Honoring and Protecting the World's Humanitarians

The world is experiencing humanitarian crises in scope and scale not seen since the end of World War II. Famine like conditions threaten 20 million people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, and conflict is raging in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR), and other parts of the globe. On World Humanitarian Day, August 19th, we honor the contributions of and risks taken by all who strive to alleviate human suffering and elevate humanity in time of crisis.  

Humanitarian aid workers live and work on the ground around the world, delivering life-saving assistance in remote and hazardous environments that stem from both natural and man-made disasters. Because of the threats and risks they face daily in service to others, we must commit to ensuring that they receive the very best care and support.  Specifically and collectively, we must do a better job addressing and preventing sexual harassment and abuse of aid workers. We can no longer ignore these incidents, nor can we remain silent when such offenses are perpetrated against our colleagues. In December 2016, The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore and I were appointed to serve as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Co-Champions for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Aid Workers. Since then, the IASC Principals have adopted a statement of “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and abuse. In May 2017, we held the first meeting of the IASC Senior Focal Points to discuss key actions to fulfill this “zero tolerance” vision, and enhance our collective duty of care for staff.  While events like the Terrain Hotel attack in July 2016 are well known, we must acknowledge that such incidents frequently go unreported out of fear of retaliation. We must do more to develop and strengthen trust within our organizations, to empower staff to report these types of incidents, and have confidence that they will not incur adverse consequences as a result.

Every day we witness violence against aid workers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This year alone in one prefecture in the CAR, there were more than 16 attacks against aid workers in a three-month period. As a result, NGOs were forced to temporarily suspend critical assistance until conditions were sufficiently stable to resume operations. In South Sudan, violence against aid workers continues unabated with violations by both government and opposition forces. According to the International NGO Safety Organization (INSO), so far this year Afghanistan has witnessed the death of 10 aid workers including eight national staff. Incident data shows that national staff continue to be disproportionally affected by violence. We can and must do more to address this problem.

NGOs continue to raise awareness with all stakeholders regarding the continued violence against aid workers, but we cannot succeed alone. Parties to conflict and those responsible for these violations, must be held accountable for actions that obstruct and impede humanitarian access and put aid workers at risk. World Humanitarian Day was established to commemorate the Canal Hotel Bombing which took place on August 19, 2003. Fourteen years later, we continue to honor the lives that were lost because of their courage and compassion to serve the most vulnerable in some of the most difficult locations in the world. The work of humanitarians deserves our respect and gratitude.  On August 19th, we ask you to join us in honoring, remembering, and protecting our colleagues. They and their work embody InterAction’s mission and our community’s compassion.