Armed parties to conflicts around the world are continuing to defy international humanitarian law (IHL) by targeting and killing humanitarian workers, according to the Australian Red Cross (ARC).
So far this year, 170 humanitarian workers have been killed, injured or kidnapped in conflict zones around the globe, seriously undermining the delivery of aid to vulnerable people living in conflict and disaster zones.
IHL, which has its basis in the four Geneva Conventions, aims to protect those not a party to a conflict, such as Red Cross workers, medical personnel and civilians.
"Statistics, as indisputable as they are alarming, show in recent years there has been a significant increase in humanitarian workers killed, injured and abducted - despite the fact they are protected to do their jobs under international humanitarian law," said ARC IHL National Manager Rebecca Dodd. "The protectors are no longer always protected."
Vicki Metcalfe, a Research Fellow from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) - Britain's leading think tank on international development and humanitarian issues - is in Australia to launch the ODI's revised Good Practice Report, which outlines key trends in relation to IHL and offers suggestions as to how agencies can respond to the increasing threats.
"From the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad in 2003 to kidnapping of staff in Sudan, humanitarian aid workers are increasingly under threat," she said.
The Australia Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jeremy England, said he welcomes the release of the report and hopes it will contribute to debate on the issue.
"The ICRC is extremely concerned about the increasing attacks on humanitarian workers and the impact that this has on efforts to assist those in need - notably civilians, wounded soldiers, prisoners of war and detainees. It welcomes the visit of the ODI's representative to Australia to contribute to raising awareness and debate."
A seminar, to be held in Melbourne today (2 December), will explore exactly why humanitarian personnel are increasingly targeted, and the impact it has on humanitarian efforts. It will also look at the legal and practical protections aid workers have, and what can be done to help prevent attacks.