All too often humanitarian workers witness the worst that mankind can offer. More than 30 years ago I encountered a grass-roofed church torched by warring factions in the Sudan civil conflict. Inside, the imprisoned remains from over 100 women and children. This was the turning point in my career and I made the commitment to dedicate my life to humanitarian work.
Now, on the eve of World Humanitarian Day, I receive news of yet another gross violation of the safety and wellbeing of humanitarian workers as they selflessly bring assistance and hope in countless global trouble spots. Seven “White Helmets”, a group of civilian volunteers who work tirelessly as first responders to save lives in the Syrian conflict have been brutally killed. It is for such as these that the global community is called upon on the 19 August of each year to pay tribute to humanitarian workers who risk, and in some cases, give their lives for the benefit of others caught up in disaster contexts of war, destitution and marginalisation.
During the three decades of being a humanitarian worker I have seen considerable advances in humanitarian action. I have witnessed numerous movements from civil society and governments to improve humanitarian access, and create some level of dignity around the treatment of civilians. However, these advances are all too often overshadowed by incidences such as the senseless attack on the White Helmets in Syria. We continue to observe blatant disrespect and flouting of International Humanitarian Law and human rights. For the past few years, we have increasingly seen schools, hospitals, places of worship being misused and humanitarians, journalists, education and health professionals, and children being deliberately targeted as a tactic of war. This cannot be accepted by the international community.
Witnessing of such loss of innocent life is all too common for humanitarian workers. In contexts where deprivations and atrocities abound, we witness the worst. But we will not be deterred, for we also have the privilege of working alongside inspiring colleagues, community leaders and officials who demonstrate the very best mankind can bring. It is the deeds of these that inspire us to press on for a more humane future. And it is for these people, for the White Helmets of Syria, for the children caught in conflicts, and for ourselves that we demand protection from our world leaders.
This World Humanitarian Day, let us all remember that children, civilians and humanitarian workers are #NotATarget.