In their own words: why are fighters attacking aid workers?
Why would anyone want to hurt aid workers?
They’re just there to help. They don’t support it. They are protected by international humanitarian law. However, they have repeatedly been the target of some of the most serious forms of violence, from kidnapping to gang rape to beheading. In 2016 alone, 288 aid workers were attacked.
Now we can finally begin to answer this question. For the first time, researchers have asked some of the perpetrators to prove their hostility to the aid operation. The responses were published in an annual report by aid workers published by the humanitarian research group.
The interviewer spoke to three former and current members of the government-independent militant group: the shabab and the haqqani network in somalia and the taliban in Afghanistan.
Groups such as these, which the international community calls “non-state armed groups”, have mostly deliberately attacked humanists. Between 2011 and 2016, they recorded 73 per cent of 1,083 aid workers’ attacks. Most of the victims were state workers from their working countries.
Local researchers from the Afghanistan liaison office and the Somali Hikmah consulting firm worked with community members in the provinces to identify combatants and arrange telephone interviews.
One of their questions: is it legal to use force against aid groups? Their answers reveal a range of motives behind the rivalry – and their views on the humanitarian sector. The names of the respondents were not included in the report.
Some fighters accuse aid groups of spying or setting political agendas:
“They say they are for humanitarian purposes, but what they are actually doing is spying, surveying land and spying.” – former social affairs officer of the Shabab.
Humanitarian assistance is seen as a tool to conquer or humiliate the people:
“They bring the food is out of date, they bring a bag of corn from the United States production of weakened somalia, deception and insulted our people, and the goal is to make Somali people can’t do anything for yourself.” – members of al-shabab and former spokesman.
Others argue that aid groups want to implement western ideologies and are anti-islam:
“Some organizations to provide service for our poor, but there are some organization is to provide services for any other purpose, such as promoting western democracy, it is against our islamic and cultural value.” – taliban fighters.
“It is always a legitimate use of force, if they are not Muslim and anti-islamic do, about our culture, our people, for our religion, to our specification and the standard of life, to our women, to our mujahids [soldiers] against our poor, so we had to use force to them, in fact, this is our mission. “- taliban fighters.
Perhaps the most disturbing reason, says Abby Stoddard, one of the study’s lead authors, is that hurting aid workers is seen as “a kind of torture to young members of the unearned income”, says Abby Stoddard. “It is a payment to let them commit occasional ACTS of violence.”
“[attack aid workers] are part of al-shabab’s high motivation to keep young soldiers, and they are not paid, so they are left behind… Destroy and rejoice.” – former al-shabab commander.
The soldiers’ response reveals little about the data in the aid world. “People according to the lack of detailed survey and the follow-up actions to make [presumption of aid workers attack]”, Harvard University initiative of legal anthropology research assistant Julia says Brooks, the study is harvard study disaster response centers of learning. “A common assumption is that [aid workers’ attacks] originate from anti-western sentiment, but studies show that motivations vary.”
Soldiers have their own assumptions. Aid groups as spies or expired food “is absolutely not true”, as opposed to humanitarian issues and policy of the action director Pauline Chetcuti said, the organization is one in south Sudan, Syria and yemen conflict areas of work relief organizations.
Chetcuti has an idea that might be wrong. “Humanitarian assistance is based on the principle of neutrality, impartiality and independence,” she said. But in recent years, “lines blurred.”
In Afghanistan, for example, the United States distributed humanitarian aid in the war to “win hearts and minds,” Chetcuti said. According to a 2015 paper by academics at brown university, the U.S. government wants to provide food, water, education and health care to build trust and confidence among the local population. “I can see how non-state actors see international aid as a proxy for western political or military agendas,” she said.
Sometimes aid groups do things that make them look suspicious. Stoddard explains that in harsh environments, humanitarian workers may try to keep a low profile to avoid being targeted. It is possible to tell staff not to carry identification. The aid group’s brands may be removed from packaging, clothing and other materials. They may be told to drive unmarked vehicles. “But working this way could increase mistrust and create a vicious cycle of insecurity,” she said.
Stoddard says the choice of humanitarian workers to protect themselves in dangerous areas is limited. “They can access these threats and try to negotiate and help them understand why they are there.”
But that can only go so far. At present, armed groups attack humanists with impunity. Chetcuti, for example, is still fighting for justice for 17 anti-hunger activists killed in Sri Lanka by security forces 11 years ago.
Brooks said countries and governments must also do their utmost to protect aid groups. “It is not surprising that violence continues when armed groups do not have any cost to attack aid workers.”