Rescue Workers at Risk

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 10, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Rescue Workers at Risk


For those who strive to save the world's sick and wounded, this summer has been among the worst of times. Too many days begin with desperate calls from our field colleagues, telling us still more humanitarian workers have been ambushed, kidnapped or killed while in the line of service.

But the tragedy does not end there. By extension, these assaults potentially sever the lifeline of hope that unarmed aid workers provide to millions of desperate, destitute families in Darfur, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and elsewhere. These attacks must end.

Last month, 17 humanitarian aid workers in Sri Lanka from Action Against Hunger were shot in execution-style killings in the northeastern town of Muttur. We await the results of the investigation by the government of Sri Lanka with the participation of international experts, and call for prosecution of those responsible. In addition, two more aid workers were killed in Sri Lanka in August: 19 deaths in one month alone.

Meanwhile in Darfur, Sudan, this week's death of an International Rescue Committee humanitarian worker brings to 13 the number of aid workers killed since the Darfur Peace Agreement was signed in May more deaths than in the last two years combined. More than 25 humanitarian vehicles also have been hijacked or attacked in the last two months. Overall, violent incidents in Darfur increased more than 100 percent in the first seven months of 2006 as compared to the same period last year, further jeopardizing the world's largest relief operation.

Also last week, a Swiss-American aid worker was killed in Senegal when her vehicle struck a suspected land mine. A continent away in Afghanistan, 27 aid workers have died this year to date, while 31 were killed the year before. Add to this the dozens of other aid workers killed, kidnapped or attacked in Somalia, Iraq, Chechnya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere over the last three years, and the tragedy of these crimes becomes still more stark. Those who seek to alleviate man's inhumanity to man have become its victims.

Attacks against humanitarians have occurred against the backdrop of deteriorating security, impunity for perpetrators and an increasingly politicized environment for aid work. In each case, aid workers, armed only with their principles, paid with their lives in upholding the ethos of humanity, neutrality and impartiality that defines the humanitarian movement.

Under the Geneva Conventions, both civilians caught in armed conflict and aid workers seeking to assist them are to be protected from harm. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1502 and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court both affirmed that intentionally attacking a humanitarian aid worker could constitute a war crime. All U.N. members have a responsibility to end impunity and bring to justice those who commit these crimes.

Despite these proclamations, humanitarian aid workers are still targeted, with the local staff of nongovernmental organizations by far the most frequent victims. When humanitarian staff or operations are targeted, aid agencies often feel they have no choice but to suspend or downscale their operations.

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Rescue Workers at Risk


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