UN official stresses the importance of protection of civilians, aid workers in conflict situations

A ‘The World Needs More ___’ blimp flies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on World Humanitarian Day 2013. Photo: OCHA/Gustavo Oliveira

21 August 2013 – On a visit to Brazil, the United Nations humanitarian chief honoured Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the esteemed Brazilian diplomat who was killed in 2003 while serving as the UN envoy for Iraq, and stressed the importance of protection of civilians and aid workers in conflict situations.

Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stressed the importance of humanitarian civil-military coordination during a visit to the Brazilian Peacekeeping Operations Joint Center (CCOPAB) in Rio de Janeiro.

“Through training we can bring together military and humanitarian actors to better understand each other’s roles and responsibilities,” Ms. Amos said. “This is vital in complex situations where civilians are caught in the middle of violent conflict and need protection.”

The CCOPAB, created in 2007 to train all Brazilian military personnel to be deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti and elsewhere, was named in 2009 after Mr. de Mello. Brazil contributes more than 1,700 men and women to UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

During her two-day stay in Brazil, Ms. Amos also visited the Babilon community, a favela in Rio, and met with families living there. She also spoke to the Civil Defense Sub-Secretary, Colonel Marcio Moura Motta.

“I was impressed by the positive results of community engagement and development in the Babilon community,” she said. “People have better access to services and feel safer than before.”

Ms. Amos’s visit coincided with the 19 August commemoration of World Humanitarian Day, inspired by the 2003 attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad. The bombing killed 22 people and wounded some 150 others. Mr. de Mello, the top UN official in Iraq at the time, was among those killed.

“I was honoured to take part in a series of events that commemorated the humanitarian legacy of Sérgio Vieira de Mello,” said Ms. Amos.

She added that raising awareness of today’s crucial humanitarian issues, including the continued need for protection of civilians and aid workers, “is one of the best ways we can pay tribute to those who have lost their lives while helping others and reflect the spirit of humanitarian work”.

Before wrapping up her visit on 20 August, Ms. Amos also spoke to students and staff at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University about the challenges facing the humanitarian community, including the need for a more inclusive humanitarian response system and the need to guard against the politicization of aid.

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