The picture you see attached is one of the images used for eye-catching banners that are currently exhibited on two main buildings in the heart of the European district in Brussels. They demand the attention of EU officials, Members of the European Parliament, journalists and many other passers-by. The message of the banners is simple and clear: “Don’t’ Shoot, I’m a Humanitarian Worker!”
This campaign marks the World Humanitarian Day. Seven years ago, on 19 August 2003, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a great humanitarian and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and 21 of his colleagues died when the hotel they were staying at in Baghdad was bombed. This day has now been given a special place in the calendar, to commemorate Mr. de Mello and his colleagues and all humanitarian aid workers who have lost their lives helping others. It is also a day that aims at t highlighting current humanitarian needs across the globe. This year’s theme is “I am a humanitarian aid worker”, which gives us all the opportunity to express gratitude to these courageous and dedicated people, and to raise awareness of the dangers and difficulties they face as they carry out one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
The risks of kidnapping, harassment, detention and deadly violence have always been there. But over recent years there has been an alarming surge in attacks on aid workers. In 2008, there were 260 reported attacks, of which 122 were fatal. This represented a death rate higher than that of UN peacekeeping troops.
Many attacks on aid workers have taken place in conflict hot spots such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka. The motives for attacks are varied and often specific to very complex situations.
What I find particularly alarming is that aid workers are increasingly becoming deliberate targets. This is hard to comprehend since these people work to save lives and alleviate suffering. They do not take sides in a conflict and are prepared to help any person in need, regardless of their religion, race or political convictions.
While attacks on international aid workers are usually the ones to make the headlines, local staff is equally at risk. I am deeply concerned about the safety of all these aid workers. I am also greatly troubled by the consequences of these attacks which often reduce the humanitarian response and sometimes bring aid operations to a complete standstill.
During my first six months as Commissioner I have travelled to a number of countries where European Commission-funded aid is being delivered. During these visits I have had the opportunity to talk to aid workers, and to learn more about their needs and the challenges they face. I am a huge admirer of their bravery and dedication, and the ideals they defend in choosing their profession, putting sometimes their own lives at risk to save those of others. There is no single or simple way to improve security for aid workers. But there are many small steps that can be taken to improve safety conditions. Today, in Pakistan but elsewhere in the world, thousands of relief workers of all nationalities are there, on the front line, helping deliver aid to those in need. This gives me strength and conviction for my own work today and tomorrow and over the coming years. I am determined to contribute to help them, and with them, to help those in need.
Tags: Afghanistan, humanitarian, humanitarian workers, Kidnapping, Kristalina Georgieva, Pakistan, Please don't shoot, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCHR, World Humanitarian Day