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aid workers in danger “Attacks on aid workers are war crimes”


I cannot forget them. Their names were Aslan, Alik, Andrei, Fernanda, Fred, Galina, Gunnhild, Hans, Ingeborg, Matti, Natalya, Nancy, Sheryl, Usman, Zarema, and the list is longer. For many, their existence, their humanity, has been reduced to statistics, coldly recorded as “security incidents.”


For me, they were colleagues belonging to that community of humanitarian aid workers that tried to bring a bit of comfort to the victims of the wars in Chechnya in the ‘90s. They were nurses, logisticians, shelter experts, paralegals, interpreters. And for this service, they


murdered, their families torn apart, and their story largely forgotten. No one was ever sentenced for these crimes.


I cannot forget them. They live in me somehow,


their memories giving me meaning every day. But they are also haunting the dark street of my mind.


As humanitarian aid workers, they made the


choice to be at the side of the victim, to provide some assistance, some comfort, some protection, but when they needed protection themselves, it wasn’t there. When you see the headlines of your newspaper these days with the war in Iraq or in Syria -- aid worker abducted, hostage executed -- but who were they? Why were they there? What motivated them? How did we become so indifferent to these crimes? This is why I am here today with you. We need to find better ways to remember them. We also need to explain the key values to which they dedicated their lives. We also need to demand justice.


--Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR, December 2014 Vincent Cochetel


feels privileged to work with


refugees, his life’s work to offer protection and help to those who have lost so much. He’s just as passionate about his profession and the fact that humanitarian workers


are being killed,


and kidnapped in unprecedented numbers. Since 2006, the number of attacks and victims has risen 66 per cent. We asked him why this is happening and what can be done about it:


“Attacks on humanitarian aid workers are war


crimes in international law. Those crimes should not go unpunished. We must end this cycle of impunity. We must consider against


that humanitarian against humanity itself.” were


After his own kidnapping in 1998, Mr. Cochetel wanted to file charges against his kidnappers but was told that pursuing justice would put his colleagues in further danger, an argument he feels doesn’t hold water. “It was ridiculous that I couldn’t resort to justice because it would jeopardize the safety of my colleagues,” he says. “This is an impossible dilemma and I don’t think you can compromise on these principles. . . If we have to operate constantly under threat, intimidation and extortion, then we’re not able to deliver what we are mandated to do.”


Mr. Cochetel says that prior to the civil war in Somalia in


sometimes became


conflicts, but were generally not targets of attacks. This has all changed now. “Gone are the days when a UN blue flag or a Red Cross would automatically protect us,” he explains.


The conflict landscape has also changed dramatically. Political groups and factions have now cross fertilized and they no longer play by the same set of rules subscribed to by yesterday’s “freedom fighters” or rebels. It’s often almost impossible for aid agencies to communicate with these hybrids, to make them aware that aid must be delivered to innocent civilians.


Mr. Cochetel emphasizes that communication with conflict groups does not mean an endorsement or support of


injured the groups’ activities. “Sometimes you


have to talk to [the groups],” he says. “But talking to them doesn’t mean giving them credit for who they are or what they represent; you have to talk with all sides of a conflict if you want to be able to negotiate humanitarian action and bring some protection and some assistance to the people. That’s much more difficult and more dangerous now.” «


UNHCR / 29


the late 80s, humanitarian workers “collateral damage” in


aid workers


those attacks are attacks


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