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World Humanitarian Day: UN urges protection for aid, health workers

Civilians in conflict are not a target, top United Nations officials on Friday, August 18, 2017 stressed at a special event marking World Humanitarian Day (WHD), which honours aid workers and pays homage to those killed in service, while also drawing attention to the millions of people today living in war zones.

UN #NotATarget
Staff stand together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to draw attention that civilians are #NotATarget. Photo credit: UN News/Paulina Carvajal

“For the millions of people caught in conflict, struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter; who have been driven from their homes with little hope of return; whose schools have been bombed; and who await life-saving medical care – we cannot afford to fail,” Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, said, urging each person and country to stand in solidarity with civilians in conflict.

Standing at Headquarters in New York alongside UN aid workers and staff who lost colleagues in war zones, the Secretary-General lent his support to the #NotATarget campaign, which highlights the need to protect civilians caught in conflict, including humanitarian and medical workers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also expressed concern over the safety of health workers, saying that, last year, 418 people died because health facilities were attacked.

“Over the two-year period from January 2014 to December 2015, there were 959 deaths from attacks on health care. Sixty-two per cent of the attacks were reported to have intentionally targeted health care,” the UN health body stated, adding:

“Every hospital destroyed and every health worker killed or injured takes years of health services away from the people who need them most. Stop attacks on health care.”

Joining Mr. Guterres to mark the 2017 WHD, which is officially commemorated on August 19, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, spoke of the challenges faced by aid workers around the word.

“Last year, 288 aid workers were targeted in 158 attacks. In the past three months alone, relief workers have been shelled and shot at, kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria,” he said. “This is blatantly unacceptable.”

Earlier in the week, the UN and partners launched the #NotATarget petition urging global leaders do more to ensure the rules of war are upheld and civilians are protected in armed conflicts.

With more than 10,500 signatures, the petitioners demand that world leaders do more to protect people trapped in conflicts, with a particular focus on those living in urban areas, children, targets of sexual violence, forcibly displaced people, humanitarian workers and health workers.

The petition will be presented to the Secretary-General during the high-level General Assembly, which opens on 12 September this year.

The UN General Assembly designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day in 2008, selecting the date to coincide with the anniversary of the deadly 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Originally coined by Médecins Sans Frontières in 2015, the #NotATarget hashtag is being used in the World Humanitarian Day digital campaign this year to call for action on behalf of all civilians trapped in conflicts.

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