People's Stories Human Rights Today

View previous stories

Civilians are not a Target
by UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, agencies
Every day, millions of people are trapped in wars that aren’t of their own making. The world isn’t doing enough to stop their suffering. This World Humanitarian Day, we demand world leaders do everything in their power to protect the millions of civilians caught in armed conflict.
Civilians who need urgent humanitarian assistance and protection, as highlighted in the United Nations Secretary-General''s Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
Civilians in Urban Areas
Picture a neighbourhood filled with homes providing comfort and safe haven, surrounded by bustling markets and shops, schools, playgrounds, hospitals, and factories. Weeks later, what is left is a collection of bombed-out structures in the middle of a war zone. All essential infrastructure and semblance of normal life have been destroyed.
The use of wide-area explosives has left vast damage and destruction, causing profound and long-lasting consequences for people’s safety, livelihood, and basic needs, like food, water, and electric/fuel power. This often leaves people little choice but to flee to safer regions, often exposing them to new dangers.
Rules that must be Respected
All parties to armed conflict are obliged to distinguish between civilians and fighters, and between civilian infrastructure and military targets. They have the obligation not to launch attacks that will cause disproportionate incidental civilian harm, and they must take constant care to spare civilians and infrastructure.
Action required of leaders
In cities and towns, protect civilians, including children, as well as their homes and the essential services they rely on.
Imagine children in the middle of a war-torn country. Their neighbourhoods, schools, playgrounds, and parks have been damaged or destroyed, and access to essentials like food, water, and an education have all but disappeared. They may have even been recruited and used in fighting, or subjected to other unthinkable dangers, such as exposure to sex and labour trafficking.
Rules that must be respected
Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protection, including access to food, healthcare, and education; evacuation from areas of combat for safety reasons; reunification with their families; and protection against all forms of sexual violence. Additionally, children must not be recruited into armed forces or armed groups, nor must they be allowed to take part in hostilities.
Action required of leaders
Commit to not recruit children into armed forces or armed groups, or to use children to participate in hostilities. Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to protect schools and universities from being attacked or used for military purposes in conflict. Make 2017 the year of zero attacks on schools and playgrounds.
Targets of Sexual Violence
There are places in the world where sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war; where women and girls are forced to be with fighters who can resell or exploit them.
Regardless of gender, other unspeakable crimes are being committed, including strategic, widespread rape, many times occurring in urban warfare and alongside other violent acts.
People are often targeted simply because they belong to different ethnic, religious, or political groups. Compounding this is the stigma survivors suffer when society and authorities are indifferent or discriminatory in response to their plight.
Rules that must be Respected
Rape and other forms of sexual violence are prohibited.
Action required of leaders
Prevent all forms of sexual violence. Bring perpetrators to justice for sexual violence and hold them accountable. Offer survivors the opportunities and support that will enable their recovery and reintegration into society.
Humanitarian Workers
Consider the devastating consequences when humanitarian workers are unable to provide aid to those in need. These workers make it their mission to provide life-saving support, but too often in conflict their activities are impeded.
From looting and deliberate obstructions to kidnapping, physical harm and death, violence continues to affect humanitarian efforts, often with dire consequences for those who need help.
Rules that must be Respected
Parties to conflict must respect and protect humanitarian personnel, supplies, and equipment. This includes taking all feasible precautions when planning or deciding to attack.
Furthermore, governments must not arbitrarily refuse impartial relief operations. Once governments agree to relief operations, all parties to conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access.
Using starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited.
Action required of leaders
Enable humanitarian workers to deliver relief to all civilians in need, without discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, or other status. Do not direct attacks against humanitarian workers or assets.
Health Workers
Think of wounded and sick people caught in a war zone, all in desperate need of medical attention. Now imagine health workers directly targeted or forbidden to treat them. When health workers are attacked, forced not to treat patients, or left no choice but to flee, it results in immediate death, injury, and destruction of facilities, and in the deprivation of essential healthcare for a very long time.
Rules that must be Respected
International humanitarian law requires that all wounded and sick - civilians and fighters alike - must not be attacked and must receive the medical care and attention required by their condition without any distinction, except on medical grounds. Medical personnel and facilities that fulfil this mission must also be respected and protected.
Action required of leaders
Do not target health workers, facilities, or patients. Respect the right of all wounded and sick persons to receive medical care. Adopt and promote the UN Secretary-General’s recommendations on the protection of medical care in armed conflict.
Forcibly Displaced People
Imagine waking up today, realizing you have to leave your home simply to survive. You’re forced to leave your family, your friends, your job, and your belongings, all at a moment''s notice.
Your daily life becomes a constant struggle to find basics like shelter, food, clothing, water, and safety. This nightmare scenario is a reality that millions of people face in armed conflict.
Intense fighting, often involving air strikes and shelling in cities, is a primary cause of displacement, whether within or across a country’s borders.
While on the move, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees are often exposed to a myriad of other risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced recruitment, and trafficking. Forcibly displaced people are often vulnerable and can remain displaced for decades.
Rules that must be Respected
The right to move freely and to choose one’s own residence must be respected. Forcibly displaced people have the right to seek asylum in another country; to satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety, nutrition, and education; and to have necessary identity documents issued by the authorities.
Family members who wish to remain together should not be separated. Voluntary safe return home must be allowed as soon as the reasons for displacement have ended. Internally displaced people can also choose to resettle in another part of their country. Finally, people who have been forcibly displaced have a right to recover the possessions they had to leave behind.
Action required of leaders
Respect the right of forcibly displaced people to seek asylum outside their country. Answer the UN Secretary-General’s call to reduce internal displacement by at least 50 percent by 2030.
This World Humanitarian Day we are bringing attention to the millions of civilians affected by armed conflict every day. People in cities and towns struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter, while fighting drives millions from their homes. Children who are recruited and used to fight, and their schools are destroyed. Women who are sexually abused by fighters, then shamed by their villages.
As humanitarian workers deliver aid, and medical workers treat the wounded and sick, they are directly targeted, treated as threats, and prevented from bringing relief and care to those in desperate need.
The humanitarian concerns described here can’t possibly capture the lives of all those affected by conflict around the world. From people with disabilities, to the elderly, migrants, and journalists, all civilians caught in conflict need to be protected.
Please sign the petition demanding world leaders do everything in their power to protect all civilians in conflict via the link below:
* United Nations Secretary-General Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) customary international humanitarian law database: Safe Schools Declaration: Recommendations on the protection of medical care: ICRC: I saw my city die: ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview:

