for which Docherty is also a lecturer.
Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic examined the legal, moral, security, and other dangers of killer robots. They concluded that a ban is the only option for addressing all of the concerns. Other more incremental measures, such as adopting limited regulations on their use or codifying best practices for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems, have numerous shortcomings.
Countries participating in the Fifth Convention on Conventional Weapons Review Conference must decide by consensus on December 16 whether to continue deliberations on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2017 and what shape the deliberations should take. Countries should establish a formal Group of Governmental Experts to delve more deeply into the problems of the weapons and to work toward new international law prohibiting them, said Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
Spurred to act by the efforts of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, countries that have joined the international treaty on conventional weapons have held three week-long informal meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems since 2014. The formation of a Group of Governmental Experts at the review conference would compel countries to move beyond talk by formalizing the deliberations and creating the expectation of an outcome.
In past publications, Human Rights Watch has elaborated on the challenges that fully autonomous weapons would present for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law and analyzed the lack of accountability that would exist for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons. The weapons would also cross a moral threshold, and their humanitarian and security risks would outweigh possible military benefits.
Several of the 121 countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons – including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Russia, and South Korea – are developing weapons systems with increasing levels of autonomy. Critics who dismiss concerns about fully autonomous weapons depend on speculative arguments about the future of technology and the false presumption that technological developments could address all of the dangers posed by the weapons, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said.
Docherty will present the report at a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing on December 14 at the United Nations in Geneva.
“The success of past disarmament treaties shows that an absolute prohibition on fully autonomous weapons would be achievable and effective,” Docherty said.

Visit the related web page

Civilians are #NotATarget
by OCHA, ICRC, IFRC, MSF, agencies
Aug. 2018
Every year World Humanitarian Day brings citizens of the world together to rally support for people living in humanitarian crises and to pay tribute to the aid workers who help them. This year, World Humanitarian Day builds on the momentum created by the 2017 #NotATarget campaign, which saw more than 2 million people take actions urging global leaders to do a better job of protecting civilians, humanitarians and health workers in conflict zones.
Civilians in conflict zones are routinely killed or maimed in targeted or indiscriminate attacks. Last year, the United Nations recorded the deaths or injuries of tens of thousands of civilians in attacks in just six conflict-affected countries: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.
The failure of parties to conflict to protect civilians cannot go unchallenged. Around the world, conflict is exacting a massive toll on people’s lives. People in cities and towns struggle to find food, water and safe shelter, while fighting drives millions of people from their homes.
Children are recruited by armed groups and used to fight, and their schools are destroyed. Women are abused and humiliated.
As humanitarian workers deliver aid and medical workers treat the sick and wounded, they are directly targeted, treated as threats, and prevented from bringing relief and care to those in desperate need.
Conflict has forced record numbers of people to flee their homes, with over 65 million people now displaced, most of them within their own borders.
Humanitarians and health workers are frequently targeted in attacks and prevented from carrying out impartial humanitarian or medical activities. Since 2003, over 4,000 humanitarians have been killed, injured, detained, kidnapped and prevented from responding to those in need. That is an average of 300 cases a year. In 2017, WHO recorded 322 attacks across conflict-affected countries including Afghanistan, CAR, DRC, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalis, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria. These resulted in 242 deaths of and 229 injuries to medical personnel and patients.
There are rules governing fighters’ behaviour in war. Every time those rules are broken, human suffering intensifies. States and armed groups have clear and long established international legal obligations in conflict, including to protect civilians from harm, to spare schools and hospitals, and to ensure the safe and unimpeded passage of aid workers and supplies. Leaders and fighting forces must take active steps to spare civilians and the infrastructure they rely on.
Conflict increasingly takes place in towns and cities, injuring tens of thousands of civilians every year and laying waste to homes and vital infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, and water and power systems. More than 50 million people are currently affected by conflict in urban areas. Our global capacity to respond to these crises is increasingly overstretched.
Conflict-driven food insecurity and the potential for famine have left millions of lives hanging in the balance. Conflict is one of the main drivers of global food insecurity, in addition to climatic shock.
