The international community needs to unite to stop violence against humanitarian workers regardless of whether it comes from states, individuals or groups
Humanitarian workers are the silent heroes who risk their lives each day to provide critical life-saving support to millions of people. The increasing disasters, emergencies, and conflicts in different parts of the world has increased the need to deploy humanitarians to serve and help communities in vulnerable and hostile conditions.
Yet, the growing demand for humanitarians has expanded the risk of violent attacks against these workers, especially in insecure field settings. Unfortunately, the most recent numbers released by the Aid Worker Security Data Base (AWSD), shows that attacks on aid workers have increased over the last decade.
It was reported that in 2019 the number of attacks on humanitarians reached 277 with a total of 483 aid workers either killed, injured, or kidnapped. The 2019 numbers surpassed all earlier recorded years in the number of major attacks committed against aid workers – pointing to the sad reality that humanitarians are increasingly becoming targets.
In recent years, attacks on humanitarians have been to a greater extent targeting Red Crescent/Red Cross personnel. Although they work in accordance with universally accepted humanitarian principles such as independence, neutrality and impartiality, and are protected by many international treaties and laws, attacks on these unsung heroes are continuing.
The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies together constitute a worldwide humanitarian movement with a mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering all around the world whenever and wherever necessary.
The goal of these organisations is to at all times protect human life and health while working to ensure respect and dignity for human beings, particularly in places and times of armed conflict and other emergencies with a universal mandate of solidarity towards all those who are in need of protection and assistance. Even with such a universal and humane mandate, humanitarians are at a heightened risk of being violently attacked by those with no respect or care for the vital and essential role they play in supporting vulnerable people.
The Red Crescent and Red Cross are recognised symbols of assistance and aid in times of conflict or disaster, and these symbols have been given worldwide recognition in national and international law with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
More specifically, humanitarian aid workers are provided with international legal protection within the framework of the Geneva Conventions and the related Protocols I and II of 1977, which also grants them immunity from any attack by the warring parties.
In addition to these, the United Nation’s General Assembly on 19 December 1991 adopted resolution 46/182, which initiated a humanitarian system with 12 guiding principles for humanitarian assistance. In relation to humanitarian workers, these principles outline the need to ensure that humanitarians have safe and sustained access to affected populations in all contexts. Solidifying further the important role and status of relief workers is the customary international law, Rule 31, which states that humanitarians must be respected and protected. This special protection is a corollary of the obligation to allow and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in dire need.
Intentionally attacking protected humanitarian relief personnel is a war crime.
The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) humanitarian workers are also at the same time part of the International Red Crescent/Red Cross Society and work within and in accordance with all humanitarian principles. TRC plays an active role in responding to and solving humanitarian crises in different parts of the world.
Since 1868, TRC has been working to provide people in need shelter, nutrition and health assistance while also aiming to increase the social cohesion and welfare of communities. The appalling and vicious attack on TRC workers reminds all of us one more time the dangers of boundless violence.
As many of us recall that almost two months ago, one Turkish Red Crescent worker had been killed and one worker wounded in an armed attack launched against a vehicle designated with the Red Crescent symbol while it was in northern Syria.
In a statement released by the Red Crescent, it was indicated that even though there was a distinctive emblem of the Red Crescent on the vehicle and staff were all in uniforms carrying the protective Red Crescent emblem, it was caught in the crossfire by people wearing masks and camouflage clothing who were in two vehicles without license plates. The incident happened between Al Rai and Al Bab.
While we condemned this attack and hoped that it would not happen again, on 19 October 2020, we received the tragic news of another TRC humanitarian worker attacked in Yemen. A TRC personnel was severely wounded in the attack.
This untamed violence is in violation of all international law and norms and is a prime example of crimes against humanity. Attacking workers dedicating their lives to provide aid for those that are unprotected, vulnerable and in need is a calamity the humanitarian community and people of the world must not forget; we need to act in solidarity and powerfully condemn such acts while taking action to prevent them from happening again.
Finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice is necessary, but the aim should be to find the instigators of these brutal attacks and ensure they are duly punished for the atrocities they have committed.
The attack on TRC, which is an attack on all humanitarians, should remind the international community of the importance to fight against the mentality which normalises such crimes against humanity.
These crimes remind the international community to unite against this mentality enabling such violence and brutality regardless of whether it comes from states, individuals or groups. It is time for all parties to reiterate their commitment to international humanitarian law to safeguard humanitarian’s safety and security.
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