The Government of Malawi and UNICEF today launched an air corridor to test potential humanitarian use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. The corridor is the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use.
It is centred on Kasungu Aerodrome, in central Malawi, with a 40km radius (80km diameter) and is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how UAVs can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities.
“Malawi has over the years proved to be a leader in innovation and it is this openness to innovation that has led to the establishment of Africa’s first drones testing corridor here in Malawi,” said Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango. “We have already used drones as part of our flood response and we can see the potential for further uses, such as transportation of medical supplies, which could transform lives in remote rural communities.”
The Humanitarian UAV Testing Corridor will facilitate testing in three main areas:
1. Imagery – generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes;
2. Connectivity – exploring the possibility for UAVs to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergencies;
3. Transport – delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.
The UAV corridor will run for at least one year, until June 2018. Since the announcement in December 2016, 12 companies, universities and NGOs from around the world have applied to use the corridor. This includes drone manufacturers, operators and telecom companies such as: GLOBHE (Sweden) in collaboration with HemoCue and UCANDRONE (Greece), and Precision (Malawi), all of which were present at the launch to demonstrate connectivity, transportation and imagery uses respectively.
“This humanitarian drone testing corridor can significantly improve our efficiency and ability to deliver services to the world's most vulnerable children,” said UNICEF Office of Global Innovation Principal Adviser Christopher Fabian. “The success of these trials will depend on working in new ways with the private sector, government and local entrepreneurs and engineers who can ensure that technologies deliver appropriate solutions for the people who need them the most.”
UAV technology is still in the early stages of development. UNICEF is working globally with a number of governments and private sector partners to explore how UAVs can be used in low-income countries. All projects adhere to a strict set of innovation principles, with a focus on open source and user-centered design.
The launch of the UAV testing corridor follows a pilot project in Malawi in March 2016 on the feasibility of using drones for the transportation of dried blood samples for early infant diagnosis of HIV. This study showed that UAVs are a viable addition to existing transport systems, including those used to help with the diagnosis of HIV.
UNICEF has also deployed drones to support the Government of Malawi’s response to recent floods. UAV flights went out in Salima, Lilongwe and Karonga between February and April 2017 to provide aerial footage to help assess the needs of affected families. The aim of the flights was to conduct faster, more efficient and cost-effective assessments of the situation of communities and families. UNICEF is also exploring the potential for drones to be used to support immediate search and rescue efforts.
“Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even at the best of times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities,” said UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig. “With UAVs we can easily fly over the affected area and see clearly what the impact has been on the ground. This is cheaper and better resolution than satellite images.”
Published on UNICEF on June 29, 2017.
By Sophie Edwards
Humanitarian aid agencies are failing vulnerable people by being unable to “stay and deliver” in the countries where their help is needed most, according to a new report.
This comes at a time when the UN estimates a record 65 million people have been displaced by conflict and the world is facing the greatest humanitarian crises since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people across four countries facing famine.
However, despite these needs, only a relatively small group of humanitarian actors are able to operate in the highest risk locations, while emergencies where there is little or no conflict tend to have four times more organizations responding, according to a 2016 report.
‘Presence and Proximity: To Stay and Deliver, Five Years On,’ released on Thursday during the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Humanitarian Affairs Segment meetings in Geneva, confirms this notable absence of humanitarian actors in strife-torn countries such as Yemen, South Sudan, and Syria, and offers explanations and recommendations to address this lack.
“It’s a critical report...we have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves there are too few aid workers where women and children and the most vulnerable often need us the most,” Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which published the report, said at a news conference.
“It is our duty as aid workers to work where needs are greatest. But our international humanitarian community is failing too many people in too many places,” he added.
The findings are drawn from interviews and online surveys with input from more than 2,000 humanitarian actors operating in highly insecure environments, including field-based interviews in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Syria and Yemen, between October 2015 and March 2016.
Aid agencies and INGOs tend to blame this absence on the changing nature of conflict whereby aid workers are increasingly blocked, harassed and attacked by aggressors and prevented from doing their work. Head of OCHA, Stephen O’Brien said: “...conflict parties’ lack of respect for...international humanitarian law and the brutality and volatility of today’s armed conflicts make it extremely difficult and dangerous...to deliver humanitarian assistance.”
