1 Disasters, 2001, 25(4): New Humanitarianism: Does It Provide a Moral Banner for the 21st Century? Fiona Fox CAFOD There is a new humanitarianism for the new millennium. It is principled, humanrights based and politically sensitive. Above all it is new. It marks a break from the past and a rejection of the traditional principles that guided humanitarianism through the last century. New humanitarians reject the political naivety of the past, assess the long-term political impact of relief and are prepared to see humanitarian aid used as a tool to achieve human rights and political goals. New Humanitarianism is compelling, in tune with our times and offers a new moral banner for humanitarians to cling to as we enter the new millennium. Or does it? After outlining the key elements of new humanitarianism, including the human rights approach and developmental relief, the paper spells out some of the dangers. The author claims that new humanitarianism results in an overt politicisation of aid in which agencies themselves use relief as a tool to achieve wider political goals. The paper shows how this approach has spawned a new conditionality which allows for aid to be withheld and has produced a moral hierarchy of victims in which some are more deserving than others. The paper concludes with a plea for a revival of the principle of universalism as the first step to a new set of principles. Keywords: new humanitarianism, human rights approach, neutrality, conditionality, universalism, politicisation. There is a new humanitarianism for the new millennium. It is principled, human rights based, politically sensitive and geared to strengthening those forces that bring peace and stability to the developing world. It offers humanitarian relief agencies a new moral banner to march behind. It serves to re-legitimise an arena of aid that has been blamed for fuelling conflicts, prolonging wars and standing neutral in the face of genocide. It helps agencies to adapt to the New World Order and the new emergencies that have emerged from the cold war. New humanitarianism is a product of the late-20th-century crisis of Third World development and it offers new solutions to overcome past failures. Above all new humanitarianism is political. It sees apolitical, neutral, humanitarian relief as both naive and morally questionable. Instead new humanitarians argue for a more politically conscious aid which can assess the present and future impact of aid interventions on the politics of conflict and ensure that aid is linked to military and diplomatic tools in a coherent conflict-resolution strategy. Above all it is new and like New Labour here in the UK, it is a clear, conscious attempt to break from the past and move beyond the traditional humanitarian principles that have guided aid agencies for the past century but are now discredited. Overseas Development Institute, Published by Blackwell Publishers, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
2 276 Fiona Fox One of the neatest summaries of the differences between old and new humanitarianism came from Mikael Barfod, a senior official at the European Community Humanitarian Office, ECHO. Speaking to the UK International Development Select Committee on Conflict and Post Conflict Reconstruction, Barfod summarises old and new in the following way: You don t get mixed up with development and you don t get mixed up with human rights, that is none of your business. You certainly do not speak out because that is dangerous. The whole thing is action-orientated and it s morally self-justifying because when you provide humanitarian aid you are doing something good (IDC,1999a). As an open advocate of new humanitarianism, Barfod is more positive about the new model: Here you would actually say, there is no way we can handle a situation without linking up with human rights issues, without linking up with development, to understand the real impact. We have to be part of the political process leading to peace, that is what we are really there for (IDC, 1999a). As suggested by Barfod, what characterises new humanitarianism is: the integration of human rights and peace building into the humanitarian orbit; the ending of the distinction between development and humanitarian relief; and the rejection of the principle of neutrality. New humanitarianism is compelling and, if aid agency discussion papers are anything to go by, it seems that aid workers are queuing up to sign up to this new compact. But is it the positive new development that Barfod claims? Will it provide the new moral banner that humanitarians are crying out for? This paper will attempt to answer these questions by looking at the discrediting of traditional humanitarian principles in particular that of neutrality and then charting the rise of a new set of principles including human rights and developmental relief. The paper will then outline some of the dangers inherent in new humanitarianism including the loss of humanitarian space and the creation of a new morally defined hierarchy of victims. The paper concludes with a case study of new humanitarianism as applied to the Rwandan refugee crisis of 1996 which supports the author s plea for a rejection of these new trends and a return to the drawing board in search of a new moral banner for 20th-century humanitarians. Questioning neutrality When Jean Henri Dunant happened upon the slaughter on the battlefields of Solferino in 1859, he was shocked to see thousands of soldiers from both sides lying side by side dying in agony with absolutely no help. There and then the wealthy Genevan sent for medical supplies, enlisted local women and set about tending to the wounded. The concept of humanitarian relief during war was born. A few years later, Dunant and his colleagues institutionalised the concept in the form of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
