Civilians can be protected in conflict: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 29 Sep 2008

As the Rudd Government vies for a spot on the UN Security Council in 2013, the protection of civilians throughout the world from conflict and mass atrocity crimes should be at the heart of Australia’s foreign policy, according to Oxfam Australia.

A new international report on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, to be released by Oxfam today, sets out an agenda to protect civilians through combining local, national and regional action. For a Safer Tomorrow – Protecting Civilians in a Multipolar World, is based on Oxfam’s experience in many of the world’s conflicts.

The report argues that a new US President, the re-emergence of Russia, the rise of China and India, and a stronger European Union and African Union creates a different world order which must do a better job protecting people whose lives are threatened by conflict.

Released 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promised everyone the right to ‘life, liberty and security’, the report coincides with the current drastic deterioration in the humanitarian situation and civilian suffering in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to renewed combat.

It also follows the recent launch of former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans’ book, The Responsibility to Protect – Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All. Mr Evans, now International Crisis Group president, was instrumental in the formation of the Responsibility to Protect concept.

Oxfam Australia humanitarian advocacy coordinator Steph Cousins said that at the 2005 UN World Summit, world leaders agreed that states had a primary ‘Responsibility to Protect’ their own populations, and that the international community had a responsibility to act when these governments failed to do so.

“In today’s interdependent world, no country is immune to the insecurity and threats from a conflict on the other side of the globe. It is in all our interests to ensure that civilians are protected,” Ms Cousins said.

She said the Australian Government had shown promising signs of making Responsibility to Protect a priority, with a recent $2 million competitive fund for institutions, individuals and non-government organisations to investigate and research how Australia can implement its Responsibility to Protect.

However, Ms Cousins said Australia needed to follow up with practical measures such as making the safety of civilians the overriding priority in its response to conflicts, ensuring that Responsibility to Protect was enshrined in the upcoming Defence White Paper, and acting quickly to tackle the trends that threaten new or prolonged conflicts – including poverty and inequality, climate change and arms proliferation.

Among the report’s recommendations is reform of the UN Security Council to include greater transparency, in which all the Council’s members have to account for their performance in pursuing international peace and security.

Download the report here

For more information or interviews, please contact Laurelle Keough, Oxfam Australia, on 0409 960 100, or

• There are more than 30 conflicts raging around the world and millions of people are suffering in them.

• In 2006, 63 per cent of the world’s refugees were from Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries on the front line in the ‘war on terror’.

• The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a death toll more than twice that of Iraq, has lost 5.4 million – or eight per cent of its people – to conflict and the deadly hunger and disease that it has unleashed since 1998.

• Between 1990 and 2005, armed conflict cost Africa an average $18bn a year (Oxfam)

• 95 per cent of the world’s hard drugs come from countries at war.

• Half the population of Darfur (3 million people) is in refugee camps; two-thirds of the population (4 million people) is reliant on humanitarian assistance. A conservative estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2003.
• The economic cost of conflicts is roughly twice as much as the world has spent on international aid in recent decades (Oxford University Professor of Economics, Paul Collier).
• African countries in conflict have 50 per cent more infant deaths than peaceful countries.

• The Iraq War may cost the global economy up to $6 trillion, twice the cost to the US alone (Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz).

• Every day, 1500 people die in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

• In 2006, the wars in the DRC, Darfur, and Iraq may have killed three-quarters of a million people. This is 30 times the annual death toll from global terrorism.

• With a death toll more than twice that of Iraq, the DRC has lost 8 per cent of its people to conflict and the deadly hunger and disease that it has unleashed. If the USA lost a similar proportion, 25 million people – more than the population of Texas – would have died. In China, that figure would be 110 million people, more than the population of the Yangtze Delta.