Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more inhumane Greek refugee policies. The revelation by the New York Times that Greece has secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, abandoning many of them on inflatable life rafts in the Aegean Sea, is one example of this disturbing trend. Meanwhile, refugees are being locked inside Oinofyta refugee camp while Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely.

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls”. Ahead of the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative highlighted that although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain the major targets of sexual violence in conflicts worldwide.

The United Nation’s landmark Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) called on member states and parties to armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict”.

But almost twenty years later, much progress is still needed to prevent and reduce cases of sexual violence in conflicts. A new resolution adopted earlier this year, Resolution 2467, introduces a new survivor-centered approach to help combat this type of violence.

The terms of the resolution include guaranteed justice for survivors and their children and the ending of impunity for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. In this resolution, the UN also called for “greater attention to the physical and economic security of survivors, which includes mental, physical, and sexual health.”

However, the United States vetoed part of the draft language contained in the resolution – which had said that wartime rape victims should have access to sexual and reproductive health services – on the basis that this implied access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without this language. Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch said that the veto can be seen as a threat to women’s rights: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight in recent years as a widespread critical issue that needs to be addressed. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who work on ending violence against women in conflict situations, was a testament to that. More broadly, the different forms of violence against women and girls were also brought into sharp focus through the recent #MeToo campaign.

More than a third of women living today have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives and there is evidence that conflict situations increase women’s vulnerability to violence.

It is imperative not to become complacent about these issues or to assume that things will only get better for women – the recent negotiations over the language of Resolution 2467 highlight the need to remain vigilant. International Days like this one are important tools for fostering awareness and mobilising political will. As such, it is very important that these days are marked and that we, as global citizens, stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence everywhere.

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo

Violence against children in Zambia

Violence against children in Zambia

 

Zambia is not known for high rates of violence – on the contrary, it is a country that hosts many refugees from conflicts in neighbouring countries. Reports on the humanitarian situation in Zambia, therefore, frequently focus on the situation of displaced persons in the country, rather than the situation of Zambians themselves. What is overlooked even more easily is the situation of children: yet a recent report released by UNICEF reveals how prevalent violence against children is in Zambia today. Based on the 2014 Violence Against Children Survey, conducted by the Zambian government, UNICEF’s report details data involving violence faced by children, and offers potential solutions and steps going forward.

The UNICEF report investigated the exposure of children to physical, sexual and emotional violence, with half of those questioned for the survey stating that they experienced at least one type of violence before they were eighteen. According to UNICEF findings, not surprisingly sexual abuse is more likely to affect girls, with perpetrators most frequently being spouses, romantic partners or friends. Boys are somewhat more affected by physical violence, yet a total of one third of females and two fifths of males were exposed to this kind of violence as children. Perpetrators of physical violence are most commonly parents or adult relatives. Emotional violence is less prevalent, yet a fifth of females and a sixth of males were exposed to it, a number that is still highly worrying.

Primary respondents of the survey came from a random group of the ages 13 to 24 years, being questioned about their experience before their eighteenth birthday. Alarming as the numbers are by themselves, awareness of how and where to seek help, also to cope after the violence has stopped, was low among the respondents. Consequently, UNICEF calls for concerted efforts by the government as well as international partners to take action to protect children from violence and to assist survivors of abuse.

Check out this infographic by UNICEF detailing the numbers related to violence against children in Zambia.

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of SuSanA Secretariat via Flickr

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

 

 

What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.

 

History

Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.

 

Current Situation

In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.

In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.

The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.

 

International Involvement

In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.

 

Burundi Today

As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr

How can we end sexual violence during war?

How can we end sexual violence during war?

“Sexual violence is a brutal form of physical and psychological warfare rooted in the gender inequality extant not only in zones of conflict, but in our everyday personal lives … The prevention of sexual violence must remain one of our highest priorities.”

United Nations secretary-general António Guterres

What is the stigma?
The stigma suffered by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence has to stop.  When sexual violence occurs during war time, the victim is traumatised twice. Firstly by the violent acts of the perpetrator and then again by the reaction of their community. This reaction is the reason sexual violence during an armed conflict is used as a tactic of war or even terrorism.

The perpetrator clearly understands the perceived dishonour of war time rape. Women suffer through the stigma of lost virginity or pregnancy out of wedlock. Children conceived through rape are often considered “children of the enemy”. Through male rape there is often a loss of masculinity, homophobia, and the shame of being unable to defend oneself and loved ones.

