|Humanitarian Principles and Operational Dilemmas in War Zones (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1993, 52 p.)|
Objective and focus of this module
This training contains experiences from around the world of efforts to reduce the human cost of armed conflict. Its objective is simple: to help practitioners enhance the operational effectiveness of humanitarian action.
The focus is on the humanitarian challenges posed by internal armed conflicts. Such conflicts have their roots in tensions that are social and economic, ethnic and tribal, religious and ideological in nature. They are often exacerbated by the arbitrariness of national borders and by the lack of representative political structures through which popular stirrings might otherwise express themselves. These conflicts constitute the kind of political fragmentation and internal unraveling that the United Nations Secretary-General has dubbed "micro-nationalism."
When the United Nations was launched, the major actors comprised about 50 sovereign states. Most problems of international importance concerned interrelationships between them. Insurgent political movements were rare and the roles of other non-state actors such as non-governmental organizations and the media were modest at best.
The range of violence now confronting practitioners was hardly imagined by the framers of the UN Charter.
As the United Nations prepares to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, the international community it represents has changed greatly. There are now some 180 governments accredited to the United Nations to participate in General Assembly debates. The former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia recently have given birth to 20 states, continuing to add to the pool of states already augmented by the influx of decolonized countries in the mid-1950s. The Security Council especially following the end of the Cold War, addresses a wider array of issues and now considers humanitarian crises among the threats to international peace and security that it has the competence to address.
An array of UN specialized agencies exists to implement activities in sectors such as food, refugees, meteorology, aviation, and nuclear non-proliferation. Reflecting a more knowledgeable and engaged public and benefiting from a more actively involved media, hundreds of non-governmental groups are now accredited to the UN and its various agencies.
The humanitarian crises to which the international community responds today are also more complex. "Natural disasters" such as earthquakes and floods and longer-term development efforts such as empowering local populations to improve the quality of their lives pose difficult operational dilemmas for practitioners. However, wars and internal armed conflicts exacerbate many of those dilemmas.
For example, inaccessibility frequently creates problems for organizations seeking to respond to populations affected by drought, lack of health care, or educational opportunity. Reaching them is even more problematic in civil wars, where access is denied by government or insurgents as part of a political-military strategy. While emergency or long-term assistance of any form to such persons may have political impacts, those impacts are likely to be magnified in the highly charged settings of internal armed conflicts.
Practitioners frequently confront situations in which there are no easy answers; solving one problem creates others and well intended assistance is misunderstood, rebuffed or manipulated by the belligerents.
There are new and unprecedented demands on those who must effectively provide humanitarian assistance and protect vulnerable populations. Not only are the problems increasingly complex and sensitive; relationships with a variety of actors and institutions are more multifaceted and interactive. Practitioners frequently confront situations in which there are no easy answers; solving one problem creates others and well intended assistance is misunderstood, rebuffed or manipulated by the belligerents.
This module seeks to provide an analytical framework for understanding the challenges confronted by the modern humanitarian practitioner. It also analyzes the dilemmas professionals face, using recent experiences in various conflicts as a learning laboratory. It seeks to encourage institutional and personal reflection, acknowledging that most humanitarian institutions move from one crisis to the next without taking adequate time to identify the lessons to be learned.
The authors hope and expect readers to bring their own hands-on experience as grist for the analytical mill. While we have the benefit of less direct experience, our inter-regional research and first-hand interviews with hundreds of practitioners, aid and government officials, analysts, and media members equips us to frame issues that cut across the emergencies that rapidly are becoming the central preoccupation of field personnel.
Overview of this module
There are three parts to the module:
· The first part briefly summarizes the international legal context for humanitarian action. For further detail, reference is made to a more specialized module in this series and to the Resources for Further Reference (see Annex 1).
· The second part introduces several categories designed to identify the primary actors, various types and phases of conflicts and the spectrum of humanitarian assistance and protection. These provide analytical tools for practitioners in reviewing the context in which they work.
· The third part forms the heart of the module and is an elaboration of eight principles of humanitarian action. In each instance, the statement of principle is followed by an exploration of operational implications.
We make use throughout the module of concrete examples of successes and failures, drawn from our research to date. The range of examples from conflicts around the world have been selected for their illustrative value and without any invidious intent.
You are encouraged to supply and examine your own best and worst cases and to bring your personal experience to bear at every point in the process.
This module is intended for two audiences, the self-study learner and the participant in a training workshop. The following training methods are planned for use in workshops and are simulated in the accompanying "training guide". For the self-study learner the text is as close to a tutor as can be managed in print.
Workshop training methods include:
· group discussions
· simulations/role plays
· supplementary handouts
· review sessions
· self-assessment exercises
The self-study learner is invited to use this text as a workbook. In addition to note -taking in the margins, you will be given the opportunity to stop and examine your learning along the way through questions included in the text. Write down your answers to these questions before proceeding to ensure that you have captured key points in the text.