Kabul/NewYork (March 11, 2010) – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) last week 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.
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.