The present article takes a critical look at the new humanitarian ideal and attempts to outline some of the predicaments the ‘new humanitarianism’ rhetoric is facing today. The first part of this paper gives a brief overview of classic and new humanitarianism, humanitarian practice and theory. The second part of the article takes Rwanda as a case study and examines some possible reasons for non-intervention by the international community during the unfolding tragedy in Rwanda in the spring and early summer of 1994. More precisely, it will explore three main views: indifference to what was happening in Rwanda; the psychological phenomenon of diffusion of responsibility and the slippery slope argument. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the pitfalls of humanitarianism, in a changing world, as well as encourage a re-conceptualization of humanitarianism, and of some of those indeterminate rules and ‘slippery’ concepts it is working with.
Based on interviews and field work in Rwanda over the course of two years, this article argues that genocide survivors have been excluded from the human rights guarantees and protections offered to refugees and asylum seekers experiencing persecution and threat to their lives and welfare. It illustrates how genocide survivors are subject to unique psychological and social vulnerabilities, including psycho-social trauma and high levels of chronic stress which impede their capacity to rehabilitate themselves and rebuild their lives. Many are forced to live in the same neighborhoods and villages as the genocidaires that raped and tortured them as well as their families and friends, and who murdered many of their closest kin. This is an intrinsically psychologically destabilizing position which burdens and overwhelms genocide survivors, subjecting them to continuous retraumatization. Consequently, it argues that genocide survivors should be granted special privileged immigration rights to resettlement outside of Rwanda.
A Case by Case Analysis of Recent Crises Assessing 20 Years of Humanitarian Action: Iraq, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Burundi, the former Zaire, Chechnya, and Kosovo
The magnitude of many recent complex emergencies has compelled UNHCR to consider the issue of conflict prevention. Such emergencies pose important questions about how to protect human life and human rights in crisis situations. Human rights abuses and violent conflict are the main reasons why people flee. Grappling with these problems can draw outsiders into areas traditionally seen as internal affairs. Countries in crisis want to preserve their sovereignty. Yet sovereignty should not be a shield, hiding abuses that might lead to major movements of people. Increasingly, international organizations, national governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local leaders are working together creatively to address the abuses that can lead to refugee outflows and internal displacements.
Complex emergencies require the international community to respond quickly and efficiently with a variety of services. Experience has demonstrated that effective emergency response depends on coordination between nongovernmental organizations, governments, and international organizations. The increasing burden in recent years has prompted international organizations and states to reconsider how best to use the considerable capacity of the NGO community.
NGOs play an increasingly important role in humanitarian assistance and protection activities. In complex emergencies, national governments find it more and more difficult to provide, by themselves, the range of relief needed. Many situations present not only logistical difficulties, but political barriers to action. Nongovernmental organizations can, and do, help to fill the gap, playing a wide range of roles from early warning of human rights abuses to education and training for long-term self-sufficiency.
Norway provides an instructive example of one way to manage highly effective cooperation between government and the national NGO community. When I assumed my functions as High Commissioner, I identified emergency preparedness and response as one of the principal pillars of my office. Within this context, UNHCR and Norway entered into a new and closer relationship, through an emergency staff standby arrangement managed by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Through this arrangement, my office has been able to witness very directly the important and cooperative relationship between governments, international organizations, and NGOs.
Such creative arrangements are one of the tools that UNHCR can use to accomplish its key task of protecting people in peril. This report highlights the challenges posed by complex emergencies and suggests some ways in which the rights and well-being of vulnerable populations can be better safeguarded.
In late May 1997 Laurent-Désiré Kabila, leader of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Kinshasa (AFDL), completed an astonishing march on Kinshasa to assume the presidency of the newly renamed Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet the air of euphoria unleashed by the ousting of the corrupt dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko was infected by persistent rumours that the AFDL’s initial drive in Kivu province in the former eastern Zaire had been marked by large-scale massacres. The veracity of these claims remains unproven. Four months after Kabila’s offer ‘to work with the agencies of the United Nations’, the specialist investigative team were still ‘left hanging around the Inter-Continental Hotel [in Kinshasa] wishing they had brought more novels’. This article will limit itself to the period of conflict in eastern Zaire between the eruption of ethnic violence in late October 1996 and the dispersal of the refugee camps in north Kivu in mid-November (given this temporal restriction the name ‘Zaire’ will be retained). It was during this period that the possibility of an external peacekeeping intervention in the conflict gained greatest currency.
The critique of conventional relief strategies in complex political emergencies well developed (Duffield, 1994; Macrae & Zwi, 1994). This critique, however, has not been accompanied by an analysis of the effectiveness of development aid on conflict management and reduction. Having participated over the past 18 months in a number of reviews, evaluations and studies for UN agencies and NGOs in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and Uganda, for me, the need for this is clear. What I want to do in this paper is to dissect what Joanna Macrae (1988) has called the ‘developmentalist attack’ on humanitarian principles by looking at developmental approaches to humanitarian relief which have gained currency in aid policy and in aid practice. The paper seeks to highlight two things:
- the shortcomings in applying developmental relief models and strategies in complex political emergencies;
- and the negative impact that such developmental approaches to relief can have on the rights, welfare and livelihoods of populations in distress.
- “No patients, no problems:” Exposure to risk of medical personnel working in MSF projects in Yemen’s governorate of Amran
- Without Precedent or Prejudice? UNSC Resolution 2098 and its potential implications for humanitarian space in Eastern Congo and beyond
- Losing Principles in the Search for Coherence? A Field-Based Viewpoint on the EU and Humanitarian Aid