What can be done ?
To address this stigma, the conduct of society and the state as a whole needs to change. It is of utmost importance that the underlying social norms that have encouraged victim-shaming be addressed and hopefully put to an end. In order to bring in this change, it is necessary that legal and policy approaches bridges formal and informal spheres in a society.

The UN report on Conflict Related Sexual Violence has clearly observed that there is a trend of outdated and incomplete definitions of sexual violence at the national level. The law often fails to criminalise marital rape, ignore coercive circumstances, domestic violence and exclude males from the scope of protection. This leads to permissive circumstances and attitudes in wartime regarding sexual violence in the context of sex-slavery and forced marriages.

This, in turn, is observed to be a legitimate practice in the post-conflict phase. The transitional period after conflict can provide an opportunity to transform certain inadequate laws, public perception of sexual violence and societal norms that have shamed victims.     

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Is sexual violence during war a gender or security issue? Deepthi Suresh investigates. 

Feminist scholarship on sexual violence during peacetime changed the way we talk about rape, making it a matter of public concern. Instead of a side effect or armed conflict, rape was seen as an integral part of the war time power struggle. This had important implications to the way we discuss rape that occurs outside armed conflict. Sexual violence is a form of social power, characterized by the gender power relations. Under feminist scholarship, rape became a politically charged discussion.

Then how do we assess wartime sexual violence?
Sara Meger has put forward the idea that, “Security approach to sexual violence unintentionally produces its fetishisation and that this process undermines efforts to address sexual violence”.

This fetishisation has directed policy towards security and protection, rather than addressing underlying attitudes.

The securitisation of sexual violence, therefore, has placed gender-based violence within the “high politics” of international security according to Sara Meger. By accepting that  gender-based violence committed in armed conflict is an inevitable consequence, it fits into traditional security paradigms. This understanding of gender-based violence somehow has lured policy makers into a fantasy of gender equity but in reality, only obscures the structures that may be the root causes of wartime sexual violence. By focusing instead on increasing security, we ignore the power structures that are vital to understanding rape

Why is feminist inquiry into sexual violence important?
Feminist inquiry certainly brought in a new mode of critical explanation that addressed issues of domestic violence and sexual violence both during wartime and peacetime. This non-conventional explanation recognised it as a political phenomenon. It also laid emphasis on gendered tropes and justifications that exist around why rapes exist.

Feminist researchers brought into the limelight evidence of brutal acts of sexual violence and strategic choices made by the perpetrators such as rape camps, genital mutilations, sexual torture, brutal accounts of soldiers who have perpetrators themselves, perpetrators who have been authority figures such as police officers and UN peacekeepers etc.

They also brought in enough empirical evidence on lack of intervention by agencies, the depiction of rape in popular media and by news agencies, the falsification of actual cases of rape in a particular place by international agencies or Non-governmental organisations etc. as well as the demand for an international collaboration to end rape.

 

Photo via Flickr.

Review: No Country for Women

Review: No Country for Women

Niamh Dunne reviews the documentary No Country for Women and uncovers the history behind Ireland’s systemic discrimination towards women.

No Country for Women is a two-part documentary that was broadcasted on RTE One on the 19th and 20th of June. The documentary looked at the role of women in Ireland from the gaining the right to vote in 1918 to the cervical check scandal this year. The documentary looks at the begging of an Irish free state and how the republic was in fact a ‘fake republic’.

In light of the recent referendum and the cervical cancer scandal, a documentary like this could not come a more consequential time for Irish women. There has never been a programme that unveils the real horrific trauma Irish women were forced to endure. Coming on the heels of the referendum on the 8th amendment, Ireland is beginning to reckon with itself on how it has treated women.

Sexual Assault
The programme opened with an archived phone interview of the Gerry Ryan Show discussing Lavinia Kerwick. In 1991 Kerwick was an 18 year old in the middle of a high-profile rape case. Kerwick describes how rape was not a topic ever discussed in Irish society at this point in time, setting the tone for the remainder of the documentary.

The programme examines the treatment of sexual violence and rape cases in Ireland as far back as the War of Independence. There was no reprimanding of the preparators who raped and attacked women during the conflict, but this only worsened as within the Free State. As women achieved the right to vote in 1918, along with this came jury duty. However, men were obligated to attend jury duty whereas women had the option. This left men as judge and jury of all criminal cases including rape.

Irish Law
Women who had children out of wedlock were considered criminals under Irish law. What is even more terrifying is that the Magdalene Laundries were only shut down in 1996.  The documentary goes on to highlight other gross injustices of Irish women such as the Mother and Baby Homes, access to contraception, illegitimate pregnancies, women in the workforce and even more.

