This World Humanitarian Day, a group of aidworkers and advocates have gathered together to protest unsafe work environments. Their letter appears on Change.org and has been signed by hundreds of people. The authors were galvanized by a recent report from the Associated Press on an incident of violence in South Sudan. Aidworkers were attacked in a popular hotel compound and held hostage. At least one person died in the attack.
The event sparked outrage and grief in the aid community. The report from the AP came a month after the incident took place. It highlighted the failure of the UN peacekeeping mission to respond to the violence. Many in the aid community were further aggrieved by the UN and international organizations’ silence on the attack. The UN acknowledged a “fact-finding” investigation in July, but only upgraded to a “Special Inquiry” after the story made headlines. Some aidworkers say they were asked not to talk about the incident.
The petition was announced to coincide with World Humanitarian Day, which was originally created to commemorate lives lost in service to humanitarian missions. This year, the organizers of World Humanitarian Day shifted focus away from aidworker safety, despite evidence that the job is more dangerous now than ever before.
Read the full letter below. You can sign the petition on Change.org.
United Nations, International Organisations, World Governments – Protect Aid Workers Now!
We, a global community of serving and former humanitarian aid workers, can no longer remain silent while so many of us are murdered, raped, taken hostage, and attacked with impunity in crisis zones around the world.
This July, a brutal attack by South Sudanese forces targeted aid workers in the Terrain compound in Juba. They were killed, beaten, gang-raped, and threatened with death. Terrified, they begged for protection from UN peacekeeping forces stationed nearby.
This horrifying incident is one more example of a decades-long pattern of callous negligence and failure to protect civilians, including aid workers, by Member States, The United Nations – including its Peacekeeping Department – and aid organisations.
In the first half of this decade, more than two thousand aid workers were kidnapped, extorted, used as proxy targets, bombed, assaulted, shot or otherwise attacked for doing their jobs: national and international, who deserve equal protection. There is a growing database of incidents of sexual violence within and against the aid community.
The response by the governments, UN, donors, aid recipients and international organizations has been inadequate. A culture of silence and dishonesty has grown around the realities of delivering aid in dangerous places. Justice for crimes against aid workers has not been on the agenda despite the recent commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit. These attacks are in breach of International Humanitarian Law.
On World Humanitarian Day, 19 August 2016, we stand with the survivors of the Terrain attack, who have exhibited incredible courage despite suffering immense trauma. We stand with the thousands of humanitarian workers and other civilian survivors of violence in crises worldwide.
But words of consolation are no longer enough. It is time to take action.
We are professional aid workers, not martyrs, and we demand the protection and justice we deserve. The people we exist to help deserve and need aid workers who are whole in mind and body, and who can do their job of providing that help in safety. Failure to protect and support those who provide assistance is thus also a dereliction of our collective commitment to the alleviation of humanitarian suffering.
We, the Undersigned International Aid Workers, call on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, donors governments, aid recipients, international and national aid organisations to take the following urgent measures:
- Grant protected legal status to humanitarian aid workers under International Humanitarian Law, and appoint a Special Rapporteur on aid worker protection and well being;
- Adopt a common international Code of Duty of Care for NGOs, UN agencies and Red Cross movement to be signed and adopted internationally; and
- Dedicate more resources and create mandatory safety conditions for aid agencies to operate under an international code of conduct.
This petition will be delivered to:
- UN SG
- Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)