It is very difficult for me not to remember at this moment my more than ten years of work with UNHCR, one of the central UN humanitarian agencies, and to say how shocked I always was when seeing that more and more in the conflicts we were witnessing, trying to protect people fleeing from those conflicts, how more and more civilians were a target.
The protection of civilians was difficult to implement, while more and more international and humanitarian law and human rights law were not observed. Even worse, how more and more humanitarians became a target, and the UN flag was not respected as a symbol of impartiality in the context of those conflicts.
To see UN humanitarians, to see NGO humanitarians, to see other organizations – humanitarian workers - be a target is something that was, indeed, horrifying. And to see some of my colleagues losing their lives in the line of duty has been one of the most horrible experiences I had in my life.
So this symbol - Not A Target - has a very special meaning for me.
We are standing here together to mark World Humanitarian Day, in solidarity with all the civilians around the world who are caught up in conflict.
We are here to tell the world: Civilians in conflict are Not A Target.
Protecting civilians in conflict is a fundamental tenet of international humanitarian law. Yet in war zones all over the world, parties to conflict are flouting their obligations, routinely killing civilians in direct and indiscriminate attacks, and showing contempt for human life.
Armed conflicts are tearing communities and countries apart, forcing record numbers of people from their homes to rely on humanitarian aid for their survival and protection.
The health of humanitarian workers who set out to aid, heal and protect these people are themselves deliberately targeted for attack. Staff are killed, wounded and detained; aid and medical supplies are looted and obstructed; health clinics and hospitals are damaged and destroyed.
As war is waged in towns and cities, we see children pulled from the rubble of their bombed schools; families buried in the remains of their homes; markets, places of worship and vital infrastructure reduced to dust.
Women and girls, as well as men and boys, are subjected to horrific sexual violence with no recourse to treatment or to justice.
In Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere, a generation of children have known nothing but conflict for their entire lives.
Every civilian has a right to safety and protection. We must all do everything we can to deliver on this right.
We must enhance respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. We must protect humanitarian and medical missions and prioritize the protection of civilians in United Nations peace operations.
And we must prevent forced displacement and respect the rights of people who have fled violence, by pursuing durable solutions for all those who have been displaced, both inside their own countries and across borders.
For the millions of people caught in conflict, struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter; who have been driven from their homes with little hope of return; whose schools have been bombed; and who await life-saving medical care – we cannot afford to fail.
As we mark World Humanitarian Day, I invite each of you to stand together in solidarity with civilians in conflict, by lending your voice to our campaign.
Civilians are Not A Target.