The sexual exploitation of civilians, plundering of natural resources and terrorism are all emerging as challenges to the international community’s efforts to protect non-combatants in times of war, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report to the Security Council released today.The report, the third of its kind by the Secretary-General, focuses on challenges that occur during the transitional phase from conflict to peace, and stresses the importance of protecting civilians throughout that process.The report notes that the UN is working to ensure that the design of peacekeeping and relief operations incorporates protection measures for groups vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including by UN and other humanitarian personnel.”Men, women and children displaced by conflict or other disasters are among the most vulnerable people on earth,” the Secretary-General writes. “They look to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners for shelter and protection. Anyone employed by or affiliated with the United Nations who breaks that sacred trust must be held accountable and, when the circumstances so warrant, prosecuted.”On the commercial exploitation of resources, the report notes that it is a growing problem that serves to fuel conflict while harming the security of the civilian population. “Individuals and companies take advantage of, maintain and have even initiated armed conflicts in order to plunder destabilized countries to enrich themselves, with devastating consequences for civilian populations,” Mr. Annan observes.The Secretary-General says that terrorism must be condemned without reservation, and at the same time warns that the targeting of civilians and the disproportionate use of force beyond legitimate military objectives are violations of international humanitarian law.Mr. Annan also points out that special problems may arise when terrorist organizations become involved in armed conflicts. UN efforts to ensure access to vulnerable populations and to structure appropriate contact with armed actors for this purpose “will be vastly more complicated if those armed actors are engaged in terrorist activities or are seen as being so involved,” he says, adding that the UN will need to formulate clear guidelines for its future work on protecting civilians in armed conflict where terrorist organizations are active.