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UN humanitarian chief emphasizes need to protect civilians in conflict zones

The UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs [official website] stressed Thursday that parties in conflict have a duty to protect non-combatants [UN News Centre report] under international law. Valerie Amos [official profile] highlighted conflicts in Somalia, Sudan and Yemen [BBC backgrounders] as examples of countries where civilians are being targeted. In Somalia, Somalis and Kenyans are engaged in battle to push out the al-Shabaab rebels after they invaded South Somalia in mid-October. Amos said that the conflict would lead to internal displacement as civilians begin planting their crops. Sudan is waging a civil war of its own, in its battle with South Sudan [BBC backgrounder], which gained independence [JURIST report] in early July. Amos highlighted the need to protect the millions of people who cross the border between the two countries, as they muddle through post-secession issues. For the last 10 months the Yemeni people have been trying to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website]. The deadly clashes between rebels and governmental forces have left many dead and cut off civilian access to necessary public services, including health care, according to Amos. She also mentioned the excessive use of force by Syrian authorities to quell the popular uprising, which has left more than 3,500 people dead [JURIST report], as an example of the violation of international law. Amos cited the escalation of violence as detrimental to the work of humanitarian organizations. Such organizations cannot place their people in potentially harmful situations, and the lack of personnel has led to a lack of humanitarian aid.

The UN is not the only human rights group to advocate for better conditions for civilians in conflict. In July, Amnesty International [advocacy website] issued a report [text, PDF] highlighting the deterioration of human rights conditions [JURIST report] in armed conflict zones, especially for children. The UN Security Council [official website] has called for Yemen to put an end to violence [JURIST report] against peaceful protesters and urged the country to comply with international law in regards to civilians. In August, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] both claimed to have evidence that the Sudanese army committed war crimes [JURIST report] in the South Kordofan region of the country. In July the UN Security Council called for an end to the fighting [JURIST report] in the region. Amos denounced the human rights abuses [statement] in the region in June.

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