Failure to Assist a Person in Danger, a Crime Punishable by Law

Failure to Assist a Person in Danger, a Crime Punishable by Law

Last year, we wrote in this blog the following: “Knowing that humanitarian security incidents have been following an exponential curve in the last decade, you may wonder if you and/or your organization can get sued, be held accountable and taken to court for not protecting your staff enough. According to a Policy Paper issued by the Security Management Initiative following a research project, the answer is “Yes”.

Well, in the meantime Steve Dennis, a highly experienced field project manager, was kidnapped together with three other staff members in Dadaab, Kenya in 2012. He was travelling in a convoy through the camp when his car came under fire by kidnappers. A driver was killed, Steve was shot in the leg. He and three other colleagues were taken captive and after four days of being marched towards the Somali border, they were rescued when a pro-government Somali group attacked their kidnappers and freed them.

Since the incident, Dennis has suffered from physical problems resulting from his gunshot wound, and post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms including insomnia and acute hyper-vigilance.

After having discovered extreme shortfalls in the investigation around the incident and significant errors, he decided to sue his employer, the Norwegian Refugee Council, which a court in Oslo found guilty for gross negligence in the handling of the security situation. As a result, Steve Dennis was awarded a compensation of 4.4 million krone ($500,000) plus costs.

A case with far-reaching implications for the aid industry

For the Security Management Initiative research project (2012) cited above, the main causes for this are an absence of a ‘culture of security’, of understanding and/or knowledge and of institutionalized willingness, decisions and mechanisms.

The CHP, which mission has been to support and train humanitarian aid workers and NGOs in the area of staff care for the last 15 years, has unfortunately found the same, with little change in the mentalities during all this time.

A culture of caring

Today though, international best practices in the area of organizational support to humanitarian field staff exist. HR and Staff Health do not need to reinvent the wheel.

A model, which has been internationally supported in the last decade, is detailed in the recent White Paper: Training, Support & Follow up for Humanitarian Field Staff – Model and Processes. The paper argues that there are both practical and moral reasons for humanitarian agencies to ensure they have a comprehensive in-house staff welfare program – and goes on to guide into growing organizational staff support competency.

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The author, Claire Colliard, is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Psychology. She has been a trainer and consultant for many aid agencies in the last 20 years and is specialized in humanitarian psychosocial intervention.

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