Humanitarian workers dedicate their lives to helping people affected by conflicts and natural disasters. They work in some of the most dangerous places in the world, risking their lives to alleviate the suffering of people in desperate circumstances.
“Humanitarian workers are the international community’s emergency lifeline to vulnerable and isolated communities,” said U.S. Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs to the United Nations, David Dunn, before the UN Security Council. “108 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, and more people are displaced by violence worldwide than ever before.”
Yet for all the invaluable work they perform, aid workers are increasingly targeted by non-state groups, at times even by government forces. Over the past decade, this trend has been escalating. According to UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, “their safety is compromised in the most despicable of ways: by threats, by attacks, and by the use of illegal methods of warfare that endanger lives or damage the infrastructure needed for the delivery of assistance.”
Last year, 155 humanitarian aid workers were killed, 171 injured, and 134 kidnapped, a 66 percent increase from the previous year. The overwhelming majority were national humanitarian workers working to save the lives of their own people.
Attacks against aid workers, said Ambassador Dunn, not only “rob the world of brave, committed individuals, but they also deny vulnerable populations critical life-saving humanitarian assistance during dire humanitarian situations.”
The nature of armed conflict has changed, and with it, the risk to humanitarian workers has increased. To begin with, warring parties are no longer clearly defined, and many respect no laws, adhere to no universally-accepted code of ethics. Add to that today’s proliferation of small arms and the out-sourcing of security work to modern-day mercenaries, and the result is an immensely more dangerous environment. Too often, there is no clear chain of command and no one is held responsible for crimes perpetrated against civilians.
“Impunity for violence against humanitarian workers must end,” said Ambassador Dunn. “There has been little to no accountability for humanitarian workers killed in the line of duty. The United States supports efforts to strengthen accountability and to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanitarian workers.”