Twenty years ago, six Red Cross aid workers were murdered while delivering humanitarian aid in the Chechen village of Novye Atagi. Among the deceased was Canadian nurse, Nancy Malloy.

Malloy was deployed to a hospital in the small village of Novye Atagi following a Russian-Chechen peace agreement that allowed medical aid workers into the region. In its first four months of operation, the hospital had already taken in over 300 patients, performed almost 600 surgeries and provided over 1,700 medical consultations.

On the night of December 17, 1996, a group of masked men stormed the hospital compound and fatally shot Malloy and her fellow Red Cross workers.

These attacks on Novye Atagi constituted some of the most devastating in the history of the Red Cross Movement.  In a recent survey conducted by the Red Cross, 13 per cent of Canadians said they believe targeting aid workers is just a part of war. Yet, under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), healthcare workers and facilities are to be protected, no matter what the circumstance.

Sadly, Nancy’s story is not unique. Vatche Arslanian began volunteering with the Red Cross in 1991, and was deployed to Iraq in 2001 as the head of logistics. When the war began, he chose not to leave Baghdad knowing that its people relied on the Red Cross for their survival. In 2003, Arslanian was tragically killed in crossfire while selflessly trying to help civilians reach safety. Civilians and aid workers should not be targets.

Since the tragic attack in 1996, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has dedicated December 17 as a day to remember colleagues who lost their lives in the line of duty, and reflect on their sacrifices. This year, to mark the 20th anniversary, family members of deceased Red Cross workers will be travelling to Geneva to take part in a series of in memoriam events. The families of Malloy and Arslanian, will be among those in attendance.  

These tragedies continue to cause immense pain and suffering to the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives.  On this day, let us take a moment to honour the sacrifice of Red Cross workers who have been killed while carrying out their vital humanitarian work.

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