3 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 277 From the beginning neutrality was at the heart of the ICRC s mandate. Enshrined in its list of fundamental principles, neutrality is described as, in order to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. In this vein, the Red Cross makes no distinction between good wars and bad, between just and unjust causes, or even between aggressors and innocents. The ICRC s principles of neutrality and impartiality, enshrined in the Geneva Conventions of 1864, were adopted by the plethora of humanitarian agencies that emerged throughout this century. But while many agencies have maintained a commitment to impartiality, the principle of neutrality has come under severe scrutiny over the past 10 years. While the principle of impartiality allows aid agencies to speak out publicly during a conflict as long as they apply equal terms to all warring sides, neutrality actually demands that agencies remain silent and abstain completely from the politics of a crisis. In the new moral, human rights culture of international politics, the whole notion of neutrality has become more and more controversial. New humanitarians who see war as a moral violation and the key barrier to development reject the ICRC s view that war is inevitable. For these agencies, humanitarian action should be seized on as a tool to promote peace and justice. The ICRC s refusal to speak out against human rights abuses and to remain neutral in every conflict contrasts with the more political approach adopted by newer agencies like Oxfam, ActionAid and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Critics of neutrality argue that humanitarian intervention cannot be neutral between Serb militiamen and Albanian civilians or between Hutu genocidaires and their Tutsi victims. In a barbed reference to the ICRC s refusal to compromise their neutrality by condemning human rights abuses, Phillipe Biberson, MSF s president said: We are not sure that speaking out always saves lives, but we are certain that silence kills (Biberson, 1999). The ICRC has also been criticised by journalists for refusing to give evidence to the war crimes tribunals on Rwanda and Bosnia and revelations about the agency s silence during the holocaust have been presented as evidence that neutrality can be morally repugnant. Ed Vulliamy, a well-known journalist, used a conference of aid agencies and the media to air his strong views on the principle of neutrality: To be neutral is to be on the side of the criminal. There are moments in history when crimes are being committed, when neutrality is not neutral at all, but complicity in the crime. I think the time has come for aid workers to challenge the commandment of neutrality to draw a line, stand up and be counted (Vulliamy, 1999). Vulliamy need not fear. As Hugo Slim noted after consulting the UK s leading aid agencies about humanitarian principles, neutrality has become a dirty word. Today neutrality is seen as undesirable. Either because it is considered amoral remaining silent in the face of human rights abuses or, simply because the central role of NGOs in highly political emergencies makes it impossible to achieve (Slim, 1997). Some commentators have gone further and urged agencies to take sides in conflicts. Alex de Waal from the human rights NGO African Rights argued that the
4 278 Fiona Fox right position for Oxfam and other agencies to take in the Rwanda crisis was to support openly the armed struggle of the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front which was the only means of ending the 1994 genocide (de Waal, 1997). The ICRC however continues to insist that neutrality is absolutely crucial to gaining access to all victims of humanitarian crisis. They claim that becoming involved in a public discussion about the politics of any given conflict will inevitably undermine the humanitarian space that has traditionally been granted by warring parties to neutral humanitarians. Cornelio Sommarauga, former president of the ICRC, in his speech to the UN General Assembly in November 1992, said: Humanitarian endeavour and political action must go their separate ways if the neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian work are not to be jeopardised (Chandler, 2000). Speaking at a recent public meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, Sommarauga defended his agency s refusal to adopt new humanitarianism. He explained how the ICRC s refusal to condemn publicly Serb atrocities in Kosovo allowed him to visit President Milošović to negotiate access to Serbia. As a result the Red Cross became the only international agency able to deliver humanitarian relief to the victims of the NATO bombing and to the subsequent flow of Serb refugees from Kosovo (Sommarauga, 1999). Human rights approach The rights-based approach adopted by many aid agencies and donor governments in their long-term development work is now being introduced to the sphere of humanitarian relief aid. As many agencies have discovered, it is not an easy fit. In the past the main priority for humanitarians was to relieve human suffering and meet basic needs. Human rights issues were left to international politicians or the human rights agencies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But new humanitarianism demands that all aid be judged on how it contributes to promoting human rights. This has produced a situation in which agencies have found themselves rejecting the humanitarian impulse fostered by Henri Dunant and suggesting that alleviating human suffering in itself is an insufficient response to a political crisis. Catholic Relief Services, a US agency, emphasises this in their discussion paper about adopting a human rights approach: When considered through the justice/human rights lens, the mere provision of foodstuffs or medical support is an insufficient response to a humanitarian crisis (CRS, 1999). Responding to human suffering without links to human rights and broader political issues is now ridiculed as old-fashioned charity and philanthropy. In a major speech setting out the principles for a new humanitarianism, Clare Short, the British International Development Secretary, said: Many now want to go beyond private charity which simply alleviates the worst symptoms of crisis to search for and support a just regulation of the conflict (Short, 1998). It is important to note that incorporating human rights into humanitarianism will mean withholding aid in some cases. A recent ECHO discussion paper which presents a strong case for mainstreaming human rights into ECHO s humanitarian