However, the new report paints a different picture, arguing that in most instances such attacks are the result of staff mistakes and also suggests the growing influence and presence of security actors within the humanitarian sector has led to today’s risk-averse culture among aid actors.
Devex spoke to the authors to find out more. Here are five key takeaways.
1. This is not a new phenomenon.
In 2011, OCHA commissioned a report to look into the challenges facing humanitarian actors in conflict and disaster-ridden areas and propose recommendations. The resulting ‘To Stay and Deliver’ report called on humanitarian organizations to become more professional and to enforce humanitarian principles and standards in high risk circumstances, while it also recommended more funding go to security measures especially for local actors.
Similarly, Médecins Sans Frontières raised the issue in its 2016 report “Where is everyone?” which asserted that most humanitarian organizations shy away from working in the most difficult situations or are evacuated at the first sign of trouble.
The medical humanitarian organization also said that aid actors are increasingly working at arm’s length through local NGOs or government, thus taking on the role of donor or technical expert rather than front-line aid worker.
2. Attacks on international aid workers actually in decline
According to Ashley Jackson from research group Humanitarian Outcomes who co-authored the report, while there is a common perception among international humanitarian workers that they are under attack more than ever before, this is not reflected in the data.
Figures from the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) show that overall incidents affecting international humanitarian staff actually went down from 22 percent to 13 percent between 2000 and 2014. However, incidents against national workers have gone up.
Furthermore, AWSD data also shows that most attacks are concentrated in a small number of countries - Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Syria - and that, in general, staff are now safer and better equipped to tackle risks than ever before.
3. The humanitarian security industry needs to be evaluated
Jackson linked this increasing perception of heightened risk among humanitarians to the growth of the humanitarian security industry since 2011 - including the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), as well as NGOs’ in-house trainers, security personnel, and security managers.
These security staff have become the “gatekeepers controlling and restricting” humanitarian access, she said, and increasingly dictate field staff operations often from a distance in headquarters.
This not only exacerbates the sense of “disconnect” felt by field staff from headquarters, it is an example of “remote management programming” and “bunkerisation,” both of which were criticized in the 2011 report.
“This approach is absolutely counter to the principles of ‘Stay and Deliver’ which call for greater integration rather than separation of programmatic and security decision making,” Jackson said.
Jackson also questioned the appropriateness of having security staff play programmatic decision-making roles since they have a “material and professional interest” in arguing that humanitarians are under attack and should stay in “bunkers,” she said.
Many security staff also lack the requisite training and experience to advise, according to the report’s other author Steven Zyck.
“While we did find case studies and examples of where people felt UNDSS were providing a valuable advice and analysis and a problem solving approach...everywhere else there was an extremely high level of frustration with UNDSS’s ability to enable humanitarian access, people felt they weren’t adding value and they didn’t have the right skill set and attitude,” he said.
The UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Vincent Lelei said when he first joined the institution 15 years ago, UNDSS “used to lock us away like children who might stray away,” but that things had changed since then. However, he said there is a need for additional change and called for additional investment to find “innovative security management actions.”
4. Subcontracting is the norm
Instead of having front-line workers on the ground in complex countries, a number of agencies and INGOs are subcontracting the work to local organizations, Zyck said. At best this process is wasteful since each organization in the contracting chain will take a slice of the funding, but at worst it can be used to enable activities which are in breach of humanitarian principles, such as paying for access, he said.
“Onion-like layers of subcontracting is draining massive amounts of resources from insecure contexts,” Zyck said, adding that it can make it hard to follow the money so that donors are often unaware of who is actually doing the work and what their funding is being spent on.
“This is not a responsible way to operate in some of world’s most delicate countries,” he said.
Furthermore, such subcontracting arrangements are not in the spirit of the Grand Bargain’s “localization strategy” whereby 25 percent of all ODA is meant to go directly to local and national actors by 2025. Instead they are for the purposes of avoiding risk.
