What is referred to as “humanitarian space” implies that relief efforts must be able to access populations in danger within the framework of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and in accordance with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.
This is unquestionably one of the main issues at stake at the next National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris on 17 December in the presence of the President of the Republic who announced, at the 75th UN General Assembly on 22 September, that he would present an initiative on the protection, impunity and criminalisation of humanitarian aid at this conference.
Expectations are at the highest level for humanitarian organisations faced with a considerable increase in the needs of populations in danger and, at the same time, a multiplication of political-administrative constraints and an increase in the number of wounded, killed and hostages.
Humanitarian aid is threatened in war zones by the collateral effects of fighting, banditry and threats from groups such as Daesch who, let’s not forget, claimed responsibility for the assassination of 7 ACTED aid workers in Niger on August 9th.
These dramatic incidents, which increased sharply last year, have been compounded by obstacles, obstacles, and even real threats, due to the “sanctions regime and anti-terrorist laws”, to the point that the UN Security Council recognised this danger at the end of 2019.
Sanctioned humanitarian aid.
Indeed, anti-terrorist laws de facto criminalise humanitarian actors who bring relief to populations in territories where so-called jihadist or terrorist groups operate. These humanitarian actors can thus be considered as accomplices of terrorists and can be brought before the courts and condemned!
At the same time, a series of obstacles or draconian conditions are placed in the way of humanitarian action and dangerously hamper it. Subject to anti-terrorist laws, banks can go as far as refusing transfers of funds, which are essential for aid programmes in war-torn countries where relief is vital in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
In addition, donors who finance NGO projects, particularly in France, impose so-called “screening” measures aimed at controlling NGO partners, suppliers and staff using specialised software. These measures can go so far as to require ‘screening’ for the first euro spent and sometimes even include the recipients of aid, as now required by the French Development Agency (AFD).
Priority to International Humanitarian Law over anti-terrorist laws in conflict zones.
Let us be clear. There can be no question of the humanitarian community “screening” relief beneficiaries in the name of International Humanitarian Law. It is a matter of our security and incidentally that this is not where the terrorists are! On the other hand, the constant screening of suppliers, partners and NGO members at the first euro is simply not feasible. This is precisely what Thierry Mauricet tells us in his interview published on Défis Humanitaires.
If one can understand anti-terrorist laws, all the more so as we ourselves are victims of terrorism in our humanitarian missions and even at home, in France in Paris and Nice, as elsewhere in the world, it is easy to understand the existential incompatibility between terrorism and humanitarianism.
And then, let’s be serious. If we seek to fight terrorism, let us look at the States that support it, the weaknesses that allow it and, unfortunately, the errors that can fuel it without ever justifying it.
One can indeed wonder when one hears the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior in France acknowledge that we are today paying for decades of denial and weakness.
But there is a broader reflection that must challenge us. Is terrorism, which is always condemnable, artificial intelligence technologies, ambient insecurity, the disintegration of social and national cohesion, not leading us down the dangerous slope of generalised tracing and control inspired by the Chinese model where freedom is in question, as the writer Georges Orwell has already announced.
The President of the Republic can prevent the paralysis of humanitarian action.
That is to say that we are expecting a disruptive initiative from the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, on 17 December at the CNH. And the essential thing for us is that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) prevails and, consequently, the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols that legitimise and protect humanitarians in the exercise of their mission in war zones. And this applies to both States and non-State armed groups.
Consequently, it seems essential that humanitarian actors adhering to IHL and humanitarian principles should have an exemption clause from anti-terrorist legislation in war zones. If France wants to set an example in this respect, it could, as Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, from MSF, proposes in this edition, include this humanitarian exemption provision in the French penal code in order to preventively protect its nationals who could become victims in the future.
Other important subjects are on the agenda of the CNH (humanitarian nexus – development – peace, climate change, European humanitarian airlift, Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic, Humanitarian Emergency Fund), and we will report on them in our next edition at the beginning of January.
For the first time, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, will be taking part in the National Humanitarian Conference and we must welcome this presence which cannot be satisfied with a lukewarm initiative, but which requires a disruptive declaration commensurate with the freedom of action that is indispensable for humanitarian relief in the world.
We do not forget that the President of the Republic declared to the United Nations: “This is why, together with French NGOs and our international partners, we are building an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity”. He added: “The neutrality of humanitarian action must be respected and its criminalization must be curbed”.
We can only hope that this will be translated into concrete action.
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