A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Aid workers killed in Sri Lanka

On 13 May, Red Cross worker Majurin Sivakurunathan was killed in the crossfire alongside his mother according to an ICRC spokeswoman speaking to CNN. On 8 May an unnamed Sri Lankan aid worker with Caritas Australia was killed during a government artillery attack on the “No Fire Zone” in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka. Two more good people wasted in a country that can ill afford it.

Personal note: I find in very hard to write about the self induced disaster in Sri Lanka. The slow, painful, and seemingly inexorable slide from humanitarian situation to humanitarian catastrophe and my part in it eats at me. It’s not like the future wasn’t obvious even two or three years ago. Yet somehow, once again, we have failed to prevent a problem from becoming disaster. As a friend recently put it “i
t makes me feel dirty and ashamed to have been part of a process that was complicit in this f....g disgrace”.

Tsunami housing destroyed by government artillery fire, 27 July 2007.

Second ICRC staffer killed by shelling in Sri Lanka

On 8 April, Sinnathurai Kugathasan, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed by artillery fire in northern Sri Lanka, according to a statement from the committee.

Kugathasan, who had been working for ICRC since 2002 as a water technician, was hit by an artillery shell and killed instantly while fetching water for his family in Ampalavanpokanai, in territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He is survived by his wife and three children.

Kugathasan is the third humanitarian worker to be killed by artillery fire in Sri Lanka this year. On 17 March, R. Sabesan of CARE International died from shrapnel wounds. On 4 March ICRC staffer Vadivel Vijayakumar was also killed in an artillery attack in the same area.

Aid worker killed in Sri Lanka

On 17 March, R. Sabesan, a volunteer aid worker and former caretaker for CARE International, was killed by artillery fire in the ‘no-fire’ zone of northern Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday afternoon shrapnel from artillery fire inside the government agreed ‘no-fire’ zone severed one of Sabesan’s legs. He later died from his injuries. The lack of appropriate medical facilities and the lack of medical evacuation options contributed to Sabesan’s senseless death.

According to CARE, Mr. Sabesan, 24, had been working for CARE as a caretaker in the Mulliativu District office since March 2005.

Mr. Sabesan is the second aid worker to be killed by artillery fire in Sri Lanka this month.
Vadivel Vijayakumar, an ICRC staff member, was killed by artillery fire on the 4th.

ICRC staffer killed in northern Sri Lanka

TamilNet is reporting the death of an ICRC staff member in northern Sri Lanka on 4 March 2009. According to the report Mr. K. Vijayarasa, was killed in an artillery attack as he was returning home from assisting with the evacuation seriously injured patients from a local hospital.

Update: ICRC has issued a news release. They identify the deceased staff member as Vadivel Vijayakumar and point out that Vijaykumar’s nine year old son was injured in the same incident.

Note: TamilNet is exactly an unbiased source but their bias is overt and they are often the first to report issues affecting Tamils in northern Sri Lanka.

Two aid workers murdered in Sri Lanka.

According to the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) two members of its field staff were abducted on 2 February in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. The pair were on leave at the time. On 10 February their bodies were found near the government controlled town.

There is something about this incident that reeks of pathos. Murdered in a dirty little war... no press coverage... reduced to an anonymous three paragraph press statement.

If anyone knows their names please send them my way and I’ll record them here.

FSD press statement.

Aid workers die in freak ferry accident

Sri Lankan newspapers are reporting the death of two foreign aid workers after they accidently drove their vehicle off the end of the Muttur to Trincomalee ferry in eastern Sri Lanka.

Local police have stated that the pair started their vehicle to run the air conditioning without realizing that the vehicle had been left in gear. The bodies of the yet unnamed aid workers have been recovered and are in the Trincomalee hospital.

Gunmen kill ICRC driver in Sri Lanka

On 23 December unidentified gunmen shot and killed a driver with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Mr. Sivasundaralingam Gangatharan (32) was killed near the ICRC office after stepping down from the bus he was taking to work. The father of two had been working for ICRC since 1999.

Sri Lanka: ICRC staff member killed in Jaffna
ICRC driver shot dead in Northern Sri Lanka

Aid Worker Murdered in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

An aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) was killed by unidentified gunmen in Batticaloa last night. A. Vigneswaran was shot and killed after the gunmen forced him from his house according to local authorities. Vigneswaran had worked as a construction-supervisor with NRC for two years.

More: NGO officer shot dead in eastern Sri Lanka

Vacancy - Staff and Program Security Advisor - Sri Lanka

CARE Sri Lanka is looking for a Staff and Program Security Advisor to support its operations in Sri Lanka. I can advise that working as an NGO Security Advisor in this forgotten conflict is professionally challenging. If you are looking for a cushy job in an island paridise forget this job. If you are looking for a challenging position that supports good work in a complex situation this might be your ideal job.

Justice for Muttur Video

ACF is calling for an international investigation into the Muttur Massacre, the killing of seventeen aid workers in Sri Lanka in 2006. You can help by visiting the Justice for Muttur site.

