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World Humanitarian Day - we are not a target

The sheer numbers are staggering. Those who have died needlessly in wars.

Attacks on civilians, healthcare and aid workers is on the rise. Photo ICRC

Families are illegally targeted by warring parties of conflicts the world over. There are countless examples of those who should be protected, being used as human shields, intentionally starved and tortured. Families left in despair in cities besieged, without food, aid or medical care.

There are a myriad of reasons why the world finds itself in this place. One is the resurgence of sieges as a tactic of warfare. More conflicts are being carried out in streets and suburbs. And, the use of explosive devices in populated areas decimate not only people in their homes, but the complex systems of services such as water, electricity and sanitation that they rely on to survive.

Red Cross has reported extensively on these issues and we will continue to do so. But on this, World Humanitarian Day what should be said, what must be said and what we will not be silenced on is this; these blatant violations of the laws of war are abhorrent and must end.

It is as simple as that.

Recent research has shown, somewhat disturbingly, that the international community has moved from outrage to complacency to acceptance that these deaths and violations are simply an inevitable bi-product of conflict.

They are not.  

Today we want to draw attention to these acts of violence and reaffirm that civilians, healthcare workers and aid workers who are caught in conflict are not a target and to demand global action to protect them.

Wars have rules. States and armed groups have clear and long-established international legal responsibilities in conflict to protect civilians from harm, to spare schools and hospitals, and to protect those who are there to assist them.

But every time these rules are broken, human suffering intensifies. Every time these lines are crossed, humanitarian needs grow. And our global capacity and resources to respond to these crises are increasingly overstretched.

Humanity must be put first.

Instead of children hiding from bombing beneath their beds, they should be learning at their desks. Instead of families being forced to flee their homes, they should be building their homes, livelihoods and communities.

 Instead of medicines and relief supplies being looted, hospitals and ambulances being bombed, and humanitarian aid workers being detained and denied access to people in desperate need; people caught in conflicts must be given access to healthcare and essential life-saving aid, as is mandated in international humanitarian law.

Some progress has been made, global leaders made commitments to uphold the norms that safeguard humanity at the World Humanitarian Summit last year. Since then new initiatives on the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, enabling humanitarian and medical missions, and speaking out against violations have been reported around the world. However, much more must be done.

This World Humanitarian Day we ask the international community to stand with us in calling for the protection of civilians, healthcare and aid workers, so the millions that have already died, do not die in vain.

Because we are not a target, not now, not ever.  


Yvette Zegenhagen is National Manager of International Humanitarian Law, Movement Relations and Advocacy at Australian Red Cross

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