Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day, August 19th. It's a day to salute the aid workers throughout the world and to remember those who have died while trying to help.

From the Huffington Post, this commentary from Navi Pilay explains why we have such a day.

August 19 is a date that is etched deep in the consciousness of the United Nations and the memories of those involved in humanitarian and human rights work around the world: the day in 2003 when 22 people, mostly UN staff, were killed in cold blood by a single bomb at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

It was by no means the first time that humanitarian aid workers, human rights defenders, peacekeepers and others working to improve the lot of the disadvantaged had been deliberately targeted by ruthless forces determined to create instability or subvert the basic laws and norms on which civilized society depends. My own organization, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, experienced its first loss of staff on 4 February 1997, when five members of the Human Rights Field Operations were killed in Rwanda.

And sadly, since 19 August 2003, there have been numerous other assassinations of individuals and further bombs -- most notably the one in Algiers on 11 December 2007 which took the lives of a further 17 UN staff members -- targeting UN and NGO staff. And I have just learned that two more UN staff are among those killed on Tuesday by a suicide bomber in Kabul. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to their families and colleagues.

In the case of the Baghdad and Algiers bombs, the perpetrators of these crimes were terrorist organizations. However, in other cases, the killers have sometimes acted on behalf of a government, or for organs meant to be under the control of governments.

Killing those who are trying to help others is a particularly despicable crime, and one which all governments should join forces to prevent, and -- when prevention fails -- to punish. It is therefore appropriate -- as a first step -- that last December the global forum for all the world's governments, the UN General Assembly, agreed to designate 19 August as World Humanitarian Day.

Humanitarian aid workers are on the frontline, trying to provide at least a minimum of material support and protection for the displaced, and for populations affected by conflict, chronic poverty, food shortages, natural disasters and other crises.

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