Christoph Hensch in Chechnya with the Australian Red Cross in 1996. Photo: SuppliedWhen Christoph Hensch woke to banging and shouting in his building, his first thought was that people were having a party.
He pulled on his trousers, thinking he would investigate the commotion, when the door swung open. He could see through the semi-darkness a man wearing a head covering and a military jacket entering his room.
His next thought was that he was going to be kidnapped.
“I thought, ‘What’s my best way of staying safe? It’s probably not to resist.’ And I tried to talk to the person,” Mr Hensch said.
“As I was talking, he pulled his right hand from the pocket of his anorak and pointed a gun at me and shot.”
The bullet lodged in Mr Hensch’s shoulder and blasted him back onto the bed, where he turned his head to the wall and waited for the noise to subside.
When he looked back, the man had gone.
But six of his Red Cross colleagues were murdered in their beds, in a massacre that made headlines around the world in 1996 and spooked the international aid community.
Mr Hensch, the head of administration, was the only shooting victim to survive.
They were working in a makeshift hospital in Chechnya, south of Grozny, providing care to victims of the armed conflict, when gunmen stormed the compound.
Four nurses and two administration workers from New Zealand, Spain, Holland, Canada and Norway lost their lives, prompting the Red Cross to pull out of Chechnya and most other aid organisations to follow suit.
The incident shook Red Cross workers from the illusion that their famed neutrality protected them from aggression and its anniversary is commemorated in memory of all aid workers who are killed carrying out humanitarian work.
But new research indicates that healthcare workers in conflict zones are more likely than ever to be targeted.
Nearly 2400 incidents of violence were directed at health care workers in 11 countries between January 2012 and December 2014, according to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC].
International agencies including the ICRC, World Health Organisation and World Medical Organisation are calling on state armed forces to respect the rule of law that protects medical personnel from aggression and raise awareness of the red cross and red crescent symbols.
Australian Red Cross director of international humanitarian law Phoebe Wynn-Pope said medical professionals were protected under the Geneva Convention because it was recognised there needed to be people to look after the wounded.
“The concern is this increasing number of targeted attacks on ambulance and health care workers and medical facilities, and the knock-on effect that is so destructive,” Dr Wynn-Pope said.
Red Cross workers including anaesthetist Jenny Stedmon have noticed a debasement of the symbol of the red cross for miscellaneous first aid purposes, and a waning respect for it.
“The red cross is meant to be a symbol of neutrality,” said Dr Stedmon, who has been with the organisation for 30 years.
“They’re not part of the war. But my personal opinion is there’s so much aerial bombardment these days, it’s very hard to see the enemy.
“It’s very hard for people to remember in their minds that this is a healthcare facility and we’re trying to help and help everybody, not one side or the other.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.