“They are only rarely adopted as part of a conscious localization strategy aimed at strengthening local humanitarian actors, but mainly are drawn upon when an international organization determines conditions are too dangerous for its own international and/or national staff,” the report states.
5. Aid workers and agencies pose more of a risk than terrorist groups
A number of incidents experienced by aid workers are the direct result of their own or their organization’s mistakes, according to the Presence and Proximity report, which details how “self-generating risks,” including basic missteps and misunderstandings, can raise tensions with local communities, government and armed groups, and even lead to attacks.
Jackson said she came across a number of “bad practices” while doing her research such as instances of staff paying bribes, not showing impartiality when hiring or selecting beneficiaries, as well as not doing needs assessments or adequately communicating their activities to communities.
Such mistakes need to be avoided, Egeland said, since they can have wide negative repercussions.
“The need for discipline is very important since one agency making mistakes taints the whole humanitarian effort and it becomes dangerous for all of us,” he said.
Published on Devex on June 23, 2017.
141 Syrian Civil Society Organisations Urge for Unhindered Humanitarian Access and Civilian Protection Across Syria
Amid ongoing indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Daraa, Raqqa and across Syria, and as Syrians under siege suffer their longest wait for humanitarian aid, Syrian civil society are calling on International Syria Support Group (ISSG) members to carry out airdrops to break the sieges and to ensure credible monitoring and enforcement of de-escalation efforts.
In a 23 June letter to Jan Egeland, ISSG Humanitarian Task Force Chair, 141 Syrian civil society organisations and humanitarian aid groups stressed the urgency of the humanitarian access situation in Syria, declared a red line by French President Emmanuel Macron, and urged the ISSG to exhaust credible alternatives for aid delivery, including airdrops, where land access remains blocked.
“In the face of the shameful state of humanitarian access, the UN and Member States must seek a step-change to ensure aid reaches those in most need, including through airdrops. We fully appreciate that airdrops are not the best means of delivering aid, but they will nonetheless save some lives and may create the leverage required to force the regime’s hand on land delivery. Nor should we hold out hope for regime consent in this endeavor: the regime that uses the Syrian people’s suffering for its political gain will never be a partner in delivering full relief and aid to those in need.”
Published on the Syrian Network for Human Rights on June 23, 2017.
Michelle Jarvis, who co-edited a book entitled ‘Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence at the ICTY’ with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, told BIRN in an interview that Former Yugoslav states need a comprehensive policy for addressing wartime sexual crimes, with the victims at the centre of it.
According to Jarvis, out of a total of 161 people indicted by the ICTY prosecution, there was a sexual element in 93 cases.
“For example, in some cases rape was charged as the crime of rape, in others it might have formed part of a persecution charge, or rape might have been part of the coercive environment leading to expulsion crimes,” she explained.
She said that the book was intended to help legal professionals negotiate the difficulties of prosecuting such crimes.
“We felt that there were very few resources for investigators and prosecutors on the topic of conflict-related sexual violence, so we wanted to rectify that,” she said.
“But in terms of the big messages, we focus a lot on the misconceptions we encountered about conflict-related sexual violence that mean these crimes are not always given the priority they deserve or that causes us problems in linking sexual violence crimes to other violent crimes during conflict,” she added.
The book also looks at institutional strategies, such as policy development and training that help a prosecutor’s office work on such cases more efficiently.
“We endorse the goal of victim-centred prosecutions and illustrate what that meant in practice in our cases at the ICTY. We explore how to properly contextualise sexual violence crimes in the broader conflict to make sure we accurately describe the harm caused to the victims and hold accountable a range of perpetrators including, in appropriate cases, senior military and political officials,” she explained.
Some of the ICTY’s key verdicts in related to sexual violence; Jarvis cites the judgements in the cases of former Bosnian Serb military policeman Dragoljub Kunarac and former Bosnian Serb politician Milomir Stakic.
Kunarac was sentenced to 28 years in prison for enslaving, raping and abusing women and girls in Foca during the war, and Jarvis explained that his case was the first ever to focus exclusively on conflict-related sexual violence.
