Humanitarian aid workers provide life-saving services to people who are trapped in conflict settings, affected by health emergencies or hit by natural disasters. Inherently, humanitarian operations typically take place when a country is unable to manage the humanitarian needs of its own population, indicating a weak or fragile government. Working in these environments can be dangerous. Adding to the destruction and chaos of conflict, deliberate attacks on humanitarian staff and facilities cause maximum damage to the health of populations. This poses a severe problem to the international community because deliberate attacks undermine the fundamental principles of humanitarian action.
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.
In my thesis, I’m addressing the question of why aid workers are being attacked and explore the variation of attacks across different conflicts. I work with mixed methods, combining qualitative interview data, media statements of armed groups, and spatial conflict event data.
Knowing whether attacks against aid workers are used as a large-scale war tactic or occur as unfortunate cross-fire events, has severe legal implications. The latter, though still a crime, could be addressed by aid agencies themselves by improving their security management. The former, targeting humanitarians strategically, is a deliberate attack and a war crime.