Coalition forces endanger humanitarian action in Afghanistan

Coalition forces endanger humanitarian action in Afghanistan
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is extremely concerned about the Coalition Forces' continued attempts to usurp and misrepresent the provision of humanitarian aid to people in need in Afghanistan.

Coalition Forces in recent weeks have been distributing leaflets in Southern Afghanistan, demanding that people "pass on any information related to Taliban, El Qaeda and Gulbaddin to the coalition forces" saying that this is necessary "in order to have a continuation of the provision of humanitarian aid."

The leaflets, which include a picture of an Afghan girl carrying a bag of wheat, are a clear attempt to use humanitarian aid for the military aims of the coalition and thereby represent an unacceptable assault on humanitarian principles.

MSF rejects any linkage between the provision of humanitarian aid and collaboration with the coalition forces. In keeping with humanitarian principles, we will seek to provide assistance to people in Afghanistan regardless of their political beliefs or their collaboration with any military or political groups.

"The deliberate linking of humanitarian aid with military objectives destroys the meaning of humanitarianism. It will result, in the end, in the neediest Afghans not getting badly needed aid - and those providing aid being targeted." says Nelke Manders, Head of Mission Afghanistan for Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).

Blurring provision of assistance with military objectives will only worsen the climate of suspicion and violence against ordinary civilians with acute needs and aid workers trying to serve them, which already plagues humanitarian action in southern Afghanistan. In the wake of recent attacks on aid workers, MSF is extremely worried that these leaflets will increase the dangers of providing assistance in Afghanistan.

The attacks against aid workers are crimes that must be denounced in the strongest terms. In making aid part of the confrontation, the coalition forces are complicit in undermining the ability of aid agencies to provide needed assistance in Afghanistan.

"Humanitarian assistance must have the alleviation of suffering as its only objective. If it is made to serve other political or military objectives, it will become subject to the violence that plagues Afghanistan rather than a succor to its victims," says Manders.

Coalition and US officials have sought to co-opt humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation 'Enduring Freedom' through the deployment of military personnel under the label of "humanitarian assistance" and the description of NGOs as "force multipliers". With the distribution of the leaflets they have further compromised the independent and neutral character of humanitarian assistance.

As an independent humanitarian organisation MSF stands by the core principle of humanitarian action: unconditional assistance to those in need without regard to their political or military allegiances.

It is the responsibility of all parties in the conflict to allow humanitarian action to happen - and to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and access to needy people that are outside of the conflict. By targetting aid workers, obstructing aid workers' access or trying to manipulate aid to serve one set of military or political objectives - parties to the conflict undermine humanitarian action and show disrespect for human dignity in times of war and a willingness to disregard the Geneva conventions.

MSF calls on all parties in the conflict to respect the basic dignity and needs of ordinary people caught up in this violent crisis - and thereby to respect and enable the necessary neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian work and the safety and access of those trying to deliver it to people in need in Afghanistan.

By Kenny Gluck, MSF Director of Operations (Holland office)