ICRC working to deliver medical aid to volatile south
KABUL, 14 April 2008 (IRIN) – Taliban insurgents have verbally agreed to allow safe passage to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to deliver medical humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected communities in parts of southern Afghanistan, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told IRIN.
“They [the Taliban] said they were very positive about our medical activities… they told us we could extend our medical activities to the south… I said to them it’s time for us [to be] provided [with] credible and necessary security guarantees… Their response was positive,” said Kellenberger, adding he would still like to see actions rather than words.
In line with ICRC policy and practice, Kellenberger did not reveal with whom the ICRC had talks – or where and when.
The ICRC, the UN and other international aid agencies have repeatedly raised concerns about the “diminishing” humanitarian space which has increasingly restricted aid workers’ access to large swaths of southern Afghanistan.
During his seven-day visit to Afghanistan, Kellenberger said he was able to hold talks with all parties to the conflict, and conveyed ICRC’s concerns about the plight of civilians and the condition of detainees.
According to the UN, 40 aid workers were killed (34 national, six international); 76 were abducted (44 national, 25 international); and 55 humanitarian aid convoys and 45 facilities were attacked from January to October 2007.
Security restrictions have also impeded UN agencies’ access to over 77 districts in the southern, eastern and southeastern parts of the country since the beginning of 2007, UNAMA said.
International humanitarian law
The ICRC said that of the budgets for its top 10 humanitarian operations in the world, the 2008 budget for Afghanistan had gone up most.
Conflict-related violence and natural disasters have increased humanitarian needs and the number of those wounded in the fighting had risen steadily over the past two years, the ICRC president said in Kabul on 14 April.
The warring parties – Afghan and international forces, and Taliban insurgents – must distinguish civilian populations from combatants, use proportionate military force and ensure adequate precautionary measures to minimise the impact of war on non-combatants, the ICRC demanded.
However, Kellenberger said international humanitarian law was being violated and that civilians were being affected. “The conflict is forcing more and more people to flee their homes.”
US forces in Afghanistan allowed the ICRC president to visit some detainees in their main detention centre at Bagram Airbase, north of Kabul.
“I had a good dialogue in Bagram… and our recommendations were listened to,” Kellenberger said, adding he was optimistic about further improvements in the way detainees were treated while kept in US military detention centres.
However, there were still a number of issues for many of the Bagram detainees. “The detainees did not know why they were there; what the future [will] bring; how long they will be there; and under what condition they will be released,” Kellenberger told reporters in Kabul at the end of his visit.
US forces in Afghanistan recently established a body called the “Enemy Combatant Review Board” which is tasked with reviewing the fate of detainees every six months, said Kellenberger, who also called on the Afghan government to improve the condition of prisoners held in its prisons.
Human rights watchdogs, such as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, have repeatedly called on the Taliban to comply with international humanitarian law and avoid harming civilians; rights watchdogs have also criticised Taliban beheadings of prisoners.