5 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 279 activities, clearly acknowledges that access to those in need would no longer be the overriding objective. From a rights perspective, access to victims of humanitarian aid is not an end in itself and will not, therefore, be pursued at any cost. Access will be sought if it is the most effective way to contribute to the human rights situation (ECHO, 1999). The ECHO paper looks at the case of the Ethiopian famine in the late 1980s as a modern dilemma for human rights humanitarians. In that instance, speaking out against human rights abuses would have meant risking losing access to those in need. MSF did speak out and the agency was expelled from Ethiopia. ECHO believes that history has judged MSF right: It is worth noting the criticism to which the international response to famine in Ethiopia has been subjected subsequently above all for its political blindness. This assessment appears to endorse MSF s strategy. Developmental relief or goal-oriented humanitarianism Closely linked to the new rights based humanitarianism is the concept of developmental relief or what I will call goal-oriented humanitarianism. During the cold war, relief and development were considered to be distinct and discrete. But the protracted and complex nature of many of today s wars has forced humanitarians to rethink the link between the two. From the late 1980s onwards, many agencies began to think beyond straightforward relief and of their interventions on the basis of how they could contribute to longer term, sustainable development as well as promoting the prospects for peace and justice. Peter Uvin, author of an OECD report on the move towards using humanitarian aid as a tool to promote peace, is clear that this approach is now a significant trend in conflict situations: There clearly is a broad trend towards an increased use of humanitarian assistance as part of a more comprehensive strategy to transform conflicts and decrease the violence (1999). The trend is partly a response to the accusation that relief aid can prolong war and exacerbate conflict. In the late 1980s the buzz phrase became Do no harm, a plea to humanitarians to ensure that at the very minimum, aid does not make things worse. (Anderson, 1996). Stung by criticisms of humanitarian interventions, agencies began to question whether humanitarian relief could be managed in ways that could strengthen positive processes in conflict situations rather than inadvertently fuelling conflict. As Joanna Macrae from the Overseas Development Institute has noted: in short people feel that if humanitarian aid has the power to do so much harm, in the right hands it can also be the opposite a powerful force for good (2000). Goal-oriented humanitarianism marks a fundamental shift from traditional humanitarian principles. Unlike many goals implicit in long-term development, humanitarian relief was notable for its minimalist aim of saving life. If we remember the image of Dunant and his helpers patching soldiers up on the fields of Solferino, it can be seen that it was irrelevant to Dunant whether these soldiers survived only to don their uniforms and fight again. The new goal-oriented relief does question the long-
6 280 Fiona Fox term consequences of intervening to save lives. Hugo Slim sums up the new goaloriented humanitarianism like this: Rather than having the saving of life as its over-riding and prophetic concern, a new humanitarianism has emerged that bases actions (or inaction) on the assumed good or bad consequences of a given intervention in relation to wider developmental aims (1999). This new trend can best be seen in the controversy over the delivery of aid to over a million Rwandan refugees in the camps in Zaire. Even though it was not unusual for refugee camps in the developing world to contain elements of defeated armies who had taken part in viscous conflicts, agencies were condemned for prolonging the conflict by feeding the refugees. Despite the presence of thousands of innocent people in the camps, a variety of well-respected actors called on agencies to resolve the political crisis on the borders of Rwanda by withholding aid, closing the camps and helping to repatriate the refugees against their wishes (see case study). Developmental relief or goal-oriented relief is compelling. It allows agencies to reassure the public that they are not politically naive and will withdraw humanitarian aid if it could have negative effects. But, as with the introduction of human rights concerns, it will ultimately lead to a new conditionality in aid. While few agencies will present it in this way, the new humanitarianism marks a rejection of the universal right to relief in times of crisis. In future, responding to human needs will be conditional on achieving human rights and wider political objectives. As the UK-based Disasters Emergency Committee has noted: Agencies and donors alike have downgraded the humanitarian imperative in favour of conditional assistance linked to peace-building processes (DEC, 1998). Tess Kingham MP and a member of the International Development Committee, accepted the case that new trends in humanitarian thinking will sometimes mean leaving people in need without aid: Surely taking a view of the wider good for the long term interests of people to actually achieve real