UNITED NATIONS — UN officials and ambassadors Wednesday launched a multibillion-dollar appeal for victims of Yemen’s brutal civil war, condemned a terrorist attack in Afghanistan and celebrated two decades since the launch of a landmark protocol of protections for children in armed conflict.
The halls of the UN’s Manhattan and Geneva locations were abuzz with the high-profile recognition of the 20-year-old General Assembly resolution to protect children in violent hot spots, as ambassadors responded to the latest spate of violence in Kabul, political instability in Libya, and displaced and starving millions of people in need in Yemen’s war.
“Two years of war have devastated Yemen and millions of children, women and men desperately need our help,” said Stephen O’Brien, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, in a statement announcing the launch of a $2.1 billion appeal for Yemen in Geneva.
“Without international support, they may face the threat of famine in the course of 2017 and I urge donors to sustain and increase their support to our collective response,” he added. “Humanitarian partners are ready to respond. But they need timely, unimpeded access, and adequate resources, to meet the humanitarian needs wherever they arise.”
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs estimates that 18.8 million people are in need of assistance, with 10.3 million people “acutely affected” and nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – acutely malnourished.
The appeal came a day after a bombing outside Supreme Court in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, an attack that left 21 people dead and 40 wounded.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their deep sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Afghanistan and welcomed their unity in confronting this tragedy,” read a statement issued by the 15-member UN Security Council, which also met Wednesday to consider the political climate in Libya. “They wished the injured a speedy recovery.”
Meanwhile, members of civil society groups, UN representatives and ambassadors vowed at a General Assembly meeting to continue to improve the lives of children trapped in armed conflicts dotting the globe.
“The world cannot be at peace if we do not protect our children,” said Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker, a special UN envoy who made a video statement at the commemoration of 20th anniversary of the mandate on children and armed conflict. “Seeing children carrying weapons, as I did in South Sudan, is one of the most disturbing human experiences.”
Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, moderated the assembly.
“Children, you already hear, are at the heart of the suffering posed by armed conflict,” she said. “They are recruited and used, left disabled, raped, orphaned and driven from their homes, deprived of their right to education and their hopes for the future are compromised.”
UN officials and ambassadors hailed the success of the Children, Not Soldiers campaign with Zerrougui’s office and other UN agencies such as UN Children’s Fund that, officials estimate, has pulled more than 115,000 children from the ranks of government armies since 2000.
“Among the incomprehensible horrors that take place in the chaos of war zones, unconscionable crimes, violations, exploitation and abuse are perpetrated against the most vulnerable members of our societies — namely our children,” said Peter Thomsen, president of the General Assembly, adding that 250 million children live in areas now affected by conflict.
Thomsen, of the Fiji islands, said six main violations “continue unabated, including recruitment and use, killing and maiming, acts of sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access. . . . As we embark on the third decade of the mandate, it is clear that far more needs to be done.”