Denial of humanitarian aid in conflict zones exposes weak commitment to humanity - Hindustan Times
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Denial of humanitarian aid in conflict zones exposes weak commitment to humanity

Apr 30, 2024 04:10 PM IST

This article is authored by Mehdi Hussain, former assistant professor - political science, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.

Every individual has the right to live with human dignity, freedom of expression, and freedom from fear of death. Safeguarding these shared values and protecting all citizens from ethnic, religious or racial-based violence are the concerns for global citizens. The consciousness of helping those in crisis comes from the moral responsibility to aid others in times of suffering and pain of fellow humans.

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The United Nations Charter demands that all member states cooperate to solve international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems. Recent geopolitical tensions have worsened international peace and security, causing humanitarian crises during Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Israel-Palestine Conflict. One primary concern of geopolitical is the struggle for power in West Asia, where the US, the UK and France have failed to maintain a balance in the Israel-Palestine conflict, putting at risk the lives of Palestinians. In contrast, China, Russia, and Iran assert non-compliant states should respect and uphold international humanitarian laws. On 31 October, Yemen’s Houthis missile and drone attacks targeting Israel and the US Navy’s shooting them down to defend Israel’s security unfolded the tension in the Red Sea as a spillover.

In 2022 alone, the United Nations registered 3,931 verified instances of denial of humanitarian access put in place by governments. Of these, the highest occurrences were in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali. Virginia Gamba, special representative of the secretary-general for Children and Armed Conflict, further warned that 2024 is likely to see a ‘shocking’ increase in the denial of access to humanitarian aid at the global level.

Children and women face the worst of these crises. The UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism 2005 monitors six grave violations committed against children in times of armed conflict, including killing and maiming of children, attacks against schools or hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access for children. Gamba further argues that the denial of humanitarian aid—in the form of restrictions on humanitarian activities, hindrance to aid operations and discrimination of recipients, attacks on civilian infrastructure, violence against and killing of humanitarian personnel, and looting of aid—violates children’s right to life, education and the highest attainable standard of health. Several reports by Refugees International and other bodies have indicated that Israeli’s continuous blockade of aid operations for Gaza since the Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel has created ‘famine-like’ conditions. Israeli forces shot into a crowd of thousands, killing more than 100 people in Gaza city who rushed to receive lifesaving supplies close to an Israeli checkpoint, UN News reported. Gaza has been under seizure since 2007, kept under Israeli military restrictions on Palestinian movements. The bombardments of logistic infrastructure and shelter in Gaza combined with the blockade of humanitarian aid, particularly the closure of access to the north of Gaza, have left the Palestinians hungry. On 26 January, the International Court of Justice also directed Israel to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. The conditions have worsened due to continuous bombardments of hospitals and electricity and telecommunication infrastructure, causing a severe health crisis.

In other parts of the world, similar blockades of aid have affected children as the first casualties. In Sudan, according to the UN, the denial of aid delivery to protect the children from the impact of conflict in Darfur, Kordofan and Khartoum exaggerated their suffering. Similarly, during the conflict in Myanmar, several restrictions on humanitarian aid prevented children from reaching portable water. The Security Council has already raised concerns over the impacts of blockades to aid children in Gaza, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Yemen and Myanmar.

The Israeli case is an accurate example of trampling humanitarian laws and moral turpitude despite several international bodies calling out its military ‘unproportionate’ responses as ‘too much’ and condemning its moral turpitude. The ongoing onslaught on Palestinians by the Israeli state and the failure of the international community, mainly the governments, have raised concerns about the relevance of the international system, including the UN Security Council and the United Nations, in protecting innocent civilians from harm during conflicts and wars. Several reports of the UN agencies have pointed to genocide, and the International Court of Justice recently gave the judgement on Israeli military attacks against the Palestinians as ‘potential’ genocide. In October, UN Chief António Guterres appealed for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. However, Israel continues to undermine and ignore all international pressures. Now entering into the seventh month of the conflict, Israel has been using ‘collective punishment’ to deny humanitarian aid, mainly targeting women and children as a conflict strategy.

UN Women reported the killing of over 10,000 women in Gaza, including 6,000 mothers, which left over 19,000 children orphaned. In October, the UN Population Fund reported that about 50,000 women in Gaza were pregnant. More than one million Palestinian women and girls in Gaza have no access to food, safe drinking water or lack of functioning toilets. Thus, further, it is complicated by growing disease in inhumane living conditions. Therefore, the Israeli war on Gaza is also called a war on women. The UN SC resolution 2728 (2024), adopted on 25 March 2024, demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid. The UN Women has helped about 100,000 women and their families with food, blankets, winter clothes, sanitary kits, etc. The protracted conflict has caused over 30,000 deaths and over 70,000 casualties. Moreover, infants and children are dying due to malnutrition and dehydration.

The failure of international regimes, such as the Security Council resolution 2664 (2022) and the non-compliance with the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict are indications that vulnerable citizens in conflict zones have a dismal future. Recalcitrant states like Israel, who continuously flout international regimes in pursuing their ultra-nationalistic goals, are responsible for the declining trust of the international community in the international peace and security framework. The US-led Western countries have ignored their much-avowed Western agenda of promoting democracy, human rights, and sovereignty as they apply different standards to allies and non-allies at ease and convenience, disregarding international norms. Generally, the geopolitical interests in power struggles between major powers often scuttle peace and humanitarian efforts.

Global citizens’ protests across the world have been pressuring the governments to push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Over the last six months, they have come out to the streets, calling out Israel and its allies to stop the heinous military campaigns and allow normalcy to come back while condemning those governments who are silently bandwagoning the US leadership or tacitly supporting it. Addressing humanitarian crises cannot be done without international cooperation. The governments must strengthen their commitment to the UN Charter, to which they are signatories, and to international peace and stability.

This article is authored by Mehdi Hussain, former assistant professor - political science, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.

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