stability and development, that it may be better to withdraw aid now to ensure that in the long term, it is in the best interests of the people (IDC, 1999b). After hearing all sides in the debate on humanitarian principles, the International Development Committee delivered their verdict that there is a case for withdrawing humanitarian aid in some instances: There are occasions where that moral imperative cannot be obeyed, where relief must be suspended or delayed until certain conditions are met (IDC, 1999b). This conditionality is already evident in the public debates about responding to crises. During the 1998 famine in Sudan, Clare Short openly castigated Britain s voluntary agencies for raising money for humanitarian relief, when what was really needed was a ceasefire and an end to the war (Short, 1996). After the 1996 military coup in Sierra Leone, agencies like ActionAid accused the British government of failing to fund aid programmes on political grounds fearing that aid would legitimise the new authorities and postpone the return of democracy (ActionAid, 1999).
7 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 281 Dangers of new humanitarianism The case for bringing humanitarian principles into line with the new world order is a persuasive one. Many of the new values associated with humanitarians today like bearing witness, promoting human rights, using aid to secure peace appear to be beyond criticism. It is no coincidence that MSF was the humanitarian agency selected over and above all the others to win the Nobel peace prize on the eve of the 21st century. To many they embody all that is positive in the move away from traditional humanitarian action. Writing in The Tablet following MSF s win, Alain Woodrow said: MSF s two major contributions to the continuing debate on humanitarian matters are, first, the right and duty to speak out on controversial subjects (in contrast to the Red Cross), denouncing corruption and injustice wherever they exist: secondly, the right and duty to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states where human rights are violated (Woodrow, 1999). Yet there are serious questions raised by new humanitarianism that must be thoroughly debated before fully embracing this new approach. In an attempt to stimulate this debate, I will outline some of the dilemmas raised by new humanitarianism. Should NGOs be doing politics? Goal-oriented relief pushes the humanitarian aid community to predict accurately the long-term impact and outcome of the delivery of relief in each crisis. Yet in the complex emergencies of the past decade, where outside aid is just one factor in a myriad of internal and external actors, this is no mean feat. Nick Stockton, former head of emergencies at Oxfam, emphatically rejects the notion that aid agencies can predict the long-term impact of humanitarian interventions: No matter how much we want to act in a way beneficial in the long term, it s pretty much an exercise in ideological vanity polishing one s own political correctness in public (Stockton, 2000). Stockton refers to Oxfam s experience in the Biafran war in which the agency took sides and predicted a humanitarian disaster which never occurred: The truth is we re very good at retrospective analysis but very bad at getting it right at the time or at predicting the future consequences of our actions. It also begs the question as whether aid workers should be making important political decisions. Suddenly the unelected, often unaccountable and usually foreign aid workers become judge, juror and politician in Third World conflicts. They are asked to reach verdicts on highly complex political crises, to decide which strategy would best deliver peace and stability and to predict the impact of humanitarian aid on the future development of a given conflict. It also assumes that aid workers will broadly agree among themselves about the causes and solutions of any given crisis and then adapt their aid intervention accordingly. In reality, aid workers disagree as much with each other on Third World crises as they do on domestic politics. It is well known that close colleagues from the same aid agency held completely opposite political views on the Great Lakes crisis
8 282 Fiona Fox depending on whether they were working among the Rwandan refugees in Zaire or among the genocide survivors in Rwanda. Risks of losing humanitarian space Perhaps the most obvious risk of a new more political humanitarian action is that warring sides will no longer accept the neutrality of aid workers in crisis. New humanitarians accept that speaking out carries a risk of losing access to those in need but they insist this is a price worth paying for drawing international attention to human rights abuses. There is nothing new about individual aid workers being thrown out of countries for opposing government policies it has been happening in countries like Kenya for many years. There is also a long tradition of relief agencies passing information on abuses to human rights groups like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International as a way of raising awareness without losing access to those in need. What is new is the much more common desire of relief agencies themselves to speak out in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. Hugo Slim notes this trend in his review of humanitarian principles and points to the dangers: Agencies cannot expect immunity or humanitarian space if they are leaning towards solidarity (Slim, 1997). Another risk of politicising humanitarian aid is that aid agencies are seen to have lost their independence from Western governments whose aid policies have often had more to do with promoting national interest than meeting human need. Aid agencies are in no position to demand that governments separate aid from foreign policy when we are also doing politics with aid. The undeserving victim The increased moral content of new humanitarianism