Protection of Humanitarian Action Series: Duty of Care and Sexual Violence

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How much responsibility do humanitarian organizations have to protect the staff they send into the field? Due to the often austere, volatile, or insecure nature of humanitarian response settings, aid workers have long recognized the inherent personal and organizational risks of humanitarian action. Yet increasing threats and attacks against humanitarian actors in various emergency settings have spurred renewed debate over organizational responsibilities to protect not only civilian populations, but also their own staff. Much of this debate has focused on the principle of ‘duty of care’, and the ethical, professional, and legal obligations of organizations toward their staff, volunteers, and partners in the field.

Sexual assaults and violence within the humanitarian sector are a visible and important marker of the urgency of addressing organizational duty of care. A growing number of reports indicate that sexual violence is not only a serious risk for civilians in humanitarian emergencies, but also for humanitarian aid workers themselves. More and more aid workers, overwhelmingly women, are coming forward with reports of sexual assaults, harassment, and discrimination – perpetrated not only by armed actors, but by their colleagues in the humanitarian sector – prompting a sector-wide reevaluation of how to prevent such assaults and better support victims, and efforts to improve organizational response and prevention strategies.

In this episode, we’ll speak with experts and practitioners about the duty of care for humanitarian organizations, and the challenges of implementing it in practice. As organizations struggle to adapt and maintain programming in challenging operating environments, what responsibility do they have to protect their own staff? What does this duty entail, and how can organizations better act upon their duty of care without overly constraining their operations in the field?

This episode is a continuation of ATHA’s series addressing the protection of humanitarian action from attack.

Key questions:

  • What duty of care do humanitarian organizations have to their staff in insecure settings? What does this duty entail, and how far does it extend?
  • What are their ethical, professional, and legal obligations towards their own staff, volunteers, or partners in the field?
  • How can organizations better prepare for and respond to violence against their personnel and operations? And how can they better act upon their duty of care without overly constraining operations in the field?
  • In light of growing revelations of sexual violence in the humanitarian section, what is needed for organizations to improve policies and procedures to prevent, train, investigate and respond to sexual assaults?

Extended Segment 2 on duty of care for humanitarian organizations: Lisa Reilly, Executive Director, European Interagency Security Forum (EISF); Christine Williamson, Director, Duty of Care International

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to Extended Segment 2 here.

Extended Segment 3 on security management in the field: Luigi Bocci, Field Security Officer, World Food Programme, Afghanistan; Erwan Rumen, Field Security Officer, World Food Programme, Iraq

If the audio player above does not load, you can listen to Extended Segment 3 here.

Luigi Bocci
Field Security Officer,
World Food Programme, Afghanistan
Twitter: @WFP
Phoebe Donnelly 
Assistant Researcher, Feinstein International Center,
and Doctoral Candidate,
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy 
Twitter: @PhoebsG86
Dyan Mazurana 
Associate Research Professor,
Feinstein International Center and Friedman School,
Tufts University 
Megan Nobert
Director,
Report the Abuse 
Twitter: @megan_nobert
Lisa Reilly
Executive Director, 
European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) 
Twitter: @EISF1
Erwan Rumen 
Field Security Officer,
World Food Programme, Iraq
Twitter: @WFP
Orly Stern 
Independent Researcher and Consultant, Senior Fellow,
Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
Twitter: @orlystern
Christine Williamson 
Director,
Duty of Care International 
Twitter: @dutyofcareint

Resources:

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