Humanitarian Groups Seek Ways to Reduce Attacks on Aid Workers

    08 November, 2018

    Humanitarian aid workers are often the target of armed groups in conflict areas.

    Recently in Nigeria, Boko Haram militants killed two aid workers they had kidnapped.

    In the Democratic Republic of Congo, civilians threw stones at health workers fighting the spread of Ebola Virus Disease. One day earlier, rebels shot and killed two Congolese army medical workers.

    A research group called Humanitarian Outcomes has examined records documenting the problem. It says 139 aid workers were killed worldwide in 2017. Another 102 were wounded, while 72 others were kidnapped.

    The group says most attacks against aid workers took place in South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.

    Already this year, over 80 aid workers have been killed. The findings were published in the report of a project of Humanitarian Outcomes, called the Aid Worker Security Database.

    The London-based group says the kidnapping of aid workers by armed groups is becoming increasingly common.

    Abby Stoddard is a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes. She says it noted an increase a few years ago in attacks involving the Taliban in Afghanistan. Taliban militants would detain and question aid workers. The Taliban would then release them a few days later after negotiations with local officials.

    Stoddard told VOA, "It has a lot to do with showing they are the boss in that area by intimidating aid groups, including local and national organizations who do a lot of the aid work."

    FILE - Relatives of the six aid workers who were ambushed and killed grieve as they wait to collect and bury the bodies of their loved ones, outside the morgue in Juba, South Sudan Monday, March 27, 2017.
    FILE - Relatives of the six aid workers who were ambushed and killed grieve as they wait to collect and bury the bodies of their loved ones, outside the morgue in Juba, South Sudan Monday, March 27, 2017.

    In South Sudan, armed groups appear to be targeting national aid groups, not international non-governmental organizations.

    Armed groups kidnapped 26 local aid workers last year, with at least 17 others kidnapped this year.

    More careful aid delivery

    Humanitarian groups have been exploring ways to cut down on attacks against aid workers. Today some groups are more likely to move goods in unmarked vehicles, use more than one vehicle when transporting aid or take local taxis. They also avoid road travel at night, work in secure, gated communities, keep up radio communications with headquarters and examine security reports.

    Some groups say one difficulty in protecting aid workers is identifying and negotiating with the leaders of armed groups.

    A study by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted that more than 40 percent of conflicts worldwide involved between three and 10 groups.

    Many groups have no strong central leadership. Their members also have little training in treating civilians and often do not observe international humanitarian law.

    In answer, the ICRC has created a plan for aid agencies to help identify leaders with whom they can negotiate. The ICRC seeks to find common ground between human rights law and local traditions that influence armed groups. For example, it found that two militant groups in Mali are influenced by Islamic religious law and local courts.

    Brian McQuinn is an advisor working with the ICRC. McQuinn says Islamic law has its own rules on behavior during conflict, including the treatment of prisoners. He adds that the similarities between Islamic law and international humanitarian law can help with the protection of aid delivery, aid workers and hospitals.

    The ICRC is testing the process of identifying and working with armed group leaders in South Sudan. It plans to expand the process to other areas in the future.

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Bill Eagle reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    boss – n. the person who has more power or control in a relationship

    intimidate – v. to make someone afraid

    gatedadj. designed to restrict entrance, usually with physical barriers

    delivery – n. the act of providing or supplying something