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Ogata says violence against civilians has surged around the world, urges stronger action

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Ogata says violence against civilians has surged around the world, urges stronger action

24 March 1999

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata today urged firm political action to stop massive violations of human rights which drive millions of people from their homes around the globe. She warned against attempts to dismiss international human rights standards as "utopian aspirations."

She made the remarks Wednesday in a speech to the 55th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Ogata said civilians were increasingly becoming targets of armed conflicts, from Kosovo in the Balkans, Sierra Leone in Africa to Indonesia in the Far East. She warned that humanitarian work alone can ease but cannot stop civilian suffering. "We must learn from the lessons of Bosnia and the Great Lakes region in Africa that humanitarian work cannot be a substitute for timely and firm action on a political level", she said.

Ogata said in Kosovo, where a year-long conflict has driven a quarter of the population from their homes, even the most determined humanitarian action could not prevent a slide toward disaster.

Ogata described the decision Tuesday to evacuate UNHCR staff from Kosovo as "tormenting", vowing that UNHCR will go back to the province as soon as possible.

UNHCR and other UN agencies pulled their staff out of Kosovo Tuesday, heeding instructions from top UN security officials in New York.

Ogata said brutality against civilians had become the feature of today's conflicts around the world with women and children being particularly victimised.

She said instilling fear among civilians was part of the war strategy in Sierra Leone, where women and children are deliberate targets of the most gruesome forms of human rights violation. Ogata recalled her recent trip to West Africa, where she saw victims of rape and mutilation, many of them women and children.