Lack of Humanitarian Aid and its connection to Human Rights

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Lack of Humanitarian Aid and its connection to Human Rights

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

Many people fail to see the connection between lack of humanitarian aid as a human right issue. The delay of the deliverance of vital aid can be seen especially in areas of marginalized communities (such as non-citizens, or ethnic/religious minorities).

  • How can we demonstrate to global citizens that proper deliverance of aid is human rights issue and should be treated as such in cases of disaster/conflict?
Humanitarian Aid is a Human Right

In response to the question above, I am personally fascinated by the lack of recognition that humanitarian aid is a right. Working for UNICEF USA, which is a national committee that supports UNICEF globally, we talk about ourselves as a rights based organization. We are not a charity or purely a disaster agency--we exist to ensure that children everywhere are treated as people, so that they may feel empowered to reach their full potential. 

That being said, I feel this topic resonates especially now more than ever, given that there are currently seven Level 3 emergencies, and knowing that most of these emergencies are caused by humans. The most poignant example I can think of is the Rohingya Refugee Crisis, which many in my social sphere have yet to acknowledge that the Rohingya are a Muslim minority group being pushed out of their homes due to governmental pressure, discrimination, and burning of their villages. If the Rohingya people were seen as people in Myanmar, and if their rights were recognized as human, then we wouldn't have this issue.

I'm not sure that this response came out quite as eloquently as I'd have hoped, but I am very much looking forward to seeing how others view this topic or think about this question.

Children's Rights Convention

I fully concur with the above comments from JMorris of Unicef.  A universal human right is the Right to Survival,

For Unicef and other child-focused NGOs, a rights-based approach is adapted as an operational framework and implemented in all sectors, across the relief to development continuum.  The UN Children's Convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty.  All countries with functioning governments - fragile, low or high income - have ratified except for the U.S., and as state parties are required to implement and report on progress and compliance. 

Some years ago I led a study that documented children's fundamental right to survival, as explicitly recognized and protected under the Children's Convention. The 1999 report is mentioned below via the link.  In the case of Uganda, a low income country that receives significant external relief and development aid, the government has since taken some steps to invest and ensure that this right is protected.  Uganda is also hosting large numbers of refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries.  Here, Uganda has promulgated a fairly progressive policy towards the adequate protection for these vulnerable populations.

Full Rights, Whole Children: A Case Study of Child Survival and Human Rights in Mexico (2001) Documents violations of children's economic, social and cultural rights in Mexico. This report supplements The Advocates' 1998 case-study on Child Mortality in Mexico. The report includes an analysis of Mexico's macroeconomic polices, the Mexican health care system, and government social welfare programs that impact child well-being. ISBN: 0-929293 50-7 Global

Child Survival: A Human Rights Priority: Case Studies of Uganda, Mexico, and U.S. (1999) In developing and developed countries alike, more than 12 million children under the age of five die each year as a result of inadequate health services, violence, malnutrition, unsafe water, and lack of other basice necessities. These deaths constitute an unspeakable tragedy and must be recognized as a gross violation of fundamental human rights. This report tackles the serious issue of preventable child mortality and emphasizes that all rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural -- must be promoted and protected in order to ensure the health and survival of children. ISBN: 0-929293 38-x

Experience and Empathy

I certainly agree, Jessica.

I think much of people's attitudes are shaped by personal experience and empathy. I've  traveled a but through the West Bank and Gaza and recently went to an interactive art installation in Los Angeles in which the artist recreated the east Jerasulam border crossing complete with faux armed soldiers. It was incredibly realistic (at least from my perspective) and I think truly conveyed to folks the experience of moving between Palestine and Israeli. The goal explicity stated by the artist was to raise awareness of the human rights issues at stake - a goal that I believe was better met than any pamphlet, article, lecture or video.

Can interactive art - or other "experiential mediums" (like VR) change people's attitudes towards humanitarian aid as a right and not a privelege? I certainly think it can be a powerful tool in the box for the right audience.

People's View of Humanitarian Aid

Jason, when you mention interactive art I immediately think of different holocaust memorials across the world that cater to making people remain emphathetic to the cause. New Tactics actually has a past conversation specifically about protest and interactive art in human rights that I think is interesting to look at.

I also think that many people who see humanitarian crises over their televisions are emphathetic to the cause but also feel better once they see so many aid groups and governments coming to the rescue. Unfortunately, many people think the job is done when it is not taken into account how there are logistical problems that occur, which prolong aid. They aren't able to see the disconnect between human rights and humanitarian aid when they don't see the problems in deliverance that affect minority groups, women, etc. So rather than some seeing it as privilege, I feel that many are just ill-informed about aid and the work that entails for effective deliverance especially in different contexts (conflicts vs natural disasters). Becaues of this they don't know that when aid isn't delivered well, it is a potential human rights violations. 


Experience and Empathy

Thank you, all, for your thoughtful comments. I especially appreciate Jason's comments about the importance of personal experience and empathy. It does seem that this is being recognized more and more, especially by those working on refugee issues. The example that comes to my mind is an experience that I had with a group of college students at a museum called "Humanity House" in The Hague ( The museum begins with a simulation of the refugee experience - from initial flight to the processing of asylum claims. What is more powerful than this, though, is a section at the end of the simulation where you can sit and watch videos of of refugees talking about their experiences. It is set up in such a way that it puts you face to face with a refugee and let's you hear them respond to a series of questions. It seemed to me to be a very effective approach to creating a sense of empathy with refugees.