Women Today
The programme also followed six Irish women today as they investigate how the lives of their mothers, grandmothers and their own collided with discriminatory laws. The documentary examined every aspect of Irish women during the 20th century and the brutal discrimination they suffered at the hands of the Irish State and Catholic Church.

After watching this programme, I was overcome with so many mixed emotions about it. Angry that as a woman, millions of women had to endure unnecessary hardships and inequality just for their biological makeup. Ashamed, that a country I love so dearly could be so harmful and complicit in the suppression and oppression of women. I was aware women were discriminated against in the 20th century but I didn’t know the far-reaching extent. Women were second class citizens in country that was supposed to be democratic and a free country for “Irishmen and Irishwomen”.

See here to learn more about this film.

 

Above photo: Magdalene Laundry memorial in Galway. By William Murphy via Flickr.

When rape is used as a military tactic

When rape is used as a military tactic

In the second part of a series on gender violence in war, Deepthi Suresh examines why sexual violence is a war tactic and how international bodies are recognising the problem.

The influential International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2000 said that systematic violence referred to the ‘organised nature of acts of violence’ and not ‘random occurrences’. Following similar guideline, in 2008, the UN recognised wartime rape as a strategy used for gaining political momentum during armed conflicts.  It has also been a means of torture, terror and punishment to affected populations.

Tactical Rape
Sexual violence has long been used as a tactic to target civilians during an armed conflict. It is widely acknowledged that socio-economic, political, and physical differences in gender create vulnerabilities. Though it is gender-based violence, tactical rape is then used to control and deliberately destroy whole communities. For example, it is a strategy used to remove populations from a geographic area, which almost amounts to ethnic cleansing. It is therefore, important to comprehend the reality, causes and implications of wartime sexual violence in order to respond to this strategy.

International Law
The failure of the state, in allowing women to be victims of sexual violence, is a grave concern. However, there has been some progress in international law pertaining to sexual violence during armed conflicts, particularly in the United Nations. In May 2012, the UK launched its Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, followed by the United Nations General Assembly (2013) Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is supported by over 150 states.  In 2014 a new international protocol on the investigation of sexual violence was launch. These developments illustrate the high-level political actions being taken to address sexual violence in conflict around the world. This shift at the international level may provide a foundation for the much-needed working of the state-level responses to sexual violence.

Recognition
Despite these international measures, sexual violence continues to be a war tactic, showcasing the lack of compliance with agreed international human rights law. This impedes international responses to humanitarian crises, such as this. However, these steps are still important, as the gradual move at an international level to reject sexual violence during armed conflicts represents the growing understanding that such horrendous acts are a threat to human security and international stability.

 

To read the previous instalment in this series, click here.

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

 

Inevitable violence?

Inevitable violence?

In a new series for STAND, Deepthi Suresh examines the connection between sexual violence and war.

What is wartime rape?
Rape, sexual violence and sexual torture are often used to control, inflict fear, humiliate, injure, punish and ethnically cleanse communities. Sexual violence can be a strategy used by armed groups in a conflict as a tactic of war and to target specific ethnic groups.  Recently both the Yazidi Tribe and Rohingya Muslims have been targeted by military forces.  The list pertaining to wartime rapes is neverending. A Bosnian wartime rape survivor accounts the torturous events number of women like her had to experience during the 1994 conflict, as reported in The Independent.

“They had their eyes set on teenage girls,” she says. “Many of the girls wore their father’s big shirts to cover their bodies. If you looked feminine or if they knew you previously and wanted sex they would just take you. Probably 10 were raped every night. They took them to a local empty house. The girls would come back the next morning totally exhausted but no one would talk about it. They were ashamed. We all knew silently what had happened but no one discussed it.”

It is believed tens of thousands are sometimes horrifically forced to live next to their rapists even after post-conflict.

Why are women targeted?
Women often hold families and communities together. Targeting women would mean destroying not just an individual but a community as a whole. Rape can also be used as a weapon, seen as motivation or a reward for armed troops. According to Médecins Sans Frontières, rape is also used as a biological weapon in some conflicts to transmit AIDS.

Unfortunately, these horrific acts of crime are also committed by people who are considered as the protectors during an armed conflict. Police, national armies, aid workers and UN peacekeepers have all featured as perpetrators in the acts of wartime rape and other forms of sexual violence in war-driven regions.

Is wartime sexual violence inevitable?
Wartime rape for a long time was not acknowledged as there was a complete disregard of women’s experiences during a conflict. However, feminist scholars have rallied behind the atrocities that women have faced during a conflict and hence this led to a cry for ending violence against women worldwide. The understanding of the consequences of wartime rape led to the introduction of legal and quasi-legal approaches to such crimes during and post-conflict. Wartime rape or any form of sexual violence is a human rights violation and needs to be addressed internationally. It does not need to be inevitable.

