Mid-way through 2021, all our operations relay one clear, consistent, and loud message – – the capacity of people on the frontlines of conflicts and disasters is crushed under the weight of crisis upon crisis.
People are triple impacted. Firstly, many are the victims of violence and abuse. Secondly, many survivors are left on their own with heavy physical, mental, and societal burdens, and little road to justice. Thirdly, people are forced to resort to harmful practices to cope, to survive, and to eat.
We see the rule of law eroded in many contexts. Basic infrastructure is systematically targeted and destroyed, leaving societies without shelter, markets, schools, and hospitals. Girls, boys, women, livelihoods, and hopes are starved, bombarded, and trapped by medieval sieges and explosives. We see traffickers target young women, young men and children feeding on uncertainty, despair, and vulnerability. Women and girls are enslaved, exploited, and abused, denying them the ability to fulfil their potential. The elderly and persons with disability are left behind. We see the all too vilifying label of ‘other’ stamped on displaced, minorities, indigenous people, migrants, refugees, and the LGBTI community. Children are abused, pushed out of school, and forced to work. We also observe global hunger on the rise, education under attack and youth unemployment and lack of hope rising to alarming levels. National and local responders and human rights defenders arbitrarily disappear and are detained. Humanitarians, health workers and journalists are killed.
The challenge for protection actors today is double faceted: Firstly, how do we keep the hard-fought gains made over the last decade in terms of respect for human rights and humanitarian principles? Secondly, how do we keep ensuring that today, in the multi-layered crises, that rights of people and the obligations of duty bearers under international law are understood, respected, protected, and fulfilled without discrimination?
The UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights calls for individual and collective responsibility to consider human rights in all decision-making, operations, and institutional commitments. This Call to Action recognizes that respect for human rights is an essential crisis prevention mechanism. But when prevention falls short and violence is rampant, people need protection. The Call to Action identifies diverse courses that can be taken:
1- We can work hand-in-hand with Governments and other stakeholders, providing technical support to build national human rights institutions and guide the national application of international norms and standards. 2- We can speak out, identifying both violations and violators. 3- We can work behind the scenes. 4- We can engage with the Security Council and human rights mechanisms to raise awareness, prevent crises, protect people, and ensure accountability, including through international criminal courts and other mechanisms for global justice. There is a place for each of these approaches, and often several at once. The ultimate test is meaningful change in people’s lives.
Human rights aspirations define a hope and road map and a bond for all human beings to live to their fullest potential. Today, on the frontlines of conflicts and disasters, it is high time to renew that bond.