(Gaziantep, 19 August 2016): Today the United Nations in Gaziantep, Turkey, commemorates World Humanitarian Day (WHD) on this the 13th anniversary of the 2003 UN headquarters bombing in Baghdad when more than 100 people were injured and 22 people lost their lives, including the UN Special Representative for Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
The global WHD, led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), seeks to rally people from around the world for greater global commitment and support for humanitarian action.
“Today we would particularly like to recognize the pivotal role of Syrian NGOs in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, honor their sacrifices and remember their fallen colleagues,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis.
Since the crisis began in 2011, 18 UN staff, 57 staff members and volunteers of the Syrian Red Crescent, and eight staff members of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, have lost their lives. Scores of NGO workers have been killed, including 17 in 2016 alone. In the same time frame it has been reported by Physicians for Human Rights that 750 medical staff have been killed, with 45 killed between January and May 2016 alone.
In particular the UN wants to honour the sacrifice of those in the medical profession who have lost so many colleagues since the conflict began in 2011. During the same period there have been 373 attacks on medical facilities while 2016 saw the most attacks on health care workers with reports of at least 27 attacks on health care facilities across Syria. Since the conflict began it is estimated that in Syria nearly 60 per cent of public hospitals have closed or are only partially functional as a result of such attacks which are a violation of international law. It is unacceptable that such attacks are increasing in both frequency and scale.
“Attacks against aid workers and medical facilities inside Syria are increasing and are unacceptable violations of international humanitarian law,” said Mr Rajasingham. “In addition to endangering aid workers, these attacks threaten humanitarian operations and the lives and wellbeing of the people of Syria who rely on humanitarian assistance for survival,” Trond Jensen, the Head of Office for OCHA in Turkey, added.
Over the past 20 years, 3,952 aid workers have been killed, wounded or kidnapped in the line of duty. National staff - who are on the front line in delivering assistance to people in need - represented 83.6 per cent of those victims. On WHD, the UN remembers and pays tribute to those heroic colleagues who have lost their lives in humanitarian service.
The Humanitarian Community in Turkey once again urges all parties to the conflict in Syria to respect the safety and neutrality of humanitarian workers and health facilities. Tragedies like this can and should be avoided, by warring parties consistently observing international humanitarian law and taking all necessary precautionary measures.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.