Mark Malloch Brown, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, told the 19th graduating class of the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program that humanitarian aid work had become much more lethal since his days in the field, in part because of “the reckless character of inter-state warfare,” in which civilian casualties were not merely the byproduct of war, but its goal. Brown delivered the commencement address to IDHA graduates on Friday, June 30, at Lowenstein Center.
“At the United Nations it’s our humanitarian development workers, not our peacekeepers, who bear the brunt of loss of life,” Brown said. “When I started, working in a very dangerous place on the Cambodian-Thai border, all I had to do to ensure my safety was make sure a big, blue UN flag was visible on my car.” Now, he told graduates, humanitarian workers are deliberate targets of war.
Friday’s class of 42 aid professionals come from 29 countries around the world. Since its inception in 1997, nearly 800 humanitarian workers have graduated from the IDHA program, which is run by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA). The month-long IDHA program is offered three times a year, rotating between Fordham University in New York, and humanitarian aid hubs abroad such as Cairo, Geneva and Nairobi.
Brown was appointed deputy secretary-general of the United Nations in April, 2006. He has served as chef de cabinet to the secretary-general, and administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Brown also served as vice president for external affairs, and vice president for United Nations affairs at the World Bank. From 1979 to 1981, he was stationed in Thailand, where he was in charge of field operations for Cambodian refugees.
“We should never expect to be loved and respected for our work, and if we are, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing it right,” Brown said, noting that aid work takes place in so many countries with corrupt and brutal governments. “Humanitarian work is political; it is stepping in on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. That is political in the best sense of the word.”