By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), May 23rd & 24th 2016, in Istanbul, Turkey is finally underway!
The two-day event convened by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is focused around his call that humanity-people’s safety, dignity and the right to thrive-be placed at the heart of global decision-making. Three major goals have been envisaged for the Summit:
a) to re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles
b) to initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises, and be resilient to shocks
c) to share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the centre of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering
In order to deliver for humanity, stakeholders must act immediately on five core responsibilities:
i. to prevent and end conflict
ii. to respect rules of war
iii. to leave no one behind
iv. to work differently to end need
v. to invest in humanity
Besides, two other responsibilities are also highlighted:
i. catalyse action for gender equality
ii. respond to disasters and climate change
Both the goals and the core responsibilities are certainly laudable and could go a long away to help bring ‘humanity’ back centre-stage in a world that so desperately cries out for it! The WHS, a first-of-its-kind was expected to bring together heads of State and Government and key decision-makers from across the globe. On the eve of the Summit however, in a lead ‘The New York Times’ (May 21st 2016) states “most of the world’s most powerful leaders-those whose soldiers and diplomats can end wars and hold accountable those who violate international humanitarian law- are not going.”
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany is the only G-7 leader who is expected to be present. The absence of world leaders at this important summit is a sad commentary of how far an immediate global response will actually go in the wake of the greatest humanitarian crisis that has gripped the world today!
It is true however, that the WHS will bring together more than six thousand participants representing more than 125 countries, the UN agencies and the whole spectrum of civil society organisations which are engaged in humanitarian issues. It will be a great opportunity not merely to exchange notes, ‘sell’ the good work being done- but more than ever to see in what ways an immediate, collaborative, pragmatic and sustainable response is agreed upon – and which can be implemented without delay.
Many are skeptical if this will actually happen. A few weeks ago one of the leading humanitarian INGOs ‘Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors without Borders) pulled out of the WHS. MSF stated, “as shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs’.
The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored. We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”
Point taken. But those who gather in Istanbul must ensure that the WHS is no ‘fig-leaf of good intentions’ and must have the courage to ask and answer difficult questions, like:
· will the so-called developed nations CLOSE DOWN immediately their arms and ammunitions industry?
- will developing nations stop increasing their spending on ‘Defence and Military warfare’?
- will nations stop the juggernaut of fascism, fundamentalism, fanaticism and
- misplaced ‘patriotism’ which excludes the other and propagates the building of walls and fences?
- will heads of State stop killing their own people –in the name of quelling dissent and rebellion?
- will human rights violations particularly of the IDPs and the refugees be addressed immediately?
- will increased funding for education of the vulnerable and the marginalised become the corner stone for a more inclusive and egalitarian world?
As part of the WHS, the UN has launched a major campaign ‘Education cannot wait!’ stating,“one in four of the world’s school-aged children – 462 million – now live in countries affected by crisis. Of these children, 75 million are in the most desperate need of support: they are either in danger of or already missing out on their right to education. Education gives children the building blocks to rebuild their lives and, eventually, their country.”
These are but some of the questions! Unless there is a clear political resolve to address endemic issues- nothing may change dramatically. The WHS is an opportunity -for the sake of millions of people the world over- which cannot be wasted. It should not be allowed to be an exercise in futility or a mere cosmetic with empty rhetoric! Those who are there MUST realise that the time to ACT is NOW! Tomorrow will be too late!
*Human rights activist engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle-East