It was with much sadness that we learned yesterday of the death of Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer, Mohammed al-Khadraa, in the city of Douma in Rural Damascus.
Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers around the world are united by a set of Principles and a common mission to save lives and reduce human suffering. Tragically, Mohammed, the third Red Crescent fatality in the last eight months, was shot and killed in a vehicle marked by the Red Crescent emblem while working as a first-aid responder.
The Red Crescent is recognised under international humanitarian law as an emblem of protection and like the Red Cross and Red Crystal is intended to provide protection for military medical services and relief workers in armed conflicts in providing assistance to those in need. It is essential that such workers, like Mohammed and the many millions of Red Cross volunteers who work so bravely and selflessly across the world in the most difficult of circumstances, are protected if their ability to provide this assistance is not to be impeded.
While the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have condemned the lack of respect for life-saving medical services in Syria, Mohammed’s death serves to underline an ever increasing concern amongst the humanitarian community about the safety and protection of humanitarian personnel.
During the past decade in particular, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has observed a notable deterioration in security conditions facing humanitarian workers who increasingly face risk of death, injury or kidnapping in the course of their work despite legal protections. Ironically, the number of humanitarian personnel killed in the course of duty has in fact declined. This is not because of increased respect for humanitarian personnel and their work but instead, on the contrary, because of fear of lack of respect for the legal provisions which provide protection in the first instance. Such lack of respect for international law has thus subsequently reduced access by many humanitarian agencies to some of the most vulnerable conflict affect communities in the world in need of food, shelter, water and medical assistance.
It is with even more irony that Mohammed’s death in Syria occurred just one day after a symposium on Health Care in Danger in London to focus on the global problem of violent threats to health care. Organised by the ICRC, the British Red Cross, the British Medical Association and the World Medical Association, the event took the first steps towards agreeing on a response to a problem that denies health care to tens of thousands every year, causes untold unnecessary deaths and worsens the suffering of the sick and wounded caught up in conflict.
Let us hope that this and further such initiatives serve to prevent further deaths or injury to all those who seek to save lives and reduce human suffering wherever it may be found. We here at Irish Red Cross wish to commend the work of the Syrian Arab Crescent and extend our condolences to them and the family of Mohammed al-Khadraa in this most testing of times.
By Colm Byrne