Humanitarian aid: redefining the limits

October 7, 2005 - nr.6
Summary

One of the key questions in the letter asking the AIV to produce a report is: what sort of role can humanitarian aid play in situations of conflict? And, what sort of political precon-ditions need to be fulfilled for humanitarian aid to be effective in such situations? Fur-thermore, how can humanitarian aid and development cooperation be prevented from exacerbating conflict situations?

In answering these questions the AIV has chosen, in its definition of the term ‘humanitarian aid’ to focus on the provision of a basic package of facilities such as food, water, sanitation, shelter, health care and fuel. The AIV favours a strict distinction between humanitarian aid and other forms of aid, such as reconstruction aid. This is important, not only to ensure that aid operations retain their neutrality, but also to enable aid organ-isations to adhere more closely to the original principles underlying their mandates. The AIV believes that a strict interpretation of the responsibilities of aid organisations will necessarily lead to the adjustment of the policy which has been pursued in recent years. Lacking any clear empirical basis, this policy has sought to encompass an increasing number of aspects contiguous to humanitarian aid. A clear line also needs to be drawn between aid on the one hand and political or military action on the other.

Recommendation 1:
The AIV believes that humanitarian aid should consist of a package of provisions designed to supply basic needs in emergency situations, and urges the Dutch govern-ment to use this as a guiding principle when funding aid organisations. The composition of the basic package should be based on local needs, customs and facilities. The AIV believes that the Netherlands, as a leading contributor to many humanitarian aid operations, should insist that the latter meet a number of clear conditions relating to the provision of humanitarian aid. The basic prerequisites are: neutrality of aid, respect for local conditions and actors, and security guarantees for both aid workers and recipients. The basic package of provisions could be extended in long-term emergencies. Support could be given to initiatives taken by the victims themselves, since these reduce apathy and enable people to regain control of their own lives. Activities relating to primary edu-cation and self-help are ideal in this respect. If the circumstances are right, aid could also be provided to enable people (both refugees and the local population) to regain their self-sufficiency. However, proper account should be taken of long-term factors, such as the need to preserve the natural environment (i.e. the ecological carr ying capacity). It is worth remembering, though, that situations of chronic need are not restricted to the countryside, but also occur in towns and cities. The overriding consideration at all times should be that aid should not serve to prolong the status quo or prevent the resolution of the conflict.

Recommendation 2:
The AIV shares the view taken by the Dutch government that it is important to uphold the principle of the neutrality of humanitarian aid. The AIV therefore urges the government to exercise caution in funding humanitarian organisations which explicitly couple the provi-sion of humanitarian aid with public advocacy. The AIV wishes to make clear, however, that it does not consider the reporting of breaches of humanitarian law or human rights to the appropriate bodies (such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) as being a form of public advocacy, and that it hence regards this as compatible with the provision of humanitarian aid.

Recommendation 3:
The Netherlands and other donors will need to continue supporting those aid organisa-tions which have demonstrated their ability to provide aid both effectively and in accor-dance with the principles laid down in the Geneva Conventions and the NGO Code of Con-duct. New organisations will need to prove that they have sufficient capacity and will also need to endorse the Code in order to qualify for support.

Recommendation 4:
The AIV advises the Dutch government to enter into discussions with other governments with a view to establishing an international incident centre to which complaints about fail-ures to observe the Code of Conduct can be reported. Aid recipients, i.e. victims, their relatives, NGOs, governments and other parties should be able to submit any complaints about problems or serious breaches of the Code of Conduct on humanitarian aid to the centre which would collect information and report on any shortcomings and cases of abuse. This centre could be set up as part of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recently established by the UN, as the OCHA performs a coordinating role and is in close contact with the organisations involved.

Recommendation 5:
The AIV recommends applying the following criteria when selecting NGOs to distribute humanitarian aid. The organisation should:

  • regular and adequate needs assessment studies among men, women and children in and around the crisis region;
  • systematically monitor aid activities and evaluate and assess their impact at regular intervals;
  • endorse and observe the NGO Code of Conduct for humanitarian organisations.

    Recommendation 6:
    The Netherlands and other donors can provide the necessary stimulus by funding needs assessment studies prior to aid operations, as well as evaluations and impact assess-ments following operations. Donors can also improve the efficiency of the process by requiring aid organisations to use a common model as the basis for their financial reports. The AIV urges the Dutch government to take an initiative to this end.

    Recommendation 7:
    The AIV urges the Dutch government to support the plans made by aid organisations for developing and planning a wide range of incremental security measures which would allow them to respond effectively to threats to the safety of aid workers and the security of aid shipments. The range of non-military measures would include providing better communi-cation tools, better facilities for storing aid shipments under lock and key, better training and the use of local security guards. Donors should look more closely at these and other non-military security measures.

    Recommendation 8:
    The AIV believes that a UN police force should on no account be used as the sole means of protecting a humanitarian aid effort in a situation in which there has been only a limit-ed escalation of violence. The UN should always assume there is a possibility of violence escalating to such an extent that it can no longer be controlled by a police force. In other words, the Security Council must be responsible for deciding whether or not to deploy a UN police force. The Security Council should also ascertain whether the aid workers really need assistance. The AIV would recommend making a UN police force part of the United Nations Standby Arrangements System. A number of UN member states have already pro-posed extending this system (currently no more than a database for the deployment of rapid-response army units on peacekeeping missions) by adding a police force to it. A multinational standby UN police force could therefore be formed along the lines of the Danish proposal for a multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (Shirbrig) with a permanent HQ and rapid-response troops.

    Recommendation 9:
    The AIV recommends that reconstruction aid should be provided only if the following con-ditions are met:

    1 the situation should be relatively stable, and a sufficient level of security should be guaranteed;
    2 all parties involved should be willing to work towards peace and reconstruction;
    3 local leaders should display a certain level of respect for the law and should also show respect for human rights;
    4 if there is no effective national power structure, aid activities should be planned and implemented as far as possible in the context of local structures;
    5 alongside local authorities, civil society organisations and local groups should be involved as closely as possible in reconstruction aid; there are good opportunities here for ensuring that women play a prominent role;
    6 reconstruction aid should help to strengthen local institutions which are essential to the rule of law;
    7 decisions to provide aid should be taken on the same basis as decisions to initiate structural development ties.

    In connection with this last point, the AIV recommends that decisions on reconstruction aid should not be taken by the department responsible for allocating emergency aid, though simplified procedures should be drawn up to guarantee a swift response.

    Recommendation 10:
    The AIV believes that the Dutch government should continue to insist in international fora that a distinction be made between those international organisations which are responsi-ble for providing humanitarian aid, and those whose duties lie in the field of reconstruc-tion and development cooperation. Accordingly, the Dutch government should not support humanitarian organisations which couple the provision of emergency aid in crisis situa-tions with structural aid. Aid organisations should clearly earmark their emergency aid operations as such. The Dutch government should furthermore continue to lobby for the strengthening of organisations equipped to provide reconstruction aid as part of develop-ment cooperation programmes.

    Recommendation 11:
    The AIV advises the government to develop a common international policy whereby infor-mation on potential crisis areas could be analysed by bodies other than those responsi-ble for taking decisions on strategy. This could be achieved, for example, by implementing an earlier recommendation by the Advisory Council on Peace and Security to establish a ‘Red Alarm Group’ at the United Nations. The same goal could be served by appointing a special intermediary or committee, as proposed by the UN Secretary-General.

    Recommendation 12:
    The AIV would also like to see analysis taking place at a regional level. This could be done by organising regional conferences, or by setting up regional networks or organi-sations which would concentrate on region-specific elements of conflict prevention and conflict resolution (e.g. the OAU, OAS, NATO, etc.). If indicators were developed on this type of regional basis, it would be easier to take account of cultural and devel-opmental aspects that have a direct bearing on the region in question. The current regional organisations are not properly equipped to perform such activities. The Dutch government could help to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations in this respect.

    Recommendation 13:
    The AIV believes that sanctions should be targeted more clearly at governments, spe-cific parts of a government and/or powerful groups. These could include bans pre-venting members of such groups from travelling and the freezing of bank deposits.

    Recommendation 14:
    The AIV proposes that clear criteria be drawn up on the basis of which aid organisa-tions can decide whether or not to withdraw from a particular crisis situation. These criteria must be adopted before the humanitarian operation in question is launched. The AIV suggests the decision to abandon aid efforts could be taken:

    1 if aid is not reaching the target group;
    2 if aid workers are regarded as targets by the warring factions.

    Recommendation 15:
    The AIV suggests that aid organisations be asked in such situations to weigh the ben-efits of providing aid against the costs of an unnecessary extension of the conflict caused by misuse of the aid. Aid organisations themselves, and not governments, should be responsible for taking the final decision as to whether to continue the aid programme.

    Recommendation 16:
    The AIV wishes to see international humanitarian law further strengthened and enforced. This can be achieved inter alia by ensuring that the relevant conventions are ratified by a large number of states, and by devising better institutionalised proce-dures whereby non-state actors can agree to be bound by the rules of international humanitarian law. Also, facilities should be improved for gaining immediate and unconditional access to victims in order to distribute humanitarian aid. Any deliberate obstruction of such access should be construed as an international criminal offence, for which the perpetrators (politicians, members of armed forces or warlords) can be tried. It should be reiterated, however, that national states retain their own responsi-bility in this area.

    Recommendation 17:
    In addition to the material and institutional strengthening of humanitarian law, the AIV would also like resources to be used to heighten the level of awareness of humanitar-ian law among both the warring factions and the population, particularly in an impend-ing crisis.
     
