United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on 80 governments and 45 world leaders to attend the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24. The goal of the conference is to inspire new commitments to preventing and responding to crises, while sending the world a clear message that “we will not accept the erosion of humanity which we see in the world today.”
However, one of the biggest and most prominent humanitarian aid organizations, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has announced its decision to pull out of the summit. The charity, calling it a mere “fig-leaf of good intentions,” opined the conference would not be able to address the growing needs caused by war and violence because of its non-binding nature.
“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” MSF announced in a statement Wednesday. “As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs.’ The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored.”
The decision to withdraw from WHS comes shortly after air strikes reportedly led by the Syrian government reduced a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Aleppo, Syria, to rubble. Three doctors lost their lives in the attack. In October 2015, a U.S. led airstrike killed 42 patients, caregivers and medical staff, and injured dozens more at a Doctors Without Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In fact, the organization claims 75 hospitals managed or supported by MSF were bombed last year.
“Putting states on the same level as non-governmental organizations and U.N. agencies, which have no such powers or obligations, the Summit will minimize the responsibility of states,” the charity noted. “In addition, the non-binding nature of the commitments means that very few actors will sign up to any commitments they haven’t previously committed to.”
About 6,000 people, including private sector leaders, heads of humanitarian organizations and representatives of civil society, are expected to take part in the summit. But, MSF’s stance has revealed how little international aid organizations actually believe in the United Nations and its effectiveness.
“Disappointing,” the representative for the United Nations, Stéphane Dujarric, said Thursday in response to the decision by Doctors Without Borders.