Statement by Secretary of State John Kerry on World Humanitarian Day (August 19, 2014)

We pay tribute today to the world’s humanitarians – those unsung heroes who, despite the risks, work to save lives on the front lines of conflict and help victims of natural disasters pick up the pieces and rebuild their communities.

One of the great privileges of serving as Secretary of State is getting to see firsthand the unfathomable commitment of men and women who give so much of themselves to victims of tragedy. I’ve met with leaders and community members in Iraq who are standing up to ISIL’s grotesque campaign of violence and terror. I’ve witnessed the commitment of aid workers in refugee camps on the Syrian border, helping Syria’s people and its neighbors cope with one of the cruelest humanitarian crises in generations. I’ve spoken with the heroes in Juba who are today doing everything they can to provide an estimated 3.9 million South Sudanese with food and save an entire generation from famine.

The men, women, and children affected by these crises represent only a fraction of the 108 million people worldwide who are victims of civil strife or the destructive power of natural disasters and need assistance.

In each case, humanitarians – armed with courage and a powerful moral compass – are answering the cries of those in dire need and our common call to conscience. They are providing food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care where no one else can or will. They are working to reunite children separated from their parents and families torn apart by chaos and conflict. They are helping victims of sexual violence to heal and helping the world to speak with a unified voice that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and intimidation is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century.

As the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance, the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to doing everything we can to provide for humanitarians’ safety and security. But today of all days, we remember the men and women who pay the ultimate price as a result of their devotion.

Across 30 countries last year, 155 aid workers lost their lives. These men and women gave everything they had for those who have nothing. Today, we recommit to their mission of bringing charity, healing, and kindness to those who need it most. We remember the universal principles they gave their lives to uphold.

We remember the six Afghan employees of the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, who were shot while working on a rural development project in the northern Afghan province of Faryab. We remember one Kenyan, five Somali, and two South African nationals killed at their U.N. compound in Mogadishu. We remember the five South Sudanese aid workers killed earlier this month only for being ethnic Nuer. We remember them and we honor them by taking up the torch they have left behind, by acting to affirm human dignity wherever it is denied.

Today, as the United States and the global community recall the names of these and all humanitarians, we remember our own obligation to affirm the inherent value of every life, and what that demands from our own lives. When there is so much work to be done, we remember the vital work of humanitarians and what we can all do to be humanitarians.