This post is part of our 'Humanitarians at risk' series, dedicated to World Humanitarian Day which will take place on 19 of August. The series features testimonies of humanitarians around the world who risk their lives daily, while saving those of others. World Humanitarian Day is our opportunity to recognise the personal sacrifice made by humanitarian professionals and pay tribute to those who were injured or killed while doing their job.
It's been less than two months since we received the devastating news that two of our colleagues from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). The bomb was planted in the middle of the road and triggered to cause maximum damage. The four-by-four they were driving was reduced to twisted shards of metal; a graphic demonstration of what 20 kilos of explosives can do to an ordinary civilian vehicle. The facts were reported in a staff meeting, a technical explanation of where, and when, and how. It might have seemed too clinical, too detailed, until we came to the final point: “The explosion was huge and the effects were catastrophic. It would have been instant. They didn’t see it coming. They didn’t suffer.”
The entire NRC Mali and Burkina Faso team have been affected both personally and professionally by this tragedy. Our team members in Timbuktu – the people who were closest to them – are still coping with all the anger, sadness and stress related to the sudden loss, and the particular burden of being the ones who had to confirm the news. Other staff members continue to work with our colleagues’ families. Some were charged with investigating the circumstances of the attack and still others helped analyse what needs to be done in order to keep our colleagues and beneficiaries safe in future. The incident has affected all of us and every aspect of our work. Moving forward means addressing the past every day, forcing all of us to keep tearing open the same old gashes.
Many of us have been confronted with this sort of tragedy before. Most experienced aid workers know someone who has been hurt, kidnapped, or killed. This is what happens when you work in places where some local players perceive their strategic and economic interests in cultivating chaos, violence and fear. Too often, international humanitarian law – the rules that are meant to protect us and all civilians – is not respected. It seems that aid workers are increasingly threatened, kidnapped and killed to cause panic and assert power, to disrupt the economy and the flow of aid, and for the propaganda value of dramatic attacks. We have become pawns in bigger political and military games.
The attack against our colleagues was an attack on everyone that NRC is here to help; an attack on everyone that is working to ensure that Malian people get the assistance and protection that they are entitled to. It was an affront to human rights and human decency. But we need to be careful not to forget the human faces behind the lofty principles and big words.
On an ordinary afternoon in May, Moctar and Nicodeme – two kind, smart, funny guys – were killed just trying to get home at the end of the day. This fact alone is tragedy enough to justify the sadness and outrage we all still feel.
Protection and Advocacy Adviser,
on behalf of the NRC Mali & Burkina Faso Team
To honour and thank humanitarians ahead of this year's World Humanitarian Day, join us and tweet your personal message, using #Ihonour