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Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2018/462) [EN/AR/RU]


I. Introduction

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to the request contained in the statement by the President of the Security Council of 25 November 2015 (S/PRST/2015/23). It also responds to the Council’s request, in its resolution 2286 (2016), for reporting on the protection of medical care in armed conflict.

  2. In my previous report (S/2017/414), I underlined that the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflict. This remains my overarching priority. In this regard, dialogue and inclusive peace processes that address the parties’ grievances and lead to sustainable solutions, coupled with a long-term holistic approach that addresses the root causes and prevents the escalation or recurrence of conflict, promotes human rights and the rule of law and strengthens governance and institutions, are essential.

  3. In my report on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, issued in January 2018 (A/72/707-S/2018/43), I sought to forge a common vision, systems and capacities across the United Nations to support Member States in sustaining peace and building resilient and prosperous nations in line with their commitment to leave no one behind. I look forward to working with Member States to take forward its recommendations. At the same time, work continues within the United Nations to develop a prevention platform that will allow the system to maximize its existing tools and resources in support of a broad prevention agenda and greater accountability for violations.

  4. Where we cannot prevent or resolve conflict, we must strengthen the protection of civilians. In doing so, we also contribute to the foundations for future peace. In my previous report, I identified three protection priorities: enhance respect for international humanitarian and human rights law and promote good practice by parties to conflict; protect the humanitarian and medical mission and accord priority to the protection of civilians in United Nations peace operations; and prevent forced displacement and pursue durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons. In the present report, I review progress made in relation to those priorities, with a focus on enhancing respect for international law and promoting good practice.

  5. Section II below contains a review of the global state of the protection of civilians in armed conflict during the period from 1 January to 31 December 2017. It reveals a state of unrelenting horror and suffering affecting millions of women, children and men across all conflicts. Civilians are routinely killed or maimed, and civilian objects damaged or destroyed, in targeted or indiscriminate attacks that frequently involve the widespread use of explosive weapons. Civilians are forced from their homes to meet a perilous fate, while countless others are missing. Humanitarian and medical personnel are frequently targeted and killed or prevented from responding to those in need. Meanwhile, conflict-driven food insecurity and the potential for famine leave millions of lives in the balance. All this, and the decimation of entire towns and cities and the once-vibrant communities and societies that were their lifeblood, undermine the prospects for peace and stability and the restoration of hope and opportunity for the future.

  6. The state of the protection of civilians is bleak, and the need for action to address it is urgent. As discussed in section III below, as conflict becomes increasingly urbanized, with the potential to affect tens of millions of people, ensuring the effective implementation of international humanitarian and human rights law is of paramount importance. The targeting of or failure to protect civilians cannot go unchallenged. The Security Council and Member States can ill afford to abdicate their responsibilities in the face of widespread violations and allow political differences to prevent or undermine concerted action to address and prevent violations. The stakes for civilians — and for international peace and security — are simply too high.

  7. Against that backdrop, there are glimmers of hope. First, there is growing recognition among Member States of the instrumental role that respect for international humanitarian and human rights law plays in their efforts to end and prevent the spillover and recurrence of armed conflict, and to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism. Second, there are practical steps that have been, and could again be, taken by parties to conflict and Member States to respect and ensure respect for the law and enhance the protection of civilians.

  8. Drawing on these, in section IV below I recommend, first, that Member States develop national policy frameworks that establish clear institutional authorities and responsibilities for the protection of civilians; and second, that they support and facilitate expanded efforts to engage non-State armed groups to enter into action plans and develop codes of conduct, operational policy and other tools to ensure effective protection and accountability. Such actions would constitute an important advance towards effective implementation of the law and protection of civilians. At the same time, I recognize the continuing need for heightened advocacy and a concerted effort to ensure accountability for serious violations.