Angola

Southern Africa: Protecting civilians in armed conflict

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HARARE, 16 March (IRIN) - A two-day workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe, aimed at bringing an African perspective to humanitarian issues involving the protection of civilians in armed conflicts ended on Wednesday by expressing concern that civilians are being deliberately targeted and their rights systematically violated.
The 35 participants suggested that an African culture of peace needed to be promoted, and should include provisions for early warning of impending conflicts and early action. The workshop also emphasised the need for further work in the region in the fields of advocacy, research, education and training.

Organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the workshop participants included high-level government officials, military personnel, policy analysts, think-tanks and civil society representatives as well as international and regional organisations mainly from Southern Africa.

The workshop examined concrete proposals for improving the protection of civilians in armed conflicts and agreed on ways of forging partnerships between OCHA and African think-tanks on humanitarian policy issues and advocacy, an OCHA statement said.

The co-hosts of the workshop, Martin Barber of OCHA and Dr Donald Chimanikire of IDS stressed that the workshop was not a "once-off" event, but should mark the beginning of joint policy initiatives in the region.

Participants also agreed that special efforts were needed to protect the rights of children and women in conflict situations.

The UN reported in 1997 that there were over nine million internally displaced persons and 4.5 million refugees in Africa because of armed conflict. Many of these victims were exposed to systematic atrocities and had no adequate physical protection as they had been forced to flee their homes, leaving behind their families and possessions.

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