On May 24, 2018, the UN Security Council held its annual open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The denial of humanitarian access and attacks on health care facilities and workers – both considered grave violations of children’s rights under the Council’s children and armed conflict (CAC) framework – featured prominently in the debate.

Council Members discussed the Secretary-General’s (SG’s) 2018 annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2018/462), which highlights the alarming impacts of the denial of humanitarian access on children and other civilians, including the use of starvation as a method of warfare. The SG reports that in 2017, parties in a number of countries on the CAC agenda – including Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory – put in place various bureaucratic measures to prevent civilians from accessing humanitarian assistance. Attacks on aid workers also continued to impede humanitarian operations in several conflict-affected countries. In many instances, such impediments led to manmade public health crises, extreme hunger, and in some cases, famine.

In his report, the SG underscored the effects of restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, which prevented the movement of humanitarian personnel and the entry of commercial vessels carrying humanitarian items into Hodeidah port, creating significant challenges to the provision of assistance to the nearly seven million civilians in urgent need of food assistance. Watchlist continues to express concerns about attacks on medical facilities and health care workers, as well as the denial of humanitarian access, in Yemen, and urges the Saudi-led coalition to sign an action plan with the UN to end and prevent violations against children and enhance their protection. It further calls on the SG to carefully monitor and publicly document measures taken by the coalition and other parties listed in his annual report on CAC to protect children.

In follow-up to Security Council Resolution (SCR) 2286 (2016), the SG also reported on the protection of medical care in armed conflict. He noted that in 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded 322 attacks across conflict-affected countries including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria. While recognizing that some positive steps have been taken, the SG reminded States that more could be done to protect health care, including ensuring compliance with the law and accountability for violations; strengthening data collection; exchanging good practices in implementing SCR 2286; and integrating guidance on the protection of medical care into military doctrine and training.

Unanimously adopting SCR 2417 (2018), the Council strongly condemned the unlawful denial of humanitarian access and further highlighted a number of measures that could help promote accountability for those parties to conflict that obstruct the delivery of, or access to, humanitarian assistance for civilians in armed conflict; these include Council-mandated sanctions against individual or entities that obstruct the delivery of aid to civilians in need, and the commissioning by States of full, prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into violations of international humanitarian law, including the unlawful denial of access.

In order to promote accountability for this violation, as well as strengthened and standardized monitoring and reporting by UN Country Task Forces, Watchlist recommends that Member States request the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAAC) to develop practical guidance on data collection pertaining to denial of humanitarian access.