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Civilians are not a Target
by NRC, OCHA, IFRC, UN Women, agencies
7:32pm 21st Aug, 2017
Civilians are not a Target, by UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, agencies
Every day, millions of people are trapped in wars that aren’t of their own making. The world isn’t doing enough to stop their suffering. This World Humanitarian Day, we demand world leaders do everything in their power to protect the millions of civilians caught in armed conflict.
Civilians who need urgent humanitarian assistance and protection, as highlighted in the United Nations Secretary-General''s Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
Civilians in Urban Areas
Picture a neighbourhood filled with homes providing comfort and safe haven, surrounded by bustling markets and shops, schools, playgrounds, hospitals, and factories. Weeks later, what is left is a collection of bombed-out structures in the middle of a war zone. All essential infrastructure and semblance of normal life have been destroyed.
The use of wide-area explosives has left vast damage and destruction, causing profound and long-lasting consequences for people’s safety, livelihood, and basic needs, like food, water, and electric/fuel power. This often leaves people little choice but to flee to safer regions, often exposing them to new dangers.
Rules that must be Respected
All parties to armed conflict are obliged to distinguish between civilians and fighters, and between civilian infrastructure and military targets. They have the obligation not to launch attacks that will cause disproportionate incidental civilian harm, and they must take constant care to spare civilians and infrastructure.
Action required of leaders
In cities and towns, protect civilians, including children, as well as their homes and the essential services they rely on.
Imagine children in the middle of a war-torn country. Their neighbourhoods, schools, playgrounds, and parks have been damaged or destroyed, and access to essentials like food, water, and an education have all but disappeared. They may have even been recruited and used in fighting, or subjected to other unthinkable dangers, such as exposure to sex and labour trafficking.
Rules that must be respected
Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protection, including access to food, healthcare, and education; evacuation from areas of combat for safety reasons; reunification with their families; and protection against all forms of sexual violence. Additionally, children must not be recruited into armed forces or armed groups, nor must they be allowed to take part in hostilities.
Action required of leaders
Commit to not recruit children into armed forces or armed groups, or to use children to participate in hostilities. Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to protect schools and universities from being attacked or used for military purposes in conflict. Make 2017 the year of zero attacks on schools and playgrounds.
Targets of Sexual Violence
There are places in the world where sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war; where women and girls are forced to be with fighters who can resell or exploit them.
Regardless of gender, other unspeakable crimes are being committed, including strategic, widespread rape, many times occurring in urban warfare and alongside other violent acts.
People are often targeted simply because they belong to different ethnic, religious, or political groups. Compounding this is the stigma survivors suffer when society and authorities are indifferent or discriminatory in response to their plight.
Rules that must be Respected
Rape and other forms of sexual violence are prohibited.
Action required of leaders
Prevent all forms of sexual violence. Bring perpetrators to justice for sexual violence and hold them accountable. Offer survivors the opportunities and support that will enable their recovery and reintegration into society.
Humanitarian Workers
Consider the devastating consequences when humanitarian workers are unable to provide aid to those in need. These workers make it their mission to provide life-saving support, but too often in conflict their activities are impeded.
From looting and deliberate obstructions to kidnapping, physical harm and death, violence continues to affect humanitarian efforts, often with dire consequences for those who need help.
Rules that must be Respected
Parties to conflict must respect and protect humanitarian personnel, supplies, and equipment. This includes taking all feasible precautions when planning or deciding to attack.
Furthermore, governments must not arbitrarily refuse impartial relief operations. Once governments agree to relief operations, all parties to conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access.
Using starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited.
Action required of leaders
Enable humanitarian workers to deliver relief to all civilians in need, without discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, or other status. Do not direct attacks against humanitarian workers or assets.
Health Workers
Think of wounded and sick people caught in a war zone, all in desperate need of medical attention. Now imagine health workers directly targeted or forbidden to treat them. When health workers are attacked, forced not to treat patients, or left no choice but to flee, it results in immediate death, injury, and destruction of facilities, and in the deprivation of essential healthcare for a very long time.
