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Brussels, 19 August 2010

Security of Humanitarian aid workers: A concern at the heart of the EU’s humanitarian action

Security represents one of the most challenging issues for the humanitarian community. The conditions in which humanitarian workers operate have become increasingly dangerous. Humanitarian emblems and flags which traditionally provided a shield for humanitarian workers have now unfortunately often become targets.

As one of the world’s main donors of humanitarian assistance, the European Commission bears a key responsibility in ensuring that its staff and partners work in the safest possible environment to be able to fulfil their tasks. To this end, the European Commission’s Humanitarian and Civil Protection department (ECHO) continuously takes concrete steps both at the operational and political levels. In the context of the "Don't shoot, I'm a humanitarian worker!" campaign, the Commission highlights the various actions already taken.

Advocating for the security of humanitarian aid workers and actively promoting International Humanitarian Law

The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid

The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid was adopted at the end of 2007 by the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission. This landmark document underscores the need to preserve humanitarian space to ensure access to vulnerable populations and the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. It reaffirms the EU's commitment to upholding and promoting the fundamental humanitarian principles. It also commits the EU to advocating strongly and consistently for the respect of International Law, including International Humanitarian Law. This year, in consultation with its partners, the Commission will prepare a mid-term review of the implementation of the European Consensus and its Action Plan.

European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law

On 23 December 2005, the European Union issued its Guidelines on promoting compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) (Official Journal 2005/C 327/04) emphasising the value it placed on promoting humanitarian law. These Guidelines set out operational tools for the EU to promote compliance with IHL and to underline the EU's commitment to promoting such compliance in a visible and consistent manner. When the Guidelines were updated by the Council in December 2009, the Council also adopted conclusions reaffirming its strong support for the promotion and respect of IHL.

A resolution to be adopted by United Nations General Assembly

This autumn, the European Union will facilitate this year's resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the Safety and Security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations' personnel. The General Assembly has considered this question annually for over a decade. It has consistently called on States to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel in particular by ensuring effective implementation of the relevant provisions of international law.

ECHO partnerships with mandated international partners

Defending the humanitarian space and the security of aid workers is of major concern to both the EU and its partners. It is for this reason that ECHO supports the activities of a number of humanitarian actors in reinforcing safety and security measures and promoting the fundamental humanitarian principles and IHL. In this context, ECHO's support to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for coordination, advocacy activities and dissemination of security information, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for promoting and disseminating IHL are noteworthy.

Standards and practices for the security of humanitarian personnel and advocacy for humanitarian space

ECHO has contributed to several research studies regarding security for humanitarian organisations produced by the Humanitarian Policy Group.1

ECHO has also initiated a review of “Standards and practices for the security of humanitarian personnel and advocacy for humanitarian space”. The review produced three documents, which have been made available to ECHO partners and to other NGOs:

  • The Security Report examines the ways in which humanitarian organisations manage security.

  • The Generic Security Guide is a manual to help organisations to improve management of their security by providing guidance and suggesting tools and resources.

  • The Security Training Directory provides information about relevant training courses on security matters, including contingency planning, evacuation plans and procedures, mine-awareness training, hostage survival, and stress management. It is intended to assist managers in humanitarian organisations to find suitable security training courses.

 ECHO Guidelines on “Safety and Security in the Field”

ECHO has around 400 persons deployed in the field in various humanitarian spots around the world. An ECHO Guide on “Safety and Security in the Field” has been produced to familiarize the EU staff with the best safety and security practices and procedures.

The Guide outlines the roles and responsibilities of the various actors in the ECHO security management system and advocates for a better exchange of information and collaboration between headquarters and the field. It is based on the simple but essential principle for any security situation: security is not a scheme or a model but a process, and the essence of that process is communication. These guidelines are at the disposal of the Commission’s partners and are used extensively by many NGOs as a reference tool for their staff.

ECHO’s Head Quarters and Field Security team

ECHO has a specific Security Sector devoted to advise, develop and implement safety and security procedures for ECHO staff. The security Sector in Brussels is complemented by a network of security officers in the field. Their role is to monitor the different environments in which the Commission is operating and to provide tailor-made advice and briefings, contributing to a strong organisational culture of safety and security within ECHO. They also support ECHO Technical Assistants who advise partners on how to deal with volatile security environments.

The European Union’s support towards its partners through specific projects

Countries such as Somalia and Sudan face a two-fold difficulty: they are facing the greatest humanitarian challenges but at same time are among the most dangerous places to deliver humanitarian assistance. To address the security and safety challenges, the EU funds specific projects with security components or entirely focusing on security. Such projects are for example currently ongoing in Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Afghanistan and Gaza.

Afghanistan and Gaza

ECHO is financing "safety and security NGOs" in Afghanistan and Gaza: the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) and the Gaza NGO Safety Office (GANSO) in the Gaza Strip. These projects provide safety information and advice to the NGO community, collect data on security incidents, and produce analysis reports on the general and local security situation at different locations.

In Afghanistan, the work of ANSO is considered by ECHO as a pre-condition for NGOs to be able to work in such a volatile and dangerous environment. Humanitarian flights are also funded to enable access to remote locations for which the use of land routes would be an additional security risk.


In Chad, aid agencies and civilians are increasingly victims of armed attacks. Since 2006, more than 164 vehicles from the UN or NGOs have been hijacked by armed groups and, since 2009, the number of abductions is worryingly on the rise. This poor security situation justified the setting-up of a safe air transport service for humanitarian NGOs, especially in the east of the country. This essential task is carried out, among others, by Aviation without borders (ASF-B) and by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), both funded by the European Commission.

In order to strengthen coordination, advocacy activities and a meaningful dialogue between the Civil and Military sectors, the Commission supports OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) in Chad.   In addition, the Commission provides financial support to the NGO Coordination Committee in Chad (CCO) to organise dedicated Security Trainings for security instructors.


In Somalia, the EU is currently starting a substantive NGO Safety Programme. This programme will benefit 350 local and international organisations providing humanitarian aid in Somalia. The aim is to enable the beneficiaries to reduce the risks and to apply appropriate safety measures. The programme includes training, information sharing procedures and technical assistance.


The large humanitarian aid community working in Sudan is confronted with a precarious security situation which allows only extremely limited road travel. This demands a continuous and expanding humanitarian air transport capacity, particularly for the Darfur region where certain remote areas are no longer accessible by road.

The EU is therefore supporting UNHAS for the whole of Sudan and the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS)-dedicated aircraft in South Sudan. The Commission is also funding UNDSS to implement a comprehensive security programme in South Sudan.  This includes offering training to humanitarian staff, induction briefings, and the ongoing dissemination of security information and advice.

In Darfur, ECHO is considering supporting initiatives such as Saving Lives Together.  This is designed to enhance quality dialogue among the multitude of different actors including UNAMID (African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur).

The Commission also supports OCHA whose role has become increasingly important in addressing the difficulties faced by the humanitarian community in Sudan, particularly in North Sudan and Darfur.

In addition to its coordination mandate, OCHA's role has become key in advocating for security or access for the humanitarian community and for liaising with the authorities and the armed forces of the integrated missions.  An example is in south Sudan where OCHA has deployed a civil-military liaison officer who conducts Civil-Military co-ordination workshops.


1 :

HPG Policy Brief 34, Providing aid in insecure environments: 2009 Update. Trends in violence against aid workers and the operational response. April 2009:

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