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March 9, 2005

Protecting the Humanitarian Space in the Face of Violence and Terror (Part 2)

(Continued from: Protecting the Humanitarian Space in the Face of Violence and Terror, part 1)

Austen Davis [?]
Yes, I am sorry I didn’t make myself clear in my intervention because I thought precisely that what I was saying or trying to explain, is who broke the law. I did indeed refer to IHL and the Geneva Convention, which was the basis of the acceptance model I was trying to describe. Now, that model as I was trying to explain has been broken by the non-state actors on one side, by putting back civilian population into the equation; and the state. But, unfortunately, in the world we live in today, many states are going for the coherent approach, and going back to what you were saying, unfortunately we are not in a position where we can idealize the UN. The UN goes for the coherent approach, and that is a very real problem. We have this concept of the integrated mission that is being developed by the United Nations, whereby the autonomy of the humanitarian space that Mary Robinson said we rightly have to reclaim is basically put into question. The humanitarian coordinator or whatever the name will be of the chapter, comes under the authority of your SRS Chief. That’s an issue. So, even in the UN this debate has to take place.

El Sr. Bana me dijo que quería intervenir.

Hany El-Bana
Thank you. I think that if we respond to “who broke the law”, if we remember the story of Afghanistan, at a certain age, for a political reason, we wanted to use certain people, and we called them freedom fighters. These people used to come to Europe, come to America, on a [...], there is money certain comforts, and talk to politicians. And then, when the political end of this war was over, we had to change the name, from freedom fighters to call them terrorists. Those people, the same people who most of them were actually not fighting, they came back to their own country and were arrested by certain countries because they had been in Afghanistan. Four countries had been defamed at the time: Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan. Just the same, because of the political defamation. When we start to do it as states, they didn’t’ come back to the members who actually did the law. They mentioned the men who did the law but the law had an intention and conscience and power to protect them. You can use the UN as a vehicle, but who is protecting the UN? Who is protecting the decisions taken by the Security Council in the UN? The states have broken the law and then led the non-state members to carry on breaking the same laws. Thank you.

Ed Cairns [?]
Just two points. In response to the humanitarian relativism and Mary Robinson’s call for reaffirming humanitarian space, I think we need to get back to what seemed to be possible in the 1990’s, and not in the cold war. When it was a move for aid for aid's sake not for politics sake, or to put it more accurately, aids to reduce impartially observed humanitarian need or to reduce poverty. We were in danger of loosing that again, just as we did in the cold war, I think you know what I mean in more detail. And again, in terms of who gives the aids, aids by aids professionals and communities of the ground, not by private contractors or military, which is a signal of what you have talked before.

I think more or less in Kosovo we had a model of aid agencies and the UN being able to have a sensible discussion with military actors, without being subjugated by them. On questions like protecting civilians, restraining unwise and unjustified interventions, making sure that the world does act when it should, and on controlling arms, there is almost an international agenda to pick up these issues. As some of us will know, the UN Secretary General got many experts to write a report called “A more secure world”, which came out in December and is on the agenda for the “Millennium Plus Five” summit in September. That’s probably a discussion for a wider event. But a lot of the things that we have been talking about this morning and need to be done, practical solutions through a multilateral approach are being proposed and every government should back one.

Austen Davis [?]
Again we only had a few minutes to address the whole thing. You can’t expect people in society with a position to protect, to develop good social rules to society, we need this curtain of ignorance, so you don’t know who you are going to be afterwards and what you are going to get afterwards, and then you can make good rules for a society which will be just. In the reality of war, everyone breaks the rules, every government I have ever come across in the theatre of war, to some degree, breaks those rules. That doesn’t mean they are invalid. There’s a famous Russian saying that says “there’s no murder in Germany, why not… because it’s against the law”: The fact that the law is broken doesn’t mean it’s invalid. Governments are held to account and some governments do take it more. Who breaks the rules the most? Probably delegitimized military based rebel groups, in my experience. Groups in the poor region of Congo, or on the Eastern side of DRC or in parts of Sudan, where there is very little of connection with the people and a high degree of impunity.

So, everyone breaks the rules, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them but the biggest problems is that when you are trying to get actors on the ground, you have to negotiate actors, and you use those rules to explain who you are and get a commitment from the person sitting opposite you, that they recognize you as independent, neutral and impartial, and they recognize the basis of what you are doing and allow access. And we can’t do that anymore. That’s one of the things I mentioned –by delegitimizing the other, we can’t go and sit and negotiate access, we can’t sit there and say “Do you accept our presence? Give us your word”. That is a fundamental shift that is very, very dangerous for us.

