The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)
The WHS will take place May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey. Organized by the UN, the summit is a call to action with three main goals:
- To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.
- 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.
- To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the center of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering.
The core responsibilities of the summit are:
- Prevent and end conflict
- Respect rules of war
- Leave no one behind
- Working differently to end need
- Invest in humanity
With approximately 5,000 people expected to attend, the summit will produce a “Commitments to Action” document which will support the Agenda for Humanity. The document, which is not legally binding, will be a demonstration of goodwill by UN member states and other stakeholders including NGOs.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
On May 5, just a little over two weeks before the main event, MSF announced its withdrawal from participating in the WHS. According to the statement released by MSF, the organization no longer believes the summit “will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”
The organization stated, “the summit neglects to reinforce the obligations of states to uphold and implement the humanitarian and refugee laws which they have signed up to.” The organization believes that not enough pressure has been put on member states to uphold the laws of war and it is unfair and unrealistic to ask NGOs like MSF to fill this gap. IRIN News spoke with a former MSF senior staffer who put MSF’s decision in perspective: “You can ask firefighters to put out a fire. Don’t ask them to build affordable housing.” However, the UN Tribune reports that the UN sees humanitarian aid and development work coming closer together, working in tandem.
Reuters commented that because of MSF’s strong global influence, the WHS may not be as effective without the NGO. Another blog, Humanicontrarian argued WHS’ agenda has been flawed from the beginning, and has little to do with humanitarian aid. At least one person has advocated that MSF pulling out of the summit will help illuminate the gaps in the agenda, and encourage other participating NGOs to demand the summit address them.
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General commented on MSF’s withdrawal; “I’d say it’s disappointing, because I think the summit was going to deal with a lot of issues that are vital to MSF and which MSF traditionally presents a strong and influential voice.” He went on to state that the summit is continuing “full speed ahead” and the UN expects over 6,000 attendees. Howard Mollett, a Senior Policy Advisor at CARE International UK pointed out that the WHS “has been a messy, sprawling affair and will inevitably fall far short of what is required to address the vast and deeply political challenges facing humanitarian action.” However, he goes on to argue that “we cannot avoid the fact that the governments, civil society groups and businesses invited are either already engaged on the ground or have an influence on today’s major crises.” The hope is that these already engaged groups attend and commit to acting on “challenges, gaps and weaknesses that MSF, but also Ban Ki Moon, have identified.”
- Are MSF’s claims that the WHS will not effectively address governmental responsibility and the weaknesses of humanitarian action valid?
- Is there another way that MSF could have called attention to its concerns while still participating in the WHS?
- Will the legitimacy and effectiveness of the WHS be called into question given the lack of participation of MSF?
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