A to Z About “World Humanitarian Day” 2017 #NotATarget #WHD #WHD2017


What Is World Humanitarian Day?

World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who have risked and lost their lives in humanitarian service. The Day was designated by the General Assembly in 2008 to coincide with the date of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. Each year, World Humanitarian Day focuses on a theme, bringing together stakeholders from across the humanitarian system to advocate for survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.

2017 WHD campaign: #NotATarget


Around the world, conflict is exacting a massive toll on people’s lives. Trapped in wars that are not of their making, millions of civilians are forced to hide or run for their lives. Children are taken out of school, families are displaced from their homes, and communities are torn apart, while the world is not doing enough to stop their suffering. At the same time, health and aid workers – who risk their lives to care for people affected by violence – are increasingly being targeted.

For WHD 2017, humanitarian partners are coming together to reaffirm that civilians caught in conflict are #NotATarget. Through a global online campaign featuring an innovative partnership with Facebook Live, together with events held around the world, we will raise our voices to advocate for those most vulnerable in war zones, and demand that world leaders do everything their power to protect civilians in conflict.

This campaign follows on the UN Secretary-General’s report on protection of civilians, which was launched earlier this year. Laying out his ‘path to protection’, the Secretary-General calls for enhanced respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical workers as well as civilian infrastructure.



Picture a neighbourhood filled with homes providing comfort and safe haven, surrounded by bustling markets and shops, schools, playgrounds, hospitals, and factories. Weeks later, what is left is a collection of bombed-out structures in the middle of a war zone. All essential infrastructure and semblance of normal life have been destroyed. The use of wide-area explosives has left vast damage and destruction, causing profound and long-lasting consequences for people’s safety, livelihood, and basic needs, like food, water, and electric/fuel power. This often leaves people little choice but to flee to safer regions, often exposing them to new dangers.


All parties to armed conflict are obliged to distinguish between civilians and fighters, and between civilian infrastructure and military targets. They have the obligation not to launch attacks that will cause disproportionate incidental civilian harm, and they must take constant care to spare civilians and infrastructure.

Action required of leaders

  • 1.In cities and towns, protect civilians, including children, as well as their homes and the essential services they rely on.

  • Children

    The problem

    Imagine children in the middle of a war-torn country. Their neighbourhoods, schools, playgrounds, and parks have been damaged or destroyed, and access to essentials like food, water, and an education have all but disappeared. They may have even been recruited and used in fighting, or subjected to other unthinkable dangers, such as exposure to sex and labour trafficking.

    Rules that must be respected

    Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protection, including access to food, healthcare, and education; evacuation from areas of combat for safety reasons; reunification with their families; and protection against all forms of sexual violence. Additionally, children must not be recruited into armed forces or armed groups, nor must they be allowed to take part in hostilities.

    Action required of leaders

    1. Commit to not recruit children into armed forces or armed groups, or to use children to participate in hostilities.

    2. Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to protect schools and universities from being attacked or used for military purposes in conflict. Make 2017 the year of zero attacks on schools and playgrounds.

  • Targets of Sexual Violence


    There are places in the world where sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war; where women and girls are forced to be with fighters who can resell or exploit them. Regardless of gender, other unspeakable crimes are being committed, including strategic, widespread rape, many times occurring in urban warfare and alongside other violent acts. People are often targeted simply because they belong to different ethnic, religious, or political groups. Compounding this is the stigma survivors suffer when society and authorities are indifferent or discriminatory in response to their plight.


    Rape and other forms of sexual violence are prohibited.

    Action required of leaders

    1. Prevent all forms of sexual violence.

    2. Bring perpetrators to justice for sexual violence and hold them accountable.

    3. Offer survivors the opportunities and support that will enable their recovery and reintegration into society.

  • Humanitarian Workers


    Consider the devastating consequences when humanitarian workers are unable to provide aid to those in need. These workers make it their mission to provide life-saving support, but too often in conflict their activities are impeded. From looting and deliberate obstructions to kidnapping, physical harm and death, violence continues to affect humanitarian efforts, often with dire consequences for those who need help.


    Parties to conflict must respect and protect humanitarian personnel, supplies, and equipment. This includes taking all feasible precautions when planning or deciding to attack. Furthermore, governments must not arbitrarily refuse impartial relief operations. Once governments agree to relief operations, all parties to conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access. Using starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is strictly prohibited.

    Action required of leaders

    1. Enable humanitarian workers to deliver relief to all civilians in need, without discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, or other status.

    2. Do not direct attacks against humanitarian workers or assets.

  • Health Workers


    Think of wounded and sick people caught in a war zone, all in desperate need of medical attention. Now imagine health workers directly targeted or forbidden to treat them. When health workers are attacked, forced not to treat patients, or left no choice but to flee, it results in immediate death, injury, and destruction of facilities, and in the deprivation of essential healthcare for a very long time.


    International humanitarian law requires that all wounded and sick—civilians and fighters alike—must not be attacked and must receive the medical care and attention required by their condition without any distinction, except on medical grounds. Medical personnel and facilities that fulfil this mission must also be respected and protected.

    Action required of leaders

    Secretary-General’s Message

    Every year on World Humanitarian Day, we shine a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict.

    On this day, we also take a moment to honour the brave health and aid workers who are targeted or obstructed as they set out to help people in need, and pay tribute to the government employees, and representatives of international organizations and agencies who risk their daily lives to provide humanitarian aid.

    Despite our efforts, civilians, including medial and humanitarian workers continue to bear the brunt of intense conflicts around the world. They are attacked and their access obstructed, while humanitarian supplies and hospitals are looted by fighting parties.  In addition, in cities like Juba and Aleppo, housing, markets, schools and vital civilian infrastructure are destroyed.

    In Yemen, a lethal cholera epidemic has killed more than 9,000 people. Health services and water and sanitation infrastructure are collapsing under the strain of war.

    In Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and elsewhere, thousands of women and girls urgently need protection, support and treatment for traumatic sexual violence and abuse.
    The result of these crises is the record number of people – more than 65 million – forced to flee their homes from conflict.


    No one is winning these wars. We are all losing.

    This year, on World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations and our partners are calling on all global leaders to do everything in their power to protect people caught up in conflict. Let the world know: Civilians are Not A Target.

    I invite you to stand with us in solidarity with civilians in conflict, and with the health and aid workers who risk their lives to help them. Get involved with our online campaign at worldhumantarianday.org.

    On World Humanitarian Day, let us commit to doing everything in our power to protect women, girls, men and boys in the line of fire, and to give them hope of a better future.

    António Guterres

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