Rules that must be Respected
International humanitarian law requires that all wounded and sick - civilians and fighters alike - must not be attacked and must receive the medical care and attention required by their condition without any distinction, except on medical grounds. Medical personnel and facilities that fulfil this mission must also be respected and protected.
Action required of leaders
Do not target health workers, facilities, or patients. Respect the right of all wounded and sick persons to receive medical care. Adopt and promote the UN Secretary-General’s recommendations on the protection of medical care in armed conflict.
Forcibly Displaced People
Imagine waking up today, realizing you have to leave your home simply to survive. You’re forced to leave your family, your friends, your job, and your belongings, all at a moment''s notice.
Your daily life becomes a constant struggle to find basics like shelter, food, clothing, water, and safety. This nightmare scenario is a reality that millions of people face in armed conflict.
Intense fighting, often involving air strikes and shelling in cities, is a primary cause of displacement, whether within or across a country’s borders.
While on the move, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees are often exposed to a myriad of other risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced recruitment, and trafficking. Forcibly displaced people are often vulnerable and can remain displaced for decades.
Rules that must be Respected
The right to move freely and to choose one’s own residence must be respected. Forcibly displaced people have the right to seek asylum in another country; to satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety, nutrition, and education; and to have necessary identity documents issued by the authorities.
Family members who wish to remain together should not be separated. Voluntary safe return home must be allowed as soon as the reasons for displacement have ended. Internally displaced people can also choose to resettle in another part of their country. Finally, people who have been forcibly displaced have a right to recover the possessions they had to leave behind.
Action required of leaders
Respect the right of forcibly displaced people to seek asylum outside their country. Answer the UN Secretary-General’s call to reduce internal displacement by at least 50 percent by 2030.
This World Humanitarian Day we are bringing attention to the millions of civilians affected by armed conflict every day. People in cities and towns struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter, while fighting drives millions from their homes. Children who are recruited and used to fight, and their schools are destroyed. Women who are sexually abused by fighters, then shamed by their villages.
As humanitarian workers deliver aid, and medical workers treat the wounded and sick, they are directly targeted, treated as threats, and prevented from bringing relief and care to those in desperate need.
The humanitarian concerns described here can’t possibly capture the lives of all those affected by conflict around the world. From people with disabilities, to the elderly, migrants, and journalists, all civilians caught in conflict need to be protected.
Please sign the petition demanding world leaders do everything in their power to protect all civilians in conflict via the link below:
19 August 2017
Civilians are Not a Target. (UN News)
On World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are calling on all global leaders to do everything in their power to protect people caught up in conflict, and to stand with the health and aid workers who risk their lives to help them.
“Let the world know: Civilians are Not A Target,” underscored UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“On this day, we also take a moment to honour the brave health and aid workers who are targeted or obstructed as they set out to help people in need, and pay tribute to the government employees, and representatives of international organizations and agencies who risk their daily lives to provide humanitarian aid,” he added.
Medical and humanitarian workers – continue to bear the brunt of intense conflicts around the world.
“They are attacked and their access obstructed, while humanitarian supplies and hospitals are looted by fighting parties. In addition, in cities like Juba and Aleppo, housing, markets, schools and vital civilian infrastructure are destroyed,” said Mr Guterres. “No one is winning these wars. We are all losing,” stressed the UN chief.
“Let us commit to doing everything in our power to protect women, girls, men and boys in the line of fire, and to give them hope of a better future”.
The World Food Programme (WFP) commended the dedication and courage of its colleagues working on the frontlines of hunger, often at great risk to their own personal safety, to ensure that children and their families have enough to eat.
“Humanitarian workers go where the need is, and far too often that is where conflict is as well,” said David Beasley, WFP Executive Director.
“Fighting and violence drive 80 per cent of all humanitarian needs, and 10 of WFP''s 13 largest food assistance operations are driven primarily by conflict,” noting that in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, more than 20 million people are on the brink of famine.
“Increasingly, those involved in the conflicts in these areas are targeting aid workers,” he added.
“On World Humanitarian Day, we come together to reaffirm that civilians caught in conflict and those who care for them are #NotATarget. We appeal to world leaders to take action to protect them and to deliver on the promise of our mutual, shared humanity,” said Mr. Beasley.