Advice request

No. 6, November 1998


Preface

On 4 July 1997, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence and the Minis-ter for Development Cooperation asked the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) to draw up a report on the issue of humanitarian aid in conflict situations. The report was prepared by the Council’s Development Cooperation Committee, the mem-bers of which are as follows: Dr J. Bunders, Dr O.B.R.C. van Cranenburgh (deputy chair), Professor F. van Dam, Ms I.E.M. Dankelman, Professor J.W. Gunning, Professor E.J. de Kadt (chair), F.D. van Loon, Professor R. Rabbinge, Ms A.H. Roemer, Ms E.M. Schoo, Professor N.J. Schrijver, Professor J.T. Schrijvers, J.F. Timmer and Professor I. Wolffers. The following also contributed to the report: Dr P.P. Everts, Professor B.A.G.M. Tromp (Committee on Peace and Security) and Professor E. van Thijn (Committee on Human Rights). The Conflict Management and Humani-tarian Aid Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also assisted the Committee in compiling the report. A.P. Hamburger and Dr K.A. Koekkoek, official advisers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assisted the Development Cooperation Committee by contributing to the compilation of this report.

As part of the preparatory work for this report, the Development Cooperation Committee 58 er took fact-finding missions to UN agencies in Geneva and New York in order to find out about activities performed 58 er the aegis of the UN and to ascertain the UN’s views on humanitarian aid. The AIV wishes to express its gratitude to those whom it consulted. A special word of thanks is due to Ms F. de Vlaming for her work in running the secretariat of the Development Cooperation Committee during this period, which was so important for the compilation of this report.

The AIV adopted this report on 27 October 1998.


I Introduction

This report is about humanitarian aid, i.e. aid which is provided in the event of a humani-tarian crisis resulting from a ‘complex political emergency’. Such situations are frequently associated with anarchy, ethnic cleansing, displacements and violence (including sexual violence) committed both by armed groups and by individuals. Media and public interest in this type of conflict and emergency has grown since the end of the Cold War. Under pressure from the media and the aid organisations, the moral imperative of providing aid has evolved into an increasingly powerful appeal to the international community to take humanitarian action.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the international response to violent crises and conflicts which have figured prominently in the news in recent years has tended to focus more and more on the distribution of humanitarian aid. There are those who claim that humanitarian aid has simply been used as a cover to conceal the inability of the international community to adopt a common position and to take joint action when complex emergencies occur. This inability or reluctance to take action at an international political level is a recurring factor in every situation in which humanitarian aid is provided. It is also a factor over which the Netherlands has very little control, and this necessarily limits the thrust of any suggestions made by the AIV in this report. For this reason, the AIV has decided to devote more space to those aspects over which the Netherlands does have some degree of control (and specifically, aspects relating to the implementation of humanitarian aid), and to policy in this field.

Expenditure on humanitarian aid has risen sharply in recent years. Since the early nineties over USD 30 billion has been spent on humanitarian aid around the world, main-ly by the OECD countries. Aid organisations have spent five times as much on humanitari-an aid in the past decade as they spent in the previous decade. The amount of humani-tarian aid as a percentage of all the bilateral aid supplied to DAC countries rose from 1.5% in 1991 to 7.5% in 19951. At the same time, international spending on official development aid in general terms declined in virtually all countries2 . It is worth mention-ing, however, that there has been a slight decrease in spending on humanitarian aid dur-ing the past two years3. The picture is the same in the Netherlands: an increasing pro-portion of the development cooperation budget is now spent on emergency aid, humanitarian aid and reconstruction aid.

Humanitarian aid has done a great deal to mitigate the effects of crises and emergen-cies. At the same time, it has also proved inadequate in certain instances, and has actu-ally had an adverse impact in others. As the official request for an advisory report points out4, aid organisations have been accused, for example in relation to the Great Lakes region in Africa, of unwittingly helping to prolong the conflict and contributing to the spread of violence in the region by supplying aid to refugees. As the adverse effects of the aid have made themselves felt, so a debate has arisen on the question of whether it is right to continue on the same course. It is against the background of this debate on the desirability and effectiveness of humanitarian aid that the government has requested the AIV to compile an advisory report on the ‘limits of humanitarian aid’. One of the questions raised by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence and the Minister for Development Cooperation in their letter (see Annexe I) is what sort of role the AIV feels that humanitarian aid should play in certain emergency situations caused by conflicts. This is complex material, the background to which is briefly dis-cussed in the government’s letter to the AIV. The wording of the letter itself suggests that the government has raised its expectations of what can be achieved by providing humani-tarian aid. The AIV, for its part, draws the conclusion that this springs from a tendency to continually widen the definition of humanitarian aid. This is hardly surprising, since the ultimate objective is to use the aid not simply to mitigate the impact of the conflict on the civilian population, but also to help prevent the occurrence of conflicts and resolve them when they do occur. At the same time, it has become more apparent than ever before that aid can affect the course of a conflict. This automatically means there is an increased risk of the aid having certain adverse effects. Mindful of this interaction, the AIV has decided that it would be expedient to redefine the scope of humanitarian aid. So as not to jeopardise the fundamental objective of humanitarian aid, i.e. relieving human distress, policy should be aimed at satisfying the basic needs of those who are affected. The AIV believes that aid which is supplied under the budget heading of ‘emergency aid’ should be restricted to a basic package of genuine acute emergency aid. An examination of the ministry’s current commitments shows that some 29 per cent of the budget is now spent on aid which could be defined as forming part of this basic aid package. The AIV feels it is important to distinguish between emergency aid that is supplied in a conflict situation and aid of a more structural nature, which is designed to promote an incipient process of reconstruction (sometimes referred to as ‘rehabilitation’). A clear line should also be drawn between providing aid on the one hand and engaging in political activities on the other. Emergency aid should not be mingled with preventive action or with activi-ties which are intended to bring about a solution to the conflict, because these are by definition more political by nature and hence more likely to be controversial. In choosing to emphasise this distinction, the AIV has decided to shine the spotlight in this report on aid which may be defined as humanitarian emergency aid. This means that, whilst the AIV acknowledges the tremendous importance and urgency of the issues of prevention and conflict resolution raised by the Ministers in their request to the AIV, these aspects will play only a minor role in this report.

The issue of defining the limits of humanitarian aid is both wide-ranging and complex. On the one hand, many armed conflicts, particularly in developing countries, stem from a cri-sis of economic and political development. An increasing number of conflicts also have an ethnic dimension, which is characterised by discriminatory practices targeted at cer-tain population groups, as well as a struggle for scarce local resources or land. At the same time, there are also large groups of people who live outside crisis areas and who still face a crisis, a ‘crisis of survival’. This means it is important to define the nature of humanitarian aid relative to other forms of aid.

Those who criticise the rise in spending on humanitarian aid (i.e. emergency aid and reconstruction aid) often assume that such spending is to the detriment of structural development cooperation. The implication here is that the latter form of spending should be given higher priority. The AIV does not believe that it is wise to think in terms of this type of dichotomy. In principle, humanitarian aid is intended to guarantee the short-term survival of its recipients, and is used in different circumstances than forms of aid which are designed to promote sustainable development. The key aim is to ensure that a situa-tion of conflict and violence is transformed into a situation in which the population can live in peace, even if this is peaceful poverty. Once this situation has been achieved, any other aid (assuming that the recipient country is a developing country) must satisfy the criteria for structural development cooperation and be funded from the appropriate bud-get. The AIV does not believe that there are any inconsistencies in this argument, but feels that changing circumstances call for a clear distinction between humanitarian aid in conflict situations on the one hand and structural development cooperation on the other. Against this background, the AIV is in favour of establishing a strict demarcation in the way in which these two forms of aid are distributed. Having said this, it remains essential that there are no inconsistencies between the various aid programmes at a political level. The present report starts by setting out (in Chapter II) the broad thrust of Dutch policy on humanitarian aid from1983 to the present day. Chapter III examines the factors which affect the opportunities for providing humanitarian aid, the gap between humanitarian aid and lasting solutions, and the problems experienced by international aid organisations in supplying humanitarian aid, and the resultant adverse effects which such aid may have.

The report continues in Chapter IV by setting out the AIV’s definition of humanitarian aid and describing its constituent parts, and the criteria on which any decision to provide humanitarian aid is based. Other subjects covered by Chapter IV include initiatives for improving the coordination of aid activities, and present and proposed future codes of conduct and minimum standards for humanitarian aid. Chapter V discusses the transition from emergency aid to reconstruction aid and development cooperation. The AIV argues in favour of making a strict distinction between the various forms of aid. Chapter VI looks at international efforts to achieve a greater degree of cohesion between political and humanitarian decision-making. Finally, the report’s conclusions and recommendations are set out in Chapter VII.

Obviously, in compiling this report, the AIV was aware of both the opportunities available to the Netherlands and the limitations within which it operates in the international arena, particularly as these impact on development cooperation. Whilst it is true that the Nether-lands can derive some authority from its position as one of the main donor countries, its influence is generally restricted to championing certain causes and supporting certain policies in the European Union and the United Nations, and specifically in the governing councils of a number of specialised UN agencies. The subject matter of this AIV report is also largely restricted to policy over which the Netherlands in principle has some control, such as the way in which it spends its own resources and the relationship with the pri-vate sector in the context of humanitarian aid and development cooperation.


II Dutch policy on humanitarian aid

II.1 The 1983 and 1993 memoranda and the policy review

On 5 August 1983, minister E.M. Schoo, who was then the Minister for Development Cooperation, presented a memorandum entitled ‘The Limits of Humanitarian Aid’ to the Lower House of the Dutch parliament. The policy principles set out in this document were aimed at preventing ‘undesirable side-effects when providing humanitarian aid to coun-tries with regimes of a questionable reputation, because of human rights violations and/or breaches of international law’. The prime objective of supplying aid was described as being to satisfy the basic needs of people in distress.

The policy was underpinned by the following basic principles:
 

  • aid should be targeted at clearly defined population groups which are in a state of distress;
  • aid should be provided directly, where possible in the form of goods which satisfy people’s basic needs;
  • the only activities for which funding is provided should be those which would be very unlikely to be performed without any outside help;
  • aid should be channelled as far as possible through non-governmental channels and international bodies;
  • it should be possible to monitor the way in which funds are spent, as well as the channels through which the aid is distributed.

    The memorandum makes it clear that, where there is a risk of aid leading to undesirable side-effects, these can be eliminated by providing the aid through multilateral rather than bilateral channels.