 

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

Jolie appointment blurs lines between academics, aid workers and celebrities

Jolie appointment blurs lines between academics, aid workers and celebrities

Andrea Wickham explores LSE’s appointment of Angelina Jolie as a visiting professor.

Last week, the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science announced the appointment of Angelina Jolie Pitt as a Visiting Professor in Practice on one of their Masters’ courses.

Movie stars and musicians have long been used by aid organisations to use their star power to draw the spotlight to causes or crises, and to promote aid work to wider audiences. This dates back to the appointments of actors Danny Kaye, Peter Ustinov and Audrey Hepburn as UNICEF ambassadors the 1950s and 1960s.

On the same day that Angelina Jolie Pitt’s professorship was announced, the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul featured a gathering of global political and aid leaders, augmented with celebrity participation from Daniel Craig, Forest Whittaker and Sean Penn among others. Whether or not celebrities are effective in these roles, and who is best served by such arrangements, is a topic for a separate discussion.

Aid worker, academic or celebrity?

At a time when celebrities are used more and more by United Nations agencies and aid organisations as spokespeople and ambassadors, is Ms Jolie Pitt’s appointment a natural progression for movie stars? Or is it a sign that the lines between aid workers, academics and celebrities have been increasingly blurred?

Angelina Jolie Pitt has a history of engagement in humanitarian issues, and has long been an advocate for women in conflict situations. Following visits to refugee camps in Cambodia during the filming of Tomb Raider, she was appointed a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency) in 2001.

Having made over 50 field visits with the agency, she was appointed a Special Envoy to the organisation in 2012. The role allows her to represent UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at a senior diplomatic level and her advocacy focuses on major crises that cause mass displacement of people.

“Many have viewed these appointments as a cynical move – ‘a cheap publicity stunt’”

In a press release on May 23rd, LSE announced the appointment of Ms Jolie Pitt as a visiting Professor in Practice on the university’s new MSc in Women, Peace and Security – the first course of its kind internationally.

Angelina Jolie Pitt was one of four such visiting Professors appointed for the programme.  William Hague (Lord Hague of Richmond), former British Foreign Secretary is a co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative with Angelina Jolie Pitt and will also be a Visiting Professor on the MSc programme.

The other two Visiting Professors will be Jane Connors, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International Geneva and Madeleine Rees OBE, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Visiting Professor role

What will the role of Ms Jolie Pitt and the other Visiting Professors be? According to the LSE’s own statement:

LSE confers the title of Visiting Professor in Practice on persons who have appropriate distinction within their area of (non-academic) practice. It includes individuals who have achieved prominence in public service, or who have attained distinction in their profession and through their practical experience.

While Angelina Jolie Pitt has visited numerous humanitarian projects with UNHCR and other agencies over the past decade, do these visits qualify her for such a role? I do not believe that this meets the requisite ‘practical experience’ needed for such a professorship. While her work as a Goodwill Ambassador and now Special Envoy have provided her with valuable insights, would she be better employed as a guest speaker or workshop panellist?

The LSE has also pointed out that the Visiting Professorships in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security are unpaid. At a time when university fees in the UK are rising, in particular at postgraduate level, many have viewed these appointments as a cynical move – ‘a cheap publicity stunt’ as the  chair of the LSE Labour Society put it – to boost interest and enrolment in their postgraduate courses, at no additional cost to the university.

Meeting student needs

As a former postgraduate student on a similar course, I can imagine how I would have benefitted from hearing the experiences of a Visiting Professor in Practice – a seasoned aid worker or development professional, who could articulate the challenges of the work I was hoping to pursue, and also provide insights into viable career paths within the sector. Prospective students of the MSc in Women, Peace and Security might really benefit from the experiences of Jane Connors and Madeleine Rees, and even William Hague, for those students interested in pursuing careers in public service.

But Angelina Jolie Pitt’s experience as a humanitarian activist has largely come as a result of her career as a Hollywood actor. Is this a path available to any of the students likely to be sitting in her lectures come September? What can she teach them that they might be able to replicate in their own careers? I believe that there are professionals working in the areas of Women, Peace and Security who have more professional experience than Ms Jolie Pitt, and whom the students could learn more from, in terms of the development of their own careers.

Over the past fifteen years Angelina Jolie Pitt has proven herself to be a passionate and committed advocate for refugees and women in crises situations through her work with UNHCR, the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and numerous other initiatives and philanthropic endeavours. But does this experience make her a suitable Visiting Professor in Practice for future LSE students? I am not so sure.

