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Protecting Medical Personnel in Conflicts

Content by: South-South News

8 May 2017, New York, USA | South-South News — During a debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts that had a special focus on the protection of medical facilities and personnel, the UN Security Council heard from Secretary-General António Guterres and representatives of civil society organizations on the front line in these conflicts.

“No one is winning today’s wars, everybody is losing,” Guterres said during the May 25 session, drawing particular attention to continuing attacks against hospitals and wide-spread sexual violence. Such brutality had driven more than 65 million people around the globe to flee their homes, he said. Relentless attacks on cities in Syria showed no signs of abating, while in South Sudan, attacks continued to target civilians and aid workers. In Yemen, meanwhile, civilians were trapped and targeted by all sides.

“These attacks are evidence of a broader trend: parties to conflict are treating hospitals and health clinics as targets, rather than respecting them as sanctuaries,” Guterres said.

The Council also heard from Christine Beerli, the Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy of Human Rights Watch.

Guterres recalled that last year, the Council took specific action to improve the protection of medical care during conflict by adopting Resolution 2286, which, among others, urged “States and all parties to armed conflict to develop effective measures to prevent and address acts of violence, attacks and threats against medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties.”

He went on to highlight the three main protection priorities; ensure greater respect for international humanitarian and human rights law; stepping up the protection of humanitarian and medical missions, by implementing his predecessor’s recommendations on Security Council resolution 2286; and preventing forced displacement and finding durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced people.

On the third point, he stressed the need to address the root causes of conflicts that are driving displacement, by investing in inclusive and sustainable development, promoting all human rights and the rule of law, strengthening governance and institutions, and enhancing mediation capacity, from communities to national governments.

“Preventing and ending conflict is my first priority,” he declared. “I call on you all to make it yours, for the sake of the millions of civilians who are suffering around the world.”

According to a concept note circulated by Uruguay, which holds the Council presidency for May, member states are invited to place the issue of the protection of healthcare in a broader context, connecting it to overarching “protection of civilian” issues.

Beerli, the Vice-President of the ICRC, drew attention to the return of armed conflict to towns and cities, pointing out that some 50 million people in urban areas now bore the brunt of conflict. “At the ICRC, we see daily the realities of what happens when civilians are not protected,” she said, describing cases of children as young as three years old being killed or treated for the loss of limbs. She urged all belligerent parties to avoid using wide-impact explosive weapons in populated places, and called upon Member States engaged in alliances and coalitions to focus greater attention on the behavior and attitudes of those bearing arms.

Ugarte pointed to his organization’s review, published the day before, of 25 attacks on health facilities in ten countries between 2013 and 2016, saying it found that little had been done to investigate those attacks or to hold those responsible to account. Noting that the Secretary-General was mandated to name perpetrators of attacks on schools and hospitals in a list annexed to his report, he urged the Secretary-General to “immunize” the annexes against political redactions by member states.


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