Islamabad - The memories of that horrible morning are still alive when on 8 February 2017; I heard the news about killing of six staff members of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan.

The Afghan staff members of ICRC were carrying relief supplies for the areas hit by devastating snowstorm. The pain and the grief of the families and colleagues of those killed was unbearable, also think about those who could not receive life-saving assistance and out of them many might have died, never to be known by civilized world.

Today, the world is observing World Humanitarian Day under the theme ‘Not A Target’ to draw attention towards growing number of attacks on aid workers, particularly in violence affected countries.

August 19, was designated by the General Assembly in 2008 to coincide with the date of bombing of UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, in which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq Sérgio Vieira De Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed.

As the humanitarian workers deliver aid, and medical workers treat the wounded and sick, they are directly targeted, treated as threats, and prevented from bringing relief and care to those in desperate need.

According to studies by the international institutions, the aid worker casualties have tripled to over 100 deaths per year since the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

The attacks are rampant in countries experiencing armed conflicts or insurgencies than those at peace which seem to be defined by insurgents, terrorist groups and other violent actors with ideologies that increasingly disregard the rules of war.

Over the past 20 years, 4,132 aid workers have been attacked worldwide. In 2016, 91 aid workers were killed, 88 were injured and 73 were kidnapped in the line of duty. 2013 remained the most violent year when 474 aid workers were attacked.

The majority of attacks in recent years took place in six countries which are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria. 65 per cent of all attacks occurred in these five countries.

Afghanistan has seen the highest number of casualties among humanitarian workers in the world, with 895 attacked since 2001 and 325 killed.

Pakistan also remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for the aid workers with 12 incidents of attacks reported on relief workers.

Majority of these attacks targeted the polio workers in which men and women were either injured or gunned down in cold blood in different parts of the country, especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

According to the Aid Workers Security Database (AWSD), in 2014 a total of 18 workers were targeted in the country, including a foreign aid worker. Out of these, eight local workers were killed; four were injured while five others were kidnapped.

Seven aid workers of local NGO, Support With Working Solution (SWWS), were killed in Swabi District of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province on January 1, 2013.

Feeling the pain and suffering that visit upon the aid workers and people alike in conflict areas, the Pakistan Red Crescent (PRC) signed a Charter of Humanity with the Ittehad Tanzeemat Madaris Pakistan on February 7, 2015. The signing of the Charter was an initiative of PRC Chairman Dr Saeed Elahi.

Under the charter, the Ulema and prayer leaders will use the pulpit to convey a message to different militant groups that volunteers and aid workers engaged in different humanitarian welfare service projects should not be targeted, as being non-combatants their sole objective and purpose is to cater to those needing help and assistance the most.

Pakistan Red Crescent as the member of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the leading humanitarian organisation of the country has been working hard in promoting respect and security of the aid workers.

It has engaged civil society, media and religious scholars to join hands and save the lives of the life savers. Similarly, along with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the PRC asserts: attacks against aid workers are deplorable and represent a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

The international community must reverse the loss of respect for international humanitarian law and the resulting increase of attacks on those workers providing life-saving aid on the frontline of crises/conflicts.

The international community must call on fighting parties to strictly adhere to international legal obligations and condemn them when they do not, imposing targeted measures on grave violators.

Last but not the least, the Charter of Humanity between the PRCS and ITM adds another dimension to what we can achieve by working together.

On this day, we remain fully committed to protecting the aid workers whose life is always on the line while working in dangerous environments. They are an asset that we need to protect, perhaps a little better than we do currently.

–The writer is Principal Information Officer at Pakistan Red Crescent National Headquarters, Islamabad.


khalid bin Majeed