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Mourners remember Dr. Tonelli, pledge to continue her work

Mourners remember Dr. Tonelli, pledge to continue her work

Thousands of people have paid their last respects to Dr. Annalena Tonelli, the Italian aid worker and Nansen Refugee Award winner who was killed last week in Somalia. Her fellow award recipients have also issued an open letter to condemn the killing and urge states to punish crimes against aid workers.
14 October 2003
Dr. Annalena Tonelli's work, including this hospital in Borama, must go on, say her supporters.

NAIROBI/GENEVA, Oct 14 (UNHCR) - Thousands of mourners around the world have come together this week to remember murdered aid worker Annalena Tonelli, and pledged to continue the work she had started in Somalia.

Dr. Tonelli, a 60-year-old Italian humanitarian worker, was shot and killed on October 5 in the hospital she ran for tuberculosis patients in Borama, north-western Somalia. Her 33-year struggle to help Somalis in remote corners of the Horn of Africa had won her UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award in June this year.

On Tuesday, her fellow award recipients issued an open letter condemning the killing. "The murder of Dr. Tonelli deals a blow to the entire humanitarian effort, not just in Somaliland and Africa, but also in other parts of the world," said the letter, which was signed by former Nansen Refugee Award winners like Maestro Luciano Pavarotti, Captain Arne F. Rinnan of MV Tampa and Wilhelmsen Lines, and Médecins Sans Frontières.

They urged states to prosecute and punish crimes against aid workers which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, noting: "We are far from deluding ourselves that humanitarian work can be done without risks but these must be within reason. Otherwise aid workers will become extinct and the people they serve will be left to their own resources."

The Nansen winners' joint letter follows a UN report last week by Secretary-General Kofi Annan which noted that of the 196 deaths of UN civilian staff due to malicious acts between 1992 and June 30 of this year, "only 24 perpetrators have been apprehended."

Meanwhile, in Kenya where Dr. Tonelli was once based, 200 people gathered on Tuesday for a memorial at Consolata Shrine, a Catholic church in Nairobi. They included staff of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, as well as Dr. Tonelli's former students and patients.

The UN refugee agency was represented by its Director of Communications and Information, Anne Willem Bijleveld. He told mourners that when he called High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers last week to inform him of Dr. Tonelli's death, there was a long silence on the phone before Lubbers said, "They now start killing the angels."

Bijleveld remembered Dr. Tonelli as "a humble woman, but with such a vibrant personality. She had around her an aura of happiness and we all felt good in her company."

Praising her dedication to peace, reconciliation and human rights, he said, "She devoted herself to the most vulnerable, despite the obstacles. She was indomitable. She did not belong to any organisation or to any institution. She belonged to herself, her values, her ideals. And that was her strength."

He added, "She overcame prejudice and hate by her deep love of others. This love was like a spark that enflamed others around," noting that at Dr. Tonelli's hospital in Borama, people from different clans were treated together and became friends where otherwise they might have been enemies.

"We must do everything we can to make sure that what she has started will continue and will live on. This is absolutely essential," he urged.

The same appeal was made in a separate ceremony in Dr. Tonelli's Italian hometown, Forli, on Monday evening. Some 2,500 mourners packed the mass at Cathedral Santa Croce, spilling into the streets in an emotional service that saw many people in tears.

The ceremony was attended by Italian Under-Secretary of State Margharita Boniver, members of Parliament, Forli's deputy mayor, Antonio Branca, and UNHCR's Europe bureau director, Raymond Hall. Annalena's brother, Dr. Bruno Tonelli, flew in from Nairobi to thank UNHCR for its support and urge the agency not to abandon his sister's work.

"We will do whatever possible to continue her work, in the way she meant - Annalena's way," said UNHCR's Hall.

Deputy Mayor Branca reiterated his commitment to Dr. Tonelli's work, discussing with UNHCR and the Committee Against Hunger Worldwide (a local non-governmental agency she had worked closely with) on ways to continue her legacy.

The municipality and province of Forli had earlier pledged $360,000 to the tuberculosis hospital in Borama over a period of three years. Other municipalities in the Emilia Romagna region have also expressed interest in supporting Dr. Tonelli's work.

All this support will be a welcome boost to Dr. Tonelli's one-woman battle against a wide range of causes from tuberculosis to AIDS, illiteracy, blindness, malnutrition and female genital mutilation.