People were signing to get there anyway, people were letting the UN negotiate access for every single NGO. Beforehand, there was this sort of commonly negotiated access agreement. And I think that is the real problem, the people who guarantee or allow access to different populations that are suffering have to basically vet, commit to and agree to the fact that they recognize those rules and that they are bound by them. And if the new enemy does not recognize IHL, then we need the spaced to sit down and say “do you say that no one who is suffering should get aid?”. No, of course not. Ok, so what are the terms that you think are excusable to allow people in to do that? And then how do we make sure that these agencies, who claim to be humanitarian, follow these rules? And I think that is a real problem, the Geneva convention is perfect for the modern times and does not need updating. I think that either some groups don’t accept them or are not held to accept them and we can’t do it at the moment, that’s more of the problem. So I would like to see in practical terms the idea of humanitarian negotiation not being criminalized. If an emissary goes and tries to speak to Bin Laden we can get thrown in jail for it. So that’s one basic thing that we have to be able to do, to negotiate access. Ask “Do you accept the rules?” and “Do you recognize us as one of these so-called humanitarian actors?”.

And the second thing is that I agree that the UN has significantly compromised their capacity to claim to be a neutral and impartial and independent actor. That may not be bad, that it just means they can not fulfill that function. Almost anywhere you go, the rebel groups, and not just in the Islamic radical terrorist sort of conflict, have real problems with the UN. Go and speak to the people in Angola with their perceptions of the UN’s the role in Angola. It is not just as a nice aid’s giver.

Muchas gracias. Ahora vamos a aprovechar para recibir tres o cuatro preguntas del público. Ya veo una mano levantada. Al final, cada persona que haga una pregunta que se identifique primero, y si la pregunta va dirigida a uno de los invitados en particular, menciónelo también.

Delegate from the floor
Mi nombre es Edmundo García, from an international non-governmental organization working for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

I would like to very briefly take off from President Mary Robinson’s appeal to reclaim humanitarian space and secondly Dr. Aguirre’s insistence on accountability for those who fail to protect these spaces. Two very brief remarks: the first one related to humanitarian spaces and peace processes and the second one is the protection of citizens or communities creating their own humanitarian space. In the first place, I base this on the experience in conflict areas like Colombia or The Philippines and I believe that humanitarian accords that in fact advance or promote these processes is very crucial. I can specifically relate this to the Tsunami affected area in Sri Lanka, where humanitarian cease fires for the sake of children and choice of peace can be given much importance. The same situation, I recognized the importance in terms of typhoon-affected areas in the case of provinces in The Philippines, where a humanitarian cease-fire was being advanced by citizens and rejected by both guerrillas and the government. I think the relationship between humanitarian space and peace processes is very crucial.

Secondly, regarding the protection of citizen space or community inspired humanitarian spaces, I would like to publicly kind of put in record what has occurred in the Comunidad de Paz, Apartado San José in Colombia. There was a massacre just very recently, a week ago, of the founders of the Sons of Peace in Colombia. Father Javier Giraldo from the Commission of Justice and Peace actually made the battalions responsible and the inability of the State to protect these Sons of Peace. When Dr. Aguirre spoke about accountability, there are in fact investigators and human rights lawyers who were going to the place and they themselves were ambushed. So I feel that when you speak of humanitarian spaces, citizens and communities that claim this humanitarian space also deserve protection, but what is unfortunate is that states and the forces that are supposed to protect these people are themselves in a sense failing to protect the communities they are mandated to serve. Muchas gracias.

¿Comentarios?, ¿alguna otra persona que desee intervenir o hacer alguna pregunta a nuestros invitados? Por favor, señor Nuñez.

Jesús Nuñez
Muchas gracias, mi nombre es Jesús Nuñez; soy director del Instituto de Estudios Sobre Conflictos y Acción Humanitaria. Un comentario y una pregunta en todo caso. El comentario es ver con qué facilidad, creo, vamos asumiendo en muchos casos un lenguaje que creo que esta persiguiendo unos objetivos determinados y que asumimos desde la perspectiva de los actores humanitarios de una manera, desde mi punto de vista, preocupante, puesto que entramos inmediatamente en una dinámica en la que usamos ese concepto de guerra contra el terror, lo cual creo que es absolutamente inadecuado. Evidentemente el terrorismo es una amenaza y evidentemente hay que luchar contra el terrorismo, pero asumirlo en términos de guerra contra el terror, creo que es precisamente algo que interesa a algunos actores. No deberíamos por tanto, de manera inocente, contribuir a propagar esa idea.

