COVID-19 Posing Threat To Civilians Trapped In Conflict – UN Chief
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said the coronavirus pandemic was posing “new and deadly threat” to people caught up in violent conflict.
Guterres stated this while addressing members of the UN Security Council during a high-level videoconference on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
He said the pandemic was “amplifying and exploiting the fragilities of our world”, noting that conflict was one of the “greatest causes” of the fragility.
“As we meet today, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, causing enormous human suffering and additional stress to health systems, economies and communities.
“Those that are already weakened by years of armed conflict are particularly vulnerable.
“COVID-19 is not only spreading sickness and death; it is pushing people into poverty and hunger.
“In some cases, it is reversing decades of development progress,” he said said.
Guterres noted that protection of the vulnerable was becoming more difficult as access to services and safety was hampered, and some “leaders exploit the pandemic to adopt repressive measures”.
He said the pandemic might even create opportunity for warring parties to press their advantage or to strike hard while international attention is focused elsewhere.
“Both scenarios could lead to increases in violence. And civilians always pay the price,” he said.
Guterres said although many UN member states had signed on initiatives and commitments on protection of civilians, compliance and accountability were lacking.
He renewed his call for national frameworks to strengthen protection of civilians in armed conflict.
“States must also ensure accountability through strengthened efforts to prevent serious violations of international law, by prioritising investigation and prosecution.
“I urge all to move beyond rhetoric and close the accountability gap through national legislation and coordinated international action.
“I urge States to review and rethink their approach to urban warfare, committing to the protection of civilians in their doctrine, strategy and tactics.
“This includes measures to condition arms exports on respect for international humanitarian and human rights law,” he said.
The Secretary General decried the increasing use of drones to carry out attacks in many armed conflicts, such as in Libya and Yemen.
“We need to reassert the authority of international law over their use.
“We must address the legal, moral and ethical implications posed by the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems.
“It is my deep conviction that machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement must be prohibited by international law.
“Finally, we must tackle the malicious use of digital technology to conduct cyberattacks on critical civilian infrastructure.
“Reports from several countries indicate a rise in cyberattacks on healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must do more to prevent and end these new forms of aggression, which can cause further severe harm to civilians,” he said.
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