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Civilians still bearing the brunt of wars

Civilians still bearing the brunt of war, Annan says

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflicts, and sexual violence – especially against women and girls – is increasingly used as a weapon of war, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report released today.

In a report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Mr. Annan cites the wars in Sudan’s Darfur region, Côte d’Ivoire, Iraq and Nepal as some of the worst examples where civilians have been suffering.

He warns that, since his last report 18 months ago, “the very fundamentals of international humanitarian law and human rights have been under great pressure, and there are concerns that counter-terrorism measures have not always complied with human rights obligations.”

The report also examines some positive developments, including the improved treatment of civilians in countries recently emerging from conflict, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia.

It notes, however, that any significant progress in those countries has depended on the continuing presence and involvement of the international community.

Mr. Annan says there is “stark and disturbing evidence” of how much civilians are still suffering because of war, with “too many instances” of civilians being subjected to extreme violence or being denied humanitarian aid.

“Societies in conflict expect and deserve the fruits of peace, not merely an end to fighting,” he states in the report.

In Darfur, for example, more than one million people have been displaced from their homes by the conflict there, while many others have been killed or raped and numerous villages have been destroyed.

In Côte d’Ivoire, there have been widespread cases of sexual violence, torture and murder, with ethnic communities often the target of campaigns of forced displacement.

Noting that rape is used as a weapon of itself or as a means to spread HIV/AIDS, he says the violence has been sustained by “a prevailing culture of impunity” for the perpetrators.

Mr. Annan stresses the importance of having a regional dimension to any measures to protect civilians, saying they are the most effective way to deal with cross-border issues such as human trafficking and the illegal flow of arms.

He urges the Security Council, and the rest of the UN family, to take a more systematic and empirical approach to studying the problem so that it can better monitored and tackled.

Mr. Annan says it is vital that the UN sets out clear standards for the protection of civilians to make sure that they can be enforced and to help prevent countries that are undertaking peace processes from sliding back into conflict.

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