Updated 24 January 2011
World Humanitarian Day was designated in memory of 22 UN staff, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who lost their lives in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 it is also in memory of the many aid workers who have lost their lives in the humanitarian cause.
The United Nations and the world marked the second World Humanitarian Day on 19 August 2010 under the theme: ‘We are humanitarian workers’. The day honours all humanitarian and United Nations associated personnel who have lost their lives in line of duty and those who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause.
The General Assembly proclaimed World Humanitarian Day in Resolution A/RES/63/139 adopted on 11 December 2008. Observance of the day is meant to ‘contribute to increasing public awareness about humanitarian work and the importance of international cooperation, and to commemorate all humanitarian and United Nations and associated personnel who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause, and those who have lost their lives in the course of duty’.
Reports of violence against humanitarian staff have been increasing. In 2009, 278 humanitarian workers were victims of 139 serious security incidents, compared to 65 who were involved in 34 such incidents 1999. 102 humanitarian workers were killed in 2009 compared to 30 in 1999. 92 humanitarian workers were kidnapped in 2009 compared 20 in 1999.
Yet, there has been significant growth in the number of situations that require humanitarian assistance. These include the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan, as well as on-going conflicts in areas such as the DRC and Darfur.
According to the United Nations, there is a false perception that aid is delivered only by Western groups or represents one ideological or religious world view, which has led to relief workers increasingly being targeted, ultimately hurting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Coincidentally, the Optional Protocol to the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which will provide legal protection to staff delivering emergency humanitarian assistance, went into effect also on 19 August 2010. The Convention only offered protection to personnel engaged in peacekeeping operations.
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