Por otro lado el llevarnos también en muchos casos al convencimiento falso desde mi punto de vista, de que hoy en día nos movemos en un contexto en el que la principal amenaza que tiene el mundo y la seguridad internacional es precisamente el terrorismo internacional. Evidentemente es una amenaza grave y real pero no es la más importante. Antes la señora Robinson ha mencionado el tema de las armas ligeras y ahí tenemos algo que realmente igual que el hambre que mata todos los días y sin embargo eso nos secuestra de alguna forma la agenda llevándonos en otras direcciones.

La pregunta iría alrededor de una cuestión que muchas veces surge cuando planteamos este tema del espacio humanitario desde contextos básicamente protagonizados por actores humanitarios, teniendo que ver básicamente con la idea de que esos actores humanitarios presentan la situación como si fuese una batalla entre actores y militares o gobiernos y actores humanitarios. Por lo cual tendríamos que defendernos basándonos en nuestros principios humanitarios de que tenemos que mantener inviolado ese espacio “en contra de”. Creo que si vamos “en contra de” la cuestión se plantea con muchas más dificultades, porque no tenemos el copyright del espacio humanitario ni podemos obviar la realidad de que en muchas de las situaciones de crisis o de guerra es necesario un contexto de seguridad que sólo actores militares pueden proporcionar.

Luego a partir de ahí yo creo que el enfoque, una vez que asumimos la necesidad de mantener esos principios y ese espacio, el enfoque debería ir en la búsqueda y en la implicación de actores multilaterales, de gobiernos que puedan estar también en esa dirección, de ir trabajando alrededor de un acuerdo marco en el que se puedan definir claramente los espacios y en el que se puedan definir principios de actuación en situaciones de crisis que respeten, complementen y permitan prosperar a los dos actores. No sé si alguno de los panelistas de la sesión tiene en este sentido alguna iniciativa o alguna idea que pueda proponerse para trabajar en esa línea. Gracias.

Austen Davis
What we’ve tried to talk about is the fact that there is an inherent interface. You cannot divorce yourself from society; man is a political, social animal and politics is everything. So humanitarianism cannot pull itself out of that, but it’s the interface that’s complex and important. The degree to which politicians appreciate humanitarianism as a positive action and goal in its own right and therefore defend it is very important. If people don’t see that good and decide it is nothing more than an aid commodity which can be used for other goods, e.g. peace, victory…

[...] [blank tape: 69:22-70:14]

[...] nasty rightist militarists, all, if they’re not at that moment working for political ends, should be able to work together in the same humanitarian agency. Because it’s not about your personal political goals; it’s about an action which is seen as good across the spectrum of political beliefs. This requires governments to understand and respect that and separate that out. And the problem with all your framework agreements at the moment is that the tendency is to incorporate humanitarian action as just a good that should be used to forward other political goals. That is the problem. So it may sound nice if this framework stuff, but a) it’s hideously boring if you work in the field and have to go to all these meetings. Secondly, it’s very bureaucratising and does lend to the deterioration of the genuine sense of interaction and compassion. And thirdly, it seems at the moment to lead to humanitarian action being co-opted into an alternative political programme and therefore rejection by some.

Would you agree with that?

Hany El-Bana
Responding to your question: forget our foreign policy, which may have deep difficulty for any humanitarian worker. Forget about the military now. Any statement made by any politician in any part of the world is being heard and seen by the people on the ground, so to undermine the foreign policy of a country is actually very serious. You are being seen as part of the foreign policy and part of the military.

Let me be more frank, because there is a lot of discussion about Islamic terrorism and Islam. Terrorism has many faces: African terrorism, Asian terrorism, Islamic terrorism, non-Islamic terrorism, and this in only one corner of the globe. When we look at this, if I can just portray how Muslims see the UN: they see the UN as a Security Council whose resolutions cannot be implemented because of the veto system. And they see chronic problems over forty, fifty, sixty years with no answers. Now I believe in the UN as much as I believe in my own religion, but what I am trying to say is: let us use the UN as a good vehicle and not monopolise our power in the UN. This is very serious.

I’m not going to defend the UN; the UN is a body. I’m talking about the states and foreign policies. Why should we use armoured personnel to protect humanitarian workers? Why should we have this blurred vision from Oxfam? [...]. People start to suspect me[?], even Muslims. They say ‘You have a very good relation with the British, American and German governments’ – so I must be a spy, an informer. This is the reality when you go down to the ground because of this blurred vision that comes from foreign policy.

