‘Alarming Lack Of Compliance’ With International Law Worsens Danger For World’s Civilians

By United Nations

Photos: UN\YouTube Screenshots

The plight of civilians affected by war in 2023 was “resoundingly dire”, as the world witnessed horrors not only in Gaza and southern Israel but also the intense suffering of populations in other crisis hotspots around the globe, senior UN officials said on Tuesday.

An aerial view of the heavily damaged and collapsed buildings in Gaza City. (October 2023)
© UNRWA/Ashraf Amra
An aerial view of the heavily damaged and collapsed buildings in Gaza City. (October 2023)

The United Nations alone documented over 33,000 civilian deaths in armed conflicts in 2023 – a horrific 72 per cent increase compared to the previous year – Joyce Msuya, UN Deputy Relief Coordinator, told ambassadors at the Security Council.

With the actual figures “likely higher”, the harm and suffering caused to civilians in 2023 “signals an alarming lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” she said.

She went on to stress that the “reality is that much of the civilian harm we see in today’s conflicts is occurring even when parties claim to be acting in compliance with the law.”

Gaza: A war on children

The senior UN humanitarian drew particular attention to the desperate situation in Gaza where the ongoing Israeli military operation – following the brutal 7 October attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups – has “resulted in death, destruction and suffering at a pace and scale unprecedented in the recent past.”

Tens of thousands have been killed and wounded. Over 75 per cent of the enclave’s population is forcibly displaced and a famine is looming.

“Thousands of children have been killed and injured in what UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) colleagues have called a ‘war on children’,” she said, adding that an estimated 130 Israelis remain hostage amid concerns for their humane treatment.

► Watch Ms. Msuya’s briefing to the Security Council

A school in El Geneina in West Darfur, which had been serving as a displaced persons shelter, is burned to the ground. (file)
© Mohamed Khalil
A school in El Geneina in West Darfur, which had been serving as a displaced persons shelter, is burned to the ground. (file)

Sudan: Real and growing risk of genocide

Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, also addressed the Security Council, sounding the alarm over the situation in Sudan.

The bloody conflict between rival militaries, which began in April, has resulted in severe ethnic violence, particularly in Darfur and El Fasher.

“Civilian populations are targeted on the basis of identity [they] have been attacked and killed because of the colour of their skin, because of their ethnicity, because of who they are,” she said.

She underscored the urgency of ensuring that civilians are protected.

“The risk of genocide exists in Sudan. It is real and it is growing, every single day.”

Between April and December, approximately 12,260 people were killed and a further 33,000 injured. Millions more have been displaced from their homes, including many who have fled into neighboring countries, igniting a regional crisis.

Critical civilian infrastructure and services, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and water, sanitation and electricity networks have suffered extensive damage.

► Watch Ms. Nderitu’s briefing to the Security Council

Ukraine: Heavy weapons in civilian areas

Ms. Msuya, who is also the deputy head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted the impact of explosive weapons on populated areas.

In Ukraine, the use of such weapons in populated areas was the leading cause of civilian casualties. In 2023, there was a 16 per cent increase in civilian casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war, with 116 civilians killed and 383 injured, according to a UN report on global state of the protection of civilians, issued last week.

Furthermore, the conflict continued to damage the country’s natural environment and biodiversity.

Ground and surface waters were exposed to harmful chemicals and pollution because of strikes on fuel infrastructure.

Other crisis hotspots

The report also outlined the impact of conflicts in various other regions.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 219,000 victims were reported. Mali experienced 1,300 civilian deaths, while Myanmar saw increased conflict with airstrikes and shelling, particularly affecting urban areas.

Violence in northeast Nigeria resulted in 4,533 civilian deaths, and more than 1,400 civilians were killed or injured in Somalia.

South Sudan reported 1,527 civilian deaths and 597 abductions, while Syria reported 556 civilian deaths.

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