“We, humanitarians, do not choose between the good and the bad ill persons, between the good and the badly wounded.”

To impose on humanitarian organizations, in the name of the fight against terrorism, a “screening” of the people included in their programs is tantamount to exposing them by passing them off as snitches, emphasizes Pierre Micheletti, president of Action Against Hunger, in an article in “Le Monde”, judging the results of the National Humanitarian Conference to be disappointing.

Tribune. The National Humanitarian Conference (CNH), organized every two years by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the French NGOs united within Coordination SUD, held its fifth edition in Paris on December 17, in a virtual format due to health constraints. It did not clearly lead to political decisions, which are crucial to guarantee the ability of humanitarian organizations to act, as well as security.

The roundtable on terrorism thus took as its starting point the premise that humanitarian action had as its major concern not to be an instrument likely to finance international terrorism. The legal-administrative debates that immediately followed among the participants reflected the technocratic drift in which the humanitarian movement has been mired for several years. Access and support to populations in turmoil have, from then on, appeared to be relegated to collateral considerations for banks and donor government administrations.

Indeed, the initial hypothesis, stating that our programs could “feed” terrorism, has never been documented or shared with NGOs. No proof of this has been provided. However, this hypothesis is the basis of the heavy control mechanism (of the employees, partners and service providers of our projects) which leads to the saturation of our procedures and confronts us with the Kafkaesque dilemmas to which we are subjected in order to transfer funds in the field and pay expenses such as the salaries of our teams.

Respect for the principle of neutrality

This suspicion expressed towards NGOs is first and foremost in total contradiction with our mandate. On the battlefield of Solferino in 1859, Henry Dunant (1828-1910), founder of the International Red Cross movement and father of international humanitarian law, did not choose between the Prussians and the French: he sided with the wounded soldiers. At the time, they represented 90% of the war’s dead. Today, 90% of the victims of violence are civilians who are still being penalized by developments in the fight against terrorism.

Our mandate is centered on the possibility of being able to rescue survivors, displaced persons and refugees from all the fighting. This mandate is inseparable from the cardinal principles instigated by Dunant, which have now been validated by the United Nations General Assembly. These principles are our lightning rod. The principle of neutrality first, which does not place us on the side of any of the parties to the conflict.

Conflicts that now no longer see conventional armies of rival states confronting each other, but rather rebel groups, who clash with the regular army of their country, in the service of those whose legitimacy or conditions of exercise of power they question. The second principle that guides humanitarians is that of impartiality. We do not choose between the good and the bad sick, between the good and the badly wounded.

A fatal political polarization

Finally, the principle of independence puts us in a position where we are not under the influence of any client, be it political or financial. These principles are undermined by the role that governmental funders, almost all of them from Western Europe or North America, intend to see us play in areas of conflict.

Wanting to get involved in the fight against terrorism is symbolically positioning ourselves against terrorists. It means settling into a potentially fatal political polarization. This is degree zero of the precautionary principle for the security of our teams in the field. We have not been heard on our request for a global exemption for humanitarians from the application of anti-terrorist laws.

Our concrete proposals to change the French penal code were not put on the political agenda in the speech delivered on this occasion by President Emmanuel Macron. An additional measure, aimed at imposing a “screening” of those included in our programs, remains unclear as to its effective application by funders such as the French Development Agency (AFD). And this, despite the positions for the suppression of this project, unequivocally expressed by the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the representative of the European Union.

Remaining vigilant on the exegesis of the presidential word

The stated intention is to verify that the recipients of our assistance are not on lists of persons identified as having belonged to terrorist groups. This measure exposes humanitarians, in sometimes very violent environments, to be seen as snitches and indicators in the eyes of rebel groups. This is a very serious, and very worrying measure. This request constitutes a red line that international solidarity organizations should not cross.

In response to the concern expressed by the NGOs, the President of the Republic resorted to a vague formulation: “We will fully apply the principle of non-discrimination in the allocation of aid.” There remains a fundamental ambiguity in the Head of State’s statement between the place of military operations, development aid and humanitarian interventions, inscribing these three registers of action in an overall coherence, under the banner of the French State.

A rapprochement that today may have far-reaching consequences. It may indeed result in the endangerment of teams summoned to play a role in the fight against terrorism, the risk of being prevented from acting and the threat of criminalization of aid, which has not been totally ruled out. These obstacles, which in part persist, combine with the doubts, against the backdrop of Covid-19, about the possibility of raising the necessary funding for the 235 million people who will need help in 2021. We will have to remain vigilant on the exegesis of the presidential speech that will be given by the administrations.

Pierre Micheletti is the author of 0.03%! Pour une transformation du mouvement humanitaire international, published by Parole, 2020, 269 pages, €19.

Pierre Micheletti (President of Action Against Hunger/ACF.)

Who is Pierre Micheletti ?

Doctor, graduate of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique, he began his first experiences abroad in 1985. In 1987, he joined Médecins du Monde as head of mission in Guatemala. He became program director in 1996 and was elected president in 2006 until 2009.

Since 2009 he has been teaching at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies where he co-directs the master’s degree in “Politics and Practices of International Organizations”, as well as at the Grenoble Faculty of Medicine where he created and directs the “health-solidarity-precarity” diploma.

In 2014, he joins the Board of Directors of Action Contre la Faim, of which he becomes Chairman in 2019.

He is the author of numerous articles in the national written press, in particular as a contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique.

