#NotATarget: we must respect and protect those who need humanitarian aid - and those who deliver it

17 august 2017

To mark World Humanitarian Day, which takes place on Saturday 19 August, we are delighted to feature a guest blog from Noreen Gumbo – Chair of the Dóchas Humanitarian Aid Working Group and Head of Humanitarian Programmes with Trócaire. 


Next Saturday, 19th August, is ‘World Humanitarian Day’. It is a day that acknowledges humanitarian workers and the danger and adversity they often face while trying to alleviate the suffering of crisis affected people.  However, this year is a little different. 

This year, under the hashtag  #NotATarget, humanitarians all around the world, are raising their voices to draw global attention to the massive toll conflict is having on the lives of civilians– the people we most often see on TV, bewildered by devastation and loss.  We see a snapshot of their grief –their lives torn apart, economies collapsed, jobs gone, education disrupted, and services disappearing.  As conflict rages, hunger, disease and unimaginable suffering takes over, and people are trapped and often unreachable.

Conflict has always taken its toll on communities but conflict in more recent times is increasingly characterized by the flagrant defiance of international humanitarian law by parties to the conflict and with almost total impunity. No longer seen as innocent bystanders in a conflict, civilians are increasingly targeted or disregarded as collateral damage.  Civilians, from infants to the elderly, pregnant women and school children, are killed and wounded, tortured, raped, enslaved, abducted, used as human shields, forcibly recruited, forcibly displaced – endless suffering and little protection.   Increasingly in countries like Syria, Central African Republic, Afghanistan and Yemen, civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, are targeted regardless of innocent civilians, humanitarian law and international outrage. 

There is a global responsibility to protect civilians in conflict. UN Resolution 2286, adopted in 2016, strongly condemned attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel in conflict situations today, and demanded an end to impunity for those responsible.  We, as humanitarian actors are obliged to continuously and relentlessly call on world leaders to do everything in their power to protect civilians caught in conflict and also the humanitarian workers trying to serve them.

Many aid workers across the globe live and serve in their own communities.  National and international aid workers are also targeted in conflict with at least 249 aid workers killed, kidnapped or seriously wounded in 2016. The highest number of deaths were in South Sudan, followed by Afghanistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Violence against aid workers inevitably leads to the reduction or suspension of humanitarian operations, leaving vulnerable people without support.  

This call ‘#NotATarget’ is made by humanitarian workers across the globe in the name of people living in areas of armed conflicts, and in solidarity with each other, as agencies who work in these complex and difficult contexts. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres repeatedly reminds global actors of the need for enhanced respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical workers as well as civilian infrastructure.  He has called on world leaders to do more to prevent and resolve conflicts and build sustainable peace.  This means addressing arms transfers, which enable conflict and undermine protection and peacebuilding efforts. Where and when conflict cannot be prevented, parties to armed conflicts must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights and protect civilian lives, ensure unhindered access to medical and humanitarian missions and protect medical and humanitarian workers and facilities. 

Humanitarian aid is not a solution to conflict. Humanitarian aid is hope and a token of solidarity. Those who need it and those who deliver it must be respected and protected. World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity for Irish NGOs, the Irish Government and those who support our work across the globe to pause for moment and be proud of the part we play in protecting and assisting people in conflict. 

  • Innocent civilians caught in conflicts are #NotATarget

  • Anyone who flees their home because of conflict has a right to live in safety and dignity. They are #NotATarget.

  • Aid workers are #notatarget. They work to save life and alleviate suffering. International Humanitarian law #IHL must be respected!

  • Check out and sign the petition at worldhumanitarianday.org to reaffirm that civilians caught in conflict are #NotATarget