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Henry Bellingham MP: Protection of civilians must be a priority in peacemaking, not an afterthought

Henry Bellingham MP: Protection of civilians must be a priority in peacemaking, not an afterthought
3 min read

This Saturday the world recognises the bravery and suffering of those affected by conflicts outside of their control as part of World Humanitarian Day, says Sir Henry Bellingham MP, Chair of the APPG on Sudan and South Sudan.

 As we look around the world’s conflicts, we see that civilians are still paying the ultimate price of war.

Like many across the world, the conflict in South Sudan doesn’t differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, legitimate and illegitimate targets. Children, patients, aid workers, and others continue to suffer as a result of a civil war that they had no role in creating or sustaining.

Statistics rarely tell the whole story but in the case of South Sudan, the figures are truly harrowing.  3.6 million people have been displaced by the violence between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, 6 out of 10 of whom are children. 

Sexual violence is routinely used as a weapon of war, over half of South Sudanese children are out of school, and South Sudanese girls are now three times more likely to die in childbirth than complete primary school.

Last year, South Sudan took on the grim title as the most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker. 208 humanitarians were killed, kidnapped or seriously wounded in 2016, typified by the horrific events at the Terrain hotel in July last year, where several aid workers were raped and a journalist killed.

World Humanitarian Day on August 19th reminds us that civilians and aid workers are #NotaTarget.  The theme reaffirms the central principle of distinction enshrined in International Humanitarian Law; that parties to any conflict must distinguish between civilians and fighters. 

Ultimately, World Humanitarian Day should remind us that the protection of civilians must be a priority in peacemaking, not an afterthought.  The international community must give peacekeeping missions the funding and powers they need to effectively protect civilians and support humanitarian organisations.

However, with sweeping cuts to the budgets of UN peacekeeping missions, we are moving in the wrong direction.  In the case of South Sudan, the UN mission (UNMISS) is set to see a fall in funding at a time of rapidly rising demand for its services, while the UN appeal for South Sudan has received only 17% of the funding it called for.

Even more damaging are consistent access issues for humanitarian actors.  In July alone in South Sudan, there were 136 access incidents, 49 of which involved violence against humanitarians or their assets.  Bureaucratic impediments, threats of violence and looting are all commonplace and prevent humanitarian actors from reaching those who need them most.

As the UK deploys 400 military personnel to support the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and the UN’s Regional Protection Force lands in Juba, World Humanitarian Day’s focus on civilian protection is more relevant in South Sudan than ever.

Henry Bellingham is the Conservative Member of Parliament for North West Norfolk and is the Chair of the APPG on Sudan and South Sudan

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