combined with a move towards taking sides with the victim against the aggressor runs the risk of producing a hierarchy of victims. Oxfam s Nick Stockton has spoken about the way the new goal-oriented humanitarianism undermines the principle of a universal right to relief and allows for the creation of deserving and undeserving victims. There are several populations who have at different times been deemed undeserving of aid including Rwandan Hutus, Afghans and Iraqis always because they have been associated with the crimes of their leaders. Perhaps the most striking recent case is of Serbs. Despite the severe impact of 10 years of war and economic sanctions, it became almost impossible to attract funds to deliver aid programmes in Serbia under President Milošević. While aid poured into Kosovo and Albania in 1999, Serbia s poor and tens of thousands of refugees struggled to survive with limited outside assistance. To add insult to injury, the European Union offered much needed fuel only to those towns with councils that opposed President Milošević. When Milošević was toppled in 2000, aid poured into Serbia and aid agency programmes suddenly found no problem attracting more money. Yet if anything the level of human need was less than it had been when aid was not forthcoming. This one example shows that the mantra that humanitarian aid is delivered on the basis of need alone repeated in every agency manual does not stand up in practice. Rejecting this trend Stockton argues:
9 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 283 The concept of the undeserving victim is morally and ethically untenable, and practically counter-productive. It represents an outright rejection of the principle of universalism, a fundamental tenet of human rights and humanitarian principles (2000). As international politics has replaced the cold war communist/capitalist divide with a moral divide between good and evil, civilised and barbaric, there is a risk that more groups of people will fall into the undeserving victim category. Cornelio Sommarauga, referred to this unequal treatment of victims in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention. He acknowledged that governments were trying to influence the activities of the Red Cross and other agencies by making large amounts of money available for certain humanitarian crises and none for others despite evidence of desperate human need. As agencies depend heavily on government for funds during emergencies, this trend exacerbates the hierarchy of victims. In the recent past the UK government has refused to fund aid agency appeals for humanitarian programmes in Sierra Leone, Serbia and Afghanistan despite compelling evidence of human need. As one observer noted, The challenge is not to work with the people we like the best, but with those we like the least. Surely we must adopt the human rights approach? By far the most controversial criticism of new humanitarianism is the suggestion that adopting the human rights approach to humanitarian aid may be a negative move. While many agencies are still debating this departure from traditional policy, few are willing to brave the moral pressure by refusing to sign up to the rights approach. Even those who do fear the impact of integrating human rights into the humanitarian field attempt to get around it through semantics. They insist that the rights approach is actually the same as the needs-based approach because basic needs for life-saving aid including food, water and medicines are also human rights. While people in humanitarian crisis may claim a right to life-saving aid, there is no avoiding the fact that the human rights discourse and human rights law is based on political rights including democratic rights and women s rights. One look at the way the rights-based approach is being used in humanitarian conflict shows that the human rights approach means the elevation of political rights over basic needs. Several aid agencies suspended humanitarian aid programmes in Afghanistan when the Taliban issued their edicts restricting women s rights. Here these agencies were clearly putting the basic needs of the Afghan people second to human rights concerns. Tony Vaux, writes about the Afghanistan case in his recent book, The Selfish Altruist. As emergencies officer for Afghanistan at the time of the Taliban s new restrictions on women, Vaux was opposed to suspending essential life-saving aid on account of Oxfam s human rights policy. He relates how he argued that Oxfam could be true to its policies while handing over their clean water programme to another agency to run. Vaux lost the argument and now controversially claims that this human rights policy resulted in the loss of 1,800 lives as Afghans were forced to drink polluted water when Oxfam suspended the project. Of course many would argue that such suffering may be justified in the shortterm in order to alleviate the long-term suffering of women in Afghan society. So far, however, human rights conditionalities have failed to convince the Taliban to change their policies on women. While long-term development aid has always been conditional, humanitarian relief was ostensibly unconditional and based only on the level of need. The
