Humanitarian: questioning oneself in order to progress.

Humanitarian aid workers must regularly question themselves in order to make progress. This will be the case on 17 December 2020 during the National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris under the chairmanship of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. During this time of confinement, the CNH will be held by video conference. The 4 themes selected are all major challenges for humanitarian action.

What are the themes of this conference, what are the stakes for humanitarian workers?

  • The impact of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures on humanitarian aid.

These are felt every day because of banking obstacles to the transfer of funds. In addition, there is a threat of “criminalisation” of humanitarians working in territories where terrorist groups operate. Finally, there is a challenge to humanitarian principles and security risks when certain donors ask for lists of aid recipients to be sent to them in order to check them against lists of suspects qualified as terrorists! Practical, rapid and controlled solutions are essential if humanitarian action is not to be paralysed in the long term. What are they?

  • The so-called “nexus” process, which aims to link and generate a logic of action and complementarity between the humanitarian and development phases in order to build peace.

This makes sense for states but not for humanitarian NGOs who are not in charge of peace or war. In times of war, peace results either from the victory of one side or from a negotiated political solution. Peace is then the result of a political process that does not involve humanitarians. Obviously, this is complex and deserves debate. And it does not, in principle, concern disaster or epidemic situations. How can the role of humanitarian actors in conflict situations be delineated while at the same time supporting basic essential services?

  • Respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian access are closely linked.

They are regularly under threat. It is an essential struggle both for the delivery of relief supplies and for the protection of civilians, the wounded and prisoners. How can this right and access be advanced and enforced?

  • The link between climate change and humanitarian aid.

How to act while protecting the environment, how to help populations adapt to the consequences of global warming and how to contain it. This is a vast question which is fairly new for humanitarian aid workers due to the constraints caused by crises. However, it is urgent to make a firm commitment to this issue. How can we proceed in the face of the scale and diversity of applications?

Finally, the Conference will be an opportunity to review the French Humanitarian Strategy 2018-2022, to review the funding instrument that is the Humanitarian Emergency Fund and to come back to the European Humanitarian Airlift of the spring in the face of the logistical consequences of the Covid-19.

Let us recall here that the CNH is prepared within the framework of the Humanitarian Coordination Group (GCH) which brings together humanitarian leaders with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and its Crisis and Support Centre every trimestre. This Conference, this Concertation Group and France’s humanitarian strategy are the result of the Boinet-Miribel Report submitted at its request in March 2009 to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner.  The first CNH took place in November 2011.

A demanding and ambitious Conference.

In addition to the issues specific to each of these 4 problems addressed in the framework of round tables, humanitarians are waiting to see the decisions of the Interministerial Council for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) chaired by the Prime Minister on 8 February 2018 confirmed. Decisions to increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.55% of GDP in 2022, according to an upward curve, as well as to endow the Humanitarian Emergency Fund (FUH) with a budget of €500M.

In addition, humanitarians propose that in the future 10% of the ODA budget should be devoted to humanitarian aid and that at least 13% of ODA should be implemented with NGOs who bring commitment, private funding, expertise, proximity and capacity to mobilise.

Finally, at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, the President of the Republic declared: “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”.

The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron meets humanitarian, development, climate and environmental NGOs at the Elysée Palace.

Humanitarian NGOs in France are actively contributing with their analyses and proposals to this presidential initiative, from which they expect a great deal from all humanitarian actors in the world in terms of security, access and justice, knowing that it is up to them to assume their missions and responsibilities on their own.

Défis Humanitaires will keep you informed of this National Humanitarian Conference to which we will devote our next edition at the end of November. A report and an assessment will be published in January 2021.

To inform you, Défis Humanitaire needs you.

This Conference gives me the opportunity to talk to you for once about Défis Humanitaires. More and more of you are reading and subscribing to our site and the number of readers has tripled in 3 years to reach 36,000 readers this year, in France and many other countries. 70 authors have contributed on a large number of issues, because what characterises us is the diversity of subjects and organisations presented in a completely independent way.

However, to do more and better on the editorial level, to provide photos and videos, to share Défis Humanitaires with a greater number of readers and to publish our second study on humanitarian NGOs, I now need your support, whatever the amount of your donation, in order to do so. Although this site is free, its sustainability and development need your generosity. Thank you for your support.

In this issue you will find :

An article by Hamada AG AHMED on people’s resilience and local governance in Mali.

The presentation by Pierre Brunet of the book “Security and Development in the Sahel”.

An article by Lise Lacan and Madeleine Trentesaux presenting the international relief coordination mechanism for drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, the Global Wash Cluster.

And in the right-hand column of the site, we offer news from Afghanistan, the book on 40 years of Solidarités Internationale with podcasts, an ICRC study on the effects of war and climate change on the populations in southern Iraq, northern Mali and CAR.