    The government concluded, in a memorandum published in 19935, that humanitarian aid had reached ‘the limits of its potential’. The need for humanitarian aid had become so great that the international aid system was no longer capable of satisfying it. The govern-ment expressed concern that further spending on humanitarian aid would place pressure on the amount of funds available for structural aid.

    The 1993 policy document examined the opportunities for strengthening and expanding the international humanitarian aid effort, in particular by improving the coordination of aid activities. The document underlined the importance of issuing guidelines for the way in which aid organisations should operate, and suggested that, if the responsibilities of humanitarian actors on the one hand and political and military actors on the other were more clearly defined, this could help to reduce the risk of the aid becoming politicised. The document also stressed the need for finding ways and means of improving the enforcement of international humanitarian law.

    The general intensification of policy as proposed in this policy document was intended to cover not only the provision of aid in emergencies and during the ‘frequently long process of recovery’, but also the prevention and alleviation of emergency situations by means of the provision of structural aid. The government suggested that there should be ’a certain degree of flexibility in the management of financial resources‘ when it came to emergency aid. In order to expand its own operational capacity, the government proposed improving coordination between the various government departments and aid organisations, training experts, stockpiling emergency supplies and designing a structured framework for the deployment of Dutch armed forces 6.

    II.2 The definition of humanitarian aid in the context of Dutch government policy

    The definition of humanitarian aid in the context of Dutch government policy has been broadened in recent years. Today, in 1998, the Dutch government takes the term ‘human-itarian aid’ to refer to activities aimed at:
     
  • direct aid in the wake of a sudden disaster;
  • long-term aid to refugees, displaced persons, people who are left behind in a crisis area and population groups in the country of first asylum who suffer the immediate effects of a huge influx of refugees and displaced persons;
  • assistance with the initial process of reconstruction;
  • repatriation programmes, including demobilisation and mine clearance;
  • ensuring that governments are better prepared for severe humanitarian emergencies

    (whether arising as a result of natural disasters or complex crises), realize the danger in time, are able to prevent them and can alleviate their effects 7.

    It is clear from the above list that more and more activities have been added to the defin-ition of the term ‘humanitarian aid’ since the 1983 memorandum was published.

    II.3 The development-for-peace policy

    Minister Pronk claimed in 1996 that ‘political mediation, military and security operations, emergency aid and development assistance are often fragmentary and ineffective because of a lack of proper coordination’ 8 . For this reason, the Minister proposed devel-oping a new form of development cooperation ‘which in war-torn societies or in failed states does not confine itself to short-term emergency aid measures, postponing rehabili-tation and development activities until after peace has been reached or after a new legiti-mate authority has been established’. In other words, development programmes should start whilst the conflict is still in progress so as to support the peace process, and notably local initiatives in the field of reintegration, free access to information and tradi-tional forms of conflict resolution.

    The desire to bridge the gap between emergency aid on the one hand and crisis manage-ment and prevention on the other and to formulate an integrated policy led, later on in 1996, to the creation of the Crisis Management and Humanitarian Aid Department in the context of the government’s foreign policy review9. The idea was to improve the degree of cohesion between emergency aid provided during a conflict situation and aid supplied dur-ing the transition to peace and stability. The Dutch policy on Afghanistan was the first to put this into practice. In 1997, the Minister for Development Cooperation presented what was termed a ‘development-for-peace strategy’ for Afghanistan. This was aimed not only at promoting economic growth and material prosperity, but also at bringing about social reconciliation10. This new policy included peace-building activities and committed the government to supporting an international strategy which was to be ‘the result of close coordination between political efforts, humanitarian aid and development work’11.

    The aim was to put an end to the ‘neither war nor peace’ situation by adopting an inte-grated strategy embracing political action, preventive diplomacy, emergency aid, recon-struction and structural development cooperation. Cooperation with local partners and the coordination of the activities performed by all the actors involved were also regarded as vital elements of the strategy. With a view to promoting the process of national recon-ciliation, support for local peace-building structures and organisations, and also for tradi-tional decision-making mechanisms, formed an integral part of the ‘development-for-peace strategy’. The Minister for Development Cooperation referred to the issue of the repatriation of refugees and the resulting need for reintegration and reconstruction at a time when the conflict may still be in full swing in other parts of the country. The new Dutch policy was consistent with recent developments in policy at the United Nations, and represented an abandonment of the long-held view that development aid can be effective only once a formal truce has been agreed. In principle, the new strategy assumed that aid would be provided for a period not exceeding two years. A review would then be conducted, using existing criteria, to decide whether the country in question was eligible for structural development aid12. Chapter V contains a critical examination of this new policy.


    III Curr ent problems

    The increase in the volume of humanitarian aid since the beginning of the 1990s has been accompanied by tremendous growth in its significance in both financial and socio-political terms. This has turned the spotlight on the issue of its effectiveness.

    To a great extent, the humanitarian aid provided in the 1990s may be described as both worthwhile and effective in the sense that it has relieved a tremendous immediate need. Whether international aid has been equally successful in the longer term, however, is another matter. After all, if the alleviation of distress is accompanied by long-lasting, dam-aging socio-economic side-effects (such as the severing of trade relations subsequent to the provision of food and supplies in Somalia13), the needless prolongation (or exacerba-tion) of conflicts and the preservation of the structures underlying such conflicts, humani-tarian aid would appear to function as no more than a useful but temporary stopgap14.

    One of the factors which has often stood in the way of effective international action on humanitarian crises is the sheer number of actors involved. Not only are there wide differ-ences in terms of institutional framework, structure, responsibilities and resources between the various governmental and non-governmental players, but there is also a cer-tain degree of overlap between them. At one level, there are differences in organisation and strategy between governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Howev-er, the NGO community is in itself a very broad church. Some organisations, for example, have more extensive mandates than others; some NGOs and IGOs (international govern-mental organisations) are geared towards certain sectors (such as health care or food), whilst others focus on specific target groups (such as children or refugees); and finally, some international organisations have an international status and are affiliated to a (political) UN agency (such as UNDP), whereas others either have looser ties (as is the case with UNICEF and the WFP) or are completely independent (e.g. the ICRC). There are also other difficulties which impact on the effectiveness of the aid provided. A number of these problems are discussed in the following sections.

    Growing lack of clarity on ‘humanitarian intervention’
    The emergencies which occurred in Liberia, northern Iraq, Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced the international community to undertake what were referred to as ‘humanitarian interventions’. This term is taken to mean the use or threat of the use of force by one or more states within the territor y of another state, the chief object being to prevent or put an end to serious violations of fun-damental human rights15. The operations which were mounted in these countries all had a broadly defined objective: their aim was not only to provide emergency aid to a popula-tion in distress, but also to put an end to violations of human rights. There was a world of difference between this type of operation and the interventions which took place during the Cold War, when individual countries (often neighbours of the country in question) would intervene, generally without any authorisation from the Security Council. This was because, during the Cold War, vir tually all proposals for UN-backed intervention were vetoed by one of the permanent members of the Council. Slowly but surely, the concept of humanitarian intervention was broadened so far that it was totally unclear what it cov-ered and what it did not16 . The 1990s have seen two new objectives added to the activi-ties embraced by humanitarian intervention, i.e. protecting humanitarian aid workers and facilitating and supporting humanitarian aid operations. In one or two instances, humani-tarian interventions have also had a third objective, which has been to enforce war crimes legislation by arresting suspected war criminals.

    Until 1992, there was very little in the way of coordination between the military and humanitarian components of international operations. NGOs and humanitarian UN agen-cies focused on alleviating the suffering of the local population, whereas the armed forces tried to create a safe environment by brokering deals with the warring factions and using a minimum of force. This situation changed during the course of the 1990s, how-ever. It became harder and harder to distinguish between the civilian population and the warring factions, the local people themselves came to be treated more and more as mili-tary targets, and the appearance of huge numbers of refugees and displaced persons produced a conflict between protection and humanitarian aid. Peacekeeping operations gradually became more multi-dimensional. Peacekeeping forces were deployed with vague mandates and were sometimes inadequately equipped for the job. They, too, extended their remit to include more civilian duties such as policing, repairing the infrastructure and protecting aid workers.

    Many humanitarian aid organisations have claimed that overemphasising the protective role of the military component has worked as a means of concealing the absence of a political and/or military objective. It is precisely this fact which, it is alleged, threatens the humanitarian mission of an intervention. As the organisation Médecins Sans Fron-tières has said: ‘The real danger for humanitarian workers lies in blurred political objec-tives, in operations without a real aim, in which protection of aid workers - who never asked for it - becomes a substitute for thinking clearly about what is to be achieved by armed intervention.’17

    The lack of clarity about the objectives of humanitarian interventions was further exacer-bated by the gradual change in the mandate under which peacekeeping forces operated. There was a shift away from operations mandated under Chapter VI of the UN Charter (pacific settlement of disputes) towards peacekeeping operations which were undertaken without the full consent of the parties involved. Such operations require more military resources, but these were frequently not provided.

    In his Supplement to an Agenda for Peace, former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali claims that it becomes more difficult to persuade the warring factions to give their approval to a peacekeeping operation, and there is more likelihood of the mandate being undermined, if peacekeeping operations turn into armed humanitarian interventions and soldiers behave in a way which could be regarded as being biased and/or use force for reasons other than self-defence. In practice, this is more or less inevitable if the opera-tion in question has not been mandated under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (i.e. enforc-ing peace).

    Extending the duties of those responsible for executing the humanitarian interventions, especially where these are members of the armed forces, has had a dramatic effect not only on the neutrality of aid operations, but also on confidence in the effectiveness of humanitarian intervention as such. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali took the view that the UN is well equipped to perform more conventional UN peacekeeping operations (i.e. maintaining peace), in which the vital elements are the consent of the parties, impartiali-ty and a minimum use of force (i.e. for self-defence only). He claimed that what has been learnt from Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, however, is that the UN is not capable of taking sole responsibility for protecting humanitarian aid in a war situation, protecting a population in designated ‘safe areas’ and forcing the warring factions to enter into a peace process. Moreover, the UN’s capability is further weakened if its member states are not willing to supply it with the resources needed for this purpose.