10 284 Fiona Fox introduction of human rights conditionalities into humanitarian relief has already left people in need without aid. Peace before people The danger of the new developmental relief or goal-oriented relief is that it puts strengthening processes and institutions before saving lives. What always distinguished humanitarian aid from development aid was the minimalist goal of saving a life. But developmental relief has presented the notion that using humanitarian aid to promote peace and justice will save more lives in the long term. As pointed out in this paper, there is a tempting case for going down this road. It is easy to see traditional humanitarian aid as a vicious circle in which agencies continue to apply sticking plasters without healing the wound. But the consequences of this approach need to be seriously considered. As we saw from Clare Short s position on Sierra Leone and Sudan, the logic is that lives lost now can help save lives in the future. This is certainly an issue that agencies must debate but for church agencies like CAFOD there are very real moral dilemmas at stake in accepting a scenario in which people are left to suffer and die in the interests of a long-term political solution. As is starkly illustrated in the case of the closure of the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire in 1996, it also begs the question as to whether the particular long-term solution preferred by some actors will, in any case, bring the peace and justice required. Mark Duffield points to the dangers of developmental relief: That humanitarian assistance is supposed to help people and protect them from suffering and abuse is missing from developmental relief (1988). It is not possible to analyse the changing nature of humanitarian aid without at least asking whether new humanitarianism is a new form of colonialism. The spectre of multi-million-pound NGOs ignoring national sovereignty to march into nationstates, supported by Western armies and declaring the correct way to resolve a hitherto local conflict is surely suspect. In her article on MSF winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Kirstin Sellars describes an unpleasant but rather familiar image of operational NGOs: Heeding the impulse to take up the latter-day White Man s Burden, battalions of NGOs marched into Mogadishu, Sarajevo and Goma armed with landcruisers, satellite phones and the latest liberal imperialist orthodoxies. Local governments retreated in their path, and soon many areas in these countries became de facto zones of occupation under the control of the humanitarian armies (1999). While the old colonialists invoked a civilising mission, the new humanitarians speak about human rights and ethics. Those groups that comply with the Western version of human rights and conflict resolution will receive aid. Those that reject Western values will be left to their fate. In this way conditional humanitarian aid is becoming yet another tool available to Western governments to control developing countries. In a world in which many of the old institutions, including nation-states, have lost their legitimacy, Western NGOs and governments find themselves defining a new universal set of moral values. Developmental relief and the new human rights
11 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 285 humanitarianism are all based on Western moral values which are necessarily posited in opposition to the barbarism of conflicts in the Third World. Several commentators have pointed out that this may have as much to do with the West s search for legitimacy in the post-cold war world as it has with resolving Third World conflicts. Certainly the language of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton during the Kosovo crisis reflected their belief that this was about more than helping one group of refugees. Michael Ignatieff points to this: Moreover when policy was driven by moral motives it was often driven by narcissism. We intervened not only to save others, but to save ourselves, or rather an image of ourselves as defenders of universal decencies (1998). A move from saving lives towards promoting particular political solutions carries the risk of NGOs providing a humanitarian mask for a new era of foreign interference. The US government s resistance to signing the new International Criminal Court is a just one reminder that the new universal human rights culture is understood by many as something created in the West for use against the less-civilised nations of the world. Some aid workers are conscious that urging the West to intervene in the Third World to guarantee human rights and allow access to relief, may put a humanitarian gloss on the foreign adventures of the world s most powerful countries. Save the Children s Peter Hawkins believes that some politicians quite openly saw the conflict in eastern Zaire as a way in to a part of Africa formerly the preserve of France. And it is worth noting that Western officials now run Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor. (Ironically, MSF s Bernard Kouchner, one of the founders of new humanitarianism is the same Bernard Kouchner who until recently ran Kosovo on behalf of the international community.) Zaire It would be impossible to analyse developments in the international humanitarian system without focusing on the emergency involving Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire between 1994 and 1996 widely acknowledged in the aid world as a watershed for humanitarian action. Following the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda from April to July 1994, up to two million Rwandan Hutus headed towards Zaire and Tanzania. Even their reasons for leaving are the subject of passionate debate. For some the Hutus were genocidaires fleeing justice for their murderous activities, while for others they were Hutus fleeing the prospect of revenge by the new Tutsi regime that had seized control in Rwanda. The vast majority of the refugees, over a million, settled in camps in eastern Zaire. Before long the camps became the symbol of all that was wrong with traditional humanitarian action. Agencies were criticised for feeding killers in the camps while ignoring the survivors of genocide inside Rwanda. Rakiya Omar and Alex de Waal from the human rights group, African Rights, were repeatedly seen in print and heard on the air waves condemning humanitarians for allowing the camps in Zaire to be used as bases for continuing attacks on Rwanda. They argued that as genocidaires this group should not qualify for refugee status and should certainly not benefit from a multi-million pound aid operation.
