Afghanistan aid workers' deaths highlights delicate position of Christian-affiliated groups
The killing of 10 aid workers with the International Assistance Mission in Afghanistan underscores the suspicion Christian-affiliated groups can face from some Afghans and government opponents. Such groups point to codes of conduct they follow in the country.
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The two organizations – Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid – have been cleared by the Karzai government and allowed to resume their aid work. And in an interview with The New York Times, the TV station's director admitted the report was merely raising suspicions after seeing the two groups had "church" in their names.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, given the sensitivity of their names, both groups had been using abbreviations – CWS and NCA – as much as possible, says John Nduna, general secretary of ACT Alliance, an umbrella group of 100 church-related humanitarian groups.
With a group like NCA, he says, there can be misunderstandings that it's a church when in fact "the only thing it has to do with the church is the fundraising."
One Christian-affiliated aid group in Afghanistan says it's well understood among the donors in the pews that their group isn't proselytizing. And same for the Afghans they serve: "We are incredibly explicit that we don't proselytize, and anyone who does, if they are an ex-pat, will be on the next plane out of here."
They say they have experienced little animosity – just a few cases of people unhappy with their portion of aid deciding to play the religion card. Both this group and IAM say they won't be leaving because of Thursday's massacre.
ANSO, a security watchdog for nongovernmental organizations in Kabul, says the incident should not change threat levels. "ANSO doesn't see it as a shift in the strategic environment and we currently see no reason to change our advice to NGOs."
Many Christian-affiliated organizations in Afghanistan have significant numbers of Afghan Muslim staff who vouch for the organization in times when their Christian ties are highlighted, including now.
Codes of conduct
Christian-affiliated groups can also point to one or more codes of conduct that they have signed. One of the most popular is the Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which states: "Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint."
The code, like other similar guidelines, restrains workers on the job from advancing religious beliefs, but doesn't apply to what happens off the job, in people's private lives. Mr. Nduna of the ACT Alliance says his members are "fully aware" of the need to be "sensitive and careful about how they respond to questions" from residents in places like Afghanistan.
The Afghan Constitution does not forbid Afghans from leaving Islam. But some versions of Islamic sharia law consider apostasy punishable by death, a factor in Afghan court deliberations. An Afghan convert to Christianity faced the death penalty in 2006 until the government, amid an international outcry, allowed him to flee to Italy.