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 West is characterised by dynamism and moral reflexes to bring about good. Within the world’s political domain, the West holds positions of power as well as key economic positions. In practice, the combination of these two factors periodically lead to the former being used to maintain the latter. We need to be aware that this discord will continue to cast a shadow on what – at first sight at least – is undoubtedly a noble aim: to help bring peace and prosperity to the world.