Focusing on the 1992-1994 US-led intervention in Somalia, the objective of this article is to explore three interrelated phenomena that the story of the Somali intervention reveals. The first is that ideas matter and can explain state behaviour. Secondly, in the absence of complementary material interests, a commitment to ideational concerns can prove to be unsustainable when human and economic costs begins to rise as occurred in 1993. Thirdly, the international and domestic norm prescribing intervention functions in direct opposition to the domestic norm of force protections and understanding the interplay of these two norms is crucial if we are to comprehend the possibilities for humanitarian intervention.
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.
Contrary to popular myth, humanitarian neutrality and impartiality are not absolute concepts. Their application depends on the type of international actor involved, the mandate according to which that actor operates, and the nature and extent of the international crisis or humanitarian emergency that is being addressed. For future UN mandated action, clarification of these concepts and their proposed concrete application in relation to the target groups of the humanitarian operation in advance is required, if the disastrous dissonance between mandates and their implementation that appeared in instances such as Somalia and Bosnia is to be avoided.
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Peacekeeping and Multinational Operations No 6, 1995.
ISSN 0804-6794 © Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt
1. The wrong lessons regarding the use of military force have been learnt from Somalia, the watershed experience of the second generation of UN operations.
2. The phases of international involvement in [...]
- “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