Don’t let the murder of 17 aid workers go unpunished!

On 4 August 2006, 17 aid workers were murdered in the town of Muttur in Sri Lanka. No one has been held to account for this outrageous slaughter of humanitarians dedicated to feeding the world’s hungry.

ACF is calling for an international investigation in order to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the Muttur massacre and to find those responsible. You can find a link to their petition below. If you can find it in your heart to help please sign it. If you are a blogger please write about it and link to the Justice for Muttur site.

Air Strike in Sri Lanka Injures Aid Workers

A number of staff from an INGO consortium were lightly injured as the result of a government air strike in northern Sri Lanka on 14 June. The air strike occurred at around 2:00 PM near the town of Parantan.

Aid workers attending a humanitarian relief planning session were forced to flee when the bombs struck about 100m from their meeting location. Several people were injured is the confusion.

Many aid agencies have offices and warehouses in the Parantan and Kilinochchi town areas.

View Larger Map

Abduction of Sri Lankan Aid Worker

Sebastian Goodfellow, a Sri Lankan driver for the Norwegian Refugee Council, a humanitarian organization working in Sri Lanka, has not been seen since May 15. It is feared that he has been abducted, possibly by an armed group operating with the tacit support of the security forces.

You can help by going to Amnesty International’s Online Action Center and send a message to President Mahinda Rajapakse and Ambassador Bernard A. B. Goonetilleke.

If you are a blogger please help by linking to the Action Center’s message page.

Gunmen Threaten INGO Staff in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

Gunmen in civilian clothing have reportedly threatened INGO staff and local residents in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. In one incident an INGO staff member had a weapon pointed at his head.

Young gunmen in civilian clothing have caused a series of disturbances on the town streets in recent days, threatening civilians and aid workers in broad daylight.
At least one International NGO has gone into hibernation until the situation stabilizes.

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence - Sri Lanka

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence is monitoring the election in eastern Sri Lanka. They are using the emerging standard, Twitter updates mashed with google maps, a blog, and mobile phone access to spread the word. Even if you are not interested in the elections you should check it out in case you need to do something similar in your own country.

CMEV is comprised of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) the Free Media Movement (FMM) and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre. Despite financial constraints they plan to field 330 stationary monitors at selected polling centres across the Eastern Province along with 49 Mobile Teams.

Citizen Reports on Election Violence and Malpractices in Sri Lanka

Vikalpa has launched a new site on Twitter with short reports generated by its citizen journalist network in Eastern Sri Lanka. eastelections08 will provide updates on election related violence and malpractices in the Eastern Province.

You can also view the updates on the vikalpa website. You'll find them in the middle column just above the fold.

UNDP Worker Arrested with Pistol - Snarky Comments Follow

This article about a UNDP worker being arrested while carrying a pistol is interesting but its the comments that stand out. Some are funny... some just sad. What does it say about acceptance as a security strategy in Sri Lanka? Have we been doing a good job communicating what it is we do and who we are?

Vacancy - Risk Management Advisor - Sri Lanka

GTZ is seeking a Risk Management Advisor (read Safety and Security Advisor) for its projects and programs in Sri Lanka.

Action Against Hunger Leaves Sri Lanka in Protest

ACF has made the difficult decision to withdraw from Sri Lanka due to lack of confidence in the government's investigation into the massacre of 17 ACF staff two years ago. This couldn't have been an easy decision for ACF. Concerns over the impact of their withdrawal on beneficiaries must weigh heavily. However, ACF's action may well help raise the profile of attacks on NGOs in Sri Lanka and help end the culture of impunity that grips the island.

I applaud ACF for making morally courageous choices under difficult circumstances.

Saving Sri Lankan Websites at Risk

Inspired by the demise of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) website, government censorship of sites like Tamilnet, and the demise of websites like Tafern, Sanjana Hattotuwa has set up Websites at Risk. His intent is to archive civil society and NGO websites that are at risk of being closed down with little or no notice. These websites are valuable sources of information and lessons learned for humanitarians, researchers and NGO security practitioners.

Sanjana deserves a big round of applause for this initiative.

Jobs - Afghanistan and Sri Lanka

Welthungerhilfe is looking for someone to fill the position of Head of Project for the Afghan NGO Security Organization. The Head successful candidate will have overall responsibility for the project including five Regional Safety Officers and an Operations Coordinator. You will also be responsible for advancing the ANSO project, preparing new project stages and securing the required funding. In your capacity as Head of Project, you will act as the national contact person on safety issues or as a security consultant for all NGOs operating in Afghanistan.

CARE International is still looking for a Staff and Program Security Advisor for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is currently entering a critical phase of its civil conflict therefore the successful candidate will be required to have strong analytical, diplomatic, and cross cultural communications skills. Regular travel to volatile and dangerous conflict areas will also be required.

