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Findings of Independent Fact-Finding Mission on the Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan and on its Borders

6 November 2001

The name Afghanistan is ever-present on the lips of politicians and the television screens of the world. But the Afghan people and the terrible humanitarian crisis they suffer has been all but absent. With all the attention on Afghanistan, the interests and concerns of the Afghan people have somehow got lost.

This mission has sought to rectify this in some small way. We have spoken to Afghans and to those non-Afghans most concerned with the humanitarian crisis. We have heard very disturbing stories on all sides. Those involved in seeking to address the crisis now predict tens of thousands may be dead by the end of next month, more than 100,000 children dead by the end of the winter.

The parties to the conflict currently consuming Afghanistan have placed all their resources into the war effort. We call on them to put the same drive, resources and expertise to bear on addressing the humanitarian conflict.


In particular regions of Afghanistan, the food supply is so low that widespread hunger and possible starvation is imminent. Afghan and international NGOs, and UN humanitarian organizations, are doing an extraordinary job to deliver food aid throughout Afghanistan. However, in particular regions the lack of security guarantees, the ban on communications and the oncoming winter weather, make delivery by conventional means nearly impossible. Extraordinary means of delivery, such as air drops, are currently prohibited by the no-fly zone over Afghanistan.

Parties to this conflict hold the capacity to improve these conditions, and must act now to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe. Among the options to be pursued are:

A cease-fire to permit trucking in food, and secure zones to permit airdrops by the World Food Programme or others. All available options for these isolated regions of Afghanistan now require the leadership of the countries engaged in the war and the cooperation of their military forces. The humanitarian agencies are doing their very best, but the parties to this conflict must assume responsibility for preventing this tragedy of mass starvation.

Only a small fraction of the more than $700 million pledged to date has been actually paid out. The urgency of the humanitarian situation requires that all funds committed to the UN Donor Appeal be delivered immediately. Given the extreme vulnerability of rural Afghanis, food must be appropriate to their situation, i.e. the sort of food people can and will eat, and must be delivered in a manner that effectively reaches the hungry.

Protection of Civilians We have observed a worrying trend toward the erosion and outright dismantling of the protections guaranteed to civilians in the Geneva Conventions. The manner in which this war is being conducted appears to contravene civilians' rights to have access to food aid, to not be the object of military attack and to enjoy safe refuge.

This is manifest in the ordnance and tactics utilized, in the approach taken to refugees and the interruption of de-mining activities.

We believe that the protection of civilians must now rise to the top of the agenda of the parties to the conflict, particularly those of the US and UK-led coalition. The use of ordnance which has disproportionate impact on civilians, such as cluster bombs, must cease. In a similar manner, both the forces which control security on the ground and in the sky have an equal responsibility to protect civilians. All allegations of improper use of ordnance must be thoroughly investigated as permitted by the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

The international humanitarian symbols (such as Red Crescent and Red Cross) must be respected by all parties.

Non-refoulement guarantees must be provided to all civilians seeking safe refuge, and their rights must be clearly recognized and respected, fulfilling the spirit and the letter of the Geneva Conventions.

And given threat posed by millions of land mines to civilians, especially those uprooted by the war, the parties to the conflict must provide security and resources so that United Nations de-mining activities can resume.

Future Prospects

The pursuit of future stability in Afghanistan and surrounding countries by military means alone is fundamentally flawed. Future peace requires planning now for significant investment in social and economic development. This must be undertaken regionally, and must address alternatives to the drug economy, controls on small arms, women's effective participation in government, and a process for judging those accused of war crimes.

Three meetings in the next month will provide opportunities for the donor community to kickstart significant investment in economic and social development. The WTO in Doha, the IMF/WB and G20 in Ottawa, and the WB/ADB in Islamabad ought to address provisions for improved market access, increased foreign aid and substantial debt relief for the countries of the region. Afghani NGOs should be invited to participate in the Islamabad meeting, if they have not been so already.

We propose that there be equity of investment between the civil and military aspects of peacebuilding. In other words, for every dollar spent by the coalition on their military action, a dollar must be put into economic and social development.

Now is the time for those pledges to come forward.

The initiative led by the United Nation's special representative Brahimi to facilitate the construction of a stable political future for Afghanistan merits the support of the international community. In this regard, his work is greatly under-resourced and requires immediate and substantial financial support from donor countries.

For his efforts to be successful, they must reach beyond familiar political leaders and this will require dedication as well as adequate resources. We recommend a clear delineation be established between his political initiative and the UN's humanitarian efforts.

Afghanistan is the poorest country in Asia. Even before this crisis, it had one of the lowest life expectancies and highest rates of infant mortality in the world. In the world's zeal to protect itself from the scourge of terrorism, we cannot ask the Afghan people for further sacrifices. Their suffering, their urgent need, their rights to protection and security, must be at the centre of our attention, our top priority.

This statement reflects the views of the mission members and not necessarily those of Oxfam International. Mission members: Lloyd Axworthy, Zulie Sachedina, Mark Fried, Eric Hoskins, Mohammed Qazilbash and Nicholas Stockton.

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