Kayla Mueller

For those who haven’t heard about Kayla Mueller, she was a 26 year old American Humanitarian who helped others.

On August 3, 2013, a technician sent by a company contracted by MSF arrived at one of the organization’s structures in Aleppo, Syria, to perform repairs. Unbeknownst to the MSF team, Kayla, a friend of the technician’s, was accompanying him. Because additional time was required to carry out the repair work, the technician and Kayla were harbored overnight at the MSF hospital in Aleppo, due to safety concerns.
Upon completion of the repair work on August 4, the MSF team organized transportation for Kayla and the technician to the Aleppo bus station, from where they were to depart for Turkey. Kayla’s detention occurred during the drive to the bus station. (MSF)

Her life’s work sounded like the dream that any humanitarian lives for, helping others in need. She helped thousands, and touching the lives of quite possibly hundreds of thousands of people while she was alive.

This horrific event has broken my heart and my faith in humanity. To think that a humanitarian was targeted just because they were in a vulnerable position, just doing her job and helping the most vulnerable is tough. It’s hard to believe that someone or organization would support doing something so horrific such as kidnapping (and even directly or in-directly murder). It’s sad to think that groups like ISIL target the most vulnerable, including unarmed humanitarians, in order to use these helpless people as leverage, recruitment material, and funding.

Being educated in the area of humanitarianism, we are told (and know) that we may someday be kidnapped, held hostage, and quite possibly even die; but we continue on to help others that are in need. We just held 2 exercises in a class that I am helping teach this semester consisting of a kidnapping/negotiations with opposition forces and a prison visit, and I always thought of them as “fun” exercises, but after hearing Kayla’s story (especially the fact that she was just a few years older than I am when she started) has forever impacted me. I’m also going to an international field training exercise in Florida next week where we’re doing much of the same (hostage negotiations, prison visit/negotiation, kidnapping, etc) and I’m sure Kayla will be on my mind.

Being a humanitarian means (quoting my professor Dr. Mark Corson) “helping anyone and everyone” through being neutral and impartial. Being both neutral and impartial helps humanitarians gain access and respect of both sides during a conflict and tote along the weapon of love and compassion that helps to care for everyone who is in need, even if they are the enemy. International Humanitarian Law also plays a great role in the humanitarian movement. Below are 7 of the basic laws of IHL that were signed into law with the Geneva Conventions to support the most basic forms of respecting humanity:

  1. Persons hors de combat (outside of combat), and those not taking part in hostilities, shall be protected and treated humanely.
  2. It is forbidden to kill or injure an enemy combatant who surrenders, or who is hors de combat.
  3. The wounded and the sick shall be cared for and protected by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. The emblem of the “Red Cross,” or of the “Red Crescent,” shall be required to be respected as the sign of protection.
  4. Captured combatants and civilians must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. They shall have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.
  5. No-one shall be subjected to torture, corporal punishment, or cruel or degrading treatment.
  6. Parties to a conflict, and members of their armed forces, do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare.
  7. Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives.

On Sunday at the Coming of Age group at my Unitarian-Universalist (UU) fellowship, the topic of discussion was on “evil”. One person in the group brought up how they (ISIL) are (is) evil by killing people. Our facilitator brought up the devil’s advocate view point of how they are just fighting for their religious beliefs. Being a UU, we are open to everyone’s views/opinions and use those as a basis to form our own beliefs/opinions. Both are great ways to view ISIL, but after events like this where a (presumably un-armed) humanitarian is taken hostage and dies while being held captive, I have to say that there is almost no possible view point (even the devil’s advocate) that would have a positive outlook; almost all, if not all, viewpoints could now be viewed as evil. Being a humanitarian, I think that anyone who doesn’t respect the utmost basic principles of IHL that tries to prevent/alleviate human suffering and purposely seeks and kills non-combatant civilians (especially humanitarians, who actively work on both sides) is evil and deserves the same treatment that they have shown others.

There will be humanitarians as long as there is injustice in this world, and news like this won’t stop those who are dedicated to putting themselves in harms way to help people in need that are suffering. I’m sure there are others out there who have said it, but I hope and pray that groups like ISIL can find a little bit of room in their hearts to accept IHL and use it as the foundation for how they treat their opposition guests (and/or hostages). If the enemy treats their opposition guests with respect (in regards to IHL), then the opposition will treat the enemy guests with respect (in regards to IHL).

Where ever my future leads me, this will always stick with me for the rest of my life. Kayla, may you be enjoying the company of your loved ones and be rewarded for the years of putting your life on the line for others, while you spend the rest of your days in heaven.

I’ll leave you with a quote that her childhood friend said during the press conference today that I think is very fitting…

“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.” -Robert Fulghum

Additional Reading:
IHL FAQ (ICRC)
Read Kayla’s Last Letter
For Kayla – A website devoted to the work of Kayla Mueller
Post from ISM (who Kayla volunteered with over in Israel)
Article about Kayla in 2007 (when she was 19)