An independent investigation into on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, now looks likely, with the (IHFFC) poised to conduct an enquiry.
“Until we understand what happened, how it happened, we cannot go back to Kunduz,” said MSF’s International President, Joanne Liu, at Chatham House on Tuesday. “We have been working on the understanding that people are respecting the ... if somehow we decide that this is not respected anymore then that puts everything into a questionable state. What happened in Kunduz has a huge impact on the rest of the organisation, and the rest of the humanitarian community.”
As the IHFFC awaits the agreement of the and United States governments to proceed, we asked humanitarian organisations how, and if, the attack and subsequent investigation has changed the way they view frontline work, whether they will reassess operations in conflict areas, and if they are thinking differently about safety for their teams.
International Rescue Committee
“Our main concerns are armed opposition groups and actors who do not adhere to the conventions in place. That will be the challenge in the decade to come, especially in places like Syria, , and northern Nigeria. The attack in Kunduz does give us pause to reflect on where we can safely operate and how close we should be to active conflicts.
We’re talking to these armed actors about what we do and how we’re different. We did this many decades ago when aid work started taking off, but I think there has been a steady deterioration and increasing lack of respect towards safeguarding aid workers. I think the NGO community needs to collectively make a stand for the protection of humanitarian workers.”
“There is always a risk to staff in areas of conflict. Where possible, the right type of coordination with involved forces is essential for staff safety and people’s ability to receive assistance. World Vision temporarily closed our programmes in Central African Republic during the escalation of violence in late September, but one of the consequences is that people dependent on assistance are unable to receive it as long as insecurity prevents access.
This is one of the hardest decisions we have to make as humanitarians – we know the families and children we will no longer be able to assist. We make that judgement call on a case-by-case basis, and it is reviewed frequently, but it is a difficult decision that keeps many people awake at night. Operating in such conflicts is becoming more common for us so we need to understand how to do that properly as that is where the biggest humanitarian needs often are.”
International Committee of the Red Cross
“We always remind parties involved in conflict – states and armed groups, for example – of their obligations to respect and follow International Humanitarian Law. The ICRC is not ready to accept any deliberate targeting of staff or medical facilities. We will always review safety and security arrangements in conflict zones, especially when incidents happen like the one in Kunduz. A couple of recent security incidents in caused the ICRC to temporarily suspend our operations and movements across the country. We maintained only the most urgent lifesaving interventions. This is the approach we always take after this kind of incident; reviews take place in light of the situation on the ground, the ability to do our work and talk with the relevant parties. All of that is considered together, and then we make the decisions.”
“Our operations include security practices that are in line with local customs and that recognise changing dynamics. We are driven by our humanitarian mandate to help vulnerable people wherever they are, and we will continue to do this, but terrible incidents like the one in Kunduz are prompts to ensure humanitarians are ready and prepared to work in these environments. The safety and security of staff is paramount. The attack is also a reminder that all sides of a conflict respect and observe the rights of non-combatants and the space for humanitarians to serve communities in need. We call on the protection of civilians in accordance with the Geneva conventions.”