In the Stakic case meanwhile, the court sentenced the defendant to 40 years for wartime crimes in Prijedor and accepted that sexual violence formed part of a common criminal plan to expel the targeted population of Prijedor using whatever means necessary.
“This is such an important reminder of the strategic role that sexual violence played in the conflict and of the fact that senior officials who have not physically committed the rapes can nevertheless be held responsible,” Jarvis explained.
Lessons for Balkan prosecutors
According to Jarvis, the Bosnian prosecution has so far dealt with 174 cases which involve charges of sexual violence, including 58 current cases, out of its total of 675.
“I think that like all of us working at the international level, prosecutors in Bosnia and elsewhere in the region face significant challenges in establishing accountability for conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.
“Some of the challenges are very similar to the ones we faced [at the ICTY] and some of them take on different dimensions in the local context. I think the most important thing is to be aware of the challenges and to be committed to overcoming them. If we approach our work with this attitude, then everything is possible. I see lots of encouraging signs of progress,” she added.
An OSCE report published on Wednesday that said that the Bosnian judiciary has made more effort to prosecute cases of wartime sexual violence over the past three years.
From 2014 to 2016, about a third of war crimes cases before Bosnian courts involved sexual violence, in comparison to only a quarter of cases in the period from 2011 to 2013, the report said.
However, many victims of wartime sexual violence are still seeking justice over two decades after the conflict, it cautioned.
Jarvis said that the book that she and Brammertz edited was translated into Bosnian partly to help local prosecutors.
“We wanted our practical and technical insights to be accessible to the criminal justice actors in Bosnia and elsewhere in the region who are now carrying on the process of establishing accountability for conflict-related sexual violence crimes,” she explained.
“As one concrete measure arising out of the book, we have established the Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Network through the International Association of Prosecutors. Our aim is to use the Network as a way of channeling our growing global expertise from jurisdictions around the world into future prosecutions for conflict-related sexual violence,” she added.
The translation was also a way to honour the victims who suffered during the Bosnian war.
“We wanted the victims of sexual violence who so courageously stepped forward to give statements to our office or to testify in our cases to see how they have helped to shape a new global awareness on conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.
“So many of them testified not just once but multiple times, despite the enormous toll this took. Very often, they expressed the view that they wanted to contribute to a world where no- one else would have to go through what they went through. We hope that they can see in the pages of our book, just how much they have contributed towards doing just that,” she added.
Jarvis also noted that sexual violence investigations are difficult for prosecutors.
“I think it is very hard for anyone working on war crimes cases not to be deeply affected by the work that we do,” she said.
“And we have seen that sexual violence cases can take a particularly heavy toll because of the degree of trauma inflicted on the victims and the anguish that can be caused by negative reactions towards the victims by families and communities.”
Published on Balkan Transitional Justice on June 22, 2017.
Culture of Impunity Must End for Justice to Prevail in Darfur, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Tells Security Council
FATOU BENSOUDA, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, presenting her twenty-fifth report on the situation in Darfur, said hope for justice was high. The evidence obtained from courageous witnesses had provided the basis for multiple arrest warrants, including for Omar Al-Bashir, Ahmad Harun, Abdel Raheem Hussein, Ali Kushayb and Abdallah Banda. “Let us not forget, these men stand accused of multiple charges for some of the world’s most serious crimes as foreseen under the Rome Statute,” she added. Despite budgetary constraints, her office was as determined as ever to pursue justice.
While progress had been made, serious problems persisted, she continued. There were reports that the Sudanese army, supported by the Rapid Support Forces, had clashed with armed opposition movements in North and East Darfur. Internally displaced persons continued to be subjected to multiple crimes, including alleged attacks against their camps and sexual and gender-based violence. There was a worrisome increase during the reporting period of arrests and prolonged detentions of human rights activists and political opponents of Sudan’s Government. Lasting peace in Darfur could only be achieved if the root causes of the conflict were addressed, she said. That included tackling the pervading toxic culture of impunity in Darfur for Rome Statute crimes. Calling on the Council to provide tangible support to her Office, she reiterated her request for the Council’s assistance in facilitating financial assistance by the United Nations.