12 286 Fiona Fox For over two years these kinds of attacks came thick and fast. For the growing band of critics of humanitarian aid, the refugee camps in Zaire were proof that humanitarian action was far from innately good and had the power to support evil. The media could hardly disguise its glee at the fall from grace of these erstwhile angels of mercy. The humanitarians, themselves struggling with the issues raised by their work with Rwandan refugees, maintained a defensive and ultimately damaging silence. For supporters of goal-oriented relief, the humanitarian operation in the camps represented everything they opposed. In the interests of saving lives in the short term, aid agencies were shoring up the genocidal Hutu regime and providing the resources that allowed former Hutu militiamen to re-arm and plan the next phase of the genocide. Here was a classic example of aid prolonging conflict rather than promoting peace. While everyone agreed that hundreds of thousands of these refugees were innocent of any crime and in great need of relief, many aid agencies felt that the dominance of a section of the former Hutu killers made their work morally unacceptable. MSF, and CARE International withdrew from the camps in September 1994 citing their concerns about the misuse of relief. Other agencies were forced to withdraw because donors became unwilling to fund relief for this particular group of refugees. Within one year of the refugees arriving in Goma, the number of international relief agencies had dwindled from 150 to fewer than 10. Few agencies were prepared to speak out in defence of the right of these refugees to international humanitarian assistance. When Clare Short summarised the situation in the camps during her evidence to the International Development Committee, she reflected the familiar narrative delivered by international media: In the case of Rwanda, as you know, following the genocide, the people who led the genocide then led the refugees out of the country, the cameras went in, all the resources were piled in, and they were delivered through those who had organised the genocide and they were massively strengthened. So humanitarian assistance strengthened the evil forces which had brought about the genocide in Rwanda (Short, 1999). Even those agencies that remained in the camps rather reluctantly went about their work. Despite credible evidence of revenge killings inside Rwanda, UNHCR ran publicity campaigns in the camps encouraging the refugees to return home. When these failed they started a more aggressive campaign to pressurise the refugees including stopping all vector control in the camps, reducing food rations and refusing to treat any new cases of TB or AIDs. The intensive media criticism of humanitarian work in these camps and the growing tensions combined to convince most people that the best long-term solution would be for the camps to close and the refugees to return to Rwanda. This is exactly what happened. In November 1996 the Rwandan army invaded eastern Zaire, teamed up with the anti-mobutu opposition groups, and attacked the refugee camps, sending the refugees fleeing into the forests around Goma. While the world s media have understandably focused on the genocide in Rwanda, there was little media coverage of this extraordinary set of events. In a detailed description of events Amnesty International have charted how aid agencies including UNHCR co-operated in the involuntary repatriation of over one million refugees (Amnesty International, 1997).
