Despite Attack on MSF Hospital, Ban Ki-moon Omits U.S. From Report on Child Rights Violators

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May 31, 2016 – Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict does not list the United States among the parties that have bombed hospitals in 2015.

The report includes two annexes of parties that commit any of the six grave violations against children, which includes recruiting, killing, maiming, rape and other sexual violence, abductions, and attacks on schools and hospitals. The first annex is for situations that are on the Security Council agenda, such as Syria and Afghanistan and the second annex for situations of armed conflict that are not on the Security Council’s agenda, such as the Philippines.

One party added to the annex this year is the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.

(Update June 6: Following a protests from the Saudi UN mission, Ban has removed the Saudi coalition from the listing pending a join investigation by the UN and Saudi coalition)

But Ban has not named permanent Security Council member the United States even though it bombed a MSF hospital in Kunduz in October 2015 killing 42 health workers and patients.

Ban came in for wide criticism last year when he declined to include Israel in the annex despite a UN report blaming Israel for bombing seven schools during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza.

Ban’s 2015 report does note the Kunduz attack and attributes it to international forces.

From the report:

Verified attacks on hospitals and health personnel (125) significantly increased compared with 2014 [for Afghanistan]. In the attacks, at least 63 health-care personnel, including vaccinators, were killed or injured, 66 abducted and 64 intimidated and assaulted. A total of 75 incidents were attributed to the Taliban; 14 to ISIL-affiliated groups; 1 to TTP; 19 to undetermined armed groups; 14 to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and pro-Government militias; and 1 to international forces. For example, 49 medical staff were killed or injured in an air strike by international forces on the Médecins sans frontières hospital in Kunduz on 3 October.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar says accountability for crimes against children took a hit because of Ban’s refusal to name the U.S. as the responsible party.

“Accountability depends on being able to name perpetrators when they are known,” Kumar said to UN Tribune. “The UN Secretary General missed an opportunity to combat impunity by using a euphemism when the fact that the U.S. was responsible for the Kunduz attack is not in dispute.”

Ban’s office has yet to respond to request from UN Tribune to explain why he avoided naming the U.S. as the responsible party.

In total, 62 parties in 14 countries are named in the annexes to Ban’s report including government forces in Syria, Sudan, Yemen and the Afghan national police.

The full report is here.

 - Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(story updated June 6 with comments from Human Rights Watch)

UN And MSF At Odds Over Future of Humanitarian Work

May 10, 2016 –  Medecins Sans Frontiers’ decision last week to withdraw from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) taking place later this month highlights the tension between aid organizations and the United Nations over the future of humanitarian work.

In a statement, MSF said the summit threatens “to dissolve humanitarian assistance into wider development, peace-building and political agendas.”

The Nobel-prize winning group, which has lost several staff members and had its hospitals bombed over the past year in conflict zones, added that it failed to see how the WHS would address the urgent needs of people living in conflict in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and other areas of armed violence.

At the heart of the matter is the UN’s desire to promote resilience in doing humanitarian and development work. While MSF say that humanitarian work should be kept separate from development work, the United Nations increasingly sees the two working in tandem.

Those inside the UN advocating for a joint approach point out that countries that emerge from conflict or other complex emergencies do not have a stronger society or systems when the emergency or conflict is over, and very often have a recurrence within five or ten years. For this reason, the UN and the WHS are asking how can countries that have repeated crisis be put on a sustainable path after a crisis.

With this in mind, there is a push to have humanitarian and development actors work in tandem, unlike the traditional sequential approach where aid workers come in and do their work and once they leave development workers come in and try to rebuild the society.

However, because of the core humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, humanitarian actors avoid working with local governments and once they leave the society is no more robust nor does it have a better emergency response system because aid organizations set up their own parallel systems that bypass the local governments, which should be the first line of response.

Another reason for the push towards resilience is that many crises are slow onset and protracted and it’s not necessarily a humanitarian response first and then a development response. Syria is a case in point where the crises is in its sixth year and it is both a humanitarian crisis – tending to the wounded and feeding the hungry – and a development crisis – establishing schools, devising cash for work programs – and it is also a transnational crisis affecting primarily its neighboring countries but also beyond, as in the case of Europe and the debate over refugees.

One can only admire the great work that MSF does around the globe in responding to emergencies and the great sacrifices it has made in doing so, and it it easy to sympathize with their decision not to attend the WHS.

Yet, an opportunity may have been lost in exploring how best to respond to future emergencies with the decision of MSF not to attend, given its status in the humanitarian world. Natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. Dealing with these crises exogenously is not going to work – outsiders going in and then leaving.

Core humanitarian principles – neutrality, independence, impartiality – need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. The question is how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. 

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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UN Demands Investigation into Deadly Afghan Hospital Attack

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Oct. 3, 2015 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday strongly condemned the attack on a Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that killed at least 12 aid workers and three children while the United Nations human rights chief said the attack may amount to a war crime.

Hospitals are protected under international humanitarian law while the Security Council lists attacks on hospitals and health facilities as one of the six grave violations against children caught up in armed conflict.

At least 37 more people were injured in the overnight attack, including 19 MSF staff.

In a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, Ban called for “a thorough and impartial investigation into the attack in order to ensure accountability.”

Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Hussein said the attack on the hospital “is utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal.”

“The seriousness of the incident is underlined by the fact that, if established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime,” he added, according to a statement issued by his office in Geneva.

The attack on Saturday, reportedly a result of U.S. airstrikes, ranks as one of the single deadliest ever attacks on aid workers: 22 United Nations staff were killed when their compound in Iraq was bombed by Al Qaeda in August 2003 while 16 French aid workers were killed in a 2006 attack in Sri Lanka blamed on government security forces.

The UN aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, added his condemnation of the attack in a statement issued late Saturday in New York. “Hospitals and clinics should be sanctuaries where people, including women and children, go for help,” he stated. “Attacking a hospital not only has a devastating immediate impact but denies people the opportunity to access lifesaving healthcare in the future,” and he supported calls “for an urgent and impartial investigation to ensure accountability.”

Afghanistan is by far the most dangerous country for aid workers, with 54 losing their lives last year – most as a result of attacks by Taliban or other anti-government forces.

There were at least 38 attacks on health facilities in Afghanistan last year, according to Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

UN ‘Dysfunction’ at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises

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July 8, 2014 – The global humanitarian system is failing to appropriately and rapidly respond to crises and the UN is at heart of this failure, according to a new report from Medecins Sans Frontiers.

The organization reviewed three recent crises – the refugee emergency in Upper Nile State, South Sudan from Nov. 2011 to Nov. 2012; the M23 mutiny in North Kivu, DRC, from April 2012 to April 2013; and the influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan from July 2012 to June 2013.

“The UN was at the heart of the dysfunction in each of the cases reviewed. There, historical mandates and institutional positioning have created a system with artificial boundaries (for example, between the coordination roles of UNHCR for refugees and OCHA elsewhere), to the detriment of those needing assistance and protection,” the report states.

“Further, the triple role of key UN agencies, as donor, coordinator and implementer, is causing conflicts of interest, especially in recognizing and correcting mistakes.”

Significantly, the report notes that “insufficiency of financing was not identified as a major constraint on performance in any of the three emergencies reviewed.”

Instead it says that disbursement of funds is slow and bureaucratic and the process for receiving funds in the field takes up to three months “which means it cannot be properly considered ‘emergency response.’”

The report specifically criticizes the UN Refugee Agency’s role as coordinator, implementor and donor saying this triple role led to considerable “conflicts of interest” and this in turn made it difficult for “UNHCR itself to admit to bigger problems or to ask for technical assistance from other UN agencies, for fear of losing out on funding or credibility.”

It says that refugee status and not need or vulnerability was the primary determinant of assistance and that those registered with UNHCR and living in UNHCR camps were prioritized over those living in host communities.

The MSF report also states that “risk aversion” is a major problem in the global humanitarian response system and “populations received assistance in large part based on how easy they were to target and reach.”

“While the humanitarian system has grown massively, this had not led to a proportionate improvement in performance during emergencies,” the report concludes.

A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs responded that it welcomes the contribution by MSF ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit which is being convened because of the “unprecedented strain on the international humanitarian system” and that “many of the report’s conclusions are reflected in OCHA’s own reviews of humanitarian operations.”

“The UN has already been addressing some of the concerns raised by MSF. We are working to improve our security management,” OCHA’s Clare Doyle said in an email to UN Tribune. “Aid organisations are using rapid mobile response teams, for example in South Sudan, to reach the most remote locations. Over 800,000 people have been reached by these teams since March 2014.”

She added that research does not indicate that aid workers are becoming more risk averse. “Figures from the Aid Workers Security Database do not support MSF’s assertion that humanitarian workers are becoming more risk averse, but indicate that the risk acceptance of humanitarian workers is increasing slightly.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UNHCR

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