The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Americas
  3. United Nations HQ
  • News

Call for more protection for civilians caught up in wars

Non-combatants are being deliberately targeted in today's wars, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report in which he proposes measures for improving the protection of civilians.

The report is the result of a process started by an open debate at the UN Security Council in February during which the Council said it was willing to respond to war situations where civilians are targeted or aid is deliberately obstructed.

Annan says the "plight of civilians is no longer something which can be neglected, or made secondary because it complicates political negotiations or interests".

He stresses that responsibility for protecting civilians cannot be shifted as the United Nations is the "only international organisation with the reach and authority" to end practices aimed at jeopardising the protection of civilians in war situations.

Drawing attention to the specific problems women and children face in armed conflicts, Annan notes that "the breakdown of the social fabric and the disintegration of families ... often leave women and girls especially vulnerable to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, including rape and forced prostitution".

The Security Council, he recommends, should ensure that the special needs of women and children for protection and help are fully addressed in all peacekeeping missions and that warring parties are required to make special arrangements for women and children.

The UN Secretary-General also highlights the need for "civilian
populations to have unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance" and for warring parties, including non-state actors, to cooperate fully with UN humanitarian actors.

He calls on the Council to insist that failure to do so "will result in the imposition of targeted sanctions" and urges member states to bring situations that threaten civilians' right to assistance to the "attention of the Council as a matter affecting peace and security".

Annan also suggests other measures to deal with various aspects of civilian protection, including the deployment of international military observers in camps for displaced persons so as to guard against the presence there of armed or military elements.

As a last-resort measure to ensure the protection of civilians, he recommends temporary security zones and safe corridors.

However, it must be clearly understood, he says, that "such arrangements require the availability of ... sufficient and credible force to guarantee the safety of the civilian populations making use of them and ensure the demilitarization of these zones and the availability of a safe exit option."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.