Governments urged to ensure citizens' right to humanitarian aid

By staff writers
February 6, 2015

Thirty European relief agencies are calling on governments to “reaffirm and protect” people’s fundamental right to humanitarian aid.

Agencies such as Christian Aid, Islamic Relief Worldwide, International Rescue Committee and ACT (Action of Churches Together) Alliance want states in conflict-affected and disaster-prone countries to “allow and support full unimpeded access to all people in need of assistance, and promote the safety, protection and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel”.

The NGOs – who are all responding to current crises worldwide – have signed a joint statement voicing concern about the ‘threat’ posed to the global humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Volatile and insecure environments, political interference in aid activities and the rise in counter-terrorism laws are some of the threats that are hampering the delivery of humanitarian operations, endangering at-risk populations and increasing the risk to relief workers, the agencies warn.

The statement represents the NGOs’ joint contribution to Europe-wide consultations that took place in Hungary this week. These consultations will feed into the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit hosted by the United Nations – the first-ever global humanitarian meeting of its scale.

Christian Aid’s Head of Humanitarian Assistance, Nick Guttmann, commented: “At a time when humanitarian crises worldwide have reached unprecedented levels, it is more vital than ever that countries cooperate with relief agencies and take the necessary steps to create an environment in which aid reaches the people who need it the most, in a timely and effective manner.

“Christian Aid believes it is fundamentally important that those delivering aid follow core humanitarian standards. What’s more, humanitarian actors need to be accountable to affected populations – the millions of citizens caught up in conflict and disasters across the world. We need to shift control of aid architecture towards the global south and ensure humanitarian funding mechanisms are more accessible to local populations.

“At the same time, states, military personnel and humanitarian actors must abide by and promote the humanitarian principles, because failure to do so can obstruct the rapid delivery of aid and exacerbate humanitarian crises. Next year’s World Humanitarian Summit presents a critical opportunity to reinforce the importance of these principles, so that we can create a more effective humanitarian system in which states and humanitarian actors alike respect the right to aid and essential services.”

In the joint statement, the 32 agencies say: “Today, the humanitarian sector faces an unprecedented number of protracted and acute humanitarian crises, such as the crisis in Syria, in Central African Republic, in South Sudan and the regional Ebola crisis, compelling humanitarian actors to stretch existing structures and practices to breaking point…

“NGOs are operating in exceptionally volatile and insecure environments where political agendas are interfering with the delivery of humanitarian aid, causing increased threats to the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers and assets, and in some situations hamper impartial access of affected population to relief operations.”

In light of these threats, the agencies “strongly call upon humanitarian actors, donors, states and all parties involved in conflicts, to re-affirm their commitment to respect and to promote the humanitarian principles”.

They want conflict-affected countries to recognise their “fundamental duty” to facilitate the work of humanitarian personnel and organisations, while not construing relief operations as a challenge to state sovereignty.

Governments, donors and relevant international institutions are also being asked to review and design all their humanitarian policies in compliance with the humanitarian principles, which have emerged from International Humanitarian Law.

The agencies want these recommendations to be integrated fully into the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit, due to be held in Istanbul next year.

The summit aims to find new ways to tackle humanitarian needs while reducing people’s vulnerability to conflict and humanitarian disasters.

[Ekk/3]

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