World leaders must ensure violators are held accountable. In his report this year on the Protection of Civilians in conflict, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on countries to undertake credible and effective investigations into allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and to hold perpetrators to account, with the support of the United Nations as necessary.
At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, global leaders made commitments to uphold the norms that safeguard humanity - to undertake actions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in armed conflict.
This year once again, millions of citizens from around the world are demanding that world leaders and non-state actors take action to protect people caught in armed conflict.
We demand that world leaders do everything in their power to protect civilians in conflict. Civilians are #NotATarget
* Agenda for Humanity: Respect the Rules of War:
* Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:
* States must act to fulfil famine victims’ right to food, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food:
* Monitoring food security in countries with conflict situations (FAO/WFP) Aug. 2018:
June 2018
We are seeing an utter disregard for the protection of children in conflict - UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“I have recently returned from a trip to Mali with the Secretary General, where children are suffering in silence, and are the missing face of the crisis.
“More than 850,000 children under the age of five are at risk of malnutrition this year, including 274,000 who face severe malnutrition and are at imminent risk of death. This represents a 34 per cent increase over our initial estimates for the year.
“More than a million children are out of primary school and another million are out of secondary school. At least 750 primary schools remain closed in the northern and central parts of the country due to insecurity.
“Mali is also one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of newborn and maternal mortality, with 1 in 28 babies dying in the first month of life and 1 in 27 women likely to die from pregnancy-related causes.
“Mali is one of many countries around the world where children are suffering greatly because of conflict.
“Yemen has the highest number of children in need at 11.3 million, followed by Syria with 8 million children and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 7.9 million.
“These are vast numbers, and the number of children affected by conflict is on the increase. It’s an issue that UNICEF is hard at work on, and we very much appreciate Sweden’s long standing interest and leadership on the issue of children and armed conflict. It is an issue the world needs to pay more attention to. Children are bearing the brunt of most of these conflicts.
“What we are seeing around the world is an utter disregard for the protection of children.
“In Syria, over 300 education facilities have been attacked since the beginning of the conflict 7 years ago. Schools should always a be a place of safety. Schools should always be protected.
“In South Sudan, around 19,000 children continue to serve as fighters, messengers, porters, cooks and even sex slaves for the warring parties.
“Conflicts are increasingly taking place in urban settings, causing significant damage to civilian infrastructure and damaging social protection systems.
“Water systems are being damaged: In Yemen, between August 2017 and May 2018, there were 5 verified attacks by the Coalition forces on water reservoirs and pipes, namely in Sa’ada and Amran governorates, affecting over 90,000 people.
“Hospitals and medical staff have frequently come under direct attack. In Syria alone, 92 attacks have been documented over the first four months of this year, involving 89 deaths and 135 injuries. In 2017, the World Health Organization recorded 322 attacks resulting in 242 deaths among medical personnel and patients.
“Hard won gains on education are being reversed. In Mali, the number of children out of primary school increased by 30 per cent since 2009. In Afghanistan, the number of children out of school increased for the first time since 2002, with 3.7 million children – nearly half of all children between ages 7 and 17 – now missing out on school.
“Harrowing violence inflicted on women and girls, often with life-long consequences and in complete impunity.
“In Cox’s Bazar, nine months after Rohingya refugees fled brutal attacks – that included killings, burnings and rapes – women are facing the stigma of sexual violence and the horror of delivering and raising babies in appalling conditions.
“The longer the conflict, the deeper the impact.. We see this in the long unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, from the hundreds of Palestinian children who are detained in Israeli prisons each month, to the children in southern Israel who live under the threat of mortars or rockets landing in their homes and schools.
“We also see it in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where ethnic violence in the Kasai region has led to a massive increase in child recruitment, and where decades of war have weakened health systems, making the country vulnerable to disease outbreaks. An ongoing Ebola outbreak is the latest addition to the woes of the country and its children.
“In all these countries, UNICEF’s dedicated teams are working to deliver for children, often in extremely complex environments and sometimes at great risk.
“Examples of this work since the beginning of the year include:
In Cox’s Bazar, diphtheria vaccination for more than 400,000 children and psychosocial support for 140,000 children. In South Sudan, measles vaccination for 460,000 children and release of more than 800 child soldiers. In Syria, access to safe water for 13 million people and polio vaccination for 3.3 million children. In Yemen, severe malnutrition treatment for over 61,000 children and access to safe water for close to 4 million people.
