Terrorist massacre in Niger. Security and Humanitarian Commitment. Second part. The security protocol has been respected?
In the first part, we tried to understand whether the Kourè area, the scene of the horrendous massacre of 8 people that took place last Sunday in Niger, was truly a “safe zone” as stated by the French NGO ACTED and its lawyer. The conflicting opinions collected do not allow to clarify the dilemma. Only an indisputable fact remains. According to the degree of security of the United Nations, the area is considered “orange”, therefore theoretically practicable. However, it is not recommended unless there is a valid reason. In case of travel, it would be imperative to contact the relevant Embassy in advance. Contact which, it seems, did not take place.
Faced with this question of fundamental importance, it is necessary to analyze whether compliance with internal security procedures has been guaranteed. “All NGOs have their own security procedures: which are real protocols that are very precise and strict to be respected. These protocols are managed by the Country Representative. In the most structured and wealthy international NGOs, the Country Representative is assisted by a security expert, usually a former soldier. ”, Explains Pierre-Yves Arnaud, director of security in West Africa since 2002 for private groups and various institutional actors.
In all the press releases and the various statements made by the NGO ACTED and their lawyer, the total absence in specifying the internal management of safety is noted. Everything revolves around whether the giraffe park was truly the “most Zen in Niger” and what safety measures were taken before taking the Sunday trip that ended in a tragedy.
In the list drawn up by OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Actions) concerning the presence of expatriates and humanitarian workers in Niger in 2020, it is noted that ACTED had a Country Security Manager in charge: Mr. Poirson Tim (tim.poirson @ acted) while the Country Representative is Miss Alice Dorrer
The information taken in Niger confirms Mr. Poirson’s Linkedin profile which highlights a robust experience in NGO security in extremely volatile contexts: Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa. At ACTED mission Niger he held the position of Country Safety Managers from June 2019 to June 2020. After finishing his role at ACTED Poirson he took on the position of Deputy Country Director at INSO (International NGO Safety Organization) a specialized international agency in supporting NGOs and humanitarian workers in terms of security and analysis of high-risk contexts, such as Niger. INSO is known for its strict personnel selection criteria, consequently Mr. Poirson must possess a high degree of professionalism that has enabled him to assume the position of Deputy Director.
After the end of Poirson’s post, it is not known whether the French NGO promptly replaced him with another security expert as the military political context in Niger is deteriorating. Since last May the various Islamic terrorist groups have been carrying out a maneuver to encircle the capital Niamey with the aim of conquering it militarily. The capital has not yet fallen into their hands only thanks to the presence of the French military actively engaged in fighting against terrorists. These groups enjoy great mobility, excellent knowledge of the terrain and support from part of the population tired of the French presence and from various and influential Nigerien Imams. In the Tillabéri region, the police and regular army no longer control the land, despite their continued presence.
According to information received from Niger, ACTED’s internal security protocol provides for the analysis of the security situation for each move (for work or play reasons) outside the capital Niamey performed by the Country Security Manager. The security department of the office in France must be informed. Unfortunately, Poirson Tim, an expert in security and a profound connoisseur of the political and military dynamics of Niger, had not been on duty since last June. Who did the safety analysis for the Sunday trip and who authorized it? Was it a fatal imprudence or underestimation of the danger?
In defense of the French NGO comes the declaration of the deputy of the party “Agir des Francais” the right-wing political platform for Europe and liberal founded in May 2017 by former deputy Frank Riester. Agir is a small party (9 deputies, 5 senators and 1 European deputy) which has been experiencing a modest increase in votes in the last two years. “The humanitarians killed on Sunday showed no recklessness. They followed the recommendations of our local consular posts and the Nigerian authorities, who are also reviewing the level of security in this area because, in fact, these motorcycle terrorists have passed the surveillance radars. From now on, we no longer have to go to this area “, explains AGIR deputy M’jid El Guerrab interviewed on Monday morning by Franceinfo.
