This report is submitted as requested 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 to report on specific themes in resolutions 2286 (2016), 2417 (2018), 2474 (2019), 2475 (2019) and 2573 (2021).
It is presented against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, which has caused unbearable grief and pain and has effects far beyond Ukraine. Hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and shelters have been attacked. Twelve million Ukrainians have been driven from their homes. In the encircled towns, civilians remained trapped and cut off from essentials. The prospect of a nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back in 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 being disrupted. All of this hits the poorest the hardest, exacerbating suffering in other conflict situations and sowing the seeds of further instability and political unrest around the world, with direct impacts on the protection of civilians.
Humanity is also afflicted by the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, which caused around 15 million additional deaths between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 and left countless people struggling with health problems. Combined with conflict, the pandemic has intensified human suffering and added pressure on weakened health services. Vaccines have enabled many parts of the world to bring the pandemic under control, but their distribution remains deeply uneven. Nearly 3 billion people are still waiting for their first vaccine, many of them in conflict situations where health systems are weak and public trust is low.
In 2021, armed conflicts in several countries have intersected with intercommunal violence, violent protests, organized crime or other forms of violence, raising concerns about human rights violations and abuses, worsening suffering and blurring the distinctions between armed conflict and other situations of violence. In some countries facing conflict, unconstitutional changes in government have led to further violence. The climate crisis has also exacerbated conflict-related vulnerabilities such as food insecurity, fueling violence and escalating humanitarian crises.
Armed conflicts continued to be characterized by high levels of death, injury and psychological trauma among civilians, sexual violence, torture, family separations and disappearances. The conflict has damaged and eroded critical infrastructure, disrupting vital water, sanitation, electricity and health services, and fueling deprivation, hunger and displacement. The misuse of digital technologies has facilitated the spread of disinformation, disinformation and hate speech, fueling conflict and increasing the risk of harm to civilians. Hostilities, bureaucratic obstacles, the adverse effects of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian activities, violence against humanitarian personnel and assets and other challenges have overlapped to impede humanitarian access, with dire consequences for civilians in need. Section II of this report reviews the global state of the protection of civilians in 2021; Section III examines the challenges faced by humanitarian operations in recent years.