Protecting aid workers ‘paramount,’ UN official stresses


UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 (APP): The top United Nations relief official
Friday stressed the importance of ensuring that the brave men and women who risk their lives to help civilians caught in conflicts around the world are not themselves a target.
“The protection of aid workers is paramount,” Stephen O’Brien, the
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said ahead of this year’s World Humanitarian Day.
The Day, observed annually on August 19, seeks to pay tribute to aid
workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and rally support for people affected by crises worldwide.
It was designated by the General Assembly to coincide with the date of
the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, in which 22 staff lost their lives.
This year, humanitarian partners are coming together under the
#NotATarget campaign to highlight the need to protect civilians caught in conflict, including humanitarian and medical workers.
“World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity for us to focus on
protecting humanitarian aid workers, particularly in the medical field,” O’Brien noted.
Currently, he said, humanitarian workers are operating in 40 countries
across the world, often for many years, despite insufferable difficulties.
“People put themselves at great risk to reach people in need, in some of
the most dangerous environments, in protracted crises around the world,” he stated.
Just recently, seven Syrian volunteer rescuers, known as White Helmets,
were killed. O’Brien acknowledged that such incidents are becoming too commonplace. “My heart grieves for the family and friends of those brave people who gave the ultimate sacrifice to help others,” he said.
Despite the difficulties and dangers, O’Brien stated that humanitarian
work is moving forward “at every point.”
“Member States, humanitarian aid workers, coordinators of humanitarian
relief – all of us continue to supply strength, determination, courage and conviction,” he said.
“There is no higher international public good than seeking to save the
lives and protect the civilians caught up in crisis.”
The #NotATarget campaign follows the launch earlier this year of the UN
Secretary-General’s report on protection of civilians, in which he called for enhanced respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and protection of civilians.
According to the report, those most in need of urgent humanitarian
assistance and protection are civilians in urban areas; children; targets of sexual violence; humanitarian workers; health workers; and forcibly displaced people.
O’Brien said that making a difference on the ground requires
“physical will and relationships with players in all the various places” to get the necessary access to those in need.
“We are in the business of trying to protect civilians. We are trying
to put in place the right balance. To do this, we must make sure that the perpetrators of violence are held accountable for their actions,” he added.
It is important, he stressed, that everyone adhere to agreed
international norms, laws and principles, “to make sure that people are held to account.”