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Nansen Award winners condemn Tonelli murder

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Nansen Award winners condemn Tonelli murder

14 October 2003

14 October 2003

GENEVA - Several prominent winners of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award have urged international decision-makers to do more to protect humanitarian aid workers.

Their call, in an open letter sent Tuesday to newspapers around the world, comes nine days after Dr. Annalena Tonelli - the winner of this year's Nansen Award - was shot dead by an unknown gunman in front of the hospital for tuberculosis patients she ran in Borama, Somaliland.

In their open letter, dated today, the signatories said:

"On Sunday, October the 5th, Dr. Annalena Tonelli of Italy was murdered in cold blood by an unknown gunman in front of the charity hospital for tuberculosis patients she ran in Borama, Somaliland. This senseless killing put an end to a life almost entirely devoted to helping some of the most desperate people in one of the most dangerous corners of the world.

"Dr. Tonelli was killed just months after receiving the UN refugee agency's Nansen Refugee Award - a distinction named after the Norwegian polar explorer and refugee advocate Fridtjof Nansen and given annually to people or organisations whose work has made an exceptional contribution to the well-being of the uprooted.

"We the undersigned feel a particular bonding with Dr. Tonelli as we are also among the recipients of the award.

"Needless to say, every murder or any other act of violence directed against aid workers is a hideous and cowardly act. But this one seems particularly brutal and exceptionally senseless. 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.

"We consider it our duty to once again appeal to politicians, decision-makers, soldiers and individuals around the world to do their utmost to protect the people who are trying to help others. We are also reiterating the call for states to prosecute and punish crimes against aid workers which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Contempt for human life in general and contempt for the lives and well-being of aid workers in particular inevitably result in fewer and fewer individuals being ready to do humanitarian work in the toughest corners of the world. Already now, there is a growing list of humanitarian no-go areas where the huge risks aid workers are forced to take outweigh the possible benefits.

"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."

Signed by:

Capt. Arne F. Rinnan of MV "Tampa" and Wilhelmsen Lines of Norway (2002)
Maestro Luciano Pavarotti (Italy, 2001)
Miguel Angel Estrella (Argentina, 2000)
United Nations Volunteers (2000)
Handicap International (1996)
Médecins sans Frontières (1993)
Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker (Former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, 1992)
People of Canada (1986)
Major-General Paul A. Cullen (Australia, 1981)
Valery Giscard d'Estaing (former President of France, 1979)
Malaysian Red Crescent Society (1977)
Svana Fridriksdottir (Iceland, 1972)
International Council of Voluntary Agencies (1963)
International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent (1957)