Governments that deliberately target civilians are in flagrant violation of international law, United Nations officials said on Tuesday, citing countries primarily in the Middle East and Africa, dpa reported.
Speaking at a UN Security Council session on governments' responsibility to protect citizens from harms, the officials said the levels of attacks on civilians had increased. They cited Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Ivory Coast and Sri Lanka.
Valerie Amos, the UN emergency relief coordinator, said an initial failure to respect the law "is almost always a precursor to further violence, suffering and trauma inflicted upon civilians, including massive displacement within and across borders."
"In Syria, the deployment of tanks and reports of shelling of residential areas is alarming," she said.
Amos called for the warring parties in Misurata, Libya, to temporarily cease fire so relief assistance can be provided to the civilians caught in the fighting.
She denounced attacks on ambulances transporting the wounded and the shelling and mining of the Misurata port, used by relief agencies and for evacuating refugees.
The fighting in Ivory Coast displaced 150,000 people and more than 170,000 others fled to neighbouring countries during the five months former President Laurent Gbagbo was clinging to power.
Gbagbo surrendered to newly elected President Alassane Ouattara last month.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said governments in Syria, Libya and Sri Lanka had to be held accountable for human rights violations. There are no UN peacekeeping missions in the three countries.
Pillay said her office will dispatch a team to investigate alleged violations in Syria. Her office was also investigating the killing of civilians in Libya.
The UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, urged governments hosting UN missions to ensure protection of civilians in the immediate aftermath of conflicts, which he called an "immensely complex endeavour."
"The protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping operations is often carried out in extremely challenging environments, in many cases with tremendous political complexities," Le Roy said.
There are currently 15 UN peacekeeping missions around the world, deploying more than 100,000 troops and civilians. The largest UN missions are in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.