    At the same time, it is the Security Council rather than the Secretary-General which, in some cases in conjunction with the regional organisations, has been pivotal in recent years in determining the timing and manner of humanitarian interventions. Because of the way in which political decisions are taken at the UN, however, humanitarian opera-tions have been characterised not only by vague and ambiguously worded mandates, but also by the allocation of insufficient resources to do the job. There has also been confu-sion about the relationship between humanitarian interventions on the one hand and peacekeeping operations, such as those performed in Liberia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Rwanda on the other.

    The international decision-making process is often a slow affair, partly because the mem-bers of the Security Council are unable to reach agreement on the nature of the crisis in question and the type of action which needs to be taken. As a result, the Security Council’s decisions and resolutions have often been described as weak, inconsistent, ambiguous and poorly timed18.

    These developments have allowed the growth of humanitarian aid in the absence of politi-cal and/or military action by the international community. Where humanitarian aid has been distributed as a substitute for political or military action, the result has been the creation of a ‘policy vacuum’. It is this vacuum which explains why the demand for humanitarian aid has grown in the 1990s, while at the same time doubts have grown about its effectiveness19.

    Humanitarian aid as an alibi for political action and the politicisation of aid
    The hopes expressed in the early 1990s that the world community would now have the means - and the will - to guarantee peace and security have not been fulfilled. The sense of optimism that was articulated in the Agenda for Peace (1992) published by the former UN Secretary-General has now more or less evaporated in the wake of the devastating experiences with UN interventions in recent years. The events in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia have induced the international community to water down its earlier ambitions. This change of heart became very apparent in the attitude that was taken to the crisis affecting the Great Lakes region in Africa. Even whilst a genocide was in progress, the international community remained unwilling to station a multinational force in the region. The current UN Secretary-General has drawn attention to this problem in his latest report on the background to and potential solutions for conflicts in Africa: ‘the failure of the major actors to maintain a common political approach to an erupting or ongoing crisis is one of the principal impediments to progress towards a solution’20.

    In certain instances, the international community’s inability and/or reluctance to take political action to deal with complex emergencies has prompted humanitarian aid organi-sations to overstep their strictly humanitarian mandates. Serious violations of human rights (such as cases of ‘ethnic cleansing’) or breaches of humanitarian law have placed the organisations in question in both moral and operational dilemmas. These could result in the humanitarian aid provided by both NGOs and UN agencies losing its neutrality and becoming politicised. At the same time, however, aid operations can help to depoliticise a conflict in that ‘outsiders’ are seen to be taking care of civilians (see below under ‘Disintegration of local structures’). In some cases, the mere fact that international aid workers do not know enough about local political relations may worsen the situation.

    The limits of neutrality
    The conditions in which humanitarian aid has been provided in the past decade have been characterised by an increase in the number of domestic conflicts, many of which have been accompanied by the collapse of central government. In this context, it is gener-ally the parties to the conflict, and no longer just the central authorities, who decide whether aid can be provided. For example, one of the warring factions might deny the population access to food and other basic necessities simply because they are under the control of its enemies. Despite the fact that this is contrary to humanitarian law, as embodied by the Geneva Conventions, this tactic has been used as a weapon in con-flicts, with the aim of either substantially weakening or completely eliminating the opposi-tion. If aid is supplied to the victims of such tactics, it makes it more difficult for the other faction to achieve its aims, and hence leads to the perception that the aid effort is not neutral.

    Misuse of aid
    There is a heightened risk that aid organisations working in the context of an internal con-flict will be manipulated by the parties and that the aid will be misused. One of the par-ties may confiscate consignments of aid, for example. Levying ‘tax’ on aid that has been imported or is in transit, and selling free consignments of aid have also become common occurrences. The misuse and theft of aid may worsen and/or prolong conflicts. Finally, the presence of aid goods may also lead to corruption and may constitute such a power-ful market factor as to seriously distort competition on the local market.

    Exposure of victims and aid workers to danger
    The changing nature of violent conflicts, the growth in corruption, the disintegration of effective instruments of state control and the limited influence of local leaders are all fac-tors which have placed severe pressure on both the accessibility and the safety of the recipients of aid. Aid organisations are also becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of their own aid workers, who are tending more and more to be identified with political and military elements in the UN system. This has not only undermined their neu-trality, but has also (in certain cases) made them an easy target for the warring factions.

    Disintegration of local structures
    An undesirable effect of the distribution of international humanitarian aid in complex emergencies may be that the involvement of international organisations prevents local political structures from exercising their potential role as troubleshooters.21 In practice, the presence of humanitarian organisations often relieves local authorities and/or warring factions of the political responsibility for looking after their own people. Although this applies particularly to aid operations, the same thing often happens when peace talks are initiated. It should be borne in mind, however, that many complex emergencies are associated with a complete breakdown of local government, when rival warlords have put an end to local and traditional power structures.

    Lack of accountability
    Many humanitarian organisations are not subject to monitoring procedures, are not required to conduct impact assessments and evaluations, and are not accountable for their actions in either financial or other terms, whether to donors or to the recipients of aid. Because of the complexity of aid operations and the fact that no two operations are alike, both donors and aid organisations tend to be reluctant to institute proper monitor-ing procedures. There is also a lack of public or political accountability, particularly within the UN system. The way in which decisions are taken at the UN, where humanitarian aid is often used instead of political or military action, is not subject to any political or other form of accountability. Some critics have claimed that accountability has been reduced to ’a set of technical issues, notably financial probity’.22 These factors make it difficult to find out exactly how effective aid operations are and whether they have any adverse effects. Even when the implementation and impact of an aid operation have been subject-ed to close scrutiny (as was the case following the crisis in Rwanda23), there are still those who allege that insufficient heed is paid to the conclusions drawn and recommen-dations made. Indeed, the recommendations on policy coordination by the Security Coun-cil, the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretariat figure particularly prominently on researchers‘ lists of issues that have been ignored24.

    Limited set of international instruments
    The principle of state sovereignty implies that the distribution of humanitarian aid by out-side organisations (such as international organisations, NGOs and governments) is sub-ject to certain restrictions. At the same time, the duty that exists under international law to respect the sovereignty and political independence of every state is limited by other international rules which have been laid down in international humanitarian law. In a grow-ing number of cases, systematic and flagrant breaches of human rights and the existence of acute humanitarian emergencies are cited as grounds on which other states are justi-fied in providing aid unsolicited and on their own initiative, provided that such aid is intended solely to help alleviate humanitarian distress. The ‘humanitarian intervention’ which took place in northern Iraq in 1991 is a case in point. Generally speaking, however, humanitarian operations are governed by the ‘Guiding Principles’ on humanitarian aid, which the UN General Assembly adopted in 199125 and which stipulate that the country concerned should give its consent to the operation. In other words, the guiding principles reflect the primacy of the principle of non-intervention and respect for a state’s domestic jurisdiction, as recorded in Article 2.7 of the UN Charter.

    The scope for providing humanitarian aid depends inter alia on the rights and obligations laid down in international humanitarian law and embodied in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the 1977 Protocols, and also in international human rights agreements. The Geneva Conventions form the hub of international humanitarian law. Article 3, which is the same in all four conventions, states that all persons who are not involved in the conflict, including combatants who have laid down their arms or who have been put out of action as a result of illness, injury, imprisonment or any other cause, should be treated humanely in all circumstances, without discrimination on the basis of their race, colour, religion or creed, sex, birth, origin, financial capacity or any other similar criterion.

    The second protocol, which was agreed in 1977, represents an attempt to apply the basic rules on the conduct of war to domestic armed conflicts. Not all states have signed or ratified this protocol, however26. Moreover, the rules represent only a fraction of the body of international humanitarian law and apply only to conflicts involving a country’s regular armed forces and more or less organised rebel movements. In other words, they do not apply to irregular outbursts of violence within a country or to the treatment of peo-ple who have been displaced from their homes. Finally, there is also a problem in that, formally speaking, of the parties to a civil war only states, and hence only the competent authorities in a state, can be party to treaties on humanitarian law. This does not mean, of course, that non-state actors cannot be called to account for breaches of humanitarian law, as is clear from the findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (including in the Tadic case).

    In general terms, however, the international community has only limited resources at its disposal for enforcing humanitarian law. The establishment of an International Criminal Court could represent a step forward in this respect. It should be borne in mind, though, that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia enjoys greater powers (for example, on the apprehension of suspects) than those granted to the International Criminal Court. On the other hand, the latter has not been set up on an ad-hoc basis, and has a much wider geographic scope. The AIV would like at this point to express its appreciation for the efforts of the Dutch government, as a result of which the prosecuting authorities of the future international court will enjoy a certain degree of independence. At the same time, however, we must emphasise that nation states will continue to bear an important responsibility for the preservation of the rule of international law.


    IV The AIV’s definition of humanitarian aid

    The demand for humanitarian aid is just one aspect of a bigger and wider problem, i.e. the vulnerability of poor population groups faced with imminent violence. The need for aid emanates from the acuteness of the situation, which temporarily prevents a more struc-tural form of development.

