Heightened volatility pervades global security environment with no sign of improvement likely for years to come, increasing threats to United Nations personnel

Heightened volatility pervades the global security environment with no sign of improvement likely for years to come, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says in his report on the “Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of United Nations Personnel”, released today. It analyses global security and security incidents involving United Nations personnel in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to exacerbate existing global security challenges, the report highlights. Threats traditionally considered as non-security, such as climate change, large-scale public health emergencies, disinformation and populism, have caused volatility across the world.

Alongside a once-in-a-century public-health emergency, the past 18 months saw an unprecedented level of population displacement and food insecurity combined with debt crises and climate shocks, according to the report.

The pandemic has led to a global surge in protests, civil unrest and political instability in many regions. This situation led to an increase in the need for humanitarian assistance, while pandemic-related travel restrictions created challenges in reaching those in need. It is estimated that 238 million people worldwide need humanitarian assistance and protection, the highest number in decades.

The Secretary-General notes that the global economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for many governments in meeting the basic needs of their populations, sustaining healthcare, and the public service infrastructure.

The persisting features in the global security environment are threats associated with non-state armed groups, disinformation campaigns and violent extremists, the report says.

The increasingly challenging global environment has adverse effects on the safety and security of United Nations and humanitarian personnel as they operate in the most dangerous parts of the world.

Crime remains the main cause of personnel fatalities due to violence. The number of United Nations personnel injured from acts of violence has increased. Four United Nations civilian personnel were killed by violent acts in 2020, and three in the first half of 2021. All seven personnel killed as a result of violent acts were locally recruited personnel.

During the same period, a total of 28 United Nations civilian personnel lost their lives owing to acts of violence and safety-related incidents.  

The United Nations saw a drastic increase in the number of abductions of United Nations personnel with 17 personnel abducted in 2020 compared to six in 2019, a deeply worrying development.  

In his report, the Secretary-General expresses deep concern over the systematic disrespect for international humanitarian law and human rights law and urges the Governments to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilian in need, and bring the perpetrators of violation of international humanitarian law to justice.

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