UN Decries ‘Alarming Lack of Compliance’ with Laws Protecting Civilians in 2023 Conflicts

United Nations officials have issued a scathing rebuke of the failure to uphold international humanitarian and human rights laws during armed conflicts around the world in 2023.

Speaking on the 75th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, UN Deputy Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya told the Security Council that civilian suffering in conflict zones last year was “resoundingly dire,” with a 72% increase in civilian deaths compared to the previous year.

Msuya decried the “alarming lack of compliance” with international laws designed to protect civilians, even as parties to conflicts claim adherence. She called for a more comprehensive approach to ensure real protection, noting the “complex, cumulative and long-term nature of the full range of civilian harm.”

The official highlighted several particularly devastating conflicts, including the Israeli military operation in response to Hamas attacks, the brutal fighting in Sudan displacing millions, and the ongoing violence in Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Sahel, Somalia, and Syria.

A UN report found that the leading cause of civilian casualties was the use of explosive weapons in populated areas – despite 83 states endorsing a 2022 political declaration aimed at preventing such attacks.

Msuya also condemned the killings of 142 UN aid workers in Gaza and the closure of a UN office in East Jerusalem after arson attacks by Israeli extremists.

While praising the existing framework of humanitarian law, the UN official said the international community must reflect deeply on how to truly safeguard civilians in modern conflicts as the “plight of civilians” unfolds.

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