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Commissioner Stylianides opens event on humanitarian protection and International Humanitarian Law during 73rd United Nations General Assembly

© EU 2018
A sharp increase in deliberate breaches of IHL and humanitarian principles has made protection a prime challenge in today's humanitarian contexts. © EU 2018

The European Union (EU) merged its efforts with the Kingdom of Belgium and the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to raise awareness on the cost of armed conflict and its dire consequences on civilians.

The event ‘Civilians under fire: humanitarian protection and respect for International Humanitarian Law’, took place on 26 September 2018, in the margins of the 73rd UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, aimed to draw attention to the consequences of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) violations on civilians, with a focus on humanitarian action, medical care, and education. It highlighted the positive impact that the reduction of IHL violations would have on humanitarian economic and financial needs. 

Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, delivered an opening address.

“Violations of International Humanitarian Law have become the rule, rather than the exception. Civilians, particularly women and children, fall victim to violence and abuse. Critical civilian infrastructure is deliberately destroyed, booby trapped, or co-opted for military purposes. And humanitarian workers continue to lose their lives, trying to save lives. This is tragic. And should never happen. Nor should we accept this as the by-product of helping others in conflict.” said Commissioner Stylianides ahead of the event.

The European Union is single-minded in our commitment to International Humanitarian Law. It is part of our DNA. Enshrined in our rules, and integral to our international policies. And as the first regional organisation to adopt the Guidelines on IHL compliance, the EU has placed these principles at the heart of our activities. And we disseminate IHL to armed forces and non-State actors worldwide. Reinforcing the vital work of UN Member States devoted to advancing international humanitarian norms. We have humanitarian principles on our side. This should energise us. And drive us to build on the momentum we have created. Through hard work,” Stylianides added.

This high-level event featured Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, Belgium; Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, France; Peter Maurer, President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO, Save the Children International; and Alain Délétroz, Director-General, Geneva Call; and Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA). The event was moderated by Monique Pariat, Director-General, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).


Systematic IHL violations have been on the rise since a decade: direct attacks on civilian population, on civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals, denial of access to humanitarian aid and attacks on humanitarian workers. In some armed conflicts, violations of IHL are widely reported as strategic methods of warfare. Such methods have long-term humanitarian consequences. Almost 4400 humanitarian workers have been victims of attacks over the past two decades.

This sharp increase in deliberate breaches of IHL and humanitarian principles has made protection a prime challenge in today's humanitarian contexts. Ensuring compliance with IHL obligations is even more challenging with today’s incremental armed conflicts involving non-state actors. In 2017, more than 10% of the EU humanitarian aid budget was allocated for humanitarian protection activities.

The EU continues to advocate for enhancing protection and compliance with IHL, including through dialogue, statements and initiatives, as well as through funding for IHL training for staff and partners, and IHL dissemination and awareness raising activities across the general public.

The European Commission also supports existing good practices and engaging in advocacy for compliance with IHL in view of the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in line with the commitment made in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.

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