“Every year on World Humanitarian Day, we shine a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict. On this day we also take a moment to honour the brave health and aid workers who are targeted or obstructed as they set out to help people in need, and pay tribute to the government employees, members of civil society and representatives of international organizations and agencies who risk their lives to provide humanitarian aid and protection.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
Each year World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is commemorated on August 19th. It is observed as a tribute to the personnel who risk their lives and make significant sacrifices in humanitarian aid service. The day not only marks our respect to these workers who attend to crises across the world but also tries to rally support for them and their families.
History of the World Humanitarian Day commemoration
On August 19th, 2003 a terrorist attack on the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad in Iraq claimed the lives of Segio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and 21 other humanitarian workers. Segio Vieira de Mello was a passionate advocate of peace and his career in international peace and human rights spanned over 30 years. The attack also brought down the Canal Hotel which had served as a base for over 300 UN personnel working in Iraq. The attack caused much outrage over the targeting of civilians and aid workers the world over and raised pertinent questions regarding their safety.
|Canal Hotel bombing|
|List of victims|
|Sérgio Vieira de Mello||55||Brazil||Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq|
|Nadia Younes||57||Egypt||Chief of Staff for Vieira de Mello|
|Fiona Watson||35||United Kingdom||Member of Vieira de Mello’s staff, political affairs officer|
|Jean-Sélim Kanaan||33||Egypt, Italy, France||Member of Vieira de Mello’s staff, political officer|
|Richard Hooper||40||United States||Senior advisor to the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs|
|Manuel Martín-Oar||56||Spain||Naval captain, assistant to the Spanish special ambassador to Iraq|
|Christopher Klein-Beekman||32||Canada||UN Children’s Fund’s program coordinator|
|Reham Al-Farra||29||Jordan||Department of Public Information, Deputy Spokesperson|
|Martha Teas||47||United States||UNOHCI Manager|
|Leen Assad Al-Qadi||32||Iraq||UNOHCI Information Assistant|
|Ranillo Buenaventura||47||Philippines||UNOHCI Secretary for Vieira de Mello|
|Reza Hosseini||43||Iran||UNOHCI Humanitarian affairs officer|
|Ihsan Taha Husein||26||Iraq||UNOHCI Driver|
|Basim Mahmoud Utaiwi||40||Iraq||UNOHCI Security guard|
|Raid Shaker Mustafa Al-Mahdawi||32||Iraq||United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)|
|Gillian Clark||47||Canada||Christian Children’s Fund|
|Arthur Helton||54||United States||Director of peace and conflict studies at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations|
|Dr. Alya Ahmad Souza||54||Iraq||World Bank|
|Khidir Saleem Sahir||Iraq||Civilian|
|Saad Hermis Abona||45||Iraq||Working for a UN subcontractor (Canal Hotel cafeteria worker)|
|Omar Kahtan Mohamed Al-Orfali||34||Iraq||Driver/interpreter, Christian Children’s Fund|
|Emaad Ahmed Salman al-Jobody||45||Iraq||Electrician|
Following this tragic incident, the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation worked in close quarters with the United Nations and with the Ambassadors of Brazil, France, Japan, and Switzerland to introduce the draft Resolution at the United States General Assembly to designate 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations finally passed the resolution to mark the day in honor of the sacrifices made by all humanitarian workers across the world. The first observance of World Humanitarian Day was held in 2009.
Relevance of World Humanitarian Day
Each day millions of humanitarian workers from across the globe contribute towards helping those in crises. They valiantly work in the most difficult of conditions and bring relief to those who are stuck in war-torn or violence prone areas. Raising awareness through this commemoration is an important way of reaching out to the people of the world and finding people centric solutions to the world challenging global crises. The involvement of celebrities such as the American singer-performer Beyoncé has helped the commemoration find global acknowledgement. Beyoncé’s video in support of the World Humanitarian Day campaign in 2012 was viewed over 50 million times.
Commemoration of World Humanitarian Day
Each year the United Nations and the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation work together with numerous non-governmental organizations (NGO) and government agencies to make World Humanitarian Day a meaningful observance. Each year a theme is selected to make the commemoration more focused and the efforts in keeping with the ideals of the observance. In 2010, the theme selected was “We Are Humanitarian Workers.” Subsequent years showcased themes such as “People Helping People,” “I Was Here,” and “The World Needs More…”
In 2018, the World Humanitarian Day campaign #NotATarget aimed to raise awareness about the millions of civilians who are affected by armed conflicts across the world. Humanitarian aid comes in the form of food, medical aid, and help to these hundreds of thousands whose lives are torn apart by violence and warfare. Civilian establishments are routinely attacked and women and children wounded, maimed, and abused. While it is essential that these civilians receive relief and aid, it is just as important that we understand that civilians cannot, should not be targets.