Before the July judicial recess, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court would decide whether South Africa acted in non-compliance with the Rome Statute when it failed to arrest and surrender Mr. Al-Bashir in June 2015, Ms. Bensouda said. That decision would include whether to refer South Africa to the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute. In terms of travel to States Parties, Mr. Al-Bashir had travelled to Jordan, which also had declined to arrest and surrender him. Inviting, facilitating or supporting the international travel of any person subject to an International Criminal Court arrest warrant was inconsistent with a commitment to international criminal justice. It was also an affront to the victims in Darfur. The Council had the power to influence States — whether or not they were parties to the Rome Statute — to assist in the efforts to arrest and surrender the Darfur suspects. That also applied to regional organizations.
At a minimum, the Council must demonstrate its support for the work of the Prosecutor’s Office by taking concrete action in response to decisions of non-compliance or non-cooperation referred to it by the Court, she continued. To date, there had been 13 such decisions, and yet not one had been acted upon by the Council. She urged the 15-member body to give serious consideration to the proposals to respond to such referrals by the Court. The Council must also invite the Government of Sudan to demonstrate its commitment to combating impunity. Noting the challenges in securing cooperation from several States, she urged the Council to renew its engagement in relation to the arrest and surrender of the Darfur suspects. “It is imperative that we work together to restore faith and renew hope that justice for the victims in Darfur will finally be realized,” she added.
Published on the UN website on June 8, 2017.
By Kirsten Mathieson, Senior Health Policy and Research Adviser, and Emma Diggle, Humanitarian Health Adviser
Save the Children is proud to help launch the new ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’, developed alongside WHO, UNICEF, and Médecins Sans Frontières, to support civil society organisations’ procurement of affordable vaccines for use in humanitarian emergencies.
Affordable and timely access to vaccines is a key challenge to protecting children affected by conflict from vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, MSF was previously asked to pay as much as $68.10 for as single dose of the pneumococcal vaccine to vaccinate refugee children in Greece.
Such prohibitive prices can prevent humanitarian organisations from delivering emergency vaccination programmes where they are most needed. Two-thirds of unimmunised children globally live in conflict-affected countries. Unaffordable vaccines shouldn’t be a barrier to these children being protected from potentially life-threatening, yet easily prevented diseases. By helping to make vaccines more affordable, so that they can reach some of the most excluded children, the new ‘Humanitarian Mechanism’ is a tremendous step forwards in addressing this challenge.
The Humanitarian Mechanism will help civil society organisations (CSOs) operating in humanitarian contexts to step in where governments are unable to respond, such as in Syria and South Sudan. It aims to facilitate timely access to an affordable supply of vaccines by:
Two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies,GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Pfizer, have agreed to provide CSOs with access to their pneumococcal vaccines for use in humanitarian emergencies at their lowest available global prices, of $3.05 and $3.10 per dose, respectively. Given that pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children under five worldwide, this is an incredible breakthrough that could save a huge number of lives. The new Humanitarian Mechanism will help operationalise these commitments from GSK and Pfizer.
Now that the Humanitarian Mechanism is in place, it must be used to extend affordable access for all vaccines. This requires further commitments from industry to make additional offers under this mechanism. GSK, Pfizer and other vaccine manufacturers make a number of other vaccines; those vaccines should also be available at the lowest price. We urge other companies to follow GSK’s and Pfizer’s lead, and we urge these two originator companies to expand their offer to the other relevant vaccines they produce.
We also urge companies to make a broader commitment that extends beyond refugees and internally displaced people to reach all children in humanitarian situations. Commitments must allow CSOs to access affordable vaccines to deliver immunisation in areas of a country where government services are not available – ie, where governments cannot or will not fulfil their responsibilities to deliver to the whole population.
We’ll continue to advocate on these issues so that the Humanitarian Mechanism can fully drive change to protect some of the most excluded children from all vaccine-preventable diseases.
Published on Save the Children UK on June 7, 2017.