At the moment, no other official statement on the burning issue of whether the French NGO has acted respecting the security protocol or not, comes from the French political world. Deputy M’jid El Guerrab last March was sentenced to 3 years in prison and a 45,000 euro fine for hitting the first secretary of the federation of French abroad of the Socialist Party: Boris Faure with a motorcycle helmet. A violent episode, which took place in Paris in 2017.
According to information gathered in Niger, ACTED would suffer in general from a lack of security management. A shortage that is not limited to Niger alone. The cause of this shortage is the age of the expatriates he hires for missions abroad. An age ranging from 26 to 32 with work experience from 1 to 4 years. ACTED would also use many volunteers between the ages of 23 and 24 with no experience.
The general manager, Marie-Pierre Caley called the Sunday massacre “an unprecedented event for ACTED”. If Ms. Caley is referring to the considerable number of expatriates killed in a single bombing, she is certainly right. Unfortunately, this French NGO has a long list of attacks since 2013, almost all of which resulted in the death of expatriate and local personnel.
In September 2013, two local ACTED employees were killed in the Central African Republic. In November 2013, six Afghans who worked for Acted were killed in an ambush in Afghanistan. In September 2014, the British David Haiens was beheaded in Syria 18 months after his kidnapping by the DAESH (ISIS).
To the long list of assassinations of national and expatriate ACTED employees must be added other major security incidents. Among them the Coordinator of Italian-Swiss nationality kidnapped in 2013 in Syria by the DAESH (ISIS): Federico Motka. Our compatriot was released on May 26, 2014 thanks to the intervention of the Farnesina and then Premier Matteo Renzi. “Federiko Motka was kidnapped on March 12, 2013 in Atmeh, a village in northern Syria where there is a large refugee camp. At the time, Mr. Motka held the position of project coordinator for the French NGO ACTED.
Mr. Motka informs that he has been tortured and transferred several times by his kidnappers ”reports the newspaper La Repubblica. The dynamics of the kidnapping nor that of the release are still unknown as “Many details of the kidnapping of Mr. Motka are still unknown to the media, as the authorities have requested confidentiality for security reasons,” La Repubblica informed in May 2014.
The long list of security incidents, often with a fatal outcome, is incomprehensible to an NGO that mainly operates in the emergency sector in theaters of war or social conflict. The number of accidents becomes impressive if compared to that suffered by other French and international NGOs in the same countries of intervention.
According to the testimony of “alleged” former ACTED employees, the repeated and cyclical safety incidents with a fatal outcome are due to the inexperience of expatriates hired by the French NGO, very young and with little work experience. These statements are to be taken with a grain of salt as they could be the result of an informal operation against ACTED.
However, it can only be noted that among the six victims of the massacre in Niger only two had experience in difficult contexts in Africa, not exceeding 2 years. In addition, OCHA’s expatriates in Niger 2020 list indicates Ms. Alice Dorrer of 27 years with 4 years of experience at ACTED as ACTED Country Representative in Niger. Some Nigerian observers question the young age of the Mission Coordinator in one of the most dangerous and difficult countries in West Africa after Mali. Unfortunately it was not possible to verify Dorrer’s experiences as her linkedin page seems now not accessible, perhaps due to a temporary technical problem.
As we have seen, there are many questions on the correct application of the internal security protocol. This does not detract from the barbaric massacre that took place last week even if the shadows of gray should open a serious debate on the management of security by NGOs in countries in conflict and at high risk and whether the commitment of volunteers and humanitarian workers in these areas are really safe.
Unfortunately, on Monday 10 August, Benoit Maria French Director of the NGO Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières was killed during an attack in Guatemala. According to the latest United Nations report on security in cooperation, 483 humanitarian workers (national or expatriate) were attacked in 2019 of which 125 were killed, 234 injured and 124 kidnapped.
Appalled by Sunday’s tragedy against members of his organization, Frédéric Roussel, president of Acted, complained that the international community is leaving aid workers “alone” in the face of violence and asked them to have the same status of inviolability. of diplomats. This request is impossible to fulfill as international legal legislation does not allow humanitarian workers to be compared with the diplomatic corps of any country. A specific interview on security management in Niger will shortly be sent to the ACTED Niger and France offices.