Paris - This morning, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was expelled from Kabul, along with other non-governmental organisations. MSF has been denied the freedom to carry out its programmes with independence and impartiality for months leading up to the expulsion.
The Taliban government has banned women from moving around in the city, from study, from employment (except in the health sector) and from receiving treatment in the hospitals. MSF has spoken out against this discrimination, upholding the basic principle of equality of access to medical care.
In May 1998, the United Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taliban. This accord left such principles as non-discrimination wide open to interpretation. The failure of the UN to take a stronger position is disappointing. The memorandum considerably weakened the position of NGOs, which found themselves on the front line of having to defend humanitarian principles abandoned by the UN.
The day after the signing of the memorandum, a special system of identification cards for female medical staff was introduced. Private schools were shut down. Registration of NGOs, which had been under negotiation for more than a year, became mandatory.
The authorities issued an order for the consolidation of all NGO offices and residences into a 'ghetto', depriving the organisations of contact with the population. MSF refused to comply, and was commanded by the government to leave Kabul.
MSF demands that the UN re-negotiate an accord with the Taliban authorities, in order that the principle of equality of access to medical care can be re-established.
MSF was working in four clinics and two hospitals in Kabul and surrounding areas. 250,000 people had access to this aid, more than half of them were women and children. With the expulsion of NGOs, the health and well being of the population have never been at greater risk.