How can we go about our work of saving lives when, in Syria, civilians, the
wounded and their families, medical personnel and aid workers are all targets
– whether in areas controlled by the government or those held by the
Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL) or various rebel groups with diverging political agendas? Over the course
of several field missions, the author of this article, a member of
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), sought to decipher the political
and military engagements undertaken in different regions of Syria during the war
years. He also factored into his analysis the endless flow of data, information
and positioning being produced and published over this period, because the war
was also fought every day on the internet where the representatives and
ideologists of warring groups, human rights organisations, Syrian diaspora
organisations and spokespersons of the Syrian central authorities were and still
are a permanent presence. Drawing on all these observations and data, the author
relates and analyses the emergency relief activities carried out by MSF in
Syria, how these activities evolved and the conditions in which choices to
intervene and decisions to withdraw were taken.
Monitoring of attacks on healthcare has made great strides in the past decade,
even if improvement in information has not necessarily resulted in changes on
the ground. However, important questions on the knowledge production process
continue to be under-explored, including those pertaining to the objectives of
monitoring efforts. What does our data actually tell us? Are we missing the
(data) point? This paper explores several monitoring mechanisms, and analyses
the limitations of the data-gathering exercise, affecting the ability of
healthcare workers to share their experiences. By drawing on the experiences of
those involved in the medical-humanitarian response in non-government controlled
areas in Syria, these dynamics are further brought to the fore, advocating for a
more discerning approach in the use of data for such disparate goals as analysis
on patterns of attacks (and their implications), advocacy, and
Based on the author’s experience as both a journalist and an independent
researcher working regularly in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this
article examines the many constraints that journalists face in areas of armed
conflict. It considers two unusual aspects of journalistic practice observed in
the DRC: first, the reporters’ lexical dependence
– that is, how the language journalists typically use to describe war is
borrowed, sometimes unconsciously, from the war-related rhetoric developed in
other fields – and second, journalists’ practical
dependence on humanitarian organisations and how this might influence the
articles they produce.
Nine years of continuous conflict in Syria have borne witness to various atrocities against civilians, some of which amount to war crimes. Most of the involved parties have committed such atrocities, but the Government of Syria (GoS) and its allies remain at the top of the list of perpetrators. Out of a population of 21 million in 2010, more than half a million Syrians were killed as of January 2019 with more than 13 million displaced either inside the country, in neighbouring countries or elsewhere. Moreover, civilian infrastructures, including but not limited to health, have been severely affected, resulting in interrupted services and suffering. Looking at patterns of these atrocities, timing of occurrence, and consequences, could allow us to draw conclusions about motivations. While the GoS maintains these attacks were against combating civilians, we argue that civilians and civilian infrastructure were military and strategic targets, rather than collateral damage to the attacks committed by the GoS and its allies. The motives behind attacking civilians may be related to military gains in imposing submission and surrender; whereas others may be linked to long-term goals such as forced displacement and demographic engineering. This paper argues, supported by several examples throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, that GoS has used a five-point military tactic with targeting healthcare being at the heart of it. This military tactic has been extremely effective in regaining most opposition strongholds at the expense of civilian suffering and health catastrophe.
In 1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published an extensive account of genocide in Rwanda, Leave None to Tell the Story. Based on interviews and archival work conducted by a team of researchers and written primarily by Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell was quickly recognised as the definitive account of the 1994 genocide. In the ensuing two decades, however, much additional research has added to our understanding of the 1994 violence. In this paper, I assess Leave None to Tell the Story in light of the research conducted since its publication, focusing in particular on three major challenