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October 21, 2015
Dear President Obama,
As the CEOs of 35 U.S. NGOs, we are writing to express alarm over the events of October 3, 2015 in which Médecins Sans Frontière’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was repeatedly hit by U.S. airstrikes. We extend our deepest sympathies to our colleagues and their patients who were killed in this tragic incident. At the same time, the broader consequences for humanitarian operations globally have struck a deep chord of concern in the U.S. NGO community.
Much remains to be understood about these events and the measures that must be taken to avoid a recurrence. To accomplish this we urge you to establish U.S. government cooperation with an impartial independent body to establish the facts of what transpired in Kunduz on October 3 making use of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC).
U.S., NATO and Afghan forces will and should conduct their own internal inquiries to adopt both immediate and longer term corrective measures as necessary. Internal investigations cannot, however, substitute for the role of an independent body to establish an impartial and authoritative account of events. The release of the main findings and conclusions of an independent body can additionally serve to inform the future policies and operations of all concerned parties globally.
As international NGOs actively responding to human suffering in numerous armed conflicts worldwide, we depend on respect by all State and non-State parties to conflict for the protected status of civilians and impartial relief operations. Independent fact-finding is critical to enhance compliance with these norms and increase accountability under international humanitarian law worldwide. Given the pressure international humanitarian law is under in many of those conflicts, U.S. cooperation with an independent investigation could be a helpful precedent to rebuild that critical respect and reduce attacks on civilians and civilian facilities, including hospitals and schools.
The United States was instrumental in conceiving and implementing the fundamental norms of humanity during times of war as now enshrined in international law. A world where these fundamental norms of humanity are not respected is unthinkable. It is in the interest of the United States to continue to set the standard of adherence to these norms that it would have other parties follow.
President and CEO, InterAction
CEO, Action Against Hunger
President and CEO, Alliance for Peacebuilding
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
President and CEO, American Refugee Committee
President and CEO, BRAC USA
President and CEO, CARE USA
President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services
President, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Rev. John L. McCullough
President and CEO, Church World Service, Inc.
Joseph M. Cahalan
CEO, Concern Worldwide (U.S.)
Executive Director, Doctors of the World USA
President, Freedom from Hunger
CEO, Global Links
Executive Director, Handicap International
James P. Mitchum
CEO, Heart to Heart International
President and CEO, HIAS
Nancy A. Aossey
President and CEO, International Medical Corps
President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
CEO, Islamic Relief USA
J Ron Byler
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
CEO, Mercy Corps
Richard M. Walden
President and CEO, Operation USA
President, Oxfam America
President and CEO, PATH
President and CEO, Planet Aid
Tessie San Martin
President and CEO, Plan International USA
President and CEO, Save the Children
Executive Director, Seva Foundation
Executive Director, Solidarity Center
Executive Director, SPOON Foundation
The Rev. William F. Schulz
President, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Executive Director, Women’s Refugee Commission
President, World Concern
President, World Vision U.S.