Thank you very much for your donation to Défis Humanitaires, whose objective is to promote and improve humanitarian action.

Alain Boinet.

Justice for humanitarians murdered in Niger!

Charline, Antonin, Myriam, Stella, Léo, Nadifa, Kadri Abdou Gamatche, Boubacar Garba Soulay. Victimes de l’attaque du 9 août 2020 au Niger.

Charline, Antonin, Myriam, Stella, Léo, Nadifa, Kadri Abdou Gamatche, Boubacar Garba Soulay, on the morning of 9 August, 8 of them were murdered in Kouré Park in Niger, 60 km south-east of the capital Niamey. Six of them were French humanitarian aid workers members of the NGO ACTED and two were Nigerien nationals. One was the driver, father of 4 children and whom wife is pregnant, who also worked for the NGO ; the other was the president of the park guides who had been working there for 21 years. Kouré Park was regularly visited and was classified by the Quai d’Orsay as a “yellow zone” of vigilance and not as an “orange or red zone”.

They were murdered by armed men riding on motorbikes. There have been no official claims to date. But this abominable crime is a clear sign of intent and targets its origin among those who want to spread terror. These young humanitarians had come to the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Nigeriens forcibly displaced by the fighting in the insecurity zone known as the “3 borders” with Mali and Burkina Faso.

They were generous, committed and competent. They had everything they needed to succeed in their lives in a country at peace. But they had chosen to temporarily leave their families and their country to help people and populations in danger without any other consideration than their vital needs in a troubled country, Niger.

A poor country confronted with the armed action of groups described as jihadists or terrorists, including the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS) affiliated to Daech. These humanitarians have encountered hatred and death. It is our humanitarian sisters and brothers who have been cowardly murdered in this way, and those who have done so are nothing but murderers. This is not war, it is a crime. We must call things by their name, be lucid. This does not prevent us from grasping the multiple reasons that fuel rebellion and radicalisation: poverty, corruption, nepotism, negligence, a failing state. But this does not justify this, any more than the Treaty of Versailles, the war damage and the economic crash of 1929 justify the final solution of Nazism; any more than the war of 1914, hunger and the tsar justify the gulag.

Impartiality, independence.

We have heard a lot of analysis and advice following this drama. Some even go so far as to recommend military escorts, forgetting that the humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence are essential conditions for security and access to populations at risk in fragmented areas where civil war reigns.

Co-founder of ACTED with Marie-Pierre Caley, Frédéric Roussel rightly declared: “The international community (must consider) the contradiction between asking us to support these populations who live in a dramatic way and leaving us alone to face a violence where we have become the easiest targets”.

For, on the one hand, there is an increasingly organised and controlled international humanitarian ecosystem, where donors are demanding more and more guarantees while, at the same time, imposing more and more constraints, such as hindering the transfer of funds in the name of the war on terrorism. And on the other hand, there are humanitarian NGOs which alone or almost alone assume most of the risks on the front line without always having the support of the so-called donors in the hard times! In this case, the NGOs are alone while the administrations cautiously open the umbrella to cover themselves.

But it is also true that NGOs take risks to help people in war zones and this is part of their birth certificate, their DNA. Without taking risks, there can be no humanitarian aid in a war zone! When the danger is too certain, then we can temporarily suspend the use of humanitarian personnel and look for alternative waiting solutions.

Similarly, several humanitarian leaders published an open letter to the Prime Minister (1) on 19 August entitled “No, French NGOs do not represent the French State”, which is obvious, while recalling the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and concluding “For if the official discourse makes humanitarians the representatives of France, then it traps our organisations in the role of the Achilles’ heel of its military power and strategic objectives, reinforcing the exposure of our teams”.

If this is true, the reality to be considered is also that ACTED’s 6 humanitarians are French citizens towards whom the State has responsibilities.  That France and Niger have State-to-State relations. Moreover, the French State supports humanitarian action both in its principles and in its funding and acts for the protection of humanitarian personnel at the United Nations. Finally, the words spoken by Prime Minister Jean Castex to the families on 14 August in Orly during the repatriation of their children’s bodies were fair and humane.

But, finally, it must be very clear to all, in minds and principles as well as in practice, that the rule of distinction between States and humanitarian NGOs must be respected to the letter. As a former President of the Republic rightly said, the State is not an NGO!

Camp de Gado, Cameroun. 2014 ®Solidarités International

Coping with growing insecurity.

This drama leads us to revisit the issue of insecurity and the initiatives that could be taken. The latest Aid Worker Security Database 2020 report, which is a reference, states that in 2019 there were 483 humanitarian victims of 277 attacks in which 125 people were killed, 234 injured and 124 kidnapped. Of these victims, nearly 90% were nationals of countries where humanitarian aid is urgently needed.

