While military intervention in Iraq was being planned, humanitarian organizations were offered US government funds to join the Coalition and operate under the umbrella of "Operation Iraqi Freedom". In Kosavo, Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, NGOs had previously been asked to join in "just" wars. Indeed many aid agencies cooperated eagerly, subordinating their specific aims to the greater goal of "peace, democracy and human rights". Few Afghans or Sierra Leoneans regret the interventions. However, the inconvenient victims of these triumphs, those from the "wrong" side, are quickly forgotten. These are individuals whom humanitarian organizations have the duty to save, yet in doing so they must remain independent of the warring parties, and refrain from joining in the "struggle against evil" or any other political agenda. Then there are places where the pretence of providing assistance allows donor governments to disguise their backing of local political powers. Lastly there are those whose sacrifice is politically irrelevant in the wider scope of international relations. In circumstances such as these, what little international aid is available collides head-on with the mutal desire of the adversaries to wage "total" war that may lead to the extermination of entire populations. In this book, international experts and members of the MSF analyse the way these issues have crystallized over the five years spanning the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. The authors make the case for a renewed commitment to an old idea: a humanitarianism that defies the politics of sacrifice.
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Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is the world's largest independant for emergency medical aid, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Fabrice Weissman, research director of the MSF Foundation, is the author of many works on humanitarian aid and the political economy of conflict.From Publishers Weekly:
The role of humanitarian organizations in the world’s troubled and violent regions has never been so vital, or so debated. Over the course of this collection’s 17 essays (written by scholars, journalists and humanitarian relief workers), 11 of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises of the past five years are scrutinized for their successes and failures. From the moderately successful U.N. intervention in East Timor, to the U.N.’s absence in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, humanitarian action has often failed to live up to its exalted ideals, suggests this volume. With a clear, and often critical eye, the essays in this collection not only expose the shortcomings of the various humanitarian organizations, particularly the U.N., but also succeed in illuminating the complex moral and political debate that surrounds even the most basic relief operations. Saving lives is the ultimate purpose of any humanitarian action, and yet, according to the authors, that seemingly simple purpose is inevitably shrouded in a host of complicating, and often conflicting, values. The humanitarian ideal "is peaceful by nature but not pacifist," and therefore must inevitably contend with the specter of violence that comes with every relief operation. By focusing on the particular details of each intervention, the essays in this book succeed in going beyond the conventional stereotypes and myths of rebel atrocities and hapless governments. As such, they are an excellent resource for scholars and professionals in the field.
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