On August 19th, we observe World Humanitarian Day. It is an opportunity not only to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service and to show support for people affected by crises around the world, but also to remember those who have come under attack while working to relieve the suffering of victims of humanitarian crises.
The date of the observance was chosen to honor the memory of then-Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues, who died on August 19th, 2003, in the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad.
Following this incident, violence against aid workers has only increased. Indeed, in years past, humanitarian aid workers belonging to United Nations organizations, Non-Governmental or private volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent have traditionally enjoyed strong protections from attack by belligerent parties. But since the beginning of the century, aid workers have all too frequently been specifically targeted.
In 2017, for example, 313 aid workers were victims of major attacks. In total, 139 were killed, 102 were wounded and 72 were kidnapped. More than 100 aid workers were killed every year since 2013.
This is partly because the space for humanitarian operations is shrinking due to the increased geographic scope of the violence and continuing obstacles to humanitarian access, and it’s become increasingly difficult to help victims of conflict without becoming a victim as well. At times, the casualty rate of aid workers even exceeds that of uniformed peacekeepers and soldiers.
The United States honors the sacrifices of aid workers the world over, and remains committed to ensuring the safety of aid workers worldwide.
“On World Humanitarian Day, we honor the brave men and women who choose to risk their lives to ensure millions of desperate people receive life-saving aid,” said United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.“Their work has never been more important, and we call on all countries to support and protect them in helping the world’s most vulnerable.”