UNHCR honours the sacrifices of aid workers on World Humanitarian Day

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UNHCR staff on Tuesday paid tribute to aid workers killed, kidnapped or attacked in the line of duty, including five colleagues slain during the past year in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

The observance of a minute of silence and a wreath laying ceremony in Geneva followed Sunday’s global commemoration of World Humanitarian Day, which honours the critical role of those who serve people affected by conflict or disaster.

“On World Humanitarian Day we remember the aid workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty and we honour the extraordinary courage and dedication of humanitarian workers around the world,” said UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in a statement.

“I had the honour and the pleasure of meeting one of these brave individuals before his [2009] murder during a visit to Pakistan, where I witnessed first-hand the incredible devotion of a very kind and gentle man. His name was Mr. Zill-e-Usman.”

Other events scheduled in Geneva include a panel discussion about news coverage of humanitarian situations, the unveiling of a plaque honouring the victims of a 2003 bombing targeting the United Nations in Iraq, and a photography exhibition.

Humanitarian work has become increasingly risky but 2011 proved especially dangerous. There were more major attacks against aid workers than ever before, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. The number of victims reached an all-time high: 86 aid workers killed, 95 kidnapped and 127 seriously wounded.

Beyoncé, the international pop star, helped draw unprecedented public attention to World Humanitarian Day this year with the release of a new music video, “I Was Here”. Recorded live at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the video was the centrepiece of a global advocacy campaign [whd-iwashere.org] by the UN’s Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The campaign used Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools to reach hundreds of millions of people, urging them to “commit to doing something good, somewhere, for someone else.”

By Christopher Reardon in Geneva (unhcr)

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