By Prudence Arobani
New York — The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, has called for the protection of aid workers, saying it is “paramount” for the continued delivery of aid to victims.
O’Brien, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated this on the occassion of the 2017 World Humanitarian Day.
As conflicts around the world continued to take a massive toll on people’s lives, he stressed the importance of ensuring that the brave men and women who risked their lives to help those in need were not themselves a target.
“The protection of aid workers is paramount,” O’Brien said for the Day observed annually on Aug. 19 to pay tribute to aid workers who risked 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, noting that just recently, seven Syrian volunteer rescuers, known as White Helmets, were killed.
O’Brien acknowledged that such incidents were becoming too commonplace saying “my heart grieves for the family and friends of those brave people who gave the ultimate sacrifice to help others”.
In spite of the difficulties and dangers, O’Brien stated that humanitarian work was 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.
“There is no higher international public good than seeking to save the lives and protect the civilians caught up in crisis,” he said.
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 required “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.
“It is important that everyone adheres to agreed international norms, laws and principles, to make sure that people are held to account,” he stressed.