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

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.

Published: 
April, 2017

Program