Melanie Sauter

European University Institute

Melanie Sauter
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Not a target: Violence against humanitarian aid workers

Violence against aid workers has become a major concern for most humanitarian agencies. Adding to the destruction and chaos of conflict, deliberate attacks on humanitarian staff and facilities cause maximum damage to the health of populations. As long as they are being targeted, aid agencies cannot operate effectively and help the most vulnerable. This also poses a severe problem to the international community because deliberate attacks undermine the fundamental principles of humanitarian action. Irregular warfare, meaning governments fighting armed groups mostly in their own territory, has become the norm. These modern wars pose a challenge to the enforcement of international law and humanitarian principles.

Aid projects are often of strategic value for armed groups in conflict settings. Yet it seems unclear what is cause and what is effect: whether aid agencies are targeted because they help the wrong actors, or because they provide security and services to the civilians, and whether the provision of aid prolongs conflicts or helps create peace.

My research project wants to look at the micro-dynamics in civil wars leading to violence against aid workers. Furthermore, I want to evaluate what impact humanitarian organizations have on conflict dynamics. Humanitarian aid can induce negative externalities, for example violence against civilians. In some instances, aid even prolongs the conflict.