Protection of Humanitarian Action Series: On Speaking Out

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Deliberate violence against humanitarian practitioners and operations poses an increasingly critical challenge to the humanitarian sector as humanitarian needs continue to grow in many regions of the world. While maintaining access to populations in need, engaging with communities, and delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance, organizations must also take care to protect the safety and security of their staff, and to prevent and mitigate instances of targeted violence. When attacks do occur, however, humanitarian practitioners and organizations often face a difficult tension between the inclination to condemn these violations on the one hand, and the imperative to protect staff and maintain operations and access to affected populations, on the other. For some agencies, advocacy and denunciation provide a central component of work, of testimony and bearing witness. For others, advocacy and campaigning may represent a risk to operations, to ensuring access, or to maintaining critical relationships on the ground.

In this context, we’ll speak with experts and practitioners about the risks and rewards of speaking out against targeted attacks, versus not doing so, and how to better equip organizations and professionals to make such difficult decisions. What hinders organizations from engaging in advocacy efforts on the protection of humanitarian action? What does appropriate and effective advocacy look like? How can humanitarian organizations resist the normalization of violence against humanitarian action, and also uphold their duty of care to affected staff - without exposing staff and partners on the ground to further risks?

Key questions:

  • What are the risks and rewards of speaking out when attacks on aid workers occur?

  • How can humanitarian organizations balance between speaking out against attacks, and protecting affected persons and programs? Besides affected organizations, who else can or should advocate on behalf of the humanitarian community?

  • What methods, tools or policies are needed to inform and facilitate such decision making?

  • What is the most appropriate or effective means of reasserting the protection of humanitarian action, whether individually or collectively?

Pauline Chetcuti Head of Humanitarian Advocacy and Policy, Action Contre La Faim (ACF) - France Twitter: @ChetcutiPauline

Diederik Lohman Acting Director, Health and Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Twitter: @diederik_lohman

Gareth Price-Jones Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International Twitter: @GPJGeneva


Francesco Seatzu. “Revitalizing the International Legal Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers in Armed Conflict.” La Revue Des Droits de L’homme. Revue Du Centre de Recherches et D’études Sur Les Droits Fondamentaux, no. 11 (2017),

Jason Patinkin. “Rampaging South Sudan Troops Raped Foreigners, Killed Local.” Associated Press, August 15, 2016,

ATHA Podcast, “The Protection of Humanitarian Aid Workers Under International Law”, July 2015,

Marc DuBois. “Civilian Protection and Humanitarian Advocacy: Strategies and (False?) Dilemmas.” ODI HPN, July 2007,