Honouring Humanity- Andrew MacLeod, Australian Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal

The ongoing global pandemic has highlighted the work of humanitarian organisations around the world. The United Nations estimates that 274 million people will require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2022. Throughout this year, we will celebrate the selfless acts of humanity by a select number of individuals while appreciating the ongoing work of thousands of humanitarian workers across the globe. 

Professor Andrew MacLeod is a qualified lawyer and businessman, who is best known for his humanitarian and philanthropic work. Since the early 1990s, he has been responsible for safeguarding and helping people in war zones and natural disasters, negotiating with military forces and militant groups, delivering humanitarian aid, and promoting human rights.   

Moral Obligation

As a young law student in Australia, MacLeod embraced the ‘moral obligation’ identified by a key speaker to use his skills ‘to better the lives of others’. He joined the International Committee of the Red Cross as a ‘wet behind the ears’ idealist and served first in the former Yugoslavia and then in Rwanda.

Least Bad Decisions

As a delegate to Serbia in 1996, he appreciated how young international aid workers had been regularly faced with making ‘least bad’ decisions when lives were at stake during the civil wars and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and elsewhere across the former Yugoslavia. He drew upon his own training as a lawyer and as an Australian infantry officer to train military units in the law of armed conflict, which resulted in a measurable decrease in civilian casualties. MacLeod helped to start the first police academy in Rwanda in 1999, and to put Rwandan defence force discipline legislation in pace.

Effective Delivery of Aid

In 1999, MacLeod monitored the independence referendum for the Swiss-based International Commission of Jurists, and elections in Sri Lanka in 2001 and in East Timor in 2002. He moved to the United Nations in 2003, where he reviewed and updated early warning and emergency preparedness procedures. In the wake of the devastating 2005 South Asian Earthquake which devastated northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, MacLeod was appointed as the Chief of Operations of the UN Emergency Coordination Centre in Pakistan. His role encompassed the provision of foreign aid for relief and reconstruction work, particularly in areas under state and non-state military control. The complex series of relationships which he negotiated over two and a half years between governments, international aid agencies, militant groups and the United States and United Kingdom military forces enabled the effective delivery of aid to some 3.5 million people while avoiding conflict or casualties.

‘Cluster Approach’

MacLeod’s work proved the concept of the ‘cluster approach’ in delivering international aid, incorporating humanitarian and partnership principles with accountability to affected populations.  In 2008 he coordinated the international response following the widespread death and destruction of crops and infrastructure caused by Typhoon Fengshen (Frank) across the Philippines.

Social Corporate Responsibility

When MacLeod returned to Rwanda in 2018, he saw at first hand how the government’s work with the private sector rather than the international community had served to rebuild the economy and society in the wake of civil war and genocide. Rwanda’s reconstruction matched his own pragmatic approach to the challenges of global poverty and foreign aid and the potential of social corporate responsibility to provide aid and assistance. He has advised companies on stakeholder relations and external risks and contributed to academic research in the fields of public policy, corporate valuation, private sector operations in post-conflict areas and security.

A Life Half Lived

Andrew MacLeod published his memoirs A Life Half Lived: Surviving the World’s Emergency Zones in 2013, in which he criticised the humanitarian system. He continues to promote partnerships between the private and not-for-profit sectors, and innovative safeguarding – particularly of children caught amid humanitarian operations.

The Australian Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal

MacLeod has received the Australian Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal in recognition of his service in both the Balkans and Rwanda (Great Lakes). The HOSM was instituted in 1999 to recognise Australians who perform humanitarian service in a foreign country, and in particular those who work in dangerous environments or conditions or during a humanitarian crisis. The Regulations for the medal specify humanitarian service as: ‘’service that gives immediate remedy to needy or distressed persons in order to sustain their life or dignity; or action to assist needy or distressed persons in order to sustain their life or dignity’.

The circular nickel-silver medal is 38 mm in diameter, with a stylised eucalyptus tree ringed by gumnuts on the obverse and a ring of gumnuts and the words ‘For Overseas Humanitarian Service’ on the reverse surrounding the area where the recipient’s name is engraved. The green and gold colours of the 32 mm wide ribbon represent the national colours of Australia, with the use of eucalyptus green also symbolising hope and regeneration after disaster.

Author’s Profile:

Dr Aaron Fox is a New Zealand-based military and security intelligence historian. He trained as an historian at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, before directing medallic policy for the New Zealand Defence Force. He later worked as a senior local government manager, and as a specialist advisor to the renowned Weta/Te Papa exhibition ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’. His current projects include a biography of the notable New Zealand soldier and politician, Brigadier James Hargest.