Security Links

Suicide attacks, bomb warnings, damage to undersea internet cables, and SMS service cuts have all conspired to keep me from finishing my comparison of SMS tools so you'll have to settle for some links.

10 Ways We Get the Odds Wrong: Psychology today takes a look at why our brains are so bad at assessing modern risks. There is an interesting if strictly US-centric quiz at the end that will let you test your risk knowledge.

Finding a Job: The AidWorkers Network has a good guide for anyone looking to break into the aid worker job market. Its not limited to security jobs but it doesn't exclude them either.

Travel Safely: Gadling shows you how to create your own DIY personal first aid kit for the road. Note that this kit is for travel related "nuisance illnesses". For field work I carry a larger first aid kit as well.

Aid Agencies Lack Focus on Security: According to a former aid worker who was evacuated from Chad last year some aid organizations don't focus enough on security.

Custom Garmin GPS Maps: NGO Security explains where to find open source Garmin GPS maps. This is a very good resource. I was able to find a street map for Colombo and some good Afghanistan maps.

You Thought My Banana Was a Bomb: The Strategist's take on the Transportation Security Administration's new blog. Funny in a very sad sort of way.

Sri Lanka 2008

2008 is going to be a very difficult year for humanitarian organizations working in Sri Lanka according to this post in groundviews. I wish I could disagree with the author as the predictions are grim indeed.

"Senior leadership of pro-democracy NGOs will face ever increasing hate speech by those in power and their local and international apparatchiks. Field workers of local and international human rights and humanitarian organizations in particular will suffer the brunt of physical attacks, including outright murder and torture with total impunity. Further, organizations working on media freedom and the freedom of expression will find themselves painted as agents of foreign government’s with no real legitimacy in Sri Lanka. The Administration will become more rabid and parochial in its definition of what is local, authentic, Sinhala and Sri Lankan and essentially kosher in civil society initiatives. Anything and anyone that falls outside these self-styled definitions will be dealt with extreme prejudice."

Unfortunately I think that Sanjana has it right. You might want to make sure your contingency plans are in place and up to date.

Another Red Cross Worker Killed in Sri Lanka

Sooriyakanthi Thavarajah, a volunteer of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, was found dead after being abducted by unidentified gunmen last Friday. According to a Red Cross Red Crescent Movement statement:

"Mr Thavarajah had been an active member of the Red Cross for many years and served as chairman of the Point Pedro Division for the past three years. In 2005, he received an award for ‘Best Volunteer’ from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in recognition of his contribution during the tsunami tragedy."

This is the second killing of Red Cross workers in Sri Lanka this year. On 1 June two SLRCS volunteers were abducted and killed in Colombo by persons claiming to be police officers.

UN Staff Union Advises Staff to Skip Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is among the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers according to the United Nations Staff Union. According to these articles the union is expected to advise staffers not to take postings to Sri Lanka due to the security risks that aid workers face. Although the union places much of the blame on the government of Sri Lanka it also notes with concern “the lukewarm response by UN officials in supporting their own staff”.

Avoid Lanka: UN union tells staff
UN Staffers Union urges their Members to avoid Sri Lanka

Unreported World - Sri Lanka Killing for Peace 2007

This video by Sandra Jordan and Siobhan Sinnerton is an excellent summary of the security situation in Sri Lanka.

Aid Worker Killed - Sri Lanka

I met the Rev Fr Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith of the Jesuit Refugee Services while I was in Mannar district a few weeks ago. He struck me as a quiet, principled man, who was dedicated to his beliefs and service to others. Despite the difficult security situation in the area he continued to work hard to bring relief to the poorest and most vulnerable. In short he was the type of man I endeavour to be.

On the afternoon of 26 September 2007 while travelling towards Vellankulam in an LTTE controlled area of Mannar his vehicle was struck by a command detonated Claymore. Fr. Packiyaranjith was killed instantly. His driver was severely injured.

No one has accepted responsibility for this brutal and myopic act. Nor is anyone likely to. The government blames the LTTE. The LTTE blame the government.

Over the weekend the sheer senselessness of his death left me feeling frustrated and depressed. This morning however, I had a revelation. Fr. Packiyaranjith was the type who, if he had been given the choice, would have chosen to spend his last moments in his quest to help others.

Sri Lanka needs more like him.

Odds and Ends

Mashable.com has a collection of 60+ Collaborative Tools for Groups. Is anyone out there up to the challenge of an NGO Security Wiki?

I've always thought that something like the SPOT personal GPS tracker would be very useful for NGOs working in conflict zones and complex emergencies. According to the SPOT website it'll be out in November.

Sam at groundviews has a short piece on pledges in Sri Lanka. Wryly ironic.

Sri Lanka's Dirty War

Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative, is a good place to find alternative views on the conflict in Sri Lanka. Recently they posted a quick piece titled Sri Lanka's Dirty War. It includes links to an HRW report and a 13 minute video produced by Journeyman Pictures on abductions and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Check them out, both for the story and for an idea of what citizen journalism in a conflict zone can be.

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