Somalia : Shame of attacking humanitarian sites in Las Anod
EDITORIAL | The Las Anod tale would have been a tired one by now. But there hasn’t been enough political will to bring it to an end. This time, however, we are expressing the shame of attacking humanitarian sites.
This week, Djoen Basselink, the Country Director for the medical charity group MSF was expressing fears that efforts to provide medical assistance to the wounded and other vulnerable groups were being curtailed by threats on humanitarian providers.
And it came after a hospital run by MSF, and so far the main center for medical relief to patients in Las Anod was shelled, damaging its crucial structures. Beyond the fact that shelling a medical humanitarian site worsens a bad situation, it is also illegal under international laws on humanitarian work.
MSF, of course, has been in these kinds of situations before. Only earlier last month, it was forced to suspend operations in Burkina Faso, another troubled African nation, after staffers were attacked. In Tigray, its staff was shot and killed at the height of the war in that country. And in Somalia, MSF was at one time forced to withdraw services after continued attacks on its staff and facilities. The difference between now and then is that MSF staff were attacked by al-Shabaab militants. This time, operatives in Somaliland, presumably with a monopoly of aerial violence in this war, were the culprits.
It is sad because MSF, like many other humanitarian organisations including the UN, has tried to be impartial by serving both protagonists. It is also sad because the shelling came as Somaliland authorities spoke from two sides of their mouth: On one hand, they insist they are committed to a unilateral ceasefire. On the other, they accuse Puntland of ‘planning an attack’ on Somaliland forces and hence they say they are still fighting to defend themselves.
Whatever the politics, Somaliland must know attacking a humanitarian site drags them back into the mad in two ways: One is that it denies the affected communities the much-needed relief. When a government cannot assist the people wounded in war, what is the point of attacking a humanitarian facility providing the very thing the authorities couldn’t? Secondly, it denies Somaliland any left legitimacy they could hang on to claim Las Anod. The authorities must know they have the primary responsibility to provide safety to communities. When that can’t be provided, at least they have a duty to secure humanitarian corridors. As we said earlier, Las Anod is a distraction to Somalia’s other problems such as drought and al-Shabaab. Yet the numbers there are numbing: At least 200 killed, 700 injured, and more than 200,000 displaced since December. This is not a show of a government keen on sustaining peace and unity and the welfare of the people.
There have been many failures seen over the past few weeks. The bare minimum expectation from Somaliland is to ensure no aid worker or facility becomes a victim of this senseless violence. History will be waiting to judge.