ICC prosecutor urges handover of Al-Saiqa brigade commander, others wanted for alleged crimes in Libya
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Major Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli, a commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade accused of murdering 33 people in the context of the ongoing conflict in Libya, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the United Nations Security Council.
Addressing the Council in New York, the Prosecutor also urged the international community to turn over Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former head of the Libyan Internal Security Agency, and Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi.
Mr. Busayf Al-Werfalli, is a commander in the Benghazi-based Al-Saiqa Brigade, who, according to Ms. Bensouda, has been – and possibly still is – active in the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) ‘Operation National Dignity.’
In her remarks to the Council, the ICC Prosecutor appealed directly to General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, “to demonstrate, by concrete actions, respect for international justice by ensuring Mr al-Werfalli’s immediate transfer to the Libyan authorities so that he may be surrendered to the court without delay.”
“My Office continues to request States Parties, non-States Parties and organizations to assist in securing the arrest of persons subject to an ICC warrant,” Ms. Bensouda told the Council.
The call for accountability comes amidst continued concern over the security situation in Libya, which has been in conflict since a disputed election in 2014 following the 2011 toppling of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In recent months, Ms. Bensouda said she noted “with grave concern” reports of unlawful killings, including the execution of detained persons; kidnappings and forced disappearances; torture; prolonged detentions without trial or other legal process; and arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and other ill-treatment of migrants in official and unofficial detention centres.
Reports have also emerged that 36 male corpses were found in the totem of al-Abyar, outside of Benghazi.
“This is also of grave concern,” she said. “The bodies were reportedly handcuffed, showed signs of torture, and displayed bullet wounds to the head.”
The prosecutor also echoed Ghassan Salamé in condemning recent airstrikes in a residential neighbourhood in Derna that appear to have resulted in the tragic deaths of civilians, including at least 12 children and women.
Published on UN News Centre on November 8, 2017.
Burundi has become the first country to withdraw its membership from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It accused the ICC of deliberately targeting Africans for prosecution.
The government of Burundi is accused of committing crimes against humanity, including execution and torture. The UN Commission of Inquiry is urging the ICC to open a prosecution soon.
In theory its withdrawal from the ICC has no effect on the court's ongoing investigations on the country.
Fadi El-Abdallah, a spokesman for the ICC, told the BBC's Newsday programme that "article 127 states that withdrawal does not affect the jurisdiction of the ICC over the crimes that have been committed" while the country was a member.
But the case of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, one of the ICC's "most wanted", has highlighted the difficulty of getting a non-member to co-operate in surrendering suspects.
The withdrawal comes a year after Burundi lodged an official notice to quit the organisation, which has 122 member countries, 34 of which are African nations.
In 2015, Burundi saw major unrest and a crackdown by the security forces after President Pierre Nkurunzize decided to run for office for a third time, leading to protests from the opposition which deemed it unconstitutional.
The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague, where the ICC is based, says Burundi's decision to leave the ICC is unprecedented - a statement that if you don't like the focus of the prosecutor, you can simply leave.
She adds that the real impact - and whether or not it creates a domino effect - will be determined by what happens next.
Kenya and South Africa have made similar threats to withdraw their membership.
Published on BBC News on October 27, 2017.
The trial of more than 1,600 people suspected of ties with Boko Haram was expected to begin in Nigeria on Monday behind closed doors, in the biggest legal investigation into the eight-year militant Islamist insurgency.
More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in northeastern Nigeria during the insurgency, contributing to what the United Nations has said is among the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Nigeria’s ministry of justice said last month the trial of around 1,670 people held at the Kainji detention facility would begin at the site, in the central Niger state, on Monday and would be presided over by four judges.
A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to requests for confirmation that the trial had begun. A military spokesman declined to comment, saying questions should be addressed to the judiciary.
The ministry has said that after the Kainji trials are completed, a further 651 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram and currently being held at prisons in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, would go on trial.
Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer based in the capital, Abuja, said the trials would provide a more effective deterrent if they were open to the media and public.
“On the Boko Haram issue, stories need to be told for the public to be made aware what has been going on and understand the nature of the crimes committed,” said Nwankwo, adding that secrecy also made it hard to determine whether trials were fair.
“The Nigerian authorities have not been known to be diligent in investigating and properly prosecuting suspects,” he said, warning that a sense of injustice could breed resentment among relatives that could yield future radicalisation.
However, Fatima Akilu - who headed the government’s counter violent extremism programme under the previous administration - said secrecy was needed to encourage witnesses and judges to take part in the trials because Nigeria does not have a witness protection programme.
“A lot of witnesses were afraid to come forward,” Akilu, who was based in the Office of the National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015, said of previous efforts to pursue trials.
She said judges and witnesses had previously been subjected to death threats.
