U.N. Staffers Caught in Deadly Crossfire in Ongoing Conflicts

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The deadly Syrian military conflict – now entering its fifth year – which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 mostly civilians, including women, children and aid workers, has not spared the United Nations either.

The world body has been mourning the loss of 17 of its staffers, with an additional 30 missing, probably held in detention either by the Syrian government or by rebel forces battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.” — Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)
The agency most affected is the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which has lost 14 of its staff, including five of them killed last year.

Asked if they were singled out because of their affiliation with the United Nations, Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson and director of advocacy and strategic communications, told IPS the staff killed in Syria died in many different ways “caught up in this pitiless conflict”.

“We have no evidence that they were singled out and killed because they work for the U.N. But their deaths illustrate the price UNRWA staff have paid for their dedication to the humanitarian cause.”

He said they were all local Palestinian staff, while the 18,000 civilians trapped in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are a mixture of Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Many Palestinian refugees have been killed or seriously wounded, including in incidents that affected UNRWA installations.

“But UNRWA is not in a position to verify figures on the total numbers of Palestinian refugees killed,” said Gunness, on the eve of the third international conference on humanitarian aid to Syria to be hosted by the government of Kuwait.

The ongoing civil war in Syria – and the spreading conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen – has made it increasingly difficult for U.N. staffers in humanitarian missions aimed at providing food, medicine and shelter to the ever-growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS, “Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.”

At the same time, he said, the U.N. has a policy of “stay and deliver” meaning that it is reluctant to pull out of conflict zones. This means it has a very real duty to protect its staff.

While security in the field is taken more seriously than before, the U.N. and its member states could do much more, Richards added.

“One example that we are keen to highlight is that the warring parties in Syria who kill or kidnap U.N. staff get their financing and support from sources located in U.N. member countries, yet this is rarely brought up.”

The treatment of local staff is also a worry, he said.

The U.N. argues that in contrast to international staff, local staff and their families were already located in the conflict zone.

However, by working for the U.N., local staff and their families are seen as a legitimate target, especially by some of the groups operating in Syria.

“Therefore the U.N. does need to do more for local staff and their families,” Richards noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a recent memorial ceremony to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia, he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billions

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. –Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Author

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

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