The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan: reasserting the neutrality of humanitarian action
31-03-2011 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 881, by Fiona Terry
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Neutrality as a guiding principle of humanitarian action was roundly rejected by most actors in Afghanistan’s latest conflict. One party to the conflict commandeered assistance and aid organizations into a counter-insurgency campaign, and the other rejected Western aid organizations as agents of an imperialist West. The murder in 2003 of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) water engineer Ricardo Munguia, because of what he symbolized, cast doubt on whether the ICRC could be perceived as neutral in this highly polarized context. Rather than abandon a neutral stance, however, as so many aid organizations did, the ICRC persevered and, through some innovative and sometimes risky initiatives, managed to show both sides the benefits of having a neutral intermediary in conflict. Today, the ICRC continues to expand its reach to Afghans in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
- Listen to Fiona Terry speak about the need, ten years after 9/11, for aid organizations to embrace neutrality as a guiding principle if they are to assist victims of conflict across frontlines and political divides.
Fiona Terry is an independent researcher who recently completed studies for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan and Afghanistan. She holds a doctorate in international relations from the Australian National University, and is the author of Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action (Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2002).