“If the witnesses don’t come forward there is limited evidence in terms of reaching a conviction, so I think there was little choice,” she said, adding that there were no clear alternatives in the absence of an amnesty programme.
Nigeria’s handling of thousands of people accused of ties with Boko Haram insurgents has previously attracted criticism.
The legal process marks a steep escalation in the number of insurgency-related cases being handled by Nigerian authorities.
The Ministry of Justice has said that, as of Sept. 11, only 13 “terrorism cases” had been concluded and nine convictions had been secured.
”The decision to start the trials is a response to persistent complaints by local and international human rights groups over thousands of persons detained without access to lawyers and without any specific charges, said Nnamdi Obasi, of International Crisis Group. (Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Gareth Jones)
Published on Reuters on October 9, 2017.
By MICHAEL SHERMER
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case. The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.
Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts. But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that “every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.” That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.
A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more like to experience a suicide. The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.
Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.
If you think stock piling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional. The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.
And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.
A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.
States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call “self-help justice,” in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia. Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)
There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.
Published on The NY Times on October 5, 2017.
Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.
The 66-page report, “‘These Are the Crimes We Are Fleeing’: Justice for Syria in Swedish and German Courts,” outlines efforts in Sweden and Germany to investigate and prosecute people implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria. Drawing on interviews with 50 officials and practitioners working on these cases and 45 Syrian refugees in the two countries, Human Rights Watch documented the difficulties German and Swedish investigators and prosecutors face in taking up these types of cases, and the experience of refugees and asylum seekers with the authorities.
“With other avenues for justice currently blocked, criminal investigations in Europe are a beacon of hope for victims of crimes in Syria who have nowhere else to turn,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, Leonard H. Sandler fellow in the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. “As the first two countries to hold trials and convict people for atrocities in Syria, Sweden and Germany are putting war criminals on notice that they will have to pay for their crimes.”
Syrian refugees consistently stressed to Human Rights Watch the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria.“My brother was killed with 14 bullets by the regime,” said Samira, who lives in Sweden and lost several family members in the war. “All my family died. I saw five children being executed, I saw their heads being cut off. I couldn’t sleep for a week. […] It’s very important to have justice, which will let me feel that I’m human.”
Muhammad, an activist working on behalf of some Syrian victims in Germany, said of the Syrian government: “These people think that the political solution will come and they will be able to escape to Europe. I want them to feel haunted like they’ve haunted people all their life. We need to send a message of hope to victims and to send the message to criminals that they will not escape.”
On September 25, Sweden became the first country to convict a member of the Syrian army for crimes in Syria. The accused, identified through a photo in which he posed with his foot on the chest of a dead victim, was found guilty of violating the dignity of a dead body.
Both Sweden and Germany have elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes, including comprehensive laws, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with such cases. In addition, due to the large numbers of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence, and even some suspects are now within the reach of the authorities in these countries.
Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch found that both Sweden and Germany are facing some difficulties.
“The standard challenges associated with pursuing these kinds of cases are compounded by an ongoing conflict in Syria, where there is no access to crime scenes,” Vignoli said. “Swedish and German authorities have to turn elsewhere for information, including from Syrian refugees, people doing similar work in other European countries, UN entities, and nongovernmental groups documenting atrocities in Syria.”
Human Rights Watch found that many Syrian asylum seekers and refugees are not aware of the systems in place to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in Syria, the possibility of their contributing to justice efforts in these countries, or the right of victims to participate in criminal proceedings.
Gathering relevant information from Syrian refugees and asylum seekers has also proved difficult due to their fear of possible retribution against loved ones back home, mistrust of police and government officials based on negative experiences in Syria, and feelings of abandonment by host countries and the international community.
Both Sweden and Germany have systems to protect victims and witnesses in criminal cases. Consistent with fair trial standards, both countries should explore options to increase protections in these cases for witnesses’ families in Syria, Human Rights Watch said.
Because of the difficulties involved, Human Rights Watch found only a small number of cases have been concluded, which do not represent the scale or nature of the abuses suffered by victims in Syria. Most cases have been against low-level members of non-state armed groups opposed to the Syrian government.
In Germany, the majority of cases are brought under terrorism charges rather than for grave international crimes. That could send the message that the authorities’ only focus is to combat domestic threats, Human Rights Watch said. Efforts to pursue terrorism charges should go hand in hand with efforts and resources to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Authorities in both countries are working to address some of these issues, although more needs to be done, Human Rights Watch said. Sweden and Germany should ensure that their war crimes units are adequately resourced and staffed, provide them with ongoing training, and consider new ways to work with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territory through outreach and public information efforts.
“European countries should follow Sweden and Germany’s lead and work to expand these justice efforts for Syrians in Europe,” Vignoli said. “Overall, these cases are not enough on their own and highlight the need for a more comprehensive justice process to address the ongoing impunity in Syria.”
