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UN: Civilian Deaths in Conflicts on Rise

The United Nations' humanitarian chief warned Wednesday that the numbers of civilians killed and displaced in conflicts is on the rise.  John Holmes told the U.N. Security Council that civilians as well as the aid workers who are trying to help them are increasingly targeted by combatants and armed groups in conflict zones.  

John Holmes said 27 million people were displaced within their own countries at the end of last year due to conflict - the highest number on record.  Of that group, he said nearly seven million were newly displaced during the past year.

"One point eight million alone were in Pakistan - though many have since returned," said John Holmes. "But DRC, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines and Colombia also experienced large-scale new displacement."

Holmes said equally troubling is that newly displaced persons continue to outnumber by a wide margin those who return home or are resettled.

Additionally, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported recently that last year there were more than 15 million refugees worldwide.

Again, John Holmes:

"Durable solutions are woefully missing for millions in protracted displacement situations, increasing both despair and reliance on humanitarian assistance," he said.

Holmes, who has overseen the United Nations' emergency relief and humanitarian work for the last 3.5 years and is about to step down from his post, told the council that limitations on humanitarian access remains a major problem in many countries in conflict.

He also warned that aid workers are increasingly coming under attack - more than 100 were killed during 2008 and 2009, and at least 30 so far this year; while an additional 200 others have been kidnapped and injured during the past four years.

Holmes urged the Security Council to be vigilant about accountability for perpetrators.

"The conduct of parties to conflict is inevitably affected by their sense of susceptibility to punishment and accountability to their victims and clear signals that impunity will not be tolerated," said Holmes.

Holmes said that although national justice systems must remain the first line of defense, the international community must explore other options when those systems are unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice and provide remedies to victims.   

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