UN demands combatants protect schools, hospitals and water -

UN demands combatants protect schools, hospitals and water

He said Vietnam has first-hand knowledge, pointing to decades of wars that left the country’s schools, hospitals, roads and power, water and sanitation systems destroyed and its farmland and environment contaminated.

“Unfortunately, history keeps repeating itself,” and the Security Council has more often focused on protecting people “with little attention paid to securing the means for their survival,” Son said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock lamented that the last two decades have seen “the emergence of transnational terrorist groups who totally reject the laws of war” and use their “nihilistic ideologies to justify unspeakable violence against civilians.”

When governments and other armed groups see this they “regard it as an invitation to do the same,” he said. “At the same time, big military powers are reorienting their military planning, training and spending to deter and defeat enemy states.”

Lowcock singled out the impact of these trends on essential needs for food, water and medical care during conflicts.

As examples, he cited an attack on a rice farm on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Nigeria last year that killed more than 110 farmers, widely reported pillaging of food and livestock in South Sudan between 2013 and 2020 and reports of systematic destruction of farms and infrastructure taking place now in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region.

Lowcock also cited the Islamic State extremist group’s cutoff of the water supply to Aleppo governorate in Syria in January 2016 that affected some 2 million people, Nigheria’s Boko Haram extremist group poisoning water sources, fighting in Ukraine and Libya damaging water infrastructure, and South Sudanese government soldiers stealing water pumps in the town of Mboro.

“What I have found particularly hard to stomach are the systematic attacks on medical facilities in Syria,” he said. “The World Health Organization counted 250 such attacks between 2018 and 2020 alone. About 1,000 health care workers have been killed in those attacks there over the last 10 years.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned the Security Council that “without urgent action to protect essential services in conflict zones, we face a humanitarian disaster on a vast scale.”

Through the ICRC’s work in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Gaza and beyond, he said, the organization has seen the consequences of no safe drinking water, no electricity to power homes, no health services to treat the wounded and sick, and millions of people fleeing to find food to survive.

Both Lowcock and Maurer called on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law protecting civilian infrastructure and to avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas.

Lowcock pointed to good practices in Afghanistan and Somalia, for example, “where multinational forces’ use of certain air-delivered weapons has been restricted, or their use of artillery and other indirect fire munitions has been limited.”

He said that unless there is accountability for war crimes, “things will get worse.”

Britain’s deputy ambassador, James Roscoe, said when civilian infrastructure like schools, hospitals and roads is attacked, the U.N. should collect evidence and report.

The Security Council must then take action to hold those who target these essential services responsible – and “also be ready to consider sanctions against those who attack civilian objects or otherwise violate international humanitarian law,” he said.

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