As human beings, our humanity is often measured by our care for others, and how we respond to a crisis such as a war, a major internal conflict or a lesser issue like a road tragedy, a fire in a building or a robbery involving our neighbour. Do we often run away from such a crisis or do we run into it in a bid to rescue or help others in some way. To the extent we get involved in helping others in a crisis and act like the Good Samaritan; to that extent will our humanity be measured. Those who run into a crisis to help others are also described as first responders and are regarded as unsung heroes.
Each year on August 19, that is tomorrow the world pays tribute to the humanitarians who deliver aid to vulnerable communities in some of the most dangerous crises on the planet. Some of them make the ultimate sacrifice.
“It is unconscionable that civilians and the aid workers who are trying to help them are killed or maimed in conflict zones with utter impunity,” said Mark Lowcock, United Nation Emergency Relief Coordinator and Humanitarian Affairs chief.
Overall last year, 139 aid workers were killed, 102 wounded and 72 kidnapped in the line of duty, marking the fifth consecutive year in which more than 100 humanitarians lost their lives on the job. Moreover, it is the highest recorded annual death toll since 2013, when 156 humanitarians
Also last year, of the 42,972 people reportedly killed or injured by explosive weapons, three out of every four victims were civilians – a 38 per cent increase on the previous year. This needs to end,” Mr. Lowcock said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted in his Protection of Civilians report published in May, that attacks in just six conflict-affected countries were responsible for more than 26,000 civilian deaths or injuries. He emphasized that to reverse such high numbers of civilian casualties, required sustained advocacy.
In addition to ensuring safe, unimpeded passage of supplies, Governments and non-State military groups are legally obliged to protect civilians and aid workers in armed conflicts.
“It is imperative that we hold men with guns and power accountable when civilians and aid workers are illegally targeted,” Mr. Lowcock said.
For World Humanitarian Day last year, more than two million people around the world participated in an online #NotATarget campaign, to push for change by telling stories of civilians in war and conflict areas. Building on that success, this year the UN and humanitarian partners have launched a ‘living petition,’ calling on world leaders to better protect civilians and aid workers. Global citizens are asked to ‘sign’ the petition with their selfies through a custom website that transforms their two-dimension photos into 3-D portraits of solidarity. Their faces are part of an installation at UN Headquarters, and will remain in place throughout the General Assembly, which begins on September 18.
“The thousands of faces that make up the living petition will be on display to remind world leaders of their legal obligation to protect civilians in conflict,” Mr. Lowcock said. We hope many Sri Lankans will cooperate in this campaign.
In 2008, the General Assembly designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day to raise awareness of humanitarian assistance and pay tribute to the people who risk their lives to provide it.
In Sri Lanka, there were two youth uprisings in 1971 and 1987 in addition to the devastating 26-year civil war in which tens of thousands were killed or injured. World Humanitarian Day is an appropriate time to reflect on how we reacted or responded when there were bomb attacks and other tragedies.
Did we run away or did we run into the crisis area to rescue or help others in some way. If our reaction was to run away, this is the time to search our conscience and see how human we are, whatever our religion or race maybe. Let our conscience be our guide, and as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou can not then be false to any person.”