UN Women underscored that violations of international humanitarian law have generated a global protection crisis.
“Every day, young girls are increasingly exposed to early and forced marriage and young boys are forcibly recruited into armed groups”. “Sexual and gender-based violence continue to shatter lives and undermine community cohesion”.
According to UN Women, some 60 per cent of preventable maternal deaths take place in conflict, displacement or natural disaster settings; girls are two and a half times more likely to be out of school in conflict countries; and at least one in five refugee or displaced women experience sexual violence.
“Women are the leaders in their families, communities and societies who drive effective responses to crisis. And it is women and girls who have insights into what is needed and what works, which must inform effective humanitarian response,” said UN Women.
“On World Humanitarian Day, we must come together to change the status quo – for women and girls, and for all civilians caught up in crises”.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O''Brien highlighted challenges faced by aid workers around the word.
“Last year, 288 aid workers were targeted in 158 attacks. In the past three months alone, relief workers have been shelled and shot at, kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria,” he said. “This is blatantly unacceptable.”
Aug. 2017
In the line of fire, by Jan Egeland, Stephen O’Brien.
Late last year, a bunker buster bomb shot through an underground shelter in Syria’s Hama province. A group of aid workers were taking shelter inside at the time. Nine of them, all Syrian, were killed instantly.
In February, six Red Cross workers were shot dead in an ambush in northern Afghanistan while travelling through the desert to deliver livestock supplies to people in need. Their vehicles were clearly marked as humanitarian. The International Committee of the Red Cross described the incident as the worst attack against them in 20 years.
Then just last week, another six Red Cross volunteers were killed in the Central African Republic while they held a meeting at a health facility in Mbomou.
In the last two months alone, relief workers have been shelled, shot at, kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.
In 2016, 158 major planned attacks targeting aid operations killed 101 aid workers, wounded 98 and kidnapped 89. The clear majority of those killed and injured - 85 per cent - were national staff of humanitarian organizations.
One thing is clear, respect for the rules of war has collapsed in too many places. Aid workers assist the world’s most vulnerable people. This means they work in active war zones, knowing the risks they face. But unlike combatants, aid workers are not party to any conflict, they are there to deliver life-saving assistance to people faced with the worst scenario one can imagine - war.
On 19 August every year, aid workers around the globe pause to mark World Humanitarian Day. On this day, we take the opportunity to honour and remember our colleagues, friends and family members who have been killed on the frontlines of crises, and to salute them for their sacrifice and service.
We also come together in solidarity with the millions of civilians caught in conflict, to demand that world leaders exert all the diplomatic, political and economic influence they can to ensure parties to conflict protect civilians.
Attacks are becoming increasingly brutal in nature where international humanitarian law continues to be eroded.
In one of the most heinous attacks against humanitarians in South Sudan’s war, on 11 July 2016 dozens of government soldiers entered the Terrain residential compound sheltering aid workers in Juba. They gang-raped several of the female aid workers, and executed a journalist while forcing the others to watch. No one should ever endure this senseless barbarity. By such acts, the soldiers sent a message to the humanitarian community - that our neutrality is not respected and that we are not shielded as humanitarians.
In other conflicts, the delivery of aid is hampered by fighting parties, as a tactic to prevent life-saving relief reaching communities living on the ‘wrong’ side of the frontlines, leaving communities deprived for years on end.
Medical staff in particular are often singled out for attack, with profound long-term consequences for healthcare to communities in desperate need. In 2016, 979 medical staff were killed or injured in attacks against medical workers and facilities.
Two Médecins sans Frontières-supported hospitals in Yemen were targeted by airstrikes in 2016, even though the organization shared the GPS coordinates with the conflict parties, and clearly marked the building roofs. Between them the hospitals served over 270,000 people.
Many incidents have never been investigated, and in the rare instances when investigations have been carried out, they have often failed to meet international standards.
This sends a direct message to the perpetrators; that violence against humanitarians is permissable, and that fighting parties can flout their obligations to respect international humanitarian law with virtually no consequence. So few people have been held to account that no official recorded number exists.
