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Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2022/381) [EN/AR/RU/ZH]

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I. Introduction

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to the request in the statement by the President of the Security Council of 21 September 2018 (S/PRST/2018/18). It also responds to the Council’s requests for reporting on specific themes in resolutions 2286 (2016), 2417 (2018), 2474 (2019), 2475 (2019) and 2573 (2021).

  2. It is submitted against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, which has caused unbearable heartache and pain and has effects far beyond Ukraine. Hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and shelters have come under attack. Twelve million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes. In encircled cities, civilians have remained trapped and cut off from essentials. The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility. Globally, food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains, already under pressure from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, are disrupted. All this is hitting the poorest the hardest, exacerbating suffering in other situations of conflict and planting the seeds for further political instability and unrest around the globe, with direct impacts on the protection of civilians.

  3. Humanity is also distressed by the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused an estimated 15 million excess deaths between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021 and has left countless people grappling with health issues. Combined with conflict, the pandemic has intensified human suffering and added strains on weakened health-care services. Vaccines have allowed many parts of the world to bring the pandemic under control, but their distribution remains deeply unequal. Nearly 3 billion people are still waiting for their first shot, many in conflict situations where health systems are weak and public trust is low.

  4. In 2021, armed conflict in several countries intersected with intercommunal violence, violent protests, organized crime or other forms of violence, raising concerns about human rights violations and abuses, compounding suffering, and obscuring distinctions between armed conflict and other situations of violence. In some countries facing conflict, unconstitutional changes in government led to additional violence. The climate crisis also exacerbated conflict-related vulnerabilities such as food insecurity, fuelling violence and escalating humanitarian crises.

  5. Armed conflict continued to be characterized by high levels of civilian death, injury and psychological trauma, sexual violence, torture, family separation and disappearance. Conflict damaged and eroded critical infrastructure, disrupting vital water, sanitation, electricity and health services, and fuelling deprivation, hunger and displacement. The misuse of digital technologies facilitated the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, fuelling conflict and increasing the risks of civilian harm. Hostilities, bureaucratic impediments, the adverse effects of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian activities, violence against humanitarian personnel and assets, and other difficulties overlapped to hinder humanitarian access, with harsh consequences for civilians in need. Section II of the present report reviews the global state of the protection of civilians in 2021; section III examines challenges to humanitarian operations in recent years.