U.N. relief workers need better protection on job

Where is our national outrage over the brutal slaying of American relief worker Carlos Caceres earlier this month in Atambua, West Timor?

Perhaps Americans are simply too overloaded with stories of worldwide tragedies — such as the Russian submarine Kursk — to absorb the horror of Caceres’ death and those of his fellow relief workers, Samson Aregahegn of Ethiopia and Pero Simundza of Croatia, at the hands of machete-wielding militiamen. The story may not top the office-chatter list, but that does not diminish the impact Caceres’ life had on this country or the less-fortunate people he served in Indonesia.

America has lost a valuable citizen. Caceres struck an amazing balance between being incredibly well-educated and using his brains to help people. At the young age of 33, he had already earned three doctorates and spoke five languages, including Czech and Russian. He studied journalism at the University of Florida and law at Cornell. He even went to Oxford University. He could have been and done anything he wanted. He could have made tons of money in a cushy office job somewhere. But, as he explained to his mother, "I like what I am doing: to see how other people are living, to see what they need, and to be able to help them."

Caceres knew he was doing dangerous work. He knew the militiamen did not like him and that he had little support from the local Indonesian military, who ignored him when he told them he had received a death threat. And yet, as an email he sent just hours before he died suggests, he focused on the work that needed to be done where he was.

Caceres’ family deserves support in their quest to find answers as to why officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees didn’t evacuate the Atambua office despite repeated death threats and attacks by militia gangs. The U.S. must insist that procedures be amended to ensure the safety of relief workers — American or not — as much as is possible.

A U.S. citizen gave his life to help abused and terrified people in a country most Americans know virtually nothing about. He represented us well. The least we can do is remember the name Carlos Caceres.

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