Author: Andrea Wickham

Andrea is currently working as an independent consultant in the areas of Humanitarian Policy and Communications. She has worked for a number of aid agencies as a Humanitarian Funding Adviser in Chad, Kenya, Iraq and Ethiopia. She studied History and Political Science in Trinity College and a Masters in International Communications and Development at City University London. Andrea was a volunteer on the Suas Volunteer Programme in Calcutta in 2006 and a Coordinator in Delhi in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @adwickham.

Photo credit: Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, at the launch of the UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, 29 May 2012, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Creative Commons license.

Dangers of aid work on the rise

Dangers of aid work on the rise

As World Humanitarian Day takes place today, Andrea Wickham highlights some of the dangers of aid work.

World Humanitarian Day, marked annually on August 19th, commemorates the attack on the UN offices in Baghdad on August 19th 2003 which killed 22 people. In the years since, there has been increased attention paid to the risks that aid workers take on when conducting humanitarian and relief work.

The Facts and Figures

The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), established in 2005, records major incidents of violence against aid workers. The types of attacks registered on the database include kidnappings, ‘carjackings’, attacks on individuals or compounds, bodily or sexual assaults. It is the foremost source of information that records the changing security environment for aid operations.

There has been a steady increase in the number of attacks on aid workers in recent years, with the number of victims rising from 143 in 2003, to 438 in 2013. A dramatic jump was experienced between 2012 and 2013. In 2014 there have already been a number of high profile attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan and Central African Republic (CAR). Earlier this year in Afghanistan, an attack on a hotel in Kabul killed international election observers and journalists. In CAR, where conflict has engulfed the country since a coup in 2013, three local Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff were among 16 people killed at a hospital in the north of the country in April.

While attacks on international staff tend to garner most attention (in terms of media coverage), victims of violence are increasingly national staff members, whether employed by the UN or large international agencies, or by local NGOs. This can, in part, be explained by the fact that as the composition of relief workers shift, so too do the statistics around aid worker safety and security. Humanitarian agencies increasingly endeavour, where possible, to employ national staff who often have a better understanding of the political and social context in which they are operating.

” International aid workers are proportionally more at risk, although national staff remain the vast majority of victims”

In 2013, roughly 13% of victims (58) were international staff members and 87% (380) were national staff working for either international or national organisations in their own countries. Given that international staff account for roughly 4% of the global aid worker community, the data suggests that international aid workers are proportionally
more at risk, although national staff remain the
vast majority of victims.

What’s driving this increase in violence?

From a historical perspective, traditional warfare between and within states appear to be decreasing . However, the nature of conflict itself is changing with a rise in the number of non-state violent actors – most often rebel or guerrilla groups. This could partly explain the rise in violence against aid workers. As they navigate increasingly complicated operating environments with multiple violent groups, aid workers become a potential target for a number of these factions. This is clear when the countries with the highest incidents of aid worker attacks are noted – Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan; all countries with high levels of violence perpetrated by guerrilla groups.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 15.55.46

What effect does it have?

Are there wider, systemic consequences of this rise in violence? If countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia are notoriously unsafe contexts for aid workers, are agencies less likely to respond to emergencies in these countries? MSF certainly seem to think that this is the case. In a provocatively titled report, ‘Where is Everyone?’, they argue strongly that the aid industry is slow, cumbersome, and increasingly absent from emergency environments                                                                                                            where there are security or logistical challenges.

Humanitarian agencies are increasingly cognisant of risk, and many will look carefully at the potential dangers for their staff and operations before responding to emergencies. With crises tending to repeatedly affect the countries with some of the highest risks to civilian aid workers, a vicious circle is created, leaving the local communities in those countries even more vulnerable and exposed when humanitarian support is withdrawn or never offered in the first place.

However, aid agencies are still there. Humanitarian organisations continue to respond in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria. The nature of these interventions may have to change in the future, with a greater focus on supporting local responses to emergencies, but until then, international agencies will continue to try to meet the needs of crisis-affected communities.

Author: Andrea Wickham

Andrea is currently working as a Funding Adviser for a Relief Development Agency based in Ireland, having spent two and a half years in Africa. She studied History and Political Science in Trinity College and a Masters in International Communications and Development at City University London. Andrea was a volunteer on the Suas Volunteer Programme in Calcutta in 2006 and a Coordinator in Delhi in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @adwickham.

Photo credit: Médecins Sans Frontières feeding centre in Central African Republic, Jaume Codina, MSF, creative commons license