“We need access to the populations we serve. We urge parties to the conflicts to allow humanitarian organizations to have unimpeded, unconditional and sustained access so that we are able to save lives.
We need funds. Of the $3.7 billion we need for humanitarian programmes this year, we have only received 900 million – or 24 per cent – in 2018.
“Children need peace, but meanwhile, parties to conflict have an obligation to respect the rules of war – rules that prohibit the unlawful targeting of civilians, attacks on schools or hospitals, the use, recruitment and unlawful detention of children, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. When conflicts break out, these rules need to be respected and those who break them need to be held to account.”
June 2018
“As the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah faces the threat of an assault, I am extremely concerned about the impact it will have on children in this port city and beyond.
“UNICEF estimates that at least 300,000 children currently live in and around Hodeidah city – boys and girls who have been suffering for so long already.
“Millions more children throughout Yemen depend on the humanitarian and commercial goods that come through that port every day for their very survival. Without food imports, one of the world’s worst malnutrition crises will only worsen. Without fuel imports, critical for water pumping, people’s access to drinking water will shrink further, leading to even more cases of acute watery diarrhea and cholera, both of which can be deadly for small children.
“There are 11 million children in need of humanitarian aid in this war-torn country. Choking off this lifeline will have devastating consequences for every one of them.
“UNICEF teams delivered antibiotics, syringes, IV fluid, ready-to-use therapeutic food and hygiene kits to our local partners in Hodeidah just two days ago. But this will only last so long. Should the security situation worsen, our capacity to respond will be severely hampered.
“We urge all parties to the conflict and all those who have influence over them to put the protection of children above all other considerations. Every effort must be made to keep children safe and to provide them with the health, protection, water, sanitation, nutrition and education services they desperately need. Aid distribution should continue unimpeded and civilians wishing to move to safe areas should be allowed to do so.”
May 2018
Attacks on children in conflict continue unabated, by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“From the Central African Republic to South Sudan, and from Syria to Afghanistan, attacks on children in conflict have continued unabated during the first four months of the year.
"With little remorse and even less accountability, parties to conflict continue to blatantly disregard one of the most basic rules in war: the protection of children.
"No method of warfare has been off-limits, no matter how deadly for children: Indiscriminate attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, abductions, child recruitment, besiegement, abuse in detention and denial of humanitarian assistance were all too commonplace.
"In Yemen, for example, more than 220 children were allegedly killed and over 330 were injured since the beginning of the year as a result of the conflict. Nearly 4.3 million children are now at risk of starvation, a 24 per cent increase over 2017 levels. An acute watery diarrhoea and cholera outbreak which killed more than 400 children under the age of five last year is threatening to claim even more young lives as the rainy season begins and hygiene conditions deteriorate further.
"In Syria, hopes for peace remain dim. More than 70 attacks on hospitals and health facilities were verified during the first three months of the year, denying children and families vital health services. Over 300 education facilities have been attacked since the beginning of the conflict. Some 5.3 million children have been internally displaced or became refugees, and nearly 850,000 children continue to live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas.
"In Gaza, we have seen children killed and injured in protests since early March, with reports on Monday of more child casualties in what is said to be the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.
“In Bangladesh, more than 400,000 Rohingya refugee children who survived recent atrocities in Myanmar need humanitarian assistance. As the monsoon season approaches, the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases is higher than ever.
"In South Sudan, the first country I visited as UNICEF Executive Director, at least 2.6 million children have been forced to flee their homes. More than 1 million children are acutely malnourished including over 250,000 severely so and at increased risk of death. Although close to 600 children have been released from armed groups so far this year, around 19,000 continue to serve as fighters, messengers, porters, cooks and even sex slaves for the warring parties.
"In Afghanistan, more than 150 children were reported killed and over 400 injured during the first three months of the year because of the conflict.
"In the Central African Republic, renewed violence over the past few months has forced nearly 29,000 children to flee their homes, bringing the total number of internally displaced children close to 360,000. More than 2 in 5 children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition and one third of school-aged children are now out of school.
