APR 5, 2024. MEDIA RELEASE

New Zealand government must stand up for humanitarian law

New Zealand government must stand up for humanitarian law

If humanitarian aid workers are not safe in war zones, then the appalling conditions for children and families in places like Gaza will get significantly worse, says CEO of ChildFund New Zealand, Josie Pagani.

"We call on the New Zealand Government to stand up for humanitarian law whenever it is ignored, and to call for those who break the law to be held accountable," says Josie Pagani.

The horrifying killing of aid workers from World Central Kitchen in Gaza has challenged all aid charities, including ChildFund and our partners in Gaza.

"Aid organisations who have staff in war zones have to be able to keep their staff as safe as possible. While there are no New Zealand ChildFund staff in Gaza, our partners bringing aid to starving children are risking their lives, and it gets harder to keep them safe."

At least 196 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza since October, according to the United Nations.

"If charities cannot get humanitarian aid to starving children in Gaza, then we are looking at an unprecedented humanitarian crisis."

Right now, children in Gaza cannot access nutritious food or medical services and have less than 2 to 3 litres of water per day. Dozens of children in the Northern Gaza Strip have reportedly died from malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks, and half the population is facing catastrophic food insecurity.

Governments like New Zealand who are signatories to international humanitarian laws, have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure children have access to humanitarian services in war zones like Gaza.

"International law is split between the ‘right to go to war’ (jus ad bellum), and the right conduct within a war (jus in bello). Whatever your views on Israel’s right to go to war after the horror of the October 7 attacks by Hamas, there is no excuse for breaching international law when it comes to its conduct during this war," says Josie Pagani.

International humanitarian law is purely humanitarian and seeks to limit suffering. It requires parties to discriminate between combatants and civilians, and to not put large numbers of civilians at risk. It calls on all parties to ensure that any military retaliation is proportionate.

It also requires that those who break these laws are held accountable, whether they be soldiers on the ground carrying out attacks, or politicians calling the shots.

"If the staff who work for charities like ChildFund and their partners in-country are to continue doing the vital work of getting aid into places like Gaza, then governments like New Zealand must be prepared to stand up for the rule of law that protects humanitarian workers in conflict areas.

"This situation not only challenges the ability of aid charities to deliver aid but also demands that aid organisations assess the risk to their staff and forces all charities to confront the critical question as to whether humanitarian operations can continue under such untenable conditions.

"Some organizations have suspended operations already, and all humanitarian organisations are being forced to assess the risk every day. The situation is truly heart-breaking," says Josie Pagani.

You can donate to support ChildFund’s work in Gaza here.