Security Council approves resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers and demanding protection

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Friday that strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and U.N. personnel and demands that all combatants protect them in accordance with international law.

The vote was 14-0 with Russia abstaining.

The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against U.N. and humanitarian personnel along with the continuing disregard and violations of international humanitarian law by combatants.

Switzerland’s U.N. Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl welcomed the strong support for the resolution, which had 97 co-sponsors, telling the council its objective was simple but important: to protect the men and women working as humanitarians and for the United Nations who risk their lives every day “to help people affected by armed conflict.”

“Today, there are over 120 armed conflicts around the world,” she told reporters after the vote. “Millions of people are suffering and need humanitarian assistance. Yet, violence against humanitarian and U.N. personnel is on the rise. In 2023 alone, more than 250 humanitarian personnel were killed.”

Over the past 10 years, Baeriswyl said, there has been a more than 50% increase in the number of the humanitarian personnel targeted.

The resolution does not single out any conflict, but it is being voted on as battles rage in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other hotspots around the world.

It is the seven-month war in Gaza, however, that has seen the greatest number of attacks on U.N. and humanitarian personnel. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the death toll of U.N. staff in Gaza unprecedented in the world body’s nearly 80-year history.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced Friday that the number of killings of U.N. personnel has risen to 194, the vast majority from the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA. He said it had been a “tragic year,” and welcomed the resolution, saying that member states should do all they can to implement it.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said Arab nations are grateful to Switzerland and told reporters the resolution “is tailored to Gaza, without necessarily mentioning Gaza by name.” That’s because it calls for protection of humanitarian and U.N. staff trying to help civilians, he said.

The war has also seen the killing of other humanitarian personnel, including seven World Central Kitchen workers who died in an Israeli airstrike last month.

Baeriswyl said the resolution came at a timely moment. The Geneva Conventions, which Baeriswyl described as the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and a reflection of our common humanity, commemorates its 75th anniversary in August.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Anna Evstigneeva paid tribute “to the courage and the selflessness” of humanitarian workers but blamed Western pressure for Moscow’s abstention.

She said some unnamed Western nations pressured Switzerland to leave out language and changes Russia wanted in the resolution, including on holding people who violate international law accountable, on humanitarian access and on “the hackneyed gender language.”

The resolution calls on all countries to respect and protect humanitarian and U.N. personnel as required by international law. And it calls on all nations and parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and their obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross welcomed adoption of the resolution saying it is “a clear reminder of the absolute necessity and obligation for all parties of armed conflicts to respect and protect humanitarian personnel, their premises and their assets.”

ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and ICRC staff are often the first to respond to conflicts trying to keep people in desperate need alive, “and too often paying the highest price in the process.”

The resolution “strongly condemns attacks and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, threats and intimidation against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”

The resolution urges combatants “to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and refrain from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”

It also urges warring parties to facilitate “full, safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”

On another issue, the resolution condemns “disinformation, information manipulation and incitement to violence” against humanitarian and U.N. staff and it encourages all countries and the United Nations to take action to address these threats.

The resolution expresses the council’s determination to take steps to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian and U.N. staff. It would ask the U.N. Secretary-General to make recommendations within six months on measures to prevent attacks, ensure accountability and enhance protection of humanitarian and U.N. staff.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press