Statement by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the occasion of the Arria Formula Meeting of the members of the UN Security Council on protecting humanitarian and medical personnel

01.04.2019 - Speech

Thank you very much for the contributions so far. I apologize for arriving only now. Let me underline that I attach great importance to this discussion today.

As Henry Dunant once said:

“To help, without asking whom.”

He needed only a few words to formulate a principle that is still valid today. Words that served as a leitmotif when he founded the Red Cross more than 150 years ago.

They are still a reality for the men and women who care for those affected by armed conflicts. Who help people in need – and put their own lives at risk.

Some of those are with us today. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you and convey my great respect for your work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we take Henry Dunant’s words seriously, they leave us with a responsibility: Those who help others must not themselves become targets. They must be able to have confidence that they are protected. That is a fundamental principle of humanity.

It is sad that this has to be emphasised.
That we even have to have this discussion. The protection of humanitarian and medical personnel should be something we can take for granted.

Yet all too often we experience the opposite. Aid workers are attacked during conflicts. Medical institutions and their personnel are deliberately targeted. The aim is to spread fear and terror at the expense of the vulnerable.

Last year in Syria alone, the WHO recorded 139 attacks on medical institutions. Almost 300 doctors and nurses were killed or injured. Around half of all healthcare institutions in Syria have been damaged or destroyed.

A country is bleeding dry because even the aid workers become victims.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we want to pool recommendations and concrete proposals in order to put a stop to this trend. Together with you, the humanitarian organisations and experts, we should ask ourselves: How can we minimise the risks? What should the Security Council be doing?

We already have several good approaches.

  • First of all, we finally need to take Resolution 2286 [sprich: twenty-two, eighty-six] seriously and implement it. Whether that involves the member states reporting attacks on humanitarian aid workers to the UN Secretary General.
  • And better care for affected workers and the creation of confidential spaces in which to discuss their experiences. The German-funded Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation could play a key role in achieving this.
  • One further example of how negotiations and “good offices” can help is the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. Its mission in eastern Ukraine in 2017 showed how valuable such work can be. Yet the effectiveness of such approaches must not be impeded. We too often witness that negotiations are hindered by certain parties.
  • Another approach is to conduct credible investigations into attacks on humanitarian helpers. At the moment, those who attack humanitarian aid workers are far too rarely called to account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

in the afternoon, we will focus on the preservation of humanitarian space in a Security Council briefing that we have initiated jointly with France.

We will also initiate a “Humanitarian Call for Action” that will compile concrete recommendations.

It is no coincidence that the first day of our Security Council Presidency is devoted to the respect for international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles. The most important and most noble task of the Security Council is to protect human lives.

Every bit of progress we make here today will have a direct impact on the people in conflict areas. Every bit of progress will help the workers on humanitarian missions. This may not prevent conflicts, but it can at least relieve human suffering.

Even 150 years on from Henry Dunant we must not relax our efforts to fight for their protection. And I promise you that we don’t intend to.

Thank you very much.


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