Someone wants to change the syllabus of Islamic education. Who has the right to change the syllabus? Who has the right to stand up in a public conference and say ‘We are going to change the syllabus’? Get the people to change it; talk to the grassroots workers; get the community to change it. If you want to change the culture of Afghanistan, there are many ways to change the Taliban ideologies with other ideologies.


Ed Cairns
I certainly don’t agree with the image that ‘military is bad and humanitarian is good’, which was a phrase you used. I think that was once a traditional image of the UN and it’s wrong. You remember I said that people’s lives are being saved because there are African Union troops in parts of Dafur and there are cases, extreme cases, where there should be more Western troops, like Rwanda, of course. But nor do I think it’s as simple as the phrase ‘the military are there to provide security’. That sometimes can be the case, but it’s not always as nice as that. So, for instance, if you look at the UN and British military intervention in Sierra Leone, that was widely popular by people in Sierra Leone and therefore quite easy to accept. But that’s hugely different to what we’re seeing in Iraq, where a large number of Iraqis see it as more of an invasion than as something to provide security.

And the second thing is that even when the military is there to provide security, that doesn’t mean it’s helpful for them to be trying to provide aid themselves. Again, I’m not trying to present KFOR and Kosovo as a perfect model, but it was vastly different from what we now see in Afghanistan and Iraq. By and large, they allowed aid agencies independently to do what they wanted to do underneath the security of KFOR and that’s not what we’re seeing now. I think it has changed for the worse.

Can I just spend thirty seconds responding to the humanitarian-ceasefire comment, which I very much welcomed? I have to say we’ve had quite a few bad experiences of where ceasefires have been agreed for humanitarian reasons and the fighting has been just as bad the next day – I’m thinking of Sudan, for instance. All I would say –and I think Austen would agree with me– is that because of the sensitivities of negotiating peace processes, which is seldom seen as impartial, even if it is impartially intended, it’s very unwise for people negotiating a ceasefire for absolutely humanitarian reasons to be the same people negotiating for the added bonus of a peace process.

Denis Caillaux
I have a somewhat simplistic vision of the civil-military. I think that the more we separate the two realms the better. The military is there for combat security, not humanitarian intervention. I think the success of NATO in Afghanistan will be judged not by the number of primary schools it has re-roofed, but by the enhanced security it has brought to the Afghan people. So I’m totally opposed to any blurring of the borderline; I think this is both dangerous and impractical. What I would say is that you have military interventions and military interventions, and civil-military cooperation has to be defined within these very different set-ups. Where we are challenged particularly is in situations of occupation. This is a very big difference. The civil-military relation is articulated in one set of circumstances where you don’t have occupation. When you do have occupation that really complicates matters substantially and we should analyse that much more.

Madam, before we close, I have a very important point to make [...]

Ahora vamos a tener al señor Rey, a nuestro relator que nos va a resumir brevemente los puntos claves del debate que hemos tenido aquí y que serán así transmitidos a los organizadores de esta cumbre sobre democracia, terrorismo y seguridad. Señor Rey, por favor..., tiene usted tres, cuatro minutos para brevemente...

Francisco Rey
Hola, buenos días. Muy brevemente y sin querer resumir todo el debate porque eso es imposible, sí he citado alguno de los temas que han salido como más recurrentes y sobre los que sí parece que si no un acuerdo sobre las soluciones a ese tema, sí hay un acuerdo sobre ese tema es muy relevante para la acción humanitaria en los próximos años y en los momentos actuales.

La primera constatación es que la ayuda humanitaria ha sido siempre difícil. Es decir, nadie ha puesto sobre la mesa el que ha cambiado mucho para dificultarse tras el 11 de septiembre, sino que siempre ha sido, por naturaleza, algo difícil y lo que sí se ha puesto de manifiesto es qué ha cambiado para, o qué ha hecho más compleja esta situación en los últimos años. Yo creo que hay que recordar, y otros ponentes lo han dicho, que el origen precisamente de la acción humanitaria es proteger en primer lugar a los militares. Cuando la ayuda humanitaria surge es para proteger –el primer convenio de Ginebra es para proteger a los militares heridos. No habla de los civiles todavía porque las guerras eran muy diferentes de las guerras actuales, de los horrores de la guerra. En varias intervenciones ha salido cuál es la vigencia o no del derecho internacional humanitario y nuestro comentarista ha puesto énfasis en eso.