13 A New Humanitarianism: A New Morality for the 21 st Century? 287 Yet many commentators still believe that closing the camps was the right solution. Alex de Waal quotes one aid worker as saying: People will undoubtedly die. But perhaps this time we will get a proper solution. Hard decisions must be taken (de Waal, 1997). This was a sentiment that I heard from many within the aid movement. The goal-oriented humanitarianism was clearly on display during this crisis. When the Rwanda-backed soldiers attacked the camps, over one million refugees fled out of sight of aid agencies and the international media. When some agencies called for international intervention to create humanitarian corridors to get relief to the refugees, the British and American governments and a number of NGOs objected, saying that this would be detrimental to the rapid achievement of a lasting solution to the Great Lakes Crisis (Fennell, 1997). Within a few days most of the refugees emerged and were accompanied back into Rwanda. However the thousands who did not return were immediately classified as genocidaires and left to their fate. Many were slaughtered by Kabila s forces and others died for lack of adequate relief in the Tingi Tingi camps near Kisangani. Nick Stockton from Oxfam spoke about this as an example of the new goal-oriented humanitarianism: This repatriation was supported by NGOs and the US and UK governments as the sine qua non for achieving political stability within the region (Stockton, 2000). Describing this crisis as a new low for humanitarian principles, James Fennell, former head of emergencies at CARE, said: The most depressing aspect of the Great Lakes tragedy has been this apparent willingness of all parties to the conflict, including the UN and NGO humanitarian relief agencies and donors, to abandon international humanitarian law in the face of political imperatives. In November 1996, it could still be argued that even with the loss of life, closing the camps and returning the majority of refugees to their homes in Rwanda was essential for long-term peace and stability in the region. Even Fennell, who was passionately opposed to the actions of aid agencies in this crisis, concedes when writing in 1997 that the overall outcome was a resolution of the crisis: Its apparent success in resolving the conflict has reinforced the new consensus around the redundancy of IHL. However, from the vantage point of a few years later, one glance at events in the region since the closure of the camps provides a salutary lesson about the risks of humanitarians trying to predict the best long-term solution. While everyone agreed that the camps were a problem, few could now argue that closing them has solved the problem. Let us take a quick look: apart from the fact that thousands of Rwandan refugees died in the course of the attacks on the camps, the return of the refugees to Rwanda did not bring peace or stability inside Rwanda and didn t even remove the threat of instability on Rwanda s borders. The return of the refugees to Rwanda led to a civil war in the north-west of the country in which thousands of people lost their lives. The attacks prompted two major civil wars inside Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) the second of which is still going on and now dragged in no fewer than eight of the DRC s neighbouring states. The crisis of Rwandan refugees in Zaire contains many elements of the current controversy over humanitarian action. The abuse of relief by armed men in the camps confirmed the critics argument that traditional humanitarianism can prolong conflict. The response to that abuse, however, raises very serious questions. Judging by the unprecedented number of resigning aid workers following this crisis, many
14 288 Fiona Fox humanitarians were uncomfortable with the consequences of a model that appears to submerge traditional humanitarian relief to the wider goals of a political solution. Conclusion The new world clearly needs a new humanitarianism. The traditional principles forged throughout the last century need to be adapted to new wars, collapsed states and an international human rights culture where Western leaders wage humanitarian wars. There is no point defending a humanitarian system that has clearly been discredited and has lost confidence in itself. But is the new humanitarianism the answer? One principle worth reviving from the list of traditional humanitarian principles is universalism the right of everyone to receive humanitarian relief in times of crisis. In a world where bilateral aid is increasingly restricted to those countries prepared to follow Western strictures on the economy, governance and so on, there is a need to keep one arena of aid free of political conditions. People dying without food, water and medicines should receive unconditional humanitarian aid whoever they are. The human rights approach, developmental relief and the rejection of neutrality amount to the politicisation of humanitarian aid. While Western governments are happy to seize on these developments to co-opt agencies on to their own political agenda, aid agencies themselves have been in the forefront of pushing for a more political role. In future the humanitarian impulse personified by Henri Dunant will be qualified by political considerations. Before relieving human suffering, aid workers will be required to assess whether feeding these people could be rewarding killers, fuelling their war effort or undermining human rights. If an assessment confirms any of these risks, aid workers will be required to withdraw and leave people to their fate. It is ironic that even the most hardened criminals on America s Death Row are entitled to food, water and shelter before they are executed. It is perhaps testament to the wholesale demonisation of some communities in the Third World that they don t even qualify for a judge and jury before they are condemned to death. Of course humanitarian aid cannot be divorced from politics. Warring sides, foreign governments and international agencies can manipulate relief for political ends. But the political manipulation of humanitarian aid is entirely different to the conscious use of humanitarian aid by agencies to pursue political ends that is proposed in new humanitarianism. Fighting for the universal right to unconditional humanitarian relief in times of crisis seems a good place to start in defining a new set of humanitarian principles. Otherwise the moral failures of the humanitarian system of the 20th will start to pale in comparison to the betrayals of the new century. In short we should keep searching for our new moral banner. References ActionAid (1999) Published in Evidence to the International Development Committee Sixth Report on Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. Volume 11, November, London. Amnesty International (1997) Rwanda: Human Rights Overlooked in Mass Repatriation Report by Amnesty International. Amnesty International, London.
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