Loss of civilian lives and the loss of the UN’s credentials - Hindustan Times
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Loss of civilian lives and the loss of the UN’s credentials

ByHindustan Times
Nov 17, 2023 02:56 PM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

The horrors of World War II were so immense that the international community decided to have frameworks and mechanisms to ensure the loss of lives on the scale that was witnessed, never takes place again. About 75 million people lost their lives in World War II, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians. Loss of civilians’ lives were not just in the direct war between the nation states at war, but also because many civilians died of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass bombings, disease and starvation. For the purpose of ensuring the peace and stability of the international order, in which the protection of human lives becomes paramount the United Nations (UN) came into existence on October 24, 1945. As stated in the Charter of the UN itself, the protection of the civilian population is a basic element of humanitarian law. Civilians and all those not taking part in the fighting must on no account be attacked and must be spared and protected. Despite this, the reality continues to remain that civilian populations suffer most from the consequences of armed violence.

Security officials look on as the United Nations flag flies at half-mast to mourn the lives of UN workers lost during the war between Israel and Hamas, at the United Nations Office Nairobi (UNON)(AFP)
Security officials look on as the United Nations flag flies at half-mast to mourn the lives of UN workers lost during the war between Israel and Hamas, at the United Nations Office Nairobi (UNON)(AFP)

In 2023, at least 30 countries in the world are engaged in different forms of war. These types include direct military conflict between countries, civil wars, drug wars, terrorist insurgencies, ethnic violence and political unrest, to name a few. In the Russia-Ukraine war which rages on for more than a year now, as verified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a total of 9,614 people have lost their lives, and 17,535 people have been injured, as of September 2023. In October this year, Hamas launched an unexpected and brutal terrorist attack on Israeli civilians, in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed and more than 240 taken hostage. The ministry of health in Ramallah has stated that more than 10,000 Palestinians have died in the military campaign launched by Israel in response to decimate Hamas and the number is going up by the day.

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In the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the situation is equally grim, as more than 53,000 people or about 45% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of 120,000 had left the region for Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh officials said earlier that at least 200 people, including 10 civilians lost their lives and over 400 were wounded in the fighting. In Myanmar, where a civil war rages on, the estimated casualties in the year 2022 stood at 13,646. In Mexico, a drug war rages on between the Mexican government and multiple powerful and violent drug cartels, an estimated 350,000 deaths have taken place with more than 72,000 people still missing for the period between 2006 and 2021. In Sudan, a war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), rival factions of the military government of Sudan, began in April this year. As of October this year, about 10,000 people have lost their lives and up to 12,000 others injured.

According to a Human Rights Watch report that was published in January 2021, the official figures of Uyghurs put through the internment camps, which China calls vocational education and training camps is 1.3 million. Waterboarding, mass rape and sexual abuse are among the forms of torture used in the internment camps. In 2023, UN experts had even sought a clarification about nine imprisoned Tibetan human rights defenders.

Thus, wars keep raging on, and civilian lives continue being lost due the various formats in which wars continue to take place. As compared to the drastic changes in which violence gets perpetrated against civilians, the UN charter has been amended just five times since 1945. In 1965, article 23 of the UN charter was amended to enlarge the Security Council from 11 to 15 members. Article 27 was also amended in 1965 to increase the required number of Security Council votes from seven to nine. Article 61 also underwent an amendment in the same year and the Economic and Social Council was enlarged from 18 to 27 members. The charter underwent two more changes in 1968 and 1973 respectively, when Articles 109 and Article 61 were amended respectively to change the requirements for a general conference of member states for reviewing the Charter, and to further enlarge the Economic and Social Council from 27 to 54 members. What has been missed out in all these amendments is the fact that the loss of civilian lives continues. In fact, in the list of wars in 2023, two of the permanent members of the UN Security Council- China and Russia have engaged in brutal killings of civilians. With every new war, irrespective of which format it in, the credibility of the UN only receives a further blow, and this will continue as it has since 1945 unless reform is seriously considered.

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor, Chinese Studies and International Relations, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

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