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AFGHANISTAN: NGOs call for separation of UN political, humanitarian roles

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KABUL, 9 July 2008 (IRIN) – Six international non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) involved in development and relief activities in Afghanistan said in a
joint press release on 29 June that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
had remained “worryingly silent” about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the
country, and that its coordination capacity was “extremely limited”.

“Despite enormous challenges, the UN Mission in Afghanistan has not paid
sufficient attention to humanitarian needs and the ability of agencies to
respond,” the NGOs’ press release said.

However, UNAMA has rejected the criticism regarding its humanitarian
performance. Aleem Siddique, spokesman for UNAMA in Kabul, told IRIN the mission
had beefed up its humanitarian coordination capacity over the past year from two
international staff in February 2007 to 16 in July 2008. He added that the
mission hoped to again double the number of humanitarian staff over the next
year to meet growing humanitarian needs.

“UNAMA has been one of the strongest advocates on both human rights issues
and humanitarian affairs within this country. We reject any allegations that we
have remained silent. We have and will continue to speak out without fear or
favour to ensure the needs of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities are
met.” Siddique said.

Military involvement in aid delivery

NGO representatives who met John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for
humanitarian affairs, during his four-day visit to Afghanistan 26-29 June,
expressed concern about increasing military involvement in relief activities.

“International military actors’ increased involvement in relief and
reconstruction is further complicating the operational environment for NGOs,
particularly in terms of security,” said the NGOs, which included CARE
International, Save the Children USA, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the
International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps.

At least 16 aid workers had been abducted and 12 reportedly killed in various
security incidents over the past six months, the NGOs reported.

“Our principles prevent us from being agents for any armed parties to the
conflict. Moreover, being perceived as such by communities, or any of these
armed parties, is a clear threat to our security,” Nigel Pont, the head of Mercy
Corps, was quoted in the press release as saying.

The UN should ensure that military and civilian actors are clearly separated
and avoid a “blurring of lines”, the NGOs said.

UNAMA gave assurances that its activities were in line with international
humanitarian law and that the world body was defending humanitarian
impartiality.

“Clearly it is very important to defend the impartiality and the neutrality
of humanitarian action,” Holmes told IRIN in Kabul on 28 June.

Call for return of OCHA

UNAMA was established on 28 March 2002 according to resolution 1401 of the UN
Security Council – initially to help implement the Bonn Agreement [http://www.afghangovernment.com/AfghanAgreementBonn.htm]
on transitional arrangements in Afghanistan and to coordinate all reconstruction
and development activities in the country. Additionally, UNAMA is mandated to
coordinate and lead humanitarian action. Its mandate follows the UN “integrated
mission” approach [http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/faq/q5.htm].

But some aid agencies warn that UNAMA’s political mandate has made it very
difficult for it to work as an “apolitical coordinator” of humanitarian
assistance.

To tackle the problem and also to better coordinate response to a
“deteriorating humanitarian situation” [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79002],
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) should
re-establish an independent presence in Afghanistan, the NGOs suggested.

“OCHA is seen mostly as an independent office which has extensive experience
in coordination, resource mobilisation and disbursement,” Lex Kassenber, country
director for CARE Afghanistan, told IRIN.

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Written by afghandevnews

July 9, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Aid

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