NATO Statement Endangers Patients in Afghanistan

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Emily Linendoll
Press Officer
Direct: 212-763-5764
Mobile: 646-206-9387
E-mail: emily.linendoll@msf.org

NATO Statement Endangers Patients in Afghanistan

KABUL/NEW YORK - The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without
Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today strongly objected to a
recent statement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in
which he implied that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should be
the "soft power" component to military
strategy.

In conflict areas, MSF never works alongside, or partners with, any
military strategy. The organization's complete independence and
neutrality is what helps negotiate access to populations in need of
emergency medical assistance.

The NATO statement creates additional risks to patients and staff
by suggesting that medical work is part of a military strategy.

In December 2009 speech to NATO, Dr. Christophe Fournier, MSF
international president, highlighted the importance of distinguishing
between the agendas and objectives of the parties involved in the
conflict in Afghanistan and those of a medical humanitarian
organization like MSF.

Read the speech here.

When MSF returned to Afghanistan in 2009, as the conflict
escalated, it was with the objective to provide immediate and
accessible health care to people trapped in conflict zones. To reach
that objective, MSF has negotiated with all warring parties-Afghan and
International security forces and opposition groups alike-to keep
weapons out of the hospital compounds where MSF is working in Kabul and
Lashkargah. Only then do people in need of medical assistance feel
secure enough to enter the health facilities, as the absence of all
military presence means that the structures will not be attacked by
either side.

The suggestion by Mr. Rasmussen that civilian organizations such as
MSF should in any way collaborate, or provide 'soft power' to NATO
forces, endangers this understanding and makes hospitals, patients, and
staff more likely to be targeted by opposition forces.

Mr. Rasmussen suggests that Afghanistan should be the ‘proto-type'
for engagement between NATO and NGOs. MSF calls on Mr. Rasmussen, as
well as all other parties involved in the conflict, to respect the
necessary distinction between political and military objectives and
independent medical humanitarian assistance.

A report by MSF expanding on the importance of independent and impartial assistance in Afghanistan is also available.

Read the report here.

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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.

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