    The AIV takes the term ‘humanitarian aid’ to mean the provision of a basic package of aid aimed at providing people with the bare necessities of life. Whilst activities in the field of prevention or reconstruction (such as education) are undoubtedly relevant, they do not form part of this basic provision. It is vital that a clear distinction be made between the various forms of aid provided by a wide range of different organisations. In the AIV’s opinion, humanitarian aid should be neutral, impartial and independent, and should be designed to alleviate human suffering. This definition of humanitarian aid is closer to that given in the government’s 1983 policy document than to the definition for-mulated in 1998. The earlier definition also assumes that the bulk of the humanitarian aid is provided through multilateral channels and NGOs. Reconstruction aid and other structural forms of aid are based on other, more political, principles and should therefore be assessed on the basis of other criteria. A clear distinction helps to prevent boundaries from becoming blurred and confusion arising about the purpose of the aid. In drawing this clear line, the AIV wishes to restrict the purpose of humanitarian aid to the alleviation of human suffering. There is no point in hoping that the provision of humanitarian aid will constitute an adequate response to a conflict. The AIV believes that, if the concept of humanitarian aid is interpreted more narrowly and its practical application is subject to stricter limits, there will be less likelihood of the aid becoming politicised and being mis-used. Moreover, a stricter interpretation of humanitarian aid will make it more difficult for it to be used as an alibi for political action. A more limited form of humanitarian aid will not conceal the underlying causes of the conflict or crisis, and will not hide the need for a lasting solution. Obviously, this does not mean that we should now refrain from helping to rebuild countries in crisis. The AIV takes the view that reconstruction aid should be geared specifically at normalising social relations, defusing crises and preventing them from flaring up again. Any shift away from the provision of emergency aid towards recon-struction aid and other forms of structural aid (see Chapter V on the criteria for recon-struction) should always be the result of a conscious decision. It may, however, be neces-sary to continue providing humanitarian aid for some time afterwards, in parallel with the reconstruction effort.

    The minimum provision
    Given that we wish to distinguish between humanitarian aid and other forms of aid or intervention in the field of prevention and reconstruction, we need to have a clear idea of the precise contents of the ‘basic package’ of humanitarian aid. The broader interpreta-tion given to humanitarian aid today springs not only from the lack of political will dis-played by the international community (and its reluctance to deploy sufficient resources), but also from the wider remit which humanitarian organisations have claimed for them-selves, partly to fill the gap. The basic package must consist of aid which can be provid-ed at short notice, because it is intended to be in response to an acute crisis and should satisfy basic needs. In other words, the basic package of humanitarian aid should be made up of food, water and sanitary facilities, shelter, medical care and fuel. As more than three quarters of all refugees are women and children, the medical care provided should include facilities for reproductive healthcare.

    The AIV believes that humanitarian aid provided in emergency situations should consist of a basic package of provisions, and urges the Dutch government to use this as a guiding principle when funding aid organisations. The composition of the basic package should be based on local needs, customs and facilities (markets).

    The following chart shows how the funds which were budgeted for emergency aid in 1997 were used. The figures show that 29 per cent of the aggregate 1997 budget was used for the basic package of provisions. The figures relate only to emergency situations which were described as being politically complex and which involved acts of violence.

    Total emergency aid in millions of guilders (1997 figures)

    These figures are from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relate to commitments under budget category VIIa (emergency aid). The chart is the result of an attempt to break this item down into a number of different activities. Commitments relating explicitly to natural disasters or epidemics have been discounted. To a certain extent, however, the classifi-cation we have made is somewhat arbitrary. Some commitments related to a number of different activities (such as food and education), in which case we classified the commit-ment under the activity which accounted for most of the expenditure. This does mean, however, that in practice the dividing line is not as clear as the diagram purports it to be, with 29% spent on the basic package of emergency aid, 8% on other emergency aid, 41.9% on reconstruction 27 , 0.4% on democratisation processes, 17.4% on institutional funding and 3.3% on prevention.

    Definitions of the terms used by the AIV

    Basic package of emergency aid (as proposed by the AIV in this report):
    food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical care and fuel (i.e. not education)
     

    Other emergency aid measures:
    Education in the crisis area, transport and the coordination of emergency aid
     

    Reconstruction:
    Repatriation projects, mine clearance and infrastructural projects
     

    Democratisation processes:
    In particular, support for elections in Liberia
     

    Prevention:
    Peace-building, information projects and emergency preparedness
     

    Institutional funding:
    Mainly debt forgiveness, research and evaluation, and international organisations’ overheads

    Chronic need in conflict situations
    The basic package of provisions could be extended if an emergency lasts longer than expected 28 . Support could be given to initiatives taken by the victims themselves to ward off lethargy and take charge of their own destinies again. The AIV suggests that this could include activities relating to primary education and forms of self-help which would alleviate the situation. If the circumstances are right, aid could also be provided to enable people (both refugees and the local population) to regain their self-sufficiency. However, proper account should be taken of long-term factors, such as the need to pre-serve the natural environment (i.e. the ecological carr ying capacity). It is worth remem-bering, though, that situations of chronic need are not restricted to the countryside, but also occur in towns and cities. The overriding consideration at all times should be that the provision of aid should not serve to prolong the status quo or prevent the resolution of the conflict. Provided there are opportunities for launching a reconstruction process in a certain area, and the conditions are right for such a process to succeed, organisations other than those responsible for providing emergency aid should be asked to contribute. Criteria and minimum requirements
    Amid a growing awareness of the potentially adverse impact of humanitarian aid on the development of conflicts and on the situation of victims, bodies such as the United Nations and international NGOs have attempted to formulate a set of rules to boost the effectiveness of the humanitarian aid effort. This has led inter alia to the adoption of the eight ‘Providence Principles’29 and the ten basic principles of the international ‘NGO Code of Conduct (1994)’30. The AIV welcomes the support which the Dutch government has given to standard-setting projects31.

    The Providence Principles and the NGO Code of Conduct have a great deal in common with each other. Both recommend that the provision of aid should meet the following basic requirements:
     

  • the aid should be adapted to and targeted at the local situation;
  • local customs should be respected;
  • local organisations should be involved;
  • the recipients should play a role in planning and implementing the aid effort;
  • the aid should be impartial and independent;
  • the principle of proportionality should be applied;
  • those providing the aid should be accountable to the donors and the recipients.

    Recent initiatives have been aimed at formulating a ‘code of best practice’ which would also include aspects such as training and the safety of aid workers32. The chief objective of supplying emergency humanitarian aid is to ensure the short-term survival of the victims of a violent conflict. It is also accepted that this should not be at the expense of their human dignity. Humanitarian organisations have, however, some-times been accused of having a ‘delivery mentality’ and showing a lack of respect or understanding for the recipients of the aid. It is claimed that they have a tendency to regard emergency situations simply as technical problems. This problem has not been helped by the arrival of new aid organisations, many of which lack experience and target their aid at specially selected target groups. Indeed, in some cases, they have only helped to exacerbate the problems.

    The AIV recommends applying the following criteria when selecting NGOs to distribute humanitarian aid. The organisation should:

    - conduct regular and adequate needs assessment studies among men, women and children in and around the crisis region;
    - systematically monitor aid activities and evaluate and assess their impact at regular intervals;
    - endorse and observe the NGO Code of Conduct for humanitarian organisations.

    The AIV advises the Dutch government to enter into discussions with other governments with a view to establishing an international incident centre to which complaints about fail-ures to observe the Code of Conduct can be reported. Aid recipients, i.e. victims, their relatives, NGOs, governments and other parties should be able to submit any complaints about problems or serious breaches of the Code of Conduct on humanitarian aid to the centre, which would collect information and report on any shortcomings and cases of abuse. This centre could be set up as part of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recently established by the UN, as the OCHA performs a coordinating role and is in close contact with the organisations involved.

    Involvement of local actors
    The establishment of local aid structures hinges on the involvement of local organisa-tions in aid operations. It is impossible to properly satisfy the need for aid in a crisis situ-ation without having access to the expertise of local actors. Prendergast has described this criterion in the following terms: ‘a new paradigm for emergencies must give priority to pressuring authorities to assume their public welfare responsibilities, and empowering communities to take care of their own needs and manage the response to their own emergencies’33. This is the only way of reducing the dominance of the role played by international aid organisations, whose work often deprives local authorities and organisa-tions of their own responsibilities.

    The AIV recommends that, when the Dutch government decides whether or not to support aid operations performed by a humanitarian organisation, one of the points it should con-sistently take into consideration is the degree of involvement of local organisations in the aid effort. The criterion applied in this respect should be whether the organisation in question promotes self-sufficiency by strengthening local capacity and, where possible, involving the recipients in the aid effort.

    Neutrality and impartiality The decline in the effectiveness of aid, coupled with the undesirable effects which have become more and more apparent, has sparked off a debate on impartiality and neutrality in recent years. A number of questions have been raised: Does the principle of neutrality mean that aid organisations should not speak out in public about violations of human rights and humanitarian law? Does the principle of neutrality really help in the realisation of the objectives which the aid effort is intended to achieve - gaining access to the vic-tims and supplying them with effective aid? Are there situations in which humanitarian aid workers should be given military protection, precisely in order to enable them to gain access to the victims, even if such protection seems to be at the expense of the opera-tion’s neutrality?

    Opinions tend to differ (although these differences are often exaggerated in the public debate on the issue). The International Committee of the Red Cross is strict in its obser-vance of the principle of neutrality, whereas other organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, claim that the principle has lost its relevance in the light of the type of emer-gency situations which occur these days and the conditions in which aid workers are called upon to operate. Generally speaking, however, aid organisations do not interpret the principle so strictly that it prevents them from criticising parties for violating human rights or humanitarian law. There are various ways of doing this, including low-key diplo-macy alongside and in contrast to more public criticism. Operational neutrality, the object of which is to secure access to the victims, should not stand in the way of the application of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘neutrality of principle’34, which means that all parties can be called upon to observe internationally accepted rights and standards.

    Some organisations have taken the argument one step further by insisting that aid organ-isations should act as ‘advocates’. As the former Director of MSF Holland, Jacques de Milliano, said, ‘humanitarian aid should be embedded in a wider political commitment’35. The idea behind this is that aid is always and inevitably provided in a political context, and hence always and inevitably affects the course of the conflict in question. Strict of observance of the principle of neutrality would, they claim, lead in practice to aid organi-sations being accessories to serious violations of human rights.

    The Dutch government has decided to leave it up to the aid organisations themselves to form their own judgements on this issue. The government has pointed out, however, that ‘humanitarian aid workers are not expected to adopt a high profile in addressing the causes underlying the conflict’ and has therefore argued in favour of ‘retaining the princi-ple of neutrality in relation to the provision of humanitarian aid’36. The AIV wishes to stress the latter point in particular. Emergency aid is not always compatible with public advocacy. The mere fact of drawing attention to human rights violations committed by one of the parties may be enough to create an impression of bias. The aid organisation may subsequently find itself on the receiving end of punitive action by the alleged offenders, and this may jeopardise the effectiveness of the aid operation.

