The Fortunes of War:
The protection given to aid workers under International Humanitarian Law
Independent Research Project for NUI Galway
Supervisor: Professor Ray Murphy
Highly commended by the judging panel in the Undergraduate Awards 2012 (Law) "We'd like to help you." the consul said
"But there's nothing we can do
Well, you knew the risks when you took the job
After all you're not a fool”
Beirut Moon by the Stiff Little Fingers (1991)
Armed conflict is both gruesome and traumatic, causing mass disruptions of infrastructure, supplies and public services, with states devoting resources away from civilian needs to fulfil military objectives. As such, civilians are often reliant on outside assistance during such crises, particularly in developing countries where resources are scarce. It is accepted in international law that humanitarian workers are not to be targeted and are accorded the rights and protections of civilian non-combatants. There is an international consensus that humanitarian aid is something beyond war and a principle to be respected and not subject to military whims or interference. As civilians are not engaging or furthering warfare, they should not be made to unnecessarily suffer. Humanitarian workers perform generally admirable work, responding rapidly to crises and dilemmas and endangering themselves to help others. There are of course, some concerns that certain aid workers are taking advantage of human misery to further their own religious views or to alleviate personal feelings of guilt. Overall though, most would see humanitarian aid as vital and deplore any violence against aid workers. However, attacks on humanitarian workers have sharply increased in recent years, with kidnapping being an especially pressing concern. This is a trend which has been sharply criticised by the United Nations: aside from being attacks on non-combatants who risk their safety to help others, the attacks disrupt aid distribution in areas where are they are most needed. In this assignment, the main question to be examined will be the status and protection of humanitarian workers in armed conflict. This will be done by examining possible reasons why they are targeted, the legal basis for their protection, the effectiveness of existing safeguards and possible areas for reform. The main sources in such an examination will mainly be reports by Non Governmental Organisations (especially the International Committee of the Red Cross) given that they offer an excellent insight into the area. However, international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, United Nations resolutions and reports will also be crucial, as will academic commentary and military manuals.
Section 1: Background to the violence against humanitarian workers. Section 1.1: Causes of violence
To stem the violence against humanitarian workers, it is first necessary to try and deduce the causes. The exact reasons for the targeting of humanitarian workers are very diverse and often nebulous, making it impossible to reliably define the causes of violence across so many conflicts. Humanitarian aid groups are decentralised and often do not cooperate with one-another, making it difficult to analyse the causes of attacks on their personnel. In addition, the sheer diversity of theatres of conflict means that there is no single cause. As such, the following are conjecture rather than definite causes but they still offer insight into the violence against humanitarian workers and can be useful in using International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to offer greater protection. One proposal put forward by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office and CARE is a general lack of law and order across the areas that need aid: this leads to a vicious cycle as insecurity reduces the ability of humanitarian workers to access the needy, leading to resource shortages and spiralling unrest, causing further instability across the region. By...
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