August 19, WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY: No to the criminalisation of solidarity

On World Humanitarian Day, the organisations Solidary Wheels and No Name Kitchen denounce the criminalisation of solidarity and the political use of "humanitarian aid”.


Both organisations, defenders of the human rights of people in border areas, call for the exercise of solidarity in the defense of all people who suffer a violation of their rights.

Twelve years ago today, the United Nations Assembly decreed 19 August as World Humanitarian Day to remember the 22 humanitarian aid workers who died on 19 August 2003 when a bomb fell on the hotel in Baghdad where they were staying. This resolution was intended to raise awareness among the public about humanitarian assistance activities around the world.


However, Solidary Wheels and No Name Kitchen, on the ground in Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Melilla, denounce the two faces of humanitarian aid with the alarming increase in the media and political use of humanitarian aid as well as the criminalisation of solidarity of human rights defenders.


One of the best known recent cases in Spain on the criminalisation of solidarity is that of the activist Helena Maleno, who the Spanish Public Prosecutor's Office wanted to sentence to life imprisonment, through their complaint to the Moroccan authorities for possible human trafficking, for the simple fact that she continously communicated cases of distress and emergency of boats that were adrift in the Mediterranean Sea to Salvamento Marítimo, the Spanish Sea Rescue Organisation. All this despite the fact that Obiora Chabíanedu Okafor, Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity of the United Nations, in her report presented to the Human Rights Council in 2019, mentioned categorically the obligation of States and people to rescue lives at sea as well as to lead them to the nearest port of safety.


Less well known, and less serious, but constant, are the cases in which the Croatian government singles out No Name Kitchen as "the one that brings immigrants to Europe illegally," when it is this organisation that assists with food and basic and necessary goods migrants and refugees who are trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and who are mistreated by the border system that denies them safe and legal paths to seek asylum or migrate legally.


The attack on human rights defenders has been denounced by multiple entities and, even the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, in the report presented to the Human Rights Council in 2018, reviewed the situation of people acting in defence of the rights of migrants and refugees and called attention to "the difficult situation of those acting in solidarity with these people and seeking to promote and fight for the protection of their rights". He also called on all States to promote the rights of defenders of people on the move and to address the challenges they face.


On the other hand, Solidary Wheels and No Name Kitchen show their rejection of the political use of humanitarian aid by States. On days like today, we need to reflect collectively on the humanitarian policies of recent years, which increasingly use human suffering as the only justification for assistance practices, ignoring other types of situations, less urgent but equally serious. Thus, for example, the situation of young people who migrate alone has become standardised across all borders and the failure to comply with all regulations that protect the legal interests of minors is more than obvious.


As described by Didier Fassin, anthropologist, sociologist, doctor and professor of social sciences at Princeton University, "the choice of whether or not to grant social assistance, inscribed in technical mechanisms through which one seeks to give it objectivity, functions as a process of subjectivation imposed on the poor in which they are constructed as subjects of assistance, while at the same time giving an account of the exposure of suffering as a new appeal to the will of the State".


Increasingly, the degree of suffering is used as the sole trigger for enforcing human rights laws. One has to prove that one is very ill, or has lived through very serious situations in order to exercise the right to receive what he is entitled to by law.


This means that, for example, both the management of refugee camps and situations that occur in border areas, such as Greece, Serbia, Bosnia, Ceuta or Melilla, become, under the pretext of human rights, places of repression with flagrant impunity, in that discretionary limbo that is the humanity-security binomial used by States according to their political interests, creating subjects with the right to be "saved" by humanitarian aid and others who are not, and thus reducing human lives to the "logic of humanitarian reason", as Fassin says.


For all this, on a day like today we encourage all people to show solidarity with all those who are in vulnerable situations, collaborating with their neighbours, in their neighbourhoods and localities, thus demonstrating that solidarity cannot be criminalised.

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