    The AIV shares the view taken by the Dutch government that it is important to uphold the principle of the neutrality of humanitarian aid. The AIV therefore urges the government to exercise caution in funding humanitarian organisations which explicitly couple the provi-sion of humanitarian aid with public advocacy. The AIV wishes to make clear, however, that it does not consider the reporting of breaches of humanitarian law or human rights to the appropriate bodies (such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) as being a form of public advocacy, and that it hence regards this as compatible with the provision of humanitarian aid.

    The AIV is of course aware that it is often the absence of international political action which forces humanitarian aid organisations into this role. For this reason, the AIV believes that the most of the problems surrounding the neutrality of humanitarian aid can be solved if action is taken at an international level not only to commit humanitarian resources, but also to provide a political (and, if necessary, a military) solution to the conflict (see Chapter VI). Organisations which are not directly involved in the provision of humanitarian aid are better suited to the role of advocates.

    There has been an increase in recent years in the number of privately funded humanitari-an NGOs, many of them relatively small, which espouse certain political or religious prin-ciples. The AIV believes that the neutrality of the humanitarian aid organisations has been jeopardised in part by the growth of and the role played by new aid organisations which, because of their lack of experience and expertise, have failed to observe the guid-ing principles of humanitarian aid and hence either have formed easy targets for manipu-lation by the parties to the conflict or have undermined the neutrality of other actors. During the aid effort in Cambodia, for example, many smaller NGOs were found to have associated themselves with one or other of the rival factions, without wishing to take any account of the interests of other parties37. Similarly, the evaluation report on the human-itarian aid campaign in Rwanda in 1994 concluded that ‘the performance of NGOs in providing humanitarian assistance was mixed. A number behaved professionally and com-passionately delivered high-quality care and services. But ... other NGOs performed in an unprofessional and irresponsible manner that resulted not only in duplication and wasted resources, but, in a few egregious cases, in unnecessary loss of life’38.

    The Netherlands and other donors will need to continue supporting those aid organisa-tions which have demonstrated their ability to provide aid both effectively and in accor-dance with the principles laid down in the Geneva Conventions and the NGO Code of Conduct. New organisations will need to prove that they have sufficient capacity and will also need to endorse the Code in order to qualify for support.

    Accountability
    The foundations for an effective and regular reporting procedure are laid with the endorsement of a code of conduct and the performance of a needs assessment prior to the aid operation itself. After the operation, full financial accounts and an impact assess-ment should be provided as part of the normal reporting procedure39.

    The Netherlands can provide the necessary stimulus by funding needs assessment stud-ies prior to aid operations, as well as evaluations and impact assessments following operations. Donors can also improve the efficiency of the process by requiring aid organi-sations to use a common model as the basis for their financial reports40. The AIV urges the Dutch government to undertake initiatives to this effect.

    Security Increasing concern is being expressed about the safety of aid workers41. At the UN, official responsibility for the security of personnel lies with UNSECOORD, which is answer-able to the Secretary-General. However, this department operates at a tremendous dis-tance from the scene of the actual problems. In situations where peacekeeping forces have been deployed, they often protect aid workers. The UN Resident Representative plays a key role in coordinating security on the spot.

    A number of organisations have drawn up internal guidelines for improving the safety of their staff. One of the findings of a study conducted by the UNHCR in 1997 into the secu-rity of personnel was that ‘strengthened management and leadership in the field and at Headquarters’42 was likely to prove one of the best means of solving the problem. The researchers concluded that security had not yet been properly integrated into operational policies and staff and financial policies. Interestingly, the security of aid workers is fre-quently discussed at international level, whereas the spotlight is rarely turned on the security of the victims themselves43.

    There have been calls from various quarters for donors to take more interest in the fund-ing of security measures, as this would help to improve planning, training and policy preparation on the part of the aid organisations themselves. The AIV urges the Dutch government to support the plans made by aid organisations for developing and planning a wide range of incremental security measures which would allow them to respond effec-tively to threats to the safety of aid workers and the security of aid shipments. The range of non-military measures would include providing better communication tools, better facili-ties for storing aid shipments under lock and key, better training and the use of local security guards. Donors should look more closely at these and other non-military security measures44.

    The most drastic form of action which can be taken to protect humanitarian aid during a crisis is the dispatch of military forces. UN forces have played a variety of roles in humanitarian operations since the end of the Cold War. Firstly, soldiers have been deployed to protect aid workers. Secondly, soldiers have themselves provided humanitari-an aid and helped to repair equipment and rebuild buildings. Thirdly, soldiers have been involved in negotiations on matters such as the resettlement of displaced persons, the repatriation of refugees and enabling people to visit graves. Finally, soldiers have protect-ed civilians in areas designated as ‘security zones’45.

    Humanitarian organisations have claimed that the presence of the military in humanitari-an operations poses a serious threat to the neutrality (and hence the effectiveness) of the humanitarian aid. In a number of instances, aid organisations have withdrawn for this very reason. Clear arrangements need to be made about the conditions and mandate under which the military component of a peacekeeping force becomes involved in aid operations. Only in exceptional situations should soldiers play a direct role in the distribu-tion of humanitarian aid, for example if the aid organisations have been obliged to pull out. The guidelines for the deployment of armed forces in humanitarian operations, issued in 1994 by the then United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, rightly cite the following conditions: aid organisations should themselves decide when it is appropriate to deploy military force; military assistance should be provided only if no civil-ian option is available; the humanitarian operation should retain its non-military charac-ter; soldiers should respect humanitarian principles and the code of conduct; large-scale military interventions should be avoided; and the humanitarian operation should retain an international character46.

    The AIV endorses these guidelines and believes that military forces should only play a supporting role in humanitarian operations. The AIV regards situations such as that which occurred in Somalia in 1993, when for every dollar that was spent on humanitarian aid, ten dollars were spent on military protection, as undesirable47.

    A UN police force
    The Security Council recently requested the UN member states, as part of the debate on the safety of aid workers, to suggest ways and means of dealing with the current problems48. One suggestion was to form a UN police force, which could protect humanitarian aid operations without there actually being any need for an international military pres-ence. The idea of placing a humanitarian aid operation under the protection of an international police force has already been tried out in practice, for example in the case of the UN Guards, a 500-strong police contingent which has been given the task of protecting the humanitarian operation in northern Iraq. The Civilian Security Liaison Group, which operat-ed under the auspices of UNHCR in 1995, in supervising the activities of the Zaïrean army in the Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaïre, also had a sort of UN police compo-nent. There have also been other examples of police units which have played a role in supporting humanitarian aid within the context of military peacekeeping operations. This was the case, for example, with UNIFIL (in Lebanon), UNTAC (in Cambodia), UNOSOM (in Somalia) and UNAMIR (in Rwanda)49. Policing by the UN, as in northern Iraq or eastern Zaïre, is restricted mainly to post-conflict situations with a relatively low level of risk. Where the situation is regarded as posing a higher level of risk, any police component is inevitably embedded in a military organisation. This sort of set-up has indeed now become more customary, given the increasing multi-functionality of UN peacekeeping operations. Where a peacekeeping operation comprises a police component, it usually includes monitoring and training local police forces, collecting weapons, helping election observers and facilitating the judicial process. With one or two exceptions, military units have traditionally taken responsibility for protecting humanitarian aid efforts.

    The formation of a UN police force could represent a valuable addition to the range of measures available for combating humanitarian crises. Such a force would not be as threatening to local leaders as a fully equipped military peacekeeping force, and could be deployed more rapidly in emergencies. Provided it was adequately equipped, it could pro-vide a certain degree of protection in situations where the humanitarian aid effort is frus-trated at local level by bandits and theft. However, a police force is by definition unsuit-able as a means of enforcing the peace. Whilst a police force could, depending on the circumstances, carr y out certain duties in the field of prevention and mediation, it is not equipped for dealing with high-risk situations in which there is a need for action to enforce the peace.

    A UN police force would need to be deployable at short notice and would have to be deployed for a short period only, until either the situation would appear to have stabilised or a further escalation of violence necessitated the use of more force. Once it becomes clear that either individual warlords or whole sections of the population (e.g. certain eth-nic groups) are opposed to UN intervention, there is nothing much the presence of a lightly armed police force can do. Indeed, its presence could even be counterproductive if the parties regarded it as a compromise that was the result of international reluctance to take tough action. This means that, as soon as the decision were taken to deploy a UN police force, the Security Council would have to make preparations for the deployment of a regular UN peacekeeping force to take over from the police force if the situation got out of hand. The AIV therefore believes that a UN police force should on no account be used as the sole means of protecting a humanitarian aid effort in a situation in which there has been only a limited escalation of violence. The UN should always assume there is a possibility of violence escalating to such an extent that it can no longer be controlled by a police force. In other words, the Security Council must be responsible for deciding whether or not to deploy a UN police force. The Security Council should also ascertain whether the aid workers really need assistance and should, if required, be ready to pro-vide information about its plan for the deployment of such a force.

    A UN police force can often play a successful role in a post-conflict situation, as in north-ern Iraq (albeit as part of a wider strategy).

    Any UN police force would need to be both broadly based and flexible in order to be able to discharge the wide range of duties with which it could potentially be entrusted. Its members would have to be capable of using relatively robust weapons in order to counter any attempt to intimidate them. At the same time, there might also be a need for very lightly armed (or perhaps even unarmed) police officers to perform a more civilian role (such as monitoring, training or dealing with certain human rights issues). The AIV believes that the Security Council would most probably reject any proposal to set up such a broadly based and flexible force on a permanent basis. Even without considering the cost aspect, the AIV feels it is unlikely that a majority of the UN member states would agree to the formation of such a police force.

