KABUL, Afghanistan/NEW YORK, NY -- International humanitarian agency Church World Service announced today that its long-time work in Afghanistan has been temporarily suspended by the Afghan Ministry of Economy, pending investigation of allegations related to an Afghan television news story claiming that CWS and another humanitarian agency, Norwegian Church Aid, had engaged in religious proselytizing.
CWS further announced in a statement that it has formally denied the allegations and expects the suspension will last only a few days, while the issue is investigated.
CWS is an international humanitarian agency established in 1946 to assist displaced persons after World War II in Europe and Asia with food assistance and relief activities. CWS has been engaged in Afghanistan for over 30 years, providing humanitarian and development assistance.
"Our work is entirely humanitarian -- meaning we are impartial, neutral, and independent," said Church World Service Deputy Director and Head of Programs Maurice A. Bloem. "We fully adhere to and support the Red Cross/Red Crescent Code of Conduct, which mandates that NGOs do nothing to further a religious agenda.
"We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve," Bloem said.
"Any allegations that we have engaged in proselytism are entirely false -- and we are fully cooperating with the investigation by the Ministry of Economy and look forward to its result."
Church World Service's work in Afghanistan is intended solely to support the humanitarian needs of Afghan communities, Bloem said -- particularly in the areas of health, livelihood support, and education. In Afghanistan, around 300 local staff work closely with local organizations in providing support to almost half a million people.
"CWS appreciates the trust and support of the communities and partners we work with – unfortunately, they are the ones who suffer when we are hindered in our work," said Bloem.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Church World Service is a key member of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP), a self-regulatory partnership of NGOs, and adheres to the humanitarian standards for quality and accountability established by the Sphere Project.