Antonio Guterres: A terrible dilemma facing humanitarian agencies

Share
Related Topics

UNHCR is still in shock over the brutal killing of staff member Zill-e-Usman, who was shot by unidentified gunmen in the Katcha Gari camp on the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the North-West Frontier Province – the third one of our staff to be killed in Pakistan this year. Four to five gunmen reportedly opened fire on Mr Usman as he was walking back from the camp administrative office to his car during a routine visit to the site.

There is no justification for attacks on humanitarian workers dedicated to the protection and care of the world's most vulnerable people. The deaths of two Afghans working for the UN yesterday, killed when a bomb hit their convoy on the outskirts of Kabul, offered another bloody reminder of these outrages, which are a tragedy that affects us all.

Today, the first ever World Humanitarian Day, we will pause to remember those two Afghans, Mr Usman and hundreds of other aid workers who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties around the world. The date is important: it was on 19 August 2003 that a massive bomb blast in Baghdad killed the-then UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

In 2008 alone, 122 aid workers were killed in attacks, kidnappings and robberies. The fatality rate for international humanitarian workers actually exceeded that of UN peacekeepers.

This ongoing death toll raises fundamental questions about how we can ensure staff security in unstable environments. Globally, it reminds us of the major dilemma facing humanitarian agencies around the world – how do we meet the life-or-death needs of the world's most vulnerable people while making sure those who provide that help are kept safe?

Our ability to assist those who need it most is being severely tested by the shrinkage of the so-called "humanitarian space" in which we must work. And the nature of conflict is changing, with a multiplicity of armed groups – some of whom view humanitarian workers as legitimate targets.

Ensuring staff safety must be a top priority of every humanitarian organisation. This is non-negotiable. And yet there is a tension – and in some situations a contradiction – between the imperatives of staff safety and humanitarian action. UNHCR has continuously struggled to determine the "acceptable" level of security risk to which its staff members can be exposed.

As today's commemoration demonstrates, it is a truly terrible dilemma.

The writer is a former Portuguese prime minister and since 2005 has been the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'