The denial of humanitarian access during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. The six grave violations form the basis of the Council’s architecture to monitor, report and respond to abuses suffered by children in times of war. Ending and preventing these violations is also the focus of the Special Representative’s work and advocacy.
Humanitarian access is crucial in situations of armed conflict where civilians, including children, are in desperate need of assistance. Denial of humanitarian access entails blocking the free passage or timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to persons in need as well as the deliberate attacks against humanitarian workers.
Prohibition under international law
Denial of humanitarian access to civilians, including children, and attacks against humanitarian workers assisting children are prohibited under the 4th Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols and may amount to a crime against humanity and a war crime. Moreover, it is a principle in customary international law.
The denial of humanitarian assistance to civilians trapped or displaced by conflict has always been a reality, but it is increasingly being used as a tactic of war. Examples abound of children trapped in besieged areas, or deprived of access to food, water and medical assistance, including vaccines. This is the only grave violation against children that is not a trigger for listing in the annexes of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict. The international community is encouraged to examine options to facilitate access to civilians, including children, in need and to ensure respect for international humanitarian law.