Stand up for humanitarian principles!

The number of displaced people is the highest in modern times and today marks the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul. Now more than ever, states and leaders are needed who stand up for basic humanitarian values. It is written by Dick Clomén and Hala Mohammed, representatives of the Swedish Red Cross at WHS.

Humanitarian issues must be placed high on the political agenda, given today's rapidly growing humanitarian needs and a growing financial deficit. Today, it is estimated that 125 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, and despite the fact that more money than ever is spent on humanitarian aid, it is not enough in the long run.

80% of humanitarian aid goes to alleviating needs caused by conflicts. We see conflicts going on for decades with widespread violations of international humanitarian law and human rights; conflicts that drive millions of people to flee. The number of displaced people today amounts to more than 60 million - figures we have never seen in modern times.

The road more important than the goal?

Everyone agrees that development must be stopped and that more must be done to reduce the humanitarian effects of the crises. Still, the sentiment of the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which begins in Istanbul today, is described as a combination of hope and despair.

When the preparations began just over two years ago, the ambitions were high and an inclusive process was set in motion to produce a good basis that could form the basis for discussions and clear commitments throughout the humanitarian sector. Gradually, more and more critical voices were raised. Doubts were expressed about what such a mega-event could actually achieve. But perhaps it is the preparations - consultations, dialogue and analysis - that are important and not the summit itself. For the same reason, the follow-up work after WHS can be of decisive importance.

Protect the humanitarian ecosystem

The biggest objection to WHS has been the lack of clear priorities. Tens of thousands of people have taken part in the preparatory process and in principle all humanitarian issues have been on the agenda. Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his report ahead of the meeting, has succeeded in capturing the most crucial humanitarian issues, the main challenges facing the humanitarian sector and a number of important recommendations for reform.

Of particular importance are the report's calls to the WHS:

- Find the balance between local and international in humanitarian response.

- Invest more in strengthening local resilience and capacity.

- Defend and reaffirm the fundamental humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law and international refugee law.

- Strengthen the opportunities for women and girls.

Take measures to address the growing humanitarian needs of refugees, achieve a better division of responsibilities between countries with regard to people on the run and ensure that the number of internally displaced persons is reduced by half by 2030.

But there are also elements in the report that are of concern, such as the clear focus on UN-led solutions and the references to "leadership" in humanitarian efforts. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement calls on the WHS to recognize and welcome the diversity of humanitarian systems. There are several interplaying humanitarian systems where the Red Cross and Red Crescent movements constitute a system, what we call "the Red Pillar", with a special mandate and way of working. Sometimes these interacting systems are described as a humanitarian ecosystem. We believe that diversity is a strength - not a threat. Effective collective response is strengthened through mutual respect for the diversity of humanitarian actors.

Crucial principles

We cannot stress enough the importance of standing up for and reaffirming the humanitarian principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. The principles are often taken for granted by actors in the humanitarian sector and more and more people are choosing a pragmatic approach to humanitarian work. For the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the principles are absolutely crucial for gaining the trust of parties in conflicts and the affected population that is required to gain access to conflict zones.

An issue that has received a great deal of attention ahead of the summit concerns humanitarian funding, much thanks to the high-level panel on humanitarian funding included by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, which presented its final report in January. New and smarter forms of resource use are needed to reduce the gap between needs and funding. An important part of this work is a proposal for a "Grand Bargain" which is about increased collaboration between the largest donors and the largest humanitarian organizations. The purpose of this is to increase the flexibility of donor support on the one hand, and create more transparency and cost efficiency on the other.

Humanitarian commitment is set against one's own welfare

Many of today's humanitarian crises have been going on for a very long time, often involving more or less chronic states of conflict. The involvement of states and humanitarian actors must therefore be more long-term and make better use of local capacity. We must plan and invest more in the resilience of people and societies and take measures to reduce risks.

One area that has become increasingly politicized is refugee and migration issues. Things that were previously self-evident, such as the right of individuals to international protection from violence and persecution and the possibility of reunification with their families, are increasingly being placed directly against domestic policy considerations of security and their own welfare.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has already made commitments on important issues - now political leadership is required. Now more than ever, states and leaders are needed who stand up for fundamental humanitarian values, the equal value of all human beings, humanitarian principles, human rights, international refugee law and international humanitarian law. During WHS there is an opportunity to show the way. Perhaps a sincere commitment to political leadership on these issues can be the real footprint of the humanitarian summit.

Dick Clomén and Hala Mohammed


This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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