    The AIV would therefore recommend making a UN police force part of the United Nations Standby Arrangements System. A number of UN member states have already proposed extending this system (currently no more than a database for the deployment of rapid-response army units on peacekeeping missions) by adding a police force to it. A multina-tional standby UN police force could therefore be formed along the lines of the Danish proposal for a multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (Shirbrig) with a per-manent HQ and rapid-response troops.

    Exit humanitarian aid
    The humanitarian aid effort should be adjusted or stopped once the humanitarian emer-gency begins to lose some of its urgency. In any event, the aid should not be unnecessar-ily continued. As we have already explained, humanitarian organisations should really leave the work of reconstruction in a post-conflict situation to organisations which are equipped for this purpose and which do not need to remain neutral at all costs. There may also be circumstances, however, in which a decision has to be taken to discontinue the distribution of humanitarian aid even though the humanitarian distress remains highly acute. The issue of whether aid organisations should withdraw in certain circumstances, i.e. if they are prevented from doing their job or if they can only do their job in conditions which are unacceptable to them, has become increasingly pressing. A decision to with-draw may have to be taken if there is no other way in which to prevent humanitarian aid from having certain undesirable effects, as described in Chapter II. This may follow, for example, if the aid can no longer reach the victims or if the aid workers are exposed to an unacceptable level of risk. The question of whether there is any point in continuing to provide humanitarian aid may also arise if emergency aid has become a substitute for other forms of intervention.

    The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has decided to formulate a policy on this issue in the near future, and also to draw up rules of engagement which could act as a guideline for any humanitarian organisation that find itself in an untenable position. Such guidelines would enable the various organisations to coordinate their policies. Nevertheless, the adoption of a common structure could imply that, depending on the nature of their mandates, different organisations could decide to withdraw in different cir-cumstances. This is because some organisations, on account of the nature of their work, are more prone to attract aggression than others (particularly if they have access to scarce commodities like food).

    The AIV proposes that clear criteria be drawn up on the basis of which aid organisations can decide whether or not to withdraw from a particular crisis situation. These criteria must be adopted before the humanitarian operation in question is launched. Moreover, they can also be applied in order to determine whether there is any point in continuing to provide aid. The AIV suggests the decision to abandon aid efforts could be taken:

    1 if the aid is not reaching the target group;
    2 if aid workers are regarded as targets by the warring factions.

    The AIV suggests that aid organisations be asked in such situations to weigh the benefits of providing aid against the costs of an unnecessary extension of the conflict caused by misuse of the aid. Aid organisations themselves, and not governments, should be responsible for taking the final decision as to whether to continue the aid programme.


    V From humanitarian aid to reconstruction aid and development cooperation

    The conclusion of a formal peace treaty could signal the start of a post-conflict period, especially if the treaty is widely supported by all the parties involved in the conflict. In other cases, it is difficult to say exactly when the post-conflict stage begins: it is general-ly characterised by a fragile peace which can be disturbed at any time by fresh outbreaks of violence. This means that activities aimed at preventing renewed violence are essen-tial. The conditions within the country may also vary from one region to another: there may be peace in certain parts of the country, whilst war is still raging in others. What can aid organisations and donors do in this type of situation? In regions where there is a genuine prospect of stability and where the local authorities and other parties have openly stated their serious intention of working towards lasting peace, a start could be made with the provision of reconstruction aid, provided that certain conditions have been met (see the criteria below). If, however, the situation is one of chronic crisis marked by very frequent outbursts of violence, the effort could be limited to emergency aid. As we pro-posed in Chapter IV, the basic package of aid could be extended in such situations once a needs assessment has been performed, preferably in consultation with the local population.

    Whatever the situation, however, a decision will always need to be taken at some point as to whether the conflict can be regarded as over, so that the provision of emergency aid can be replaced by other forms of aid which are more in the nature of development cooperation, i.e. reconstruction aid or more long-term structural aid.

    The AIV takes the view that this transition should be observed clearly and consciously, given that aid to support the process of reconstruction can be effective only in certain circumstances. Whilst there may still be good reasons for continuing to provide some humanitarian aid in this post-conflict stage (i.e. to ensure the survival of the population in the short term), organisations must be aware of the need to make sure that such aid is not provided for too long a period, as it can, for example, prevent markets and production from recovering and functioning properly. If reconstruction aid is offered at the same time as humanitarian aid, a clear distinction should be made between the two.

    Unlike humanitarian aid in the strict sense of the word, which (as we have already explained) is aimed largely at guaranteeing the survival of the local population in the short term and at alleviating acute suffering, reconstruction aid is directed at achieving a longer-term goal, i.e. helping the population to regain their self-sufficiency, restoring nor-mal social relations and preventing any fresh outbreaks of violence. It goes without say-ing that such assistance can only be provided if both stability and security in the region are guaranteed.

    The AIV recommends that reconstruction aid should be provided only if the following con-ditions are met:

    1 the situation should be relatively stable, and a sufficient level of security should be guaranteed;
    2 all parties involved should be willing to work towards peace and reconstruction; 3 local leaders should display a certain level of respect for the law and should also show respect for human rights;
    4 if there is no effective national power structure, aid activities should be planned and implemented as far as possible in the context of local structures;
    5 alongside local authorities, civil society organisations and local groups should be involved as closely as possible in reconstruction aid; there are good opportunities here for ensuring that women play a prominent role;
    6 reconstruction aid should help to strengthen local institutions which are essential to the rule of law (i.e. the judiciary, an independent public prosecution service and the police);
    7 decisions to provide aid should be taken on the same basis as decisions to initiate structural development ties.

    In connection with this last point, the AIV recommends that decisions on reconstruction aid should not be taken by the department responsible for allocating emergency aid, though simplified procedures should be drawn up to guarantee a swift response.

    Most donor countries distinguish between humanitarian aid and structural development cooperation. This does have the drawback, however, of leading to the formation of sepa-rate circuits for funding emergency aid and development aid, and hence of making it easy for a gap to emerge between the two. Humanitarian organisations have sought to close this gap in recent years by undertaking all sorts of activities in the field of reconstruction. The UNHCR, for example, has stepped up its work in this field during the past few years, inter alia as a result of the absence of an active UN partner, but also because of the tremendous growth in the volume of repatriations 50 . According to the UNHCR, the need to repatriate large numbers of refugees has forced the organisation to play an active role in rebuilding their country of origin. Moreover, it is important that the rebuilding work should be targeted not only at the returnees, but also at those who remained behind dur-ing the war, so as to be able to monitor the returnees and prevent new conflicts from breaking out (and a new exodus of refugees from starting). However, such activities are not consistent with the nature of the organisation and may prevent it from carr ying out its original mandate, i.e. protecting refugees. The AIV therefore supports the position adopt-ed by the Dutch government, as articulated during the October 1997 meeting of UNHCR’s Executive Committee, which spoke out against the expansion of UNHCR’s activities to include reconstruction work.

    The AIV believes that the Dutch government should continue to insist in international fora that a distinction be made between international organisations which are responsible for providing humanitarian aid, and those whose duties lie in the field of reconstruction and development cooperation. Accordingly, the Dutch government should not support humani-tarian organisations which couple the provision of emergency aid in crisis situations with structural aid. Aid organisations should clearly earmark their emergency aid operations as such. The Dutch government should furthermore continue to lobby for the strengthening of organisations which are equipped to provide reconstruction aid as part of development cooperation programmes, and should devise procedures for starting a reconstruction pro-gramme as soon as possible after the termination of a conflict, and in any event more quickly than is the case at present.

    The above arguments throw a critical light on the ‘development-for-peace’ policy described in Chapter II. The activities in Afghanistan were performed as part of an international, UN-coordinated programme bringing together a range of different activities. The AIV wishes to stress the risk that the ‘development-for-peace’ strategy will result in an excessively broad interpretation of the concept of humanitarian aid, and that the borderline between humanitarian aid and other forms of aid will become dangerously blurred. The AIV regards reconstruction as a form of long-term development aid that is intended to lead to a struc-tural improvement in living conditions. The type of aid that is provided in a typical post-conflict situation will differ from traditional forms of aid supplied to countries which are not involved in conflicts. Post-conflict development aid typically includes trauma coun-selling, peace-building activities, restoration of public utilities, etc. The AIV would like to emphasise, however, that aid should be allocated to reconstruction programmes only if the criteria and conditions described above have been satisfied. The AIV also takes the view that such programmes, and other types of reconstruction aid, should generally be funded from the ‘regular’ development budget rather than from the emergency aid bud-get.

    The AIV regards it as highly important that different organisations should be involved in implementing the policies on emergency aid and reconstruction aid/development cooperation. The chief reason for this is that humanitarian aid is subject to different criteria and principles than reconstruction aid and development cooperation.


    VI Towards greater consistency in international decisions

    International organisations have spent many years trying to find ways and means of har-monising political and military strategies with activities in the field of humanitarian aid and development cooperation. This also implies an attempt to improve coordination between activities aimed at preventing conflicts and crises, and activities which consti-tute a response to violent conflicts.

    The AIV would like to point out that the pursuit of an effective political strategy may sometimes be at odds with the need to help the victims. Emergency aid should not be allowed to evolve into a political instrument. It is an end in itself, an ethical imperative. However, consistency between the various activities is important.

    Early warning and prevention
    Whilst the AIV sets great store by prevention, it believes that the problems relating to pre-vention are of a completely different order from those surrounding the subject matter of this report, i.e. humanitarian aid. A future report could perhaps discuss the issue of the potential offered by existing preventive strategies, as well as forms of prevention which could be developed in the future. We have, however, decided to discuss the issue of early-warning systems here, because it has a direct bearing on the level of preparedness of aid organisations.

    The UN, governments, NGOs and researchers have designed a range of early-warning sys-tems in recent years with the aim of giving advance notice of tensions or even imminent violent conflicts. The media also have an important role to play in this connection. The various early-warning systems are based on an assumption that a source of reliable infor-mation is vital to any attempt to provide an effective response to a conflict before it is too late.