"In all these countries and many more, committed teams from UNICEF and partners are doing all they can to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable, those separated from their families, terrified and alone, those getting sick in densely populated refugee camps, those on the move in monsoon and unrelenting dry seasons, those who are starving.
“Despite funding shortfalls – we have only received 16 per cent of our funding needs for this year – we are resolutely committed to serving the most vulnerable. We are vaccinating children, treating them for malnutrition, sending them to school, providing them with protection services, and trying to meet their basic needs.
“Humanitarian aid alone is not enough. Children need peace and protection at all times. The rules of war prohibit the unlawful targeting of civilians, attacks on schools or hospitals, the use, recruitment and unlawful detention of children, and the denial of humanitarian assistance. When conflicts break out, these rules need to be respected and those who break them need to be held to account. Enough is enough. Stop attacks on children."
Feb. 2018
Humanitarian Action for Children 2018 Appeal
UNICEF appealed today for $3.6 billion to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to 48 million children living through conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies in 51 countries in 2018.
Around the world, violent conflict is driving humanitarian needs to critical levels, with children especially vulnerable. Conflicts that have endured for years – such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, among other countries – continue to deepen in complexity, bringing new waves of violence, displacement and disruption to children’s lives.
“Children cannot wait for wars to be brought to an end, with crises threatening the immediate survival and long term future of children and young people on a catastrophic scale,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine.
“Children are the most vulnerable when conflict or disaster causes the collapse of essential services such as healthcare, water and sanitation. Unless the international community takes urgent action to protect and provide life-saving assistance to these children, they face an increasingly bleak future.”
Parties to conflicts are showing a blatant disregard for the lives of children. Children are not only coming under direct attack, but are also being denied basic services as schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure are damaged or destroyed. Approximately 84 per cent ($3.015 billion) of the 2018 funding appeal is for work in countries affected by humanitarian crises borne of violence and conflict.
The world is becoming a more dangerous place for many children, with almost one in four children now living in a country affected by conflict or disaster. For too many of these children, daily life is a nightmare.
The spread of water-borne diseases is one of the greatest threats to children’s lives in crises. Attacks on water and sanitation infrastructure, siege tactics which deny children access to safe water, as well as forced displacement into areas with no water and sanitation infrastructure – all leave children and families at risk of relying on contaminated water and unsafe sanitation.
Girls and women face additional threats, as they often fulfil the role of collecting water for their families in dangerous situations.
“117 million people living through emergencies lack access to safe water and in many countries affected by conflict, more children die from diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation than from direct violence,” said Fontaine. “Without access to safe water and sanitation, children fall ill, and are often unable to be treated as hospitals and health centres either do not function or are overcrowded.
The threat is even greater as millions of children face life-threatening levels of malnutrition, making them more susceptible to water-borne diseases like cholera, creating a vicious cycle of undernutrition and disease.”
As the leading humanitarian agency on water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies, UNICEF provides over half of the emergency water, sanitation and hygiene services in humanitarian crises around the world.
When disasters strike, UNICEF works with partners to quickly provide access to safe drinking water, sanitation services and hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of disease. This includes establishing latrines, distributing hygiene kits, trucking thousands of litres of water to displacement camps daily, supporting hospitals and cholera treatment centres, and repairing water and sanitation systems.
These measures save lives, have long-term impact and pave the way for other important services like health clinics, vaccination programmes, nutrition support and emergency education.
The largest component of UNICEF’s appeal this year is for children and families caught up in the Syria conflict, soon to enter its eighth year. UNICEF is seeking almost $1.3 billion to support 6.9 million Syrian children inside Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring countries. Working with partners and with the support of donors, in 2018 UNICEF aims to:
Provide 35.7 million people with access to safe water; Reach 8.9 million children with formal or non-formal basic education; Immunize 10 million children against measles; Provide psychosocial support to over 3.9 million children; Treat 4.2 million children with severe acute malnutrition.
In the first ten months of 2017, as a result of UNICEF’s support:
29.9 million people were provided with access to safe water; 13.6 million children were vaccinated against measles; 5.5 million children accessed some form of education; 2.5 million children were treated for severe acute malnutrition; 2.8 million children accessed psycho-social support.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook