WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY: A CALL TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST CIVILIANS AND AID WORKERS
Action Against Hunger warns that national aid workers are at particular risk
(NEW YORK) August 17, 2017—Action Against Hunger joins the international humanitarian community on August 19, 2017, in paying tribute to humanitarian personnel around the world who put themselves at risk to save lives and alleviate the suffering of people affected by disaster and conflict. This year, armed conflict has devastated civilians and is fueling an elevated risk of famine that threatens 20 million people, according to the United Nations.
Action Against Hunger Chief Executive Andrea Tamburini said, ‘‘Humanitarian aid will not end conflict, but it can continue to bring relief to people suffering the consequences.’’ Current armed conflicts are destroying people's sources of food and income and preventing humanitarian organizations from reaching people in crisis.
‘‘The aid workers exposed to the most risks are those working on the front lines in communities affected by conflict. The majority of the world’s humanitarian personnel are national aid workers. National aid workers fill most of the critical field positions in humanitarian organizations, and they are the most frequent victims of attacks,’’ said Tamburini.
Conflict engenders and worsens hunger
Today, war and armed conflict are a major cause of widespread hunger. State and non-state actors—all parties to armed conflict—are prohibited by international humanitarian law from directing attacks against civilians. All parties to conflict are obligated to protect civilians, including aid workers. Yet, parties to conflict are increasingly targeting aid workers and civilians with impunity, directly attacking homes, hospitals, humanitarian aid operations, aid convoys delivering relief supplies, and public gathering places.
Humanity under attack
The safety and security of humanitarian relief personnel is an indispensable condition for the delivery of humanitarian relief to civilian populations in need. Violence against humanitarian personnel means that aid agencies cannot reach people to deliver lifesaving food, medical care, shelter, water, and relief supplies. Under customary international humanitarian law, parties to conflict are obligated to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel.
Today, parties to conflict are increasingly defying international humanitarian law and ignoring their obligations to ensure that populations in need have safe, timely, unimpeded access to humanitarian aid.
Worldwide, attacks against aid workers have tripled in the past ten years. In 2016 alone, statistics on major attacks against aid workers are alarming:
- Attacks against national aid workers in 2016 are almost triple the number of attacks against international humanitarian personnel, with 245 national victims and 43 international victims.
- In 2016, 158 major attacks against aid operations were documented, in which 288 aid workers were victims: 101 aid workers were killed, 98 were wounded, and 89 were kidnapped.
- The number of separate attacks in 2016 showed a small rise from 2015.
According to independent research, South Sudan is the most violent context in the world for aid workers: at least 79 aid workers have been killed in the country since December 2013. To date in 2017, aid workers have been targeted frequently, and with impunity, in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
Not a target
Action Against Hunger is deeply alarmed by the unprecedented scale of humanitarian needs caused by the proliferation of conflict—and the increasing impunity of attacks on civilians and aid workers. The deliberate, targeted killings of 17 Action Against Hunger aid workers in Muttur, Sri Lanka occurred eleven years ago, on August 4, 2006. Although the attack is one of the most serious recent crimes against humanitarian personnel worldwide, government authorities still have not taken any action to bring those responsible for the crime to justice.
On World Humanitarian Day, Action Against Hunger honors aid workers all over the world who are risking their lives in service to humanity. We join our international humanitarian partners in urging world leaders—and all those in a position of power—to do everything possible to meet their obligations to protect civilians and aid workers.
Action Against Hunger also calls on all parties to armed conflicts—and those who influence them—to uphold international humanitarian law and acknowledge that civilians and aid workers are not a target.
 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 (https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/470-750062?OpenDocument); Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977 (https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/INTRO/475?OpenDocument)