The Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers Under International Law

Release Date: 
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Lebanon, 1983. Ambulance damaged in cross-fire during fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces. © ICRC / B. Hubschmid / lb-d-00078-18

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Given that aid workers frequently operate in complex and insecure settings, some risks are inherent to humanitarian action. Nonetheless, recent years have seen a significant increase, in absolute terms, in deliberate attacks against humanitarian professionals. Furthermore, most aid workers do not benefit from specific protection under international law. While aid agencies and workers take steps to protect themselves through negotiations and by building acceptance or taking protective and deterrent measures, significant gaps remain in their protection from targeted violence. National staff members are particularly vulnerable — constituting the vast majority of aid workers and of attack victims — and yet tend to receive significantly less protection.

Building upon ATHA's podcast, “Humanitarians Under Attack: Delivering Aid in Insecure Settings” (November, 2014), which examined the main security challenges facing humanitarian professionals and dilemmas arising around principled humanitarian action in difficult security environments, this podcast will explore the challenges and strategies for enhancing the protection of humanitarian aid workers under international law. This conversation will focus specifically on the legal protection of aid workers operating in insecure settings, including efforts to close the protection gap for humanitarian actors and promote accountability for perpetrators.

Key questions for discussion include:

  • How does the law currently protect humanitarian professionals in insecure settings, and what gaps exist with regard to these legal protections?
  • What are the consequences of protection disparities between humanitarian professionals, particularly national or local staff?
  • What legal developments are feasible to improve the protection of humanitarian actors in insecure settings and to further accountability efforts for attacks against aid workers?

Expert Commentators:

Benjamin Charlier
Operations Advisor, Health Care in Danger Project
International Committee of the Red Cross
Twitter: @HCIDproject
© Titus Lacoste
Pauline Chetcuti
Humanitarian Advocacy Manager 
Action Contre la Faim
Michaël Neuman
Director of Studies, MSF-Crash
(Centre de réflexion sur l'action et les savoirs humanitaires)
Marco Sassòli
Director of the Department of Public International Law and International Organization
University of Geneva, Switzerland
 
Resources:

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