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ConflictsGlobal issues

Number of civilians killed in wars soars in 2023 — UN report

June 18, 2024

"The proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled," said UN Human Rights boss Volker Turk, who called new data, "horrifying."

People wander past the rubble of a bombed out building in central Gaza on June 9, 2024
A 'horrifying' jump in the number of civilians killed in armed conflicts comes as countries spend more on weaponsImage: Evad Baba/AFP

"In 2023, data gathered by my office shows the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72%," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday to open a UN Human Rights Council meeting. 

Türk told those assembled, "the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled."

Addressing the Council, Türk accused belligerents around the world of, "pushing beyond the borders of what is acceptable — and legal."

They exhibit "utter contempt for the other," he continued, "trampling human rights at their core. Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence, destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence... children shot at, hospitals bombed, heavy artillery unleashed on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric."

UN rights boss 'appalled' by 'disregard for international human rights' in Gaza

Türk said he was, "appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict" in Gaza, decrying what he called "unconscionable death and suffering."

He was critical of Israel in his remarks, saying, "Since Israel escalated its operations into Rafah in early May, almost one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further."

The UN human rights chief also said that "More than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured since 7 October, as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives."

Blinken: Palestinian civilians in Gaza 'not numbers'

Massive gap between humanitarian and defense spending underscores priorities

Türk did not limit his focus to Gaza, pointing also to wars in Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

He gave Sudan as an example of a country "being destroyed in front of our eyes by two warring parties and affiliated groups ... [who have] flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people."

He said conflict is putting more people in need of assistance at a time when fewer resources are being allocated to help them.

Türk pointed to the imbalance in humanitarian spending versus defense spending to underscore global priorities.

Humanitarian aid, he said, remained meager at best, constantly running up against debt. "As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at $40.8 billion (€38 billion)."

"Contrast this with the almost $2.5 trillion (€2.3 trillion) in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8% increase in real terms from 2022. This was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009."

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js/ab (AFP, EPD)