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17 December: A day to honour, a day to mourn

Red Cross Red Crescent mourns its fallen colleagues and renews its commitment to serve humanity in their memory.

Friday December 16, 2016

Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer
Many Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been killed in Syria, sometimes caught in crossfires while trying to help wounded and sick people. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent

On 17 December 1996, a field hospital in Chechnya was deliberately attacked at night.

Armed gunmen killed six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A seventh staff member, an Australian named Christoph Hensch, was shot in his bed and left for dead. He survived and continued to work for Red Cross.   

Twenty years later, Red Cross Red Crescent continues to mark this date. We remember not only those who died in the Chechnya attack, but all our colleagues who die each year while performing their humanitarian work. 

Since the Chechnya attack, we estimate that more than 450 Red Cross Red Crescent staff members have been killed in the line of duty.  

This is a conservative estimate; the number is likely much higher. Exact figures are hard to collate: circumstances surrounding some deaths are not yet known and that some of the names of those who have been killed have been withheld for privacy and security reasons.  

While we've lost fewer Red Cross Red Crescent colleagues in 2016 than in 2015, they continue to be attacked, often while doing their best to help people caught up in conflicts.    

This year saw one of the most horrific attacks on Red Crescent staff in recent history. On Monday 19 September on Highway 60 just outside of the besieged city of Aleppo, a 31-vehicle convoy packed with aid supplies was obliterated by airstrikes.

Omar Barakat, director of the local Red Crescent branch along with 20 other aid workers and civilians were killed in the attack.  

On 17 December we mourn Omar and all our lost colleagues and friends. As we grieve, we renew our commitment to strive for peace and humanity in their memory.

We also call for greater protection of our people as they work. Our emblems mean 'don't shoot - we're here to help' and we want the world to understand this.  

As one of Omar Bakarat's colleagues said after the attack near Aleppo: "They are trying to kill humanity. But humanity will not die."  

Learn more about our Health Care in Danger campaign.