Kenny Gluck on vulnerability of aid workers CNN:
Just a year ago Arjan Erkel was abducted at gunpoint in the south eastern Russian Republic of Dagestan. Now the United Nations has renewed its appeal to Russian authorities to do their utmost to help secure his release. The 32 year old Erkel is a Dutch citizen and is believed to still be alive. He was working for the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) when he was kidnapped. Kenny Gluck the Director of Operations for MSF in Amsterdam was kidnapped back in January of 2001. He was working in Chechnya.
"Unfortunately there have been over two dozen aid workers kidnapped in the Caucuses in the last seven years. So I think we have to conclude that there is a targeting of aid workers and I think this is one of the things that is so disturbing for it and why we think it is so important that governments who uphold the notion of humanitarian aid, uphold the notion that people in crisis have a right to aid, they have to be doing something about this pattern of kidnapping, pattern of attacks on aid workers in the Caucuses.
Well Kenny Gluck knows first hand about that. He was just talking there (see box on right) and he was released after 28 days. Joining us now, Nicolas de Torrente, he is the Executive Director of Medecins Sans Frontieres (USA). He is joining us from New York.
17 aid workers, 17, dying in the field this year alone. When you assess the risks they appear to be going up and going up steeply.
Nicolas de Torrente (MSF):
"Well I think we are seeing, as Kenny talked about earlier, a pattern of violence directed against civilian populations in war zones and, by extension, against aid workers who are trying to provide badly needed assistance. And also who are independently reporting about the conditions and about the plight of these populations. "We try to know what the motives may be for this pattern of violence but I think the result is clear. People are denied assistance and aid workers cannot have a presence to also bear witness to what is happening to them.
Now your group, MSF, believes that in one way or another, governments have been blurring the line between their soldiers and the aid workers. What do you mean by that?
"Well I think that what is critical is when aid workers are not perceived to be independent and not perceived to have nothing else but a humanitarian purpose. When behind the aid workers there is an impression that are political and military agendas. And that can really put aid workers at risk. We are a soft target. It is easier to attack an aid worker than it is to shoot at a soldier.
There was a big debate in Iraq. The US military saying, "Look, if you want to come in and deliver aid, get one of thee identification cards. It is issued by the coalition, so to speak. A lot of aid groups did not want to go in to that. Same in Afghanistan. Is this what you are talking about?
"Yes. It is the perception that we are all integrated and working closely together. The opponents of the US military presence in Iraq can easily attack aid workers - much more easily than soldiers - when they are perceived to be working together. That is why we believe there should be clear lines, clear distinctions and clear boundaries between both activities.
In Chechnya particularly, there have been a lot of complaints by the Russian Government that a lot of these aid workers are going in with forged documents saying they have military permission when they do not have it. That they are taking the risks themselves. Are aid groups really playing a dangerous game here?
"Well I think we do operate in conflicts that are very violent because there is violence affecting the very civilians that we want to help. In the case of Russia, we have always worked with the full understanding and knowledge and permission and proper authorisations by the Russians. They are trying to divert attention from the real issue here. That they are responsible for the security of aid workers and, in the case of Arjan Erkel, they are responsible for investigating and making sure that he is actually released. It has been one year now that he has been abducted. We know that the Russian officials were present at the scene of his kidnapping and did nothing to prevent it. And now the results of the investigation have not bourne fruit and he is still missing. And that is the real issue here and no other really.
There are so many dangerous places today; Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Congo where aid workers can go. Are people still volunteering?
"Yes. People are still. The idea of solidarity, the idea of bringing assistance to people who really need it is something that is very much alive and well. It is unfortunate that some powerful armed groups are undermining this idea and this idea that civilians do have a right to be assisted and protected in the middle of war. It is a fundamental idea of humanity. It is a big progress in the way that human relations have developed and must make sure that it is protected and preserved.
Nicolas de Torrente , Executive Director of MSF, our thanks to you for being here.