However, it is extremely rare for eight people to be killed simultaneously. A recent study (2) underlines that we are facing a continuous increase in the rate of violent attacks. Thus, between 1997 and 2017, the number of humanitarian workers injured, kidnapped or killed has increased fourfold. However, it must also be said that between 1997 and 2005, the number of aid workers in the field increased by 77% and has since more than doubled to reach around 570,000 people, including 50,000 expatriates.

Let us recall here, with Défis Humanitaires, that this insecurity led Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC, and Joanne Liu, President of MSF International, on 28 September 2016, at the United Nations Security Council to insist on the insufficiency of international guarantees for the security of humanitarian workers. It is also necessary to recall that Resolution No. 2286 of 3 May 2016 is specifically devoted to the protection of the wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian workers.

The following year, on 19 August 2017, on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, Jan Egeland and Stephen O’Brien, both former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, published an op-ed entitled “Stop shooting humanitarian workers”. I will not go into detail here about the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1997 and 2005, as well as the rules of customary international humanitarian law that oblige parties to a conflict to respect and allow the protection of medical and humanitarian personnel.

What initiatives can be taken to protect oneself?

The alarm bell has been sounded several times, but this is clearly no longer enough today. We must therefore go further. Two types of initiative can be envisaged here. The first is of a technical nature. NGOs need to review and consolidate their security procedures and apply them rigorously to changing contexts. I can testify that the major humanitarian NGOs have for years been putting in place demanding training and security frameworks that are regularly monitored on a country-by-country basis. But we need to go even further.

Today, humanitarians, especially before a first departure, have only a vague idea of what war is and particularly what are terrorist groups. You cannot send volunteers to a country at war if they don’t know what it can mean for themselves in terms of major risks, injury, rape, kidnapping or death.

A humanitarian aid worker must go into the field with a clear understanding of the risks involved and be trained to avoid them. Today, theoretical training is no longer enough. It is important, as is already the case, but not in general, to organise training courses on how to deal with serious risk situations in order to be better prepared to deal with them. This type of course could be a prerequisite for any humanitarian volunteer or NGO to be selected to go on a mission.

Forty years ago, before any journey to Afghanistan, I presented to everyone the risks that had to be properly internalised: ambush, bombings, anti-personnel mines, injuries without immediate care, truncated arrest and trial, risk of being killed. It was only then that the choice was made whether to go or not. And the cost of these week-long training courses should be included in the budget of any humanitarian programme funded by institutional donors.

There is another initiative to be considered which concerns aggressors. They should be prosecuted for as long as it takes to be arrested, tried and convicted. We are not going to rule here today on the need or the possibility of obtaining imprescriptibility of the crimes committed or on the question of the extraterritoriality of the law applied to crimes against humanitarians around the world. But what is certain is that we cannot stop there. Such an initiative could meet a number of conditions:

  • Preserve the duty of humanitarian initiative to access and rescue populations in danger. The priority, as well as the goal, is access to relief to populations in danger.
  • Include national actors and raise awareness among the populations concerned.
  • Broadly include international actors (INGOs, ICRC and Red Cross/Red Crescent family, UN).
  • Obtain the support of States, relevant institutions and donor partners.

These proposals are incomplete by definition and remain largely to be debated, clarified, decided and constructed between the actors concerned.

I would like to conclude with a fraternal thought for the 6 French humanitarians and the 2 Nigerien citizens and their families. I would also like us to continue to pay tribute to them, to support their families and above all not to forget them. The humanitarian community must remember them and demand that justice be done for them. We owe it to them. As Frédéric Roussel from ACTED rightly says, “Impunity is enough”.

Les rues de Bamako lors du coup d’état. 19 août 2020.

This assassination is indicative of the deteriorating situation in the Sahel. For instance, in Mali, where a military coup d’état has just taken place following massive demonstrations calling for the departure of the elected president. He has just resigned. And then what happens? Similarly in Burkina Faso, where the number of people forcibly displaced by the conflict is over one million, including 453,000 since the beginning of the year. They represent 5% of the population, i.e. one person in 20. Will this situation continue to worsen?

If humanitarians want to continue their relief mission in an increasingly deteriorated and dangerous context in the Sahel as elsewhere, it is imperative that they strengthen their security while remaining impartial and independent.

Alain Boinet.

(1) “No, French NGOs do not represent the French state”, Collectif d’ONG, 19 August 2020 in. Libération, [Accessible:].

(2) “Mise en cause et protection des travailleurs humanitaires”, Alain Boinet, in. Droit et pratique de l’action humanitaire, pp. 887-894. Edited by Sandra Szurek, Marina Eudes, Philippe Ryfman, Editions LGDJ Lextenso.