Visit the related web page

Alarming lack of funding for emergency assistance
by Jan Egeland
Norwegian Refugee Council
Halfway into the year, less than 1/3 of the needs for funding for emergency assistance across the world has been covered. “The funding gap will claim lives that could have been easily spared if there was enough will among the many wealthy nations, corporations and individuals around the world,” warned Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.
Every year the UN and humanitarian partners present response plans for the world’s largest humanitarian crises. In total, they have appealed for $23.1 billion in 2017 to provide the most basic assistance to people in need. Six months into the year more than $15 billions are still missing.
“The money lacking equals only $2 per person in the world. Some of the world’s richest individuals could have covered the gap on their own. Many countries can afford to take the entire bill. That makes it incomprehensible and outrageous that the world jointly is unwilling to provide sufficient assistance”, said Egeland.
It is particularly hard to get necessary support to people in neglected crises. The appeals for funding to DR Congo, Sudan, Chad, Cameroon and Mali are all less than 25 per cent covered.
”As a result of lack of funding, many families have had their food rations cut and get no clean drinking water. Many children affected by emergencies have no school and no shelter,” said Egeland.
Large unchecked conflicts, historically high displacement figures, droughts and four potential famines have resulted in extraordinary humanitarian needs. The Norwegian Refugee Council calls on donor countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Gulf region to increase their humanitarian funding, and to prepare for great needs for humanitarian assistance also in the year to come.
“The devastating human costs will continue to increase and destabilise entire regions if we do not act now. In addition to the traditional donors, large and growing economies in Asia and elsewhere need to show more generosity,” said Egeland.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook