The Global State of Humanitarian Issues

The Global State of Humanitarian Issues

The first session of the 2016 Aurora Dialogues, moderated by President of the International Center for Transnational Justice David Tolbert and titled “The global state of humanitarian issues,” opened with a presentation of the findings of the “Global Humanitarian Index.” The panelists agreed that it is time for change to take place in the world both on the level of the individual citizen and on the level of governments and international organizations.

The panelists believe that it will be impossible to overcome the challenges we face today if we don't reconsider the role that every international structure plays in the world. According to Dr. Edward Luck, director of the international conflict resolution specialization at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, there is a pressing need for a new legal framework aimed at preventing mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. “You have to look at the issue of preventing Genocide and other mass atrocities. You saying things to leaders that they don’t want to hear, you saying things to populations that they don’t want to hear. This is a particular field that is developing well, but it is still at an embryonic stage,” he said.


               Session panelist Hina Jilani and moderator David Tolbert

Former United Nations special representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders and Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member Hina Jilani believes that despite the skepticism that exists toward the United Nations today, its authority and mandate must be reinforced. “Countries that are members of the UN sometimes try to compete with the UN and weaken it, and I think that is a mistake. We need a central authority that has sense and that no particular country dominates. The charter of the UN begins with ‘We, the people,’ and that is essentially no longer the case. We need to bring the UN closer to the people, so that its decisions reflect the will of the people to a much greater extent,” she told the audience.

​The speakers also reminded the audience about the tragedies taking place in the world today. Dr. Steven Luckert, the senior program curator at the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education, said that the current situation in Iraq, where the county’s government is failing to protect the Yazidi population from a Genocide perpetrated by ISIS, is reminiscent of what happened during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire.


                                        Panelist Dr. Shirin Ebadi

Iranian human rights lawyer and the country's first female judge, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi, suggested that members of the audience personally visit the refugee camps to see the disastrous state that millions of people live in. “On average, 6,000 people flee from the Middle East every year. Just last year, some 500 people drowned on their way to Europe. If no solutions are found quickly, this humanitarian crisis will be much worse than the one the world experienced after World War II,” she said.

Many refugee camps have no water, not to mention schools. This means that a whole generation of illiterate people will grow up in unsanitary conditions. "They have no choice but to flee to Europe and the United States,” Ebadi warned. In the meantime, the human rights lawyer noted, some countries use the refugee problem as a manipulative tool to advance their bid to join the European Union or to receive financial aid. Instead of asking European countries to open up their borders, we have to help those who live in the refugee camps, she believes. She also accused Islamic states of inaction. “Qatar is one of the richest countries based on its per capita GDP, just like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. They do need workers, so why don't they let in the refugees? Why are their borders closed? Because they are afraid that they will have to give these people citizenship, they want Germany to do it. At the same time, they speak of Islamic solidarity,” she said.


                                         Session panelists

But despite the decisive role that governments and international organizations play, the panelists agreed that we should not underestimate the role played by individuals. It is not just the government’s responsibility to prevent Genocide and help refugees, but also the citizens’, said Edward Luck. “We can’t ask the victims to wait while we pass a law or create an organization. Every person is responsible for the fate of others, not just the government,” echoed Hina Jilani. 

“We should think less about intervention and more about engagement. We can find a lot of cases where we can engage government authorities, we can engage civil society when they take a wrong path, make the wrong choices. We are about to appoint a new Secretary General. We should be asking them very hard questions about their attitude toward human rights protection. We as citizens, wherever we live, have to make our political leaders accountable. We need accountability not only after the fact, but also before,” concluded Edward Luck.