Date of Meeting: 21 Aug 2017

Meeting Organizer: UNOG

ISJC Staff Present: Major Christine Volet-Sterckx

Reporter: Major Christine Volet-Sterckx

Which SDG does this topic cover? 3, 6

Type of meeting: World Humanitarian Day

Brief summary of presentation of information made

World Humanitarian Day has been marked annually since the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. At the meeting to mark the day this year a panel of humanitarian organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross spoke about the increase of planned attacks against health care and humanitarian help.

Mr. Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva reminds us that:

‘We are all targets today! … In 2016, 288 national and international humanitarian workers fell victim to attacks on aid operations, more than 100 died, while many others were injured or kidnapped. This year, already 136 victims of attacks on humanitarian staff have been recorded, with more than 70 dead.’ A resolution was signed in May 2016 (2286) to protect the humanitarian workers and the medical services.

Access to health care has become a military target. It is not a consequence of our engagement, but actions of soldiers and militants’, said Dr Marco Baldan, War Surgeon at the International Committee of the Red Cross. There are several kinds of attack: from direct hostility against centres of health care, to the detention and torture of medical employees and physicians. The physical gap between the conflict zone and the humanitarian camp is becoming narrower - sometimes, action that affects camps and centres accidentally is inevitable, but the speakers condemned deliberate acts.

Circumstances that act as the roots of violence against humanitarian teams include: political instability, a lack of trust between the state and its population, intolerance, and a lack of knowledge on the status of humanitarian organisation – for instance its neutrality and its readiness to answer the needs of both civilians and militants.

The impact on the population already suffering is tremendous: it restricts their access to basic resources such as medical aid, electricity, water and food. The risk of epidemics increases. This can result in a vicious cycle that could reduce, if not end, humanitarian aid.

Often, the medical and humanitarian teams represent hope and the reassurance of dignity and humanity for the victims of a conflict zone. When military factions choose to break this, attacks against humanitarians are a weapon of war.

How to react?

As always, action has to include every actor and level from the local community to the global organization, with the UN leading. We need to see the UN being the guarantor of the 22/86 resolution, as a principle of law, with offenders being denounced and punished. 

We can also do a lot to assist this development as we include this topic in training, prevention and preparations procedure. Good communication with the people and states is key.

Last, but not least reporting facts and actions with hard evidences can help us all to fight against the attacks.

Mèdecins Sans Frontière run a campaign, #NotATarget, to raise awareness on this issue, along with the Red Cross.

What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

Even if the Salvation Army is seldom involved in conflict affected areas, the analysis of this issue can teach us a lot about the use of violence in conflict situations. Many of the principles can be applied in our ministry to a suffering humanity, for example the need for good communication and the need for justice.

Web links for more information

Tags: SDG3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation