Friday, April 02, 2004
Two Cultures

An article by Martin Wollacott in the Guardian explores a new series of articles published by Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF). In short, these articles examine how the humanitarian and political agendas have been conflated, to the detriment of both cultures. Non governmental organisations, seduced by a say in foreign policy, have succumbed to political stances at the expense of their original missions. Foreign policy has been recast with an ethical and humanitarian gloss to legitimate political decisions without undertaking the difficult task of explaining why such actions are necessary to the electorates of the West.

By reasserting the distinction between the humanitarian idea proper and the humanitarian motives or pretensions of political leaders, the MSF writers are able to move the arguments back to where they ought to be taking place. In essence, they are saying that there are two quite different sets of arguments. One is about foreign policy, and this should take place in the knowledge that even worthy foreign policy is not in the first place humanitarian.

The other is about the humanitarian mission, and the emphasis must be on the need for humanitarian organisations to distance themselves from governments and limit, as far as they can, their role as instruments of policy.

This has allowed MSF to disentangle humanitarian needs from political demands. They do not recognise that a "humanitarian crisis" exists in Iraq and they are on record for doubting that the United Nations has the capabilities to govern occupied Mesopotamia.

At the same time, reports emanating from Darfur in western Sudan show that Arab militias are now involved in an ethnic cleansing of the black tribes that inhabit the area, pushing refugees across the border into Chad. The episode is beginning to resemble the early stages of Africa's particular brand of genocide, using militias and terror.

Some 1,000 people are dying each week in Sudan, and 110,000 refugees, like Mr. Yodi, have poured into Chad. Worse off are the 600,000 refugees within Sudan, who face hunger and disease after being driven away from their villages by the Arab militias.

"They come with camels, with guns, and they ask for the men," Mr. Yodi said. "Then they kill the men and rape the women and steal everything." One of their objectives, he added, "is to wipe out blacks."

The United Nations has observers on the ground who warned that this was the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world". The apathy from the United Nations General Assembly. The European Union wrung its hands, talked to the Sudanese government and asked it politely to stop the atrocities.

Another day, another genocide.

(22.52, 2nd April 2004)


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