While some attacks are committed by non-state armed groups, when measured by body count alone, it is states that are responsible for the highest number of aid worker fatalities. Fifty-four humanitarians were killed by state actors in 2015 and 2016.
The repercussions of attacks on aid workers go far beyond the staff themselves – these attacks deny conflict-affected people the aid they so critically need. They deprive children of life-saving treatment, obstruct families from receiving food, and rob communities from accessing shelter.
We cannot tolerate our colleagues being targeted deliberately or harmed indiscriminately. The system must change. Three concrete things can be done to better protect aid workers.
Firstly, states must investigate and prosecute serious violations. States, particularly the most influential ones, must demand that warring parties, including their own forces, respect international law and hold perpetrators to account.
In South Sudan, intense international pressure led to a small number of the soldiers accused of the Terrain compound attack being brought to trial. If this trial brings some measure of justice, it will show what is possible. But diplomatic pressure must be consistent. Few, if any, of the dozens of subsequent attacks against humanitarians in South Sudan since then have brought those responsible to account.
Secondly, aid organizations must always demonstrate their neutrality. We must denounce those who use aid or access as bargaining chips, holding the most vulnerable hostage. We must push against those who want to make aid a tool to reach other political objectives. If we are to help people most in need, aid must be impartial and neutral. If not, we risk becoming partisan and politicized, and targets of attacks.
Finally, we must provide better duty-of-care to all staff on the frontlines, particularly national staff. International aid agencies are increasingly providing aid remotely in highly insecure environments. This means they are delivering relief through local partners and transferring the risk to them. Local and national partner organizations face an inadequate level of security and support from their international partners.
We must provide better security training to equip them in the field, as recommended by the recent Presence and Proximity report on aid workers. Donors and international partners should ensure that national partners’ security needs are factored into proposals and budgets, so they have the resources needed to protect their staff.
Making these changes is urgent and vital for the survival of many lives and lifelines. Today, over 141 million people desperately need humanitarian assistance, the vast majority of them affected by conflict – the highest number since records began. We cannot afford to let them down.
Wars have rules. It is time to enforce these rules, rather than have brave aid workers needlessly risk their lives, and too many of the most vulnerable to be left alone in the crossfire and lose theirs.
* Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former Emergency Relief Coordinator. Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Aug. 2017
On World Humanitarian Day, a grim anniversary, by Elhadj As Sy (IFRC)
Every violent death of a health or aid volunteer sends a shudder through the humanitarian world. This happened yet again two weeks ago, when nine Red Cross volunteers were gunned down along with as many as two dozen other civilians attending a crisis meeting at a health facility in Gambo, Central African Republic.
We do not know why they were targeted — only that they were caught in a clash between armed groups in a country that has been beset by civil unrest and bloodshed for more than five years, on top of decades of unrest. One of these groups stormed the health centre, opened fire and killed our colleagues. This is the second such attack on Red Cross volunteers in CAR this year. There are currently some 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country, but none were in Gambo at the time of the attack.
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, as well as CAR. 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 neighbours. This was the case for the nine persons murdered in Gambo.
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.
However, there are other steps that aid organizations and their partners can take to improve the safety of volunteers and other personnel. International organizations can, for example, help their national counterparts provide more extensive and systematic security training for local volunteers. We can do this by offering expertise, and by providing dedicated resources so that national organizations can foster cultures of safety and security.
We can also ensure that volunteers and their families are protected in case something does go wrong. We are doing this now in CAR, with the families of those killed in Gambo. We believe, at the very least, that all volunteers should be insured, and states should be supported to offer safety nets for families.
But given the challenges, this will never be enough. Humanitarian organizations cannot solve the problem alone.
National volunteers represent an irreplaceable lifeline in times of conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Without them, countless communities would be left alone and without aid. They are a precious resource that the global community has failed to appreciate fully.
Clearly, a more systematic approach is needed: One that involves a global effort to foster understanding about why humanitarian volunteers — who commit to maintaining neutrality — should be protected by everyone.
* Elhadj As Sy is the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
* United Nations Secretary-General Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) customary international humanitarian law database: Safe Schools Declaration: Recommendations on the protection of medical care: ICRC: I saw my city die: ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview:

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