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Protecting humanitarian aid workers: Germany and France in the UN Security Council 

Foreign Minister Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian at the United Nations

Foreign Minister Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian at the United Nations, © Thomas Imo/photothek.net

01.04.2019 - Article

Together with other states, Germany and France will draw up concrete measures and recommendations in the coming months to extend the scope of action of humanitarian aid workers by strengthening the law.

Protection and scope of action for humanitarian aid workers

Rapid, unhindered access for humanitarian organisations is an essential prerequisite for humanitarian assistance. Especially in armed conflicts, however, it is often difficult for humanitarian aid workers to reach those in most need of their live-saving help. These people are frequently cut off from humanitarian assistance by hostilities: access is often arbitrarily refused by the warring parties or made difficult under the pretext that other matters have priority.

Humanitarian aid workers are under threat in many conflicts
Humanitarian aid workers are under threat in many conflicts© dpa

Not only the civilian population but also humanitarian aid workers themselves are increasingly the target of attacks by parties to a conflict. In Syria alone, there were 139 attacks on medical facilities last year, in which more than 300 people were killed or injured. Around half of all healthcare facilities in Syria have been damaged or destroyed during the eight years of conflict. In Yemen, although four out of five people are now dependent on humanitarian assistance, aid workers are refused access time and again. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the fight against Ebola has to be repeatedly halted because armed groups are attacking aid workers.

Disseminating information on existing rules and strengthening compliance

International humanitarian law and the humanitarian principles provide us with a sold foundation for humanitarian assistance and the protection of the civilian population. There is no shortage of relevant laws or resolutions. However, there is a pressing need to provide information on the existing rules, to strengthen compliance and to sanction failure to adhere to them.

The German Foreign Minister and his French counterpart are therefore announcing a call to action today. Together with other states, Germany and France will draw up concrete measures and recommendations in the coming months to extend the scope for action of humanitarian aid workers by strengthening the law. Possible measures could include better disseminating information on the rules of international humanitarian law and the humanitarian principles, providing humanitarian aid workers with targeted training on how to explain their impartial, humanitarian mission in conflict situations or expanding the dialogue among experts on humanitarian assistance and sanctions regimes with the aim of eliminating legal uncertainties and contradictions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and many UN member states are ready to help Germany and France implement this initiative.

Jumelage: Closely coordinated German and French Presidencies

Germany holds the UN Security Council Presidency in April – directly following on from the French Presidency in March. The two countries have decided to work together during these two months in a dual presidency (Jumelage). Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is currently in New York for that reason.

One of the key focuses of the two presidencies is the protection of humanitarian aid workers. How can those who help people in need be protected? How can international humanitarian law and the humanitarian principles – humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence – be strengthened?

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