Action Against Hunger International Network Demands Full Inquiry Into Muttur "War Crime"

Following the terrible massacre of 17 Action Against Hunger employees in Muttur (Trincomalee district),Action Against Hunger - France organized a press conference in Paris, with Jean-Christophe Rufin (Honorary President), Benoit Miribel (Action Against Hunger - France Executive Director) and Thomas Gonnet, Head of Operations in the Paris office on Wednesday the 9th of August.

"The Muttur massacre is a 'war crime' that should not be trivialized"

"We remained moderate with our discussions and disclosures on Monday, August 7, given that we still did not have access to the area and could not recover the bodies of the victims," declared Jean-Christophe Rufin. "Now the facts have been established - this is an appalling crime, a deliberate murder of employees of Action Against Hunger who have been massacred intentionally. They were victims of a double violation: of their lives and of the 'sacred' space that a humanitarian office represents." The President of Action Against Hunger - France also made clear that "the deaths of our staff members should not allow us to forget those of the civilians, around 500 people, who died in Muttur last week."

Above all, Rufin insisted that this horrible act should not be "trivialized": "The Muttur massacre should not be seen as a 'professional risk' or a 'humanitarian danger". This is in fact a turn in the history of humanitarian action. The values that we uphold have not been respected by the murderers. Action Against Hunger International Network defends a humanitarian approach which is not about sending cash from the West, but rather to work directly with the community. This is where the challenge lies. Some prefer humanitarianism that just pays cash to one that also witnesses."

"We are not making any assumptions nor will we be letting go. We shall get to the bottom of all that has happened. It is also in the interest of Sri Lanka." To all Action Against Hunger teams throughout the world, to all the national and international staff, it is important to have complete insight in to what has really happened," continued Rufin. "We have asked the United Nations to be associated with the independent inquiry. We want to know who the killers are. For the time being we do not make any assumptions. We will inform the press on the proceedings of the inquiry every month until we have a complete insight into what has happened."

"It is not going to be straightforward; Sri Lanka is not united, nor are the parties within the conflict. There are some hardline positions, and others that are less so. But it is in Sri Lanka's own interest to succeed in clarifying this matter. The continuity of aid to Sri Lanka may be compromised; answers will determine the survival of humanitarian action in this country."

"The team was trapped, blocked at the base by the fighting"

Rufin insisted again on the circumstances that are currently known: "It was a trap. The teams were forced into a courtyard and executed in a methodical way. Seventeen people! This is long and painful! We have seen blunders, the so-called collateral damage, but this is a pure and simple execution."

"The programs have been suspended, the teams are grieving," said Benoit Miribel, Executive Director of Action Against Hunger - France, now on his way to the area. Benoit Miribel, who left Paris for Colombo on Wednesday afternoon, closed by explaining: "Our programs are suspended, the teams are at home, grieving. I am going to the area to meet the Sri Lankan authorities, to oversee the launch of a transparent and independent inquiry, and also to evaluate the continuation of our activities in the area, in light of the current security conditions."

Jean-Christophe Rufin concluded: "The decision whether to withdraw from the country will not be taken by Action Against Hunger International Network alone. We have to consult the other humanitarian actors present in the country, our partners and major donors, such as the European Commission, who should help us secure a full insight into what happened and for guaranteeing the security of humanitarian operations."

Ceremonies will take place on Friday, August 11, at 1:00 p.m. Paris time (7:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time) in memory of the 17 staff members of Action Against Hunger - France, in Colombo and in Trincomalee, in the presence of Benoit Miribel, Executive Director of Action Against Hunger - France. All missions and bases of Action Against Hunger International Network throughout the world will respect a minute's silence. Action Against Hunger International Network asks the NGO community to do the same.