    In his report on the causes of conflict in Africa, the Secretary-General of the UN writes that ‘the critical concern today is no longer lack of early warning of impending crises, but rather the need to follow up early warning with early and effective action’51. Early-warning systems can be used to identify potential hot spots, particularly those stemming from politically manipulated ethnic differences, glaring economic disparities (especially when accompanied by the social exclusion of identifiable groups) or the violent repression of opposition to an authoritarian regime. The crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and, most recently, Kosovo cannot simply be dismissed amid a flurr y of claims that no one realised that any violent conflict was impending. At the nub of the issue lies the question of whether states are willing and able to respond, and the speed with which their response takes shape. Against this background, the AIV believes it is vitally impor-tant that state and intergovernmental organisations in particular take more steps to explore the potential for responding to the information supplied to them. The AIV believes that every early-warning system should include regularly updated plans for possible action, including preventive political action. However, developing a strategy for this is a considerably more complex affair than the relatively straightforward business of collecting information. Despite the surfeit of information, we are still without an effective strategy for preventive diplomacy, and insufficient use is made of economic measures (whether positive or negative), sanctions, conditionality, force and the threat of force.

    The AIV is aware of the obstacles inherent to the UN system and believes for this reason that the question of where the information is analysed, i.e. inside or outside the interna-tional political bodies responsible for taking the final decision on the strategy to be pur-sued, is of vital importance to the preparation of preventive action. The AIV recommends separating analysis from decision-making on strategy. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, made a similar proposal in the report referred to above, i.e. to start by appoint-ing a special intermediary or forming special committees in the event of a potential or actual conflict in order ‘to look into the sources of the dispute, build confidence, and recommend practical solutions’52. If this proposal were implemented, it could strengthen the UN Secretary-General’s position in relation to decisions taken in the political bodies, because he would be able to point to the fact that such decisions are based on relatively impartial and objective analysis.

    The AIV advises the government to formulate a common international policy whereby information on potential crisis areas could be analysed by bodies other than those responsible for taking political decisions. This could be achieved, for example, by imple-menting an earlier recommendation by the Advisory Council on Peace and Security to establish a ‘Red Alarm Group’ at the United Nations53. The same goal could be served by appointing a special intermediary or committee, as proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

    The AIV would also like to see analysis taking place at a regional level. This could be done by organising regional conferences, or by setting up regional networks or organisa-tions which would concentrate on region-specific elements of conflict prevention and con-flict resolution (e.g. the OAU, OAS, NATO, etc.). If indicators were developed on this type of regional basis, it would be easier to take account of cultural and developmental aspects that have a direct bearing on the region in question. The current regional organi-sations are not properly equipped to perform such activities. The Dutch government could help to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations in this respect.

    In their letter requesting the AIV to submit a report, the ministers in question asked the AIV for its opinion on the advisability of seeking to focus international attention on the causal link between international cooperation, support for bad governance and conflict escalation. The AIV believes that this should indeed be discussed by the OECD’s Devel-opment Assistance Committee (DAC). The Dutch contribution to this debate should take the form of specific, in-depth information on the possible link between financial support for bad governance and the outbreak of conflicts. In its 1997 World Development Report54, the World Bank produced conclusive evidence that the effectiveness of a state is a vital factor in the development process. This implies that aid only works if the recipi-ent countries can boast both good governance and effective policy. This, in turn, leads inevitably to the issue of conditionality. The AIV endorses the current Dutch policy, which is based on the assumption that making ‘regular’ development aid subject to certain conditions can help to effectuate preventive policies, particularly in countries where the government is guilty of human rights violations.

    The issue of conditionality mainly affects those countries with which the Netherlands has a regular development relationship. The Dutch government also has other measures at its disposal in the context of foreign policy, such as measures to prevent the proliferation of arms55.

    Conditionality can also include sanctions. The AIV believes that, if sanctions are imposed, these should be targeted more clearly at governments, specific parts of a government and/or powerful groups. Such sanctions could include bans preventing members of such groups from travelling, and the freezing of bank deposits. This should be approached with some caution, however, as it remains unclear whether sanctions are actually effective56.

    An integrated approach
    Various international fora, particularly within the UN, have recently adopted the concept of an ‘integrated’ approach in their policies on humanitarian aid. The experiences in Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda have demonstrated the need for greater coordination between politi-cal mediation, military and security operations and the provision of emergency aid. An integrated strategy enables such coordination to be combined with more efficient coordi-nation of the work of national and international organisations and government bodies in the field.

    In addition, the UN recognises the need ‘to couple aid efforts with more comprehensive approaches that include promoting political settlements, rebuilding capacity and restoring economic opportunity’ 57 . In 1997, the UN formulated a Strategic Framework Approach ‘for response to and recovery from crisis’. An informal briefing note on this approach pro-poses that the strategy ‘should reflect the primacy of national ownership and domestic resources, complemented by international support’58. The plan speaks of a ‘holistic’ approach to bridge the gap between emergency aid and development work, combining analysis of the situation in the country with a list of policy principles and priorities. This would require close cooperation between the UN agencies and the various other actors, such as the IMF, the World Bank, donors and NGOs. Clearly, an integrated strategy of this type requires closer international coordination in the field.

    After all, the more blurred the dividing line between responsibilities and the greater the overlap in activities, the more difficult it will be to achieve the international aim of bring-ing about greater coordination at a decision-making level between political and military strategies, humanitarian objectives and the goals of development work. The AIV therefore believes that the government should continue to insist in international fora that interna-tional organisations which operate partly in the field of humanitarian aid and partly in the fields of reconstruction and development cooperation should clearly distinguish between these two roles.

    The AIV feels that it will prove extremely difficult in practice to realise an integrated strat-egy of this type. The UN Security Council is responsible in principle for setting the interna-tional political framework for any political or military action with humanitarian objectives. Firstly, Security Council member states may disagree on the nature of the crisis and the type of action needed to contain it. Secondly, humanitarian aid is provided by a huge range of generally autonomous UN and non-governmental organisations operating under their own permanent mandates and missions. Forms of rivalry between aid organisations are not uncommon, and this makes it even more difficult to carr y out and coordinate an integrated policy.

    The many (often wide-ranging) assessments of the humanitarian operations which took place during the crisis in the Great Lakes region of Africa have made clear that the great-est obstacle to a solution to the crisis and to an efficient aid operation was the failure of the main international players, i.e. donors, UN member states, Security Council members, international and regional organisations and the UN’s political division, to agree on a common, coordinated policy. The absence of a coherent, international policy hindered interaction between the UN and local leaders, and this in turn hampered the provision of humanitarian aid.

    The AIV urges the Dutch government to keep up its efforts, channelled through the execu-tive bodies of the various UN agencies, to restrain institutional rivalry between the vari-ous UN agencies which deal with humanitarian crises, calling on them to abide by their mandates. Aid organisations should operate on the basis of common analyses of the sit-uation and of general principles of complementarity and transparency.

    A coherent policy does not necessarily imply close practical cooperation between the vari-ous actors involved in the field. For example, aid operations may actually be hindered if aid workers work arm-in-arm with armed forces, as the former may be identified with polit-ical standpoints adopted by the UN, with UN peacekeeping operations or with sanctions imposed by the UN. Experience shows how easy it is for any anti-UN sentiment to be vented on aid workers, and also what sort of impact this may have on the humanitarian operation59.

    In a recently published article60, the former Minister of Defence Joris Voorhoeve refers to the changes which occur in the relationship between military and civilian organisations during the process of reconstruction. Soldiers have played a supporting role in a number of reconstruction processes, and are indeed still involved in this type of work in Bosnia. Voorhoeve claims that, here too, there is a need for a clear division of responsibilities, if the impartiality of the peacekeeping force is not to be undermined. He also warns against the risk of the local population becoming dependent on military protection and other forms of support. The military units should gradually withdraw during the course of the peace-building process. The AIV, too, favours adopting a cautious approach to any mil-itar y role during the reconstruction process. This does not alter the fact, of course, that the United Nations carries a tremendous responsibility for maintaining the peace by mili-tary means.

     

    New proposals by the United Nations
    After two previous attempts, in 1971 and 1991, to improve the UN response to humani-tarian crises, the UN published a new set of proposals in 1997 on coordination, account-ability and integration in relation to peacekeeping, political decision-making and humani-tarian aid. An Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) was formed, consis-ting of representatives from a wide range of UN departments, which reports to the Secre-tary- General. This enables account to be taken of decisions on peacekeeping, political matters and development cooperation, when decisions are taken on humanitarian aid. The UN’s plans for improving the preparation of humanitarian operations and enhancing cooperation during such operations have resulted in the establishment of a new Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York. Whereas the Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator reports directly to the Security Council and is in charge of the process of policy-making and advocacy, actual coordination of specialised agencies takes place in Geneva, with a UN Resident Representative being responsible for operational matters in the field. The new structure has only just become operational, so it is not yet clear whether it is going to work in practice. It would be wrong to entertain very high hopes of success, however. Past reforms have tended to concentrate on technical, procedural, logistic or administrative aspects, and very little has changed at an institutional or policy-making level61.

    To a certain extent the UN proposals mask the differences and tensions between the mandates and interests of the various UN agencies. Specialised agencies, such as Unicef, the WFP and UNDP, are reluctant to accept any restraints in the interests of effec-tive political coordination. UNHCR has displayed similar reluctance to see its remit, which has grown considerably in recent years, brought back into line with its original mandate.

    A great deal will depend on whether an improved procedure can be devised for consulta-tions between the Security Council and the relevant UN agencies. The OCHA office is already playing a prominent role in providing information to the Security Council. A more careful selection of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative could also help to improve consultation procedures in future.

    The AIV supports plans making the UN Resident Representative responsible for coordinat-ing activities in the field. However, it would stress the importance of ensuring that the candidate is properly equipped for the job. There is still scope for improvement in the role played by the Resident Representative vis-à-vis the non-governmental humanitarian aid organisations. Whilst voluntary cooperation mechanisms work well in some cases, they remain inadequate in others.

    The AIV recommends that financial support given to organisations involved in emergency aid should be made conditional on their participation in the coordination mechanisms organised by the UN Resident Representative.

    Note: This request for advice is shortened. To read the full request, download the total advice.

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