Honoring David Haines, Humanitarian Aid Worker Killed by ISIL

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September 13, 2014; Politico

The barbaric murders conducted by ISIL are particularly horrific given the group’s preferred medieval method, beheading. ISIL has taken the heads of numerous Syrian and Kurdish fighters it has captured and has conducted mass executions of Syrian and Iraqi prisoners. The first two executions shown on video, conducted by a masked ISIL terrorist speaking with a British accent, were of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. This past weekend, a third man was killed in this manner, a British aid worker named David Haines who had been kidnapped in Syria last year. Prime Minister David Cameron called the murder of Haines “an act of pure evil.”

Haines was employed by the French aid agency ACTED. At the time Haines was kidnapped by ISIL, according to ACTED, he had been helping Syrian refugees at the Atmeh camp near the Turkish border. He had been on the job in Syria for all of three days before he was captured by ISIL. A former RAF officer, Haines was a security advisor and manager. In conflict areas like Syria, NGOs typically hire security personnel for their outposts. It’s a necessity for protecting the NGO staff involved in delivering humanitarian aid, though in many cases the security staff themselves are at great risk. According to Politico, Haines had worked previously as an aid worker in the Balkans, Africa, and elsewhere in the Middle East, including as a “non-partisan unarmed civilian peace facilitator” for ACTED in South Sudan.

It is hard to focus on the brutal and callous acts of ISIL, but it is important for all of us to remember the humanity of people like Sotloff, Foley, the unnamed Peshmerga and other fighters killed by ISIL, and of course Haines. “Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My [four-year-old] daughter keeps asking about him every day,” said Haines’ wife from Croatia before the news came of his murder. “She hasn’t seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time.”

The statement from his brother Mike, released after the news of the horrific murder, explains without intending to the dimensions of ISIL’s inhumanity:

“David was like so very many of us, just another bloke…David was a good brother, there when I needed him and absent when I didn’t. I hope that he felt the same way about me.

“He was, in the right mood, the life and soul of the party and on other times the most stubborn, irritating pain in the ass. He would probably say the same about me…. He married his childhood sweetheart Louise and in the due process of time had a wee lass, Bethany. He was—and no doubt wherever he is—exceptionally proud of Bethany. David served with the UN in the Balkans, helping people in real need…During this time, David began to decide that humanitarian work was the field he wanted to work in…David met and married his second wife, Dragana, and they have a four-year-old daughter, Athea.

“David was most alive and enthusiastic in his humanitarian roles. His joy and anticipation for the work he went to do in Syria is for myself and family the most important element of this whole sad affair. He was and is loved by all his family and will be missed terribly.”

We should also remember the many courageous humanitarian aid workers who have been victims of attacks. In a database covering the ten-year period from 2003 through 2013, the number of aid workers killed has increased from 87 in 2003 and 56 in 2004 to 155 last year. David Haines will be added to the count for 2014. He shouldn’t be forgotten.—Rick Cohen