UN Security Council on protecting people with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies and armed conflicts


The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 20th June, 2019 to provide protection to people suffering from any disability during armed conflicts and to ensure that they have proper access to humanitarian assistance. This was the first time the Security Council had dedicated an entire resolution to the people with disabilities who face various challenges in armed conflicts, Having said that the major goal was to provide them with a voice in decisions regarding humanitarian actions. It was an important action for the group which was often forgotten during humanitarian emergencies.

 Although the impact of this particular resolution depended on how well was it executed in reality but it again reinforced and uplifted the idea that there is an absolute responsibility to protect all innocent civilians during armed conflicts, the UN agrees with the fact that the effect of conflict on people with disabilities is considerably higher and they have to be protected from the impact of war. This move was welcomed by everyone which was followed by extensive advocacy from the disability groups as well. If we refer to the statistics given by the World Health Organization, it clearly points out that 15% of the World’s Population is disabled with some or the other form of disability.

Amongst all these approximately 9.7 million have been forcibly displaced as a result of armed conflict and persecution. In times of armed conflicts or situations of humanitarian emergencies there are some problematic issues that people with disabilities face which includes difficulty in getting access to basic humanitarian needs such as food, medical assistance and sanitation, often issues like abandonment from the family also arises.

The children with any kind of disability also face problems in attending schools unlike other children present there. For example in the case of the Armed Groups Attack on various communities in the Central African Republic in the year 2013 to be particular it was documented that at least 96 of the disabled people were unable to escape when these attacks were made on their houses; they were left abandoned and 11 of them were killed.

Having said that we again come to the conclusion that this resolution basically emphasized on the immediate need for the states to end impunity against the criminal acts committed on the innocent civilians especially the one’s who were disabled, to make sure that every civilian has an equal access to justice and all the available remedies as in Yemen, South Sudan, Lebanon, Myanmar, Greece people with disabilities have expressed their concern over difficulties they face in navigating the uneven terrain to get access to basic necessities like food and medical supplies. The Resolution recognizes the Security Council’s serious concern regarding the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities and proposes actions to address the barriers faced by the world’s largest minority group. The resolution passed by the Security Council addresses many of the challenges that have been talked about above which includes preventing violence and abuse against all civilians including people with disabilities.

 Additionally the resolution passed also called for the member states to ensure meaningful participation of persons with disabilities and the organizations that represent them in decisions related to humanitarian actions, conflict prevention, reconstruction and peace building. The said resolution also urges it’s member states to comply with the said obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities where the Article 11 of the same convention states that “In accordance with their obligations under international law including International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, all necessary measures are required to be taken to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situation of risks, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters”.

 The resolution passed was a unanimous decision but some permanent members of the security council expressed their concern regarding creating new legal obligations under international law and exceeding the scope of the mandate of the council, Gennady V. Kuzmin of the Russian Federation stated that Russia “shares humanistic principles and tasks to alleviate the plight of persons with disabilities in conflict” but “firmly upholds our position that all social groups should be equally protected during armed conflict as stipulated by the international law. Specific needs of one category of population should not come at the cost of and with prejudice to another category.” The council, Kuzmin explained, “it should not invent any new international legal concepts that are allegedly aimed to fill ‘gaps’ in the protection regime established by the Geneva Conventions” and not “get too preoccupied with devising new categories of individuals who should need specific protection under the international humanitarian law.” Having said that, even Yao Shaojun of the People’s Republic of China cleared his stand that the issues related to the people with disabilities “should be dealt with in full observance of all Council resolutions on the protection of civilians” and that “the countries concerned must shoulder the primary responsibility of assisting such persons, with the United Nations and others playing a complementary role”.

 Now if we go through the Article 25 of the U.N Charter, it obligates the states to “accept and carry out” decisions taken by the Security Council but there is no clear understanding as to what type of language indicates that a provision in a security council is of a obligatory nature. If we carefully analyze the provision that was explained in context to the 1971 Nambia Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice it says that when a resolution is passed by the Security Council, before jumping down to the conclusion whether it has any binding effect or not, it’s language should be carefully looked into. Taking into account the provision of Article 25 the question whether they have been in fact exercised is to be determined in each case, having regard to the terms of the resolution to be interpreted, the discussions leading to it, the Charter provisions invoked and, in general, all circumstances that might assist in determining the legal consequences of the resolution of the Security Council. Well, as explained by John Bellinger, the former legal advisor of the United States Department of States there are three factors that indicate whether a resolution of the Security Council has a binding effect, these are:- 

Findings which state that there is a threat to International Peace and Security 

Statement which clears that the Security Council is acting under Chapter VII of the U.N Charter Use of the verb “decides” in any operative paragraphs has a binding effect

 Nonetheless this resolution did not fall under either of these categories. However Resolution 2475 could inform how the Security Council drafts future resolutions authorizing peacekeeping operations, which often fall under Chapter VII authority. 

Lastly it is to be said that the resolution passed by the Security Council is also the result of the extensive efforts that the civil societies and organizations representing disabled people had put in for a very long period of time. Nujeen Mustafa, a Syrian activist who suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for her assistance, had put forth her journey as a refugee who flew from Syria to Germany; she indeed was the first woman with a disability to brief the Security Council. No matter how remote the goals of this resolution might sound, it is an extremely important and celebrated step and a landmark resolution for people with disabilities taken by the UN Security Council. It is a clear political commitment towards mainstreaming disability across all UN pillars, including peace and security.