La primera pregunta sería el ver como el no respeto al derecho internacional humanitario, en los últimos años, por parte de los estados y de los actores no estatales, pone en peligro todo ese modelo complementario entre la asistencia humanitaria brindada por las organizaciones civiles y el derecho humanitario firmado por los estados nación. No olvidemos que en ese modelo de origen de la acción humanitaria, las organizaciones humanitarias no firman los convenios en Ginebra; son los estados quienes firman el derecho internacional. Y eso hace muy difícil, ese no respeto del derecho internacional humanitario por parte de los estados, la propia convicción de las organizaciones humanitarias tienen para negociar el espacio humanitario, como ha dicho Davis, en muchos contextos.

Yo creo que una primera, y no es una conclusión, pero es el reafirmarse, como dijo la señora Robinson también, sobre la vigencia de la ideas humanitarias y del propio derecho humanitario y la necesidad de vincular eso con unos valores y con unos principios claros. Se ha citado siempre los tres fundamentales de imparcialidad, independencia y neutralidad. Un segundo gran bloque de temas en el que tal vez no hemos hecho tanta incidencia como se preveía, es el de la universalidad de las ideas humanitarias y el de los aspectos culturales o sobre relativismo cultural que tiene que ver con ellas. La mayor parte de las intervenciones se ha manifestado bastante acuerdo en la vigencia de los principios y de los valores humanitarios y su universalidad, al margen de que puedan ser interpretados de diferentes formas, o que en ocasiones, ese es el riesgo ahora, sean percibidos por ciertas culturas o por ciertos pueblos como valores básicamente occidentales. Yo creo que ahí hay grandes retos para las organizaciones humanitarias sobre el presentar los valores humanitarios como verdaderamente universales y no como valores puramente occidentales.

Y aquí citaría con alguna alusión muy breve que se ha hecho por alguno de los intervinientes sobre la necesidad de vincularlo más con las organizaciones locales y con la participación de las capacidades locales para evitar esa idea de percepción de lo humanitario como portador de valores puramente occidentales.

Y el tercer gran tema que hemos tocado al final y sobre el que no ha habido mucho tiempo de profundizar pero que en alguna intervención se ha tocado, es el quién debe llevar adelante eso y el de la complementariedad entre los diferentes actores. Es una pena que no hayamos podido profundizar más sobre el papel de las Naciones Unidas y sobre los riesgos de ese modelo de coherencia o de integración que varios ponentes han citado o el de la relación de las organizaciones humanitarias civiles con las fuerzas armadas. Porque parece, por todas las intervenciones, que es uno de los temas más preocupantes, no por un afán de corporativismo como dijo el señor Nuñez, sino por clarificar los mandatos y los roles de cada institución y por evitar que haya ese confusionismo entre los mandatos de las fuerzas armadas, que en la mayor parte de los contextos no están para prestar asistencia humanitaria sino para otras muchas cosas. Y colateralmente –y no digo daño colateral–, pero colateralmente dedican cierta labor en las cuestiones humanitarias. Yo creo que el papel de liderazgo o no que deban tener las propias Naciones Unidas, el papel de complementariedad de las organizaciones civiles, es uno de los temas más preocupantes para el futuro. Muchos de estos temas trataremos de reflejarlos en unas breves conclusiones que serán únicamente descriptivas de lo que pasó y no tanto conclusiones o aportaciones.

Muchas gracias, señor Rey. Antes de concluir, el señor Caillaux había dicho que quería hacernos un anuncio. Por favor, brevemente.

Denis Caillaux
I think that there is an enormously important issue that we haven’t touched this morning and probably because of a question of time, but I would feel absolutely ashamed to leave this room without having flagged that. It is the issue of accountability, of humanitarian actors, to beneficiaries. We have talked about a whole range of the importance of perception of humanitarian response, Western, non-Western. I think that a very, very fundamental thing all of us, all of us need to do is to take a serious look at our accountability to beneficiaries, to the people we pretend to serve. We have a long way to go in that direction, let’s be honest, and if we do walk that road honestly and transparently, certainly a number, not all, but a number of the problems we face will take a different dimension. Thank you.

I’m quite sure that everybody shares your concerns about that.

Quiero agradecerles a todos ustedes su presencia en este debate, especialmente a nuestros invitados, al Sr. Aguirre, también al Sr. Rey y por supuesto al Club de Madrid por darnos la oportunidad de debatir este asunto del peligro que corre el espacio humanitario en la actual llamada “guerra contra el terrorismo”. Gracias a todos y buenos días.

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