Happy World Humanitarian Day!

by Rhodri C. Williams

Okay, you might be forgiven if the big date slipped your mind – after all we are only two years in since Sweden sponsored a UNGA Resolution that created it. Its worth a pause for reflection, however, as the timing this year is rather poignant. August 19 was proposed as it was the date of the bombing, in 2003, of the UN compound in Baghdad. At that time, SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed along with 21 others, including my law school asylum law professor (and mentor to many of my colleagues) Arthur Helton.

In the seven years since the UN attack, it is hard to say a lot of progress has been achieved in terms of resolving the fundamental dilemma in which humanitarian workers are increasingly targeted in spite of the principles meant to protect them and therefore increasingly dependent on forms of protection that are hard to reconcile with those principles. Indeed, as described by Samantha Powers and others, de Mello’s own presence in Iraq reflected a post 9-11 dynamic in which humanitarians have struggled to find an appropriate role in situations where they are badly needed but more at risk than ever of being perceived as partial by association or even design.

Last October, Conor Foley described a variant of this pattern in Afghanistan, asking how many more humanitarian aid workers would have to die before it would be broken. Part of the answer came with the appalling murder nearly two weeks ago of ten aid workers in northern Afghanistan. So its a good day to reflect on a lot of people who are out there in uncomfortable and dangerous circumstances working to mitigate the situation of others who are even worse off and do not have the option to leave. Would that none of it were necessary.

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