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On World Humanitarian Day, Health and Aid Workers Increasingly Being Targeted by Violence

Elhadj As Sy - Devex
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August 18, 2017

António Guterres (UN Secretary-General) video message on World Humanitarian Day 2017 (United Nations)

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day. As we look back at events since last year’s observance, there is an ominous trend. Health and aid workers — who risk their lives to care for people affected by violence — are increasingly being targeted by violence.

In 2016, 11 Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers were killed in violent incidents. In 2017, we have experienced an escalation. So far, 24 volunteers and staff have lost their lives to violence in far-flung locations including Syria, Nigeria, Mexico and Mali. This year is on track to becoming the deadliest since at least 2011.

Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research organization, has confirmed this steady increase in violent deaths among humanitarian aid workers, including national and international workers. The total number killed in 2005 was 53. By 2015, that number had more than doubled, to 109. National volunteers have been by far the most frequent victims of violence since 1997, representing some 80 percent of aid workers attacked, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

In CAR, as elsewhere, the vast majority of humanitarian first responders are local volunteers. Red Cross and Red Crescent local volunteers often act as the major or even exclusive humanitarian players within crisis settings.

They have excellent credentials to do this work. They speak the local language, understand the local culture and are committed to helping their neighbors.

A 2016 study of 60 active Red Cross workers in CAR by my organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, found that 98 percent of subjects said their main motivation for volunteering was to help people in need and save lives. Three-quarters of the study subjects had been volunteering for more than two years, and nearly a fifth for more than 10 years.

In many instances, we have not understood what prompted the targeting of humanitarian workers, who seek to provide assistance to everyone in need — no matter what their convictions or allegiances. These people are courageous and committed, but if we want them to keep coming forward and continuing their vital work, we must do more to ensure their safety.

The responsibility to protect aid workers and civilians lies with parties to the conflict. International humanitarian law makes this clear.

Read the rest at Devex

Related: Secretary-General's Remarks at "Stand Together" Event for World Humanitarian Day 2017 (United Nations)

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