Southern Africa: Protecting civilians in armed conflict

HARARE, 13 March (IRIN) - The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Zimbabwe on Monday opened a three-day conference aimed at bringing an African perspective to humanitarian issues involving the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
The conference, jointly convened by OCHA and IDS, brings together 35 participants. Mainly from southern Africa, the delegates include academics, high level UN officials, senior diplomats, practitioners and donors. It also includes representation from east and west Africa.

Martin Barber, Chief, Policy Development and Advocacy Branch, OCHA, said similar workshops would be held elsewhere in Africa during the course of the year. He described the conferences as "a first step in building bridges linking African institutions and OCHA to work on humanitarian policies".

He said civilians caught up in war zones were increasingly becoming targets of armed elements. This called, he said, for a concerted effort to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable populations by enforcing existing legal frameworks, while at the same time giving them better physical protection.

Barber will explain in detail last September's report to the Security Council by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The report provided tools and strategies the UN Security Council could use to respond to these humanitarian situations.

IDS director, Dr Donald Chimanikire, who is co-hosting the conference, said it marked "the beginning of a new partnership".

In 1997, the UN reported that there were over 9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 4.5 million refugees in Africa as a result of armed conflict. Many were exposed to systematic atrocities and without adequate physical protection, having been forced to flee leaving behind their possessions, their homes and their families.


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