Mixing military with aid compromised aid organizations
Description: Erin Baines, Director of the Conflict & Development program at the Liu Institute discusses the changes in the role of humanitarian aid groups post-Cold War.
Date: 31 October 2004
Author: Naoibh O'Connor- Courier Staff writer
Source: Vancouver Courier
The end of the Cold War signalled a change in how humanitarian aid groups operated and how they were treated, says Erin Baines, Director of the Conflict & Development program at the Liu Institute for Global Issues.
What's left is a world that's considerably more dangerous for aid workers. Since 2003, more than 30 humanitarian workers from international non-governmental organizations have been killed in the field. In June, five volunteers with Medecins San Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, were gunned down in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, the head of CARE International in Iraq was kidnapped by insurgents and forced to plead for her life on videotape.
Traditionally, international aid groups could enter a country as a neutral player through the agreement of both warring parties. After the Cold War, the nature of conflict changed. Wars involved not just two sides but often multiple warring factions. Terrorist groups emerged.
"You would also have a number of rebel groups who were no longer really interested in seizing the state. They were just wreaking havoc in order to wreak havoc or just to maintain the status quo so they could carry out their business-a shadow economy or what have you," Baines said. "So it would be harder and harder to negotiate with different warring parties."
The UN saw an agenda for peace where it could be more involved in conflicts, but it wasn't prepared for the task since it only knew how to operate in a Cold War environment. The UN's stumbling led to failed interventions in places like Bosnia.
"That was a dismal disaster," Baines said. "Rwanda is another good example of that, and they were on the heels of each other. Then you had the UN rethinking and saying, 'OK, what we need to do is coordinate our peacekeepers and humanitarians more closely.'"
At the same time, the U.S. and NATO intervened in conflicts and provided military escorts for aid efforts. But by mixing the military with humanitarian presence, the perceived neutrality of non-governmental aid groups was compromised.
In Afghanistan, the bombing and the liberation of the country took place simultaneously. Humanitarian aid packages were also distributed by air.
"It just looks completely like a trick of the victor who is trying to lull you into thinking they're there for you but at the same time they're wiping out your families by dropping bombs, indiscriminately or by mistake. That's what's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq right now," Baines said, adding the UN is not seen as a neutral player by Iraqis, but rather as an integral part of the U.S. invasion.
In Sudan, military escorts have attempted to help aid convoys through unstable territory, but even aid is an easy way for rebel groups to corrupt the system. "They would say the right things like, 'We believe in protecting the people.' But they would actually just take the humanitarian assistance, turn around and buy guns with it."
Aid organizations are now targeted because they're symbolic or representative of military operations. "[They're] really going through a huge rethink about what the hell has happened and there are those who are extremely critical of the postwar period and the changes to the humanitarian agenda. They say, 'We need to go back to the classic golden rule of humanitarianism which is we are neutral, we are separate,'" Baines said.
"There are others who say that would be nice in an ideal world, but the world has changed, the nature of conflict has changed, and we need to find ways of reaching people who are trapped."