World Humanitarian Day

August 19, 2012 by  

World Humanitarian Day, August 19, World Humanitarian Day, marks the day – nine years ago – on which Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general to Iraq, and his 21 colleagues were killed by a massive car bomb attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad. It is a day to pay tribute to all humanitarian personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty and to all those who continue to take risks to relieve the suffering of the less fortunate.

The Canal Hotel bombing, as it became known, irreversibly changed the security situation in which humanitarian aid workers operate. In the past, aid workers were respected, not targeted. The flags and emblems of humanitarian organisations which traditionally provided a shield for aid workers are now turning them into potential targets.

Humanitarian work is one of the world’s most dangerous professions. Kidnappings, shootings and death threats are all part of the job description in places such as Sudan, Syria, Somalia and others blighted by conflict. Those who work in this rocky terrain are increasingly exposed to risk while maintaining a lifeline to the victims of wars and disasters around the world.

It is unacceptable that they should be subject to harassment, abduction or even plain murder while serving humanity.

Attacks on humanitarian posts have tripled in the last decade. Since 2011, 109 humanitarian workers have been killed, 143 others were wounded and 132 have been kidnapped, according to the United Nations. Crimes against unarmed civilians are never justified. When these crimes are committed against people who dedicate their lives to saving others, the injustice is ever more apparent.

It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of these victims is not international aid workers from Western countries but those serving in their own country, working closest to the local population. Humanitarian aid is not the preserve of the West, but a global imperative. The many national aid workers who have made the ultimate sacrifice bear witness to this.

Over the last 12 months, Syria has become a killing ground. Six humanitarian aid workers were killed since the beginning of this year, all of them Syrian staff. In two cases, it is alleged that the victims, both from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, were deliberately targeted. As with the shooting at ambulances, the misuse of hospitals, the shelling of civilians, these are direct violations of international humanitarian law.

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