As it commemorates World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations is calling for a stop to the deliberate targeting of civilians and humanitarians who risk their lives to assist the many desperate men, women and children caught in war.
August 19 is the day when the United Nations lost its innocence. On that day in 2003, the United Nations office in Iran’s capital, Bagdad was bombed, killing the head of mission, Sergio Vierra de Mello and 21 others.
Mona Rishmawi, who was working as de Mello’s human rights agenda adviser, survived the terrorist attack because she was late for a meeting called by Sergio.
She tells VOA the fatal explosion, which destroyed the Canal hotel, taking the lives of 22 people and injuring many more, was a turning point in the United Nations mission. She says the UN shut down its open communication with the people it was serving and became more protective.
“It was the first time we realized that — no, we could be targeted for something very, very serious. So, I think it basically started to take more precautions about how to deliver some of its work and how to deliver humanitarian, particularly humanitarian assistance. Because humanitarian assistance comes to the people who are most in need,” said Rishmawi.
Five years after this tragic event, the General Assembly adopted a resolution designating August 19 World Humanitarian Day to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in the service of others.
To mark this year’s observance, the UN is focusing on violence against health care workers and facilities, and its implications for the population. The United Nations reports there were 302 attacks, including 418 deaths last year. Most occurred in Syria.