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Discussion Series on Ensuring the protection, safety, and security of humanitarian workers and medical personnel in armed conflicts





I. Background & Objectives

The security context in which humanitarian actors operate in many situations is a volatile and dangerous environment and increasing complex and challenging over the last two decades, resulting in a high number of attacks against, injuries to and fatalities of humanitarian and medical personnel. Humanitarian emblems and flags, which traditionally provided a shield for humanitarian and medical workers, and their activities, are now often the targets of conflict parties. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increasing needs and exacerbated insecurity in many countries and conflict areas.


There are several key challenges that need to be addressed to improve the safety and security of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, in particular in armed conflicts. A better understanding of the current situation and risks is needed. Data and monitoring mechanisms on security incidents are key to provide a clear picture of what occurs on the ground, in particular in the more dangerous areas where mainly local organizations are active. Beyond having the appropriate data, the analysis of such data also needs to be reinforced, to better support the humanitarian community and policy-makers in adopting the most appropriate response to prevent and respond to such attacks.


We also see a growing disregard for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the shrinking of humanitarian space. It is important to understand how IHL protects humanitarian and medical personnel and the critical role that the humanitarian principles play in the protection of humanitarian workers and enabling humanitarian assistance. At the same time, it is crucial to explore existing challenges related to the implementation of IHL, Security Council resolutions and relevant mechanisms put in place to ensure accountability of perpetrators of such violations. The worrying trend of impunity needs to be urgently addressed. Application of counter-terrorism (CT) measures and sanctions in a manner which is not consistent with IHL may narrow down the humanitarian space and may have negative effects on the safety of humanitarian and medical personnel.


Exploring well-framed humanitarian exemptions and other mitigation measures within CT measures and sanctions regimes can positively contribute to safeguard humanitarian activities and avoid that humanitarian personnel can be held liable for activities undertaken in compliance with IHL.


At a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels, the international community bears a key responsibility for ensuring that humanitarian and medical workers and partners work in the safest possible environment to fulfill their critical and life-saving tasks and be protected in undertaking their work, and that perpetrators are held accountable. In this context, there is a need for more analysis on the role the UN and Member States play and their duty of care with regard to humanitarian and medical personnel and attacks on healthcare. We must stress the crucial role of humanitarian workers to engage with all parties to a conflict, including non-state armed groups, in order to secure access and carry out humanitarian activities to all those in need, while benefitting from the protections afforded under IHL and having their personal safety and security ensured. To this end, the proposed discussion series aim to:

1.       identify the main challenges towards the safety and security of humanitarian and medical workers;

2.       explore detailed practical solutions for the international community to take on the short and long term, and identify and promote the exchange of best practices


II. Format

The Discussion Series will be co-hosted by the European Union together with Norway, Niger, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany and France. The series shall consist of four thematic discussions at PR/DPR level, aiming to provide insights on political opportunities and challenges including practical considerations. The series will be open to all interested Member States.


Representatives of the UN, the Red Cross and Crescent movement, key Humanitarian organisations, civil society and academia with a keen interest in the topics will be also invited to participate.


A technical group will prepare the discussions series in advance. The co-hosts of the thematic discussions will share before the meetings a technical fiche and a number of guiding questions. A briefer will introduce each of the Discussion series.



III. Themes

17 March at 10am EDT –First Discussion Series: “Monitoring the safety and security of humanitarian personnel”. Co-Chairs: EU and Norway.

This first DS will explore how information can the collected, compiled, corroborated and analysed in a manner that supports better understanding of the impact of attacks and helps policy-makers in establishing the appropriate response to these attacks without compromising the neutrality of the organizations providing the information.

Read the Summary Report of the First Session below.


20 April 11am to 1pm EDT – Second Discussion Series: “Security risk management practices for humanitarian organisations”. Co- Chairs EU and Niger.

The second of the series will discuss what are the security risk management practices in place, and the implications for different actors (e.g. UN and local and INGO personnel). It will look particularly into the challenges of the protection of locally recruited personnel under the current localisation agenda.

Read the Summary Report of the Second Session below.


19 May 11am to 1pm EDT – Third Discussion series: “Preventing and countering the criminalisation of humanitarian work and preserving the humanitarian space” Co-chairs: EU and Mexico and Switzerland

This series will look into addressing the impact on humanitarian work of the shrinking of humanitarian space, including criminalisation, among others through counter-terrorism and sanction policies. This particular session continues the previous efforts of the joint initiative of Switzerland, Germany and Mexico on "safeguarding humanitarian space in counter-terrorism context".

Read the Summary Report of the Third Session below.


16 June 10am to 12pm EDT – Fourth Discussion Series: “Strengthening accountability in the fight against impunity for attacks against humanitarian workers in armed conflicts” Co-Chairs EU, France and Germany).

The last of the discussion series will assess how successful are the current monitoring, investigation, and prosecution mechanisms of violations against humanitarian and medical workers and their activities in armed conflicts.

Read the Summary Report of the Fourth Session below.


IV. Outcome

Each session will focus on identifying short and long-term practical solutions and political opportunities. A summary document including identified avenues for further action will be prepared at the end of the discussion series. The Discussion Series should be also seen as part of existing initiatives, notably they will contribute to the development of key elements of the “Call for Action to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law and principled humanitarian action”, launched by Germany and France and endorsed by all the co-hosts of the discussion series.


Join the conversation on social media using #ProtectAidWorkers

Virtual, New York
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