UN Secretary-General marks World Humanitarian Day calls for global action to protect civilians in armed conflict

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 18 Aug 2017

New York, 18 August 2017): At an event today to mark World Humanitarian Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for global action to protect civilians trapped in armed conflict and joined UN staff to symbolically “stand together” with all those affected by conflict.

“We are here to tell the world: civilians in conflict are not a target,” the Secretary-General said, referencing the #NotATarget campaign at the heart of World Humanitarian Day this year. “We must make every effort to protect the lives and dignity of civilians caught in conflict. For the millions of people struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter; who have been driven from their homes with little hope of return; whose schools have been bombed; and who await life-saving medical care, we cannot afford to fail.”

Joining Mr. Guterres to mark the Day, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien spoke of the challenges faced by aid workers around the word. “Last year, 288 aid workers were targeted in 158 attacks. In the past three months alone, relief workers have been shelled and shot at, kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria,” he said. “This is blatantly unacceptable.”

Earlier in the week, the United Nations and partners launched a petition demanding that global leaders do more to ensure the rules of war are upheld and civilians are protected in armed conflicts. The #NotATarget petition, which can be signed at www.worldhumanitarianday.org, has already gathered more than 10,000 signatures demanding that world leaders do more to protect people trapped in conflicts, with a particular focus on those living in urban areas, children, targets of sexual violence, forcibly displaced people, humanitarian workers and health workers. The petition will be presented to the Secretary-General during the 72nd General Assembly, which opens on 12 September this year.

Later today at a public “stand together” in Times Square in New York City, the United Nations will launch a first of its kind Facebook Live teleprompter that allows Facebook users to post themselves reading first-person accounts of a real person trapped in one of the world’s armed conflicts, with the #NotATarget filter. Social media users are also encouraged to follow the Secretary-General’s example by organizing a “stand together” and posting a photograph of their symbolic act with the hashtag #NotATarget on their social media platforms.

United Nations Messengers of Peace Charlize Theron and Michael Douglas and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Shakira and Orlando Bloom are among those who will be using social media to stand with those civilians trapped in the horrors of armed conflict, which is the driver of most of the world’s humanitarian need today.

In 2008, the UN General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day to raise awareness about humanitarian assistance worldwide and the people who risk their lives to provide it. The date is the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

Events are taking place around the world to mark the day. The deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, is commemorating WHD during her visit to Singapore to attend the ASEAN Strategic Policy Dialogue on Disaster Management 2017. In Rio de Janeiro, the statue of Christ the Redeemer will be illuminated in UN blue. On Monday 21 August, the UN Office in Geneva will host a panel discussion on violence against health care and its implications for affected populations, humanitarian workers and aid in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières, an award ceremony organized by the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation, and commemorate humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Originally coined by Médecins Sans Frontières in 2015, the #NotATarget hashtag is being used in the World Humanitarian Day digital campaign this year to call for action on behalf of all civilians trapped in conflicts. For more information, please visitwww.worldhumanitarianday.org

For further information, please contact:

In New York - Breanna Ridsdel: Phone: +1 212 963 9528; Mobile: +1 917 783 9336, ridsdel@un.org

In Geneva - Jens Laerke: Phone: +41 22 917 11 42; Mobile: +41 (0)79 472 9750; Email: laerke@un.org

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.