Other functions in the health field:

  • Director of Health for the City of Grenoble (2000-2008)
  • Technical advisor and member of the Executive Board of the St. Egrève Psychiatric Hospital (2009-2014)
  • President of the Association of Health Centers (Agecsa)(2009-2014)
  • Chairman of the Health Commission and member of the Board of Directors of Uniopss (2012-2016)
  • Member of the National Council for Mental Health (2014-2016)
  • Publications, excluding scientific articles and national press


  • Humanitaire : s’adapter ou renoncer (essai), Marabout, Paris, 2008
  • Les orphelins, (roman) Lucien Souny (2ème édition), 2016 (1ère édition DDB/RFI 2010)
  • Les Poissons pleurent aussi (roman), Ed. Lucien Souny, 2016, poche 2020
  • Une mémoire d’Indiens (récit), Ed. Parole, 2018
  • O,O3% pour une transformation du mouvement humanitaire international, (Essai), Ed. Parole 2020.


  • Afghanistan : Gagner les cœurs et les esprits, PUG, RFI, 2014
  • La santé des populations vulnérables, avec C. Adam, V. Faucherre et G. Pascal, Ellipses, Paris mars 2017

Contributor to collective works:

  • L’action humanitaire internationale entre le droit et la pratique, sous la direction d’Abdelwahab Biad, Némésis-Anthémis, Bruxelles 2016
  • La nouvelle géographie du développement, sous la direction d’Arnaud Zaccharie, La Muette – Le bord de l’eau, Bruxelles, 2016
  • Dictionnaire de la guerre et de la paix, sous la direction de Benoît Durieux, Jean-Baptiste Jeangène-Vilmer et Frédéric Ramel, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris mars 2017
  • Droit et pratique de l’action humanitaire, sous la direction de Sandra Szurek,Marina Eudes (Auteur) Philippe Ryfman (Auteur), LGDJ Lextenso, Paris, 2019

Preface writer:

  • Toute une vie d’humanitaire, Pascal Grellety-Boisviel, Elytis, 2013
  • Jours tranquilles à Kaboul, Emmanuel Moy, Riveneuve éditions, 2014
  • Comprendre les organisations humanitaires, François Audet, Presses Universitaires du Québec, Montréal 2016

Humanitarian aid: insecurity data

The Annual Report of the Aid Worker Security Database was published in the days following the assassination of 7 members of the NGO ACTED, as well as the president of Kouré Park, on August 9, 2020. This assassination in Niger was later claimed by the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS), the regional branch of Daech. It strongly affected the international humanitarian community and particularly French NGOs.

In this context, the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, recalled in his speech to the UN General Assembly on 22 September that since the creation of a World Humanitarian Day by the United Nations in 2003, 5,000 humanitarians had been victims of attacks and 1,800 had been assassinated. He added: “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.

These issues of protection, impunity and obstacles to humanitarian aid caused by anti-terrorist laws will be on the agenda of the next National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) which will take place in mid-December in Paris and which Défis Humanitaires will cover for you. To put the insecurity figures in perspective, we invite you to read the article “What protection for humanitarians? ».

Source: Data from the Aid Worker Security Report 2020 (AWSR).

Défis Humanitaires has produced the graphs and tables presented below based on AWSR 2020 figures.

Other sources on security:

Scope of the AWSR study:

  • The data are from 1997 to 2019;
  • The year 2020 is up to 6 September 2020.

Number of humanitarian workers

  • The number of aid workers in the field has grown significantly in recent years. In 2019, there were approximately 569,600 aid workers, an increase of more than 320% since 1997. (Source: UN info – https://news.un.org/fr/story/2019/08/1049851).

Number of victims

  • In relative terms, the rate of aggression against humanitarians remains relatively stable, i.e. there are approximately 40 to 60 victims per 100,000 humanitarians per year. As a reminder, in Secourir Sans Périr (Secourir sans Périr, Paris, CNRS Editions, March 2016, 251 p., p. 115), M. NEUMAN and F. WEISSMAN state that “the number of victims (…) remains remarkably stable in relative terms: the rate of workers killed, injured or kidnapped fluctuates between 40 and 60 per 100,000 per year between 1997 and 2012”.


  • Over the period 1997 – 2019, there was a general increase in security incidents against humanitarians. The year 2019 is the year with the highest number of incidents recorded against humanitarians (since 1997). A total of 483 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or injured in 277 separate attacks.

It should be noted that in 2019, medical personnel were particularly targeted by the attackers (42% of the humanitarian aid workers killed).


Number of national humanitarian workers

  • It is the national humanitarians who are the most exposed (attention: take into account the fact that there are more of them in the field than expatriates in an average ratio of about 1 to 10).

Number of expatriate humanitarian workers

Number of humanitarian victims per country

The whole table, here: Table 5

  • Over the period 1997 – 2019, the 10 most “dangerous” countries are: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, DRC, Pakistan, CAR and Iraq. These 10 countries account for 74% of the total number of victims over the period studied.

The whole table, here: Table 6

  • If we focus on the last 5 years, i.e. 2015 – 2020, the 10 countries where the most humanitarian aid workers have been attacked are: South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, DRC, Somalia, DRC, Mali, Nigeria and Yemen (83% of all victims).

Location of incidents

  • The majority of attacks against humanitarians take place on the road, during displacement (over the period 1997 – 2019).

Figures for 2020 as of 6 September

As of 6 September 2020, the AWSD has counted 204 victims for the year 2020, including 75 dead, 69 injured and 60 kidnapped.

More specifically, 190 victims were national workers (67 dead, 68 injured and 55 kidnapped).

Of the 14 international aid workers attacked, 8 died (Acted), 1 was injured and 5 were kidnapped.