By Guy Des Aulniers
This post is the second of a seven-part series on the themes of the High-Level Leaders' Roundtables at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The core humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence underpin the day-to-day operations of humanitarian organisations. Those providing humanitarian assistance today do so in a highly complex environment that is often characterized by widespread abuses of human rights and violent conflicts.
The failure of state and non-state armed actors to observe the basic rules of war and humanitarian law such as protection of civilians and aid workers have confounded efforts to provide assistance to those who require it most. In many of the world's most complex humanitarian crises, the subjugation of humanitarian priorities to foreign policy objectives and the conflation of military, political and humanitarian objectives constitute a significant threat to the delivery of impartial humanitarian assistance.
Adherence to humanitarian principles is essential for establishing and maintaining access to affected populations, whether in the context of a natural disaster, an armed conflict or in complex emergency settings. Whilst humanitarian principles are sometimes perceived as lofty theoretical undertakings, they constitute in fact an essential framework for building trust and acceptance.
Although adherence to principles alone may not be sufficient, in politicised and insecure environments, establishing trust is crucial. When governments, militaries or donors seek to co-opt or undermine these principles, the trust between those providing and those receiving assistance can be damaged or destroyed, and it can become too dangerous to assist those who need our help the most.
The way of delivering humanitarian aid has evolved over the years. Initially, aid was often dominated by organizations that have a technical perspective of the intervention. Today, more and more organizations are doing both humanitarian and development work. This holistic approach leads to an understanding and therefore a wider intervention.
The humanitarian objective goes well beyond the technical service with a much deeper engagement with the populations: a form of solidarity and a supportive presence that also allows one to testify if officials fail to fulfill their obligations. For many of us, humanitarian assistance only makes sense when it is understood as both an imperative to protect and a long-term commitment to fight the structural causes of a crisis, alongside the affected communities.
Role of Faith Based Organizations
Development and Peace / Caritas Canada is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a Confederation of 165 Catholic Church related humanitarian, health and social service, and development organizations, with a moral mandate to respond to humanitarian needs without discrimination. Caritas plays a pivotal role in responding to humanitarian emergencies and promoting social development. As part of the Catholic Church, Caritas, which is present in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, has adopted people centered initiatives in order bring about change in the lives of affected and at risk communities.
To strengthen aid effectiveness and solidarity, we have to recognize, value, and support local organizations in a humanitarian response. Local organizations are the first responders in emergencies, and religious institutions are often the first place of refuge during a crisis. With a significant capacity to mobilize people, this response is driven by solidarity, compassion and a deep understanding of local context. At the same time, these first responders may also be directly affected and very often experience significant financial limitations as well as direct trauma and suffering.
Even if our respect and credibility may be compromised when conflicts are fueled by religious conflict, we believe that faith based organizations offer an essential contribution in serving the needs of people in conflict. By joining together across faiths, traditions and structures, religious leaders can impact safety and security and bring international attention and understanding to issues driving conflicts. The potential of religious leaders to provide protection and mitigate conflict is often overlooked by the international humanitarian community.
We hope that the next WHS will reaffirm this role. We also hope for a better coherence and complementarity between humanitarian and development aid interventions to meet development, security and peace objectives and link emergency to other forms of intervention in order to shed new light on our reading of humanitarian values.
Guy Des Aulniers is Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator at Development and Peace - Caritas Canada. This piece was prepared in collaboration with CAFOD, Trócaire and Caritas Internationalis.
This blog series on the World Humanitarian Summit was convened by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. The views expressed in each blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC, its members, or other participating organizations.
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