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On the Dutch Government's Court Case Against MSF
April 22, 2005
One year after the release on April 12 2004, of Arjan Erkel, a Dutch volunteer for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who was kidnapped in Dagestan and held captive for 20 months, MSF has been brought before a civil court in Geneva, Switzerland by the Dutch government. The Dutch Government is demanding that MSF reimburse them for one million Euros - the sum they claim they contracted to loan MSF for the payment of Arjan's ransom. Recently, the first public court appearance took place before the presiding judge. Dr. Rowan Gillies, MSF International Council President, clarifies MSF’s position.
What is the Dutch government’s complaint against MSF?
At the end of July, 2004, four months after Arjan Erkel was freed, the Dutch Government filed a case against the Swiss section of MSF in a civil court requesting that the money they paid for the release of their citizen be reimbursed.
To be crystal clear, MSF never borrowed any money from the Dutch government and in addition, the Dutch government negotiated, on its own, the terms and conditions for Arjan's release, only informing MSF at the last minute.
In fact, since March 2004, following a public information campaign led by MSF in order to get Arjan released, to which they objected, the Dutch government had severed all relations with MSF.
What do you feel is the true basis of this case?
Officially, states don't pay ransom to release hostages. More realistically, they don't want to be seen to pay ransoms. We see this court case as an attempt to cover up that payment - in effect “passing the buck” to MSF. The premise of this case is completely false, and seems like a smokescreen to save appearances before their parliament and the Dutch public.
What is MSF’s position on this process?
MSF is now being placed as the defendant in a civil court in Switzerland over a case that has its origin in the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. It is difficult to reconcile the two.
We are talking about, in effect, the traffic of a human being on the territory of the Russian federation, the kidnapping of an humanitarian worker, - a person who is supposed to have protection under international law and who should expect that law to be enforced by the countries that have signed it.
For 20 months, and in spite of numerous campaigns calling for the release of Arjan Erkel and the mobilization of the international community, MSF has met with the inertia of states - particularly that of Russia and the Netherlands, which were unwilling for the kidnapping of an international humanitarian aid worker to put a tone of discord in an otherwise very positive political and economic relationship.
This is not an average criminal story nor it is a simple transaction between two parties.
The Arjan Erkel kidnapping has many political implications, both when it come to the responsibilities of states under International law, and the impunity surrounding attacks on humanitarian workers.
While MSF is now portrayed as the defendant, there seems to be no serious investigation going on in Russia and Arjan's kidnappers are still on the run; violence against civilians in the North Caucasus region continues; and aid organizations that attempt to provide assistance can see support for their actions eroded from all sides.
Tags: North Caucasus