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New professional toolkit on responding to Violence against Humanitarian Action
by Action Against Hunger, agencies
May 29, 2018
Since 2006, when 17 of its staff members were killed in Sri Lanka, Action Against Hunger, an international non-governmental organization operating in 48 countries, has engaged in various advocacy strategies to bring justice to victims’ families in Sri Lanka. This pursuit of justice has pushed the organization to question the evolution of the humanitarian context, where it is not only a principled action (as independent, neutral, human and impartial as possible) that leads to attacks affecting the sector’s capacity to serve people in need. Country operations all illustrate in various ways the erosion of respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in the field, including through systematic denials of access for humanitarian actors and violence against humanitarian action in a context of silence and impunity.
Humanitarian actors are often subject to violence in their areas of intervention, especially when operating in highly insecure environments such as conflict zones or areas of fragile governance. While the causes for violence against humanitarian action are often diverse and intertwined, humanitarian organizations note an increase in targeted violence against humanitarian action in recent years, either towards recipients of aid or against the organizations delivering this assistance. Their humanitarian mandates and logos are less and less considered a protection—on the contrary, in some settings, they are seen as making humanitarians and their operations the targets of violence.
Such violence includes deliberate attacks on aid workers, humanitarian convoys, or the bombing of health facilities, amongst others. These attacks endanger lives, violate international norms, and are a particularly serious manifestation of denial or hindrance of humanitarian access and assistance to populations in need.
They also pose an acute operational dilemma between humanitarian organizations’ ability to maintain access to populations in need, and to ensure the safety and security of their staff. Despite a reinforced security culture within humanitarian organizations, this violence continues to affect the delivery of principled humanitarian aid to civilians already made vulnerable by conflicts, disasters, or extreme poverty.
While humanitarian organizations find operational means of adapting, these responses often fail to address the overall deteriorating environment for humanitarian action, or the prevailing impunity for such violations, which implicate many types of actors. At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, Action Against Hunger petitioned, along with 11 other organizations, for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Aid Workers.
The lack of strong commitments regarding IHL at the World Humanitarian Summit prompted an initiative to mobilize the humanitarian sector on this issue and try to collectively address the problem. A new Toolkit was produced as part of these efforts, through a series of consultations in 2017-2018 with members of the Working Group on Protection of Humanitarian Action, an initiative organized by ATHA and Action Against Hunger that brings together more than 20 partners.
The Working Group aims to mobilize a community of practice and foster cooperation through peer-to-peer professional exchange and information sharing, research, and advocacy. Members of the Working Group involved in producing this Toolkit include representatives from ATHA, Action Against Hunger, CARE International, the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, and the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF), in consultation with other leading international and humanitarian organizations.
The purpose of this Toolkit is to offer guidance and support to humanitarian actors for responding to violence against humanitarian action, in order to promote a more protective environment for the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians. It aims to complement and strengthen operational and security responses to acts of violence or incitement of violence against the humanitarian mission, or humanitarian organizations’ personnel, facilities, assets, and activities.
Focusing on the aftermath of serious incidents of violence against humanitarian action against national or international staff of local or international NGOs, United Nations personnel, first responders, or healthcare providers, this Toolkit seeks to provide a range of options and guidance regarding sharing information, speaking out, and challenging impunity in response to attacks. These options are meant to highlight possible and complementary responses to incidents of violence against humanitarian action. The Toolkit applies to cases where an organization has been directly affected, as well as to incidents perpetrated against other organizations in a particular setting.
It contains resources and templates to help country directors; regional directors and desks; security managers; communications officers; as well as advocacy, policy, and legal staff – at global and field levels – make informed decisions about whether and how to share information, speak out, and challenge impunity in cases of violence against humanitarian action.
* Access the toolkit via the link below.

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Rule of law, facing global assault, remains crucial for protecting the vulnerable
by International Commission of Jurists
International commitment to the rule of law is under assault around the world, said a global panel of eminent academics, diplomats, and jurists.
The panelists, speaking at a public event by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Geneva Graduate Institute, commented that this assault is threatening to reverse the progress made over the last 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) came into force.
The panelists addressed progress in asserting the rule of law since the UDHR, for instance through the development of the International Criminal Court and greater awareness and commitment to rights, but also highlighted current challenges at the national level, such as in Venezuela, and at the global level, with ongoing discrimination and violence against women.
“The rule of law is a principle that helps the world and also helps individuals,” said ICJ Secretary General Saman Zia-Zarifi, in his introductory remarks.
“It is a principle that elevates democracy from mob rule and is necessary to harness the energy of democracy and give it a direction and progression towards the protection and promotion of human rights and sustainable development for the betterment of the lives of people around the world,” he added.
Professor Carlos Ayala, ICJ Vice-President and former President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, spoke about the importance of having regional rights frameworks that were accessible to individuals when the rule of law has been eradicated at a national level.
Speaking in relation to Venezuela, Professor Ayala explained that the rule of law cannot be simply overturned by a political party, even with a majority, as the erosion of the rule of law puts all human rights at risk and these rights must be safeguarded regionally and internationally.
Patricia Schulz, member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, pointed out that in many countries, the rule of law has been weak or never even properly existed.
She addressed failings where access to justice is undermined by systems that are gender discriminatory and explained that in almost all countries, even where the rule of law seems strong, there is a lack of will and/or means to fight gender-based violence.
Professor Andrew Clapham, Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute and member of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, evaluated issues of accountability and the rule of law in the context of international criminal law.
He noted the important role international criminal law and its operational mechanisms have in holding individuals to account, but warned that focusing on prosecution and focusing on issues such as genocide and the use of chemical weapons ran the risk of undermining the universality of ideas enshrined in the UDHR.
Luis Gallegos, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations, raised concerns about the politicization of human rights and the capacity of UN mechanisms to address transnational rights issues such as migration.
He said that addressing the rule of law was not a simple question but that states had to come together to consistently and systematically address the rights violations that arose from a break-down in the rule of law.
Sanji Monageng, ICJ Commissioner and Justice of the International Criminal Court, spoke about the need for international organizations to rethink their approach to the rule of law and the way they apply this to cases, to avoid focusing narrowly on singular issues when rights violations need to be addressed homogenously.
Justice Monageng explained that for victims, sexual violence, for instance, is rarely a singular incident but part of broader array of rights violations that have far-reaching impacts.
In his remarks, Professor Robert Goldman said that “the rule of law deals with a central tenet of any just society, not only equal protection and equal access but it is something that protects the vulnerable.”
He explained that the threat to the rule of law today is endemic and it is global, but the ICJ is uniquely placed to robustly address these difficult questions and to continue to use the rule of law to defend and advance rights protections.
The event was attended by academics, diplomats, lawyers and representatives of civil society and international rights mechanisms. You can watch the full event via the link below.

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