Conflicts and disasters today are increasingly complex. Humanitarian principles are being challenged in a number of ways and humanitarian access is becoming more and more difficult. These issues have been high on the agenda in the UN this fall, reflecting the situation on the ground in a number of concrete country situations.
We see on a daily basis that civilians are affected by armed conflict, whether directly; suffering death, injury, rape and forcible displacement, or indirectly; due to increases in disease, hunger and malnutrition.
In countries such as Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, DR Congo, Sudan and Somalia humanitarian aid is being provided under very constrained conditions. Difficult security situations or lack of acceptance by the parties to the conflict limits, or even prevents, aid to people in dire need. The result is that the civilian populations have to flee to secure vital help. Being internally displaced or a refugee is dangerous. Vulnerable people often become more vulnerable when they have to leave their homes, and are thus more likely to suffer abuse, including sexual violence, from warring parties and criminal gangs. It is therefore vital to strengthen efforts to ensure that more civilian victims of war and conflict receive protection and assistance as close as possible to home.
Norway is particularly concerned by the fact that increasing numbers of health-care workers and hospitals are being attacked and threatened by warring parties. An ICRC study of 16 countries over a two-year time-span has identified no less than 644 violent incidents that affected the opportunities for providing or receiving health care. The use of explosive weapons, the destruction of ambulances, kidnappings and killings of health-care personnel are just some of the examples mentioned.
One example is from Somalia where a bomb killed more than 20 people, including two doctors and a number of medical students at a graduation ceremony in Mogadishu in December 2009. Another example is from the Democratic Republic of Congo where an estimated 40 000 deaths per month are due to easily treatable diseases. The main reason why these people are not receiving treatment is the lack of security due to the armed conflict.
At the same time, we know that the normative framework is in place. International humanitarian and human rights law for the protection of civilians in armed conflict and other situations of violence is comprehensive and relevant. The right to health is enshrined in human rights law. The protection of medical missions in armed conflict is highlighted in International humanitarian law. The problem is not law, but the lack of implementation. The lack of both understanding of and respect for the law.
It is necessary to remind parties to conflicts about their responsibilities with regard to International Humanitarian Law. We must engage states that may influence parties to conflicts to remind and insist on the commitments to respect international humanitarian law and protect health workers, hospitals and ambulances.
Norway is determined to strengthen our own humanitarian policy in this field, and to work with partners to enhance the protection of healthfacilites and personell in areas of conflict. We will work to bring countries together across regional and political divides to forward this agenda, to reduce suffering in conflicts and other emergencies.