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Number of children killed in global conflicts tripled in 2023, U.N. human rights chief says

Eid celebrations muted in Gaza amid ongoing war
Eid celebrations muted in Gaza amid ongoing war 02:30

Global conflicts killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 than in the previous year, as overall civilian fatalities swelled 72%, the United Nations said Tuesday. 

Warring parties were increasingly "pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal," U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

They are showing "utter contempt for the other, trampling human rights at their core," he said. "Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence."

"Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanising rhetoric."

Doctors treat 16-year-old Palestinian Moamen Mattar at a hospital in central Gaza for a gunshot wound his family says he sustained during Israel's June 8, 2024 operation to rescue four hostages. CBS News

The U.N. rights chief said his office had gathered data indicating that last year, "the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72%."

"Horrifyingly, the data indicates that the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled, compared to the year prior," he said.

In the Gaza Strip, Turk said he was "appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict" and "unconscionable death and suffering."

Since the war erupted after Hamas's unprecedented Oct. 7 attack on Israel, he said "more than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured... as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives."

"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," he said.

Israel continues Rafah offensive as fate of cease-fire deal uncertain 01:38

Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday that Israel's military offensive on the besieged enclave had killed more than 37,372 Palestinians and wounded 85,452 since the war started. The ministry does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties.

Need for aid increasing, but funding is not 

Turk also pointed to a range of other conflicts, including in Ukraine, the Democratic epublic of Congo and Syria.

And in Sudan, in the grips of a more than year-long civil war, he warned the country "is 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."

Such devastation comes as funding to help the growing numbers of people in need is dwindling.

Millions facing starvation in Sudan nearly a year after civil war broke out, U.N. says 03:42

"As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at $40.8 billion," Turk said. "Appeals are funded at an average of 16.1% only," he said.

"Contrast this with the almost $2.5 trillion in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8% increase in real terms from 2022," Turk said, stressing that "this was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009."

"In addition to inflicting unbearable human suffering, war comes with a hefty price tag," he said.

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