Published on HRW on October 3, 2017.
By Parker Asmann
A new report from two local Salvadoran rights groups has provided further evidence of extrajudicial killings carried out by El Salvador's police forces, in a case that now appears to be entering the international judicial stage.
In the report, which was presented September 5 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Verónica Reyna of the Passionist Social Service (Servicio Social Pasionista - SSPAS) and Arnau Baulenas of the Institute of Human Rights of the Central American University (Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana - IDHUCA) chronicled three cases of alleged extrajudicial killings carried out by El Salvador's National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC), El Faro reported.
The three cases presented to the commission were a massacre at the San Blas Estate, the murder of a police officer's sister and her husband, and the murder of Ángel Ábrego in February 2016, according to El Faro.
Additionally, El Salvador's Office of the Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights (Procuraduría para la Defensa de Derechos Humanos) has investigated 47 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2015, according to El Faro. And official figures from the Attorney General's Office report a 630 percent increase in security officials accused of homicide between 2014 and 2016.
The report presented to the IACHR also says that between 2014 and 2017, 238 security forces were allegedly killed by gang members while 1,415 people -- 90 percent of whom are suspected gang members -- have been killed in "alleged confrontations" between security forces and alleged gang members since 2015. For IACHR Commissioner James Cavallaro, the disproportionate ratio of slain gang members to slain police was troubling.
"When there are figures like this, it's about some clashes and many execution cases. We are already working with a pattern of extremely excessive use of deadly force by state agents," Cavallaro said during the hearing.
After the presentation, El Salvador Deputy Minister of Security Raúl López vehemently denied any state responsibility in possible human rights violations.
"I totally reject and deny any responsibility of the Salvadoran government in illegal acts that violate fundamental rights or human rights of the people," he said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The alleged death squad case in El Salvador is quickly becoming an international judicial case, which could have implications for foreign assistance to El Salvador's security forces. The US government is still figuring out how to allocate a large assistance package for the region, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) works closely with the Salvadoran police.
But so far, the international attention hasn't appeared to have any consequences in El Salvador. On September 4, the officers accused of extrajudicial killings were released and put on administrative leave, although final judgements have yet to be made as investigators are still in the preliminary stage.
Published on InSight Crime on September 7, 2017.
By Marlise Simons
Sudan’s president, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes in his country, could soon find it harder to travel abroad.
On Thursday, judges at the International Criminal Court strongly criticized South Africa for failing to arrest the president, Omar al-Bashir, when he visited Johannesburg for an African Union meeting in 2015.
The court explicitly rejected South Africa’s argument that al-Bashir enjoyed immunity, as a head of state, while leading Sudan’s delegation to the meeting.
Al-Bashir has evaded the reach of international law since the court first issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009. Just this week, it was announced that he had accepted an invitation to visit Moscow.
Watching who shuns and who invites al-Bashir has become something of an international parlor game.
But the underlying question could not be more grave: Will a sitting head of government, wanted for crimes against humanity over his government’s violence against civilians in the Darfur conflict, be held accountable under international law?
The court holds out hope that the answer will be yes.
There should have been no doubt about al-Bashir’s claim of immunity, a panel of three judges said, because on the eve of his arrival, South African diplomats had consulted with the court and were explicitly told that as a member of the court, South Africa was obliged to arrest and surrender him.
The judges declined to formally refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, saying that doing so had not borne results in the past, and noting that South Africa’s own courts had criticized the government for violating its legal commitments.
In a noteworthy move, however, one of the judges, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, argued that South Africa and Sudan were under an obligation to arrest al-Bashir, because they are both signatories to the UN genocide convention, which took effect in 1951. A total of 147 countries have ratified that treaty, more than the 124 that have joined the International Criminal Court.
By highlighting the significance of the genocide treaty — and not merely the International Criminal Court itself — the ruling could open new avenues for litigation by rights activists, and could raise the political cost for some countries to receive a fugitive from war crimes and genocide charges.
Al-Bashir has been charged — though not tried — for genocide involving three African tribes in Darfur.
Violence in the region of western Sudan erupted in 2003 between the Arab-dominated government and non-Arab rebel groups.
According to prosecutors, government militia gangs, backed by military and police helicopters, were unleashed from 2003 to 2008 to burn hundreds of villages, bomb schools and poison wells, and they also engaged systematically in looting and in the rape of women and girls.
The United Nations estimates that about 300,000 people died and more than 2 million were uprooted in years of fighting. In 2005, it asked the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, to investigate.
The court issued an arrest warrant against al-Bashir in 2009 and ordered him to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity over attacks on civilians in Darfur. Judges later added three counts of genocide.
Published on the Boston Globe on July 6, 2017.
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.