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At the UN conference on Afghanistan on Monday, UN Secretary General António Guterres said humanitarian aid should be used as a lever to encourage the Taliban to respect human rights. A posture deemed dangerous and counterproductive by the NGO Action Against Hunger.

The United Nations launched, Monday, September 13, a donation campaign to collect emergency financial assistance of $ 600 million for humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan. Crucial assistance in this country ravaged by years of war, controlled since mid-August by the Taliban, and that the UN boss wants to use as leverage to ensure respect for human rights.

“If we want to advance human rights for the Afghan people, the best way is to move forward with humanitarian aid, to engage with the Taliban and to take advantage of this aid to push for the implementation of these rights “, explained Antonio Guterres, on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting in Geneva.

An exit criticized by Pierre Micheletti, the president of the organization Action contre la Faim, present in Afghanistan for 40 years, which denounces a desire to instrumentalize humanitarian work and refutes any role of bargaining chip. Maintenance

France 24 : The United Nations donation campaign has a dual purpose, to help the Afghans and to ensure that the Taliban respect certain fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of women. Don’t these two approaches go hand in hand ?

Pierre Micheletti : We must clearly distinguish two aspects: that the United Nations call on the Taliban to respect women’s rights and send a signal against any form of discrimination is obviously not a problem for us. The question of using humanitarian aid to push for respect for human rights is more problematic because any speech that presents the work of NGOs as a political arm threatens our action.

Our mission falls under international humanitarian law, it is a legal corpus which sets a minimum of rules on the law of war and establishes the fundamental principles of humanitarian organizations which are impartiality, neutrality and independence. This base allows NGOs to accomplish their one and only mission, which is to provide minimal assistance to people in distress. These principles are all the more important today, in a context where 90% of conflict victims are civilians. If we go beyond our jurisdiction by denouncing injustices and taking a stand for one group or another, we are breaking the principle of neutrality. We then risk being perceived as an actor in the conflict and becoming a legitimate target in the eyes of the power in place or the armed opposition in the event of a civil war. However, we are neither an actor in the conflict nor a bargaining chip.

What risks does this instrumentalisation of humanitarian aid pose to an NGO like yours in the field? ?

When Antonio Guterres makes us play a political role, he exposes us to two types of risks. We can simply be banned from the country, which de facto deprives hundreds of thousands of Afghans of the survival assistance they desperately need. This type of comment can also harm the effectiveness of our work in the field by generating security problems, in particular for the Afghan personnel who represent the majority of our teams and are already too often considered a privileged target. On site, we have 350 locals and 12 expatriates. According to regular studies published by the organization Humanitarian Outcomes, the risk of a safety accident causing death is four times greater among national workers than among foreign personnel, regardless of the crisis situation. In this context, the suspicion of political interference can have disastrous consequences for us as an NGO, which can no longer work, for populations in distress, who no longer have access to aid, but also for our people. local employees. In addition, if our NGO is forced to leave the country, what will happen to our staff left behind?

The United Nations must deal with a power that is on its list of terrorist groups. Isn’t it legitimate to demand guarantees ? What about the risk of misappropriation of this aid ?

There is a lot of hypocrisy on this subject from the institutions which negotiated in Doha with the Taliban, dismissing the legitimate government of the country, and which now seem to find out who they are talking to! NGOs conduct evaluations of their programs and report to their funders. This system to control the use of funds already exists within organizations, including United Nations agencies. We must of course be accountable for our actions, but not instrumentalised: humanitarian aid must not serve the political agenda of States. Once again, the compass must be the aid to populations in need.

In addition, NGOs have well-defined rules that frame their action to ensure equal access to aid. For example, Action Against Hunger does not distinguish between men and women. If we find ourselves in a situation where this is the case, then it will be necessary to decide whether or not to stay. We seek a permanent balance between the cost and the effectiveness of our actions and we must preserve our free will. We are working together with international players, but everyone must do their job and respect their legal framework. We are talking about a country where ten million people are currently suffering from undernutrition, with phenomena of droughts, floods and which has also been very affected by the Covid-19 crisis; the degree of urgency is maximum.

The announcement of the departure of Western troops precipitated the situation in Afghanistan. France recently announced its intention to end its military operation against terrorists in the Sahel, where you are also present. Is your humanitarian action threatened in this area ?

In recent years, the situation in the Sahel has deteriorated markedly for humanitarian workers. Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in particular are now high risk areas. Our teams were dramatically affected by this violence in Borno, Nigeria.

Here too, we are faced with the phenomenon of shrinking humanitarian spaces, which means that conditions no longer allow us to work satisfactorily, thus depriving populations of access to aid that is sometimes vital for their survival. At Action Against Hunger, we do everything to ensure that our principles prevail, but our position is increasingly called into question by some of the warring parties. This may be due to political considerations as explained above, but also to cultural factors with groups like Boko Haram, who consider that foreign aid workers are essentially disbelievers, otherwise suspected of being accomplices of the country’s authorities. . I don’t know what will happen with the withdrawal of French troops from the Sahel, but it is certain that our principles as NGOs are increasingly difficult to defend in such complex contexts.

Pierre Micheletti is the author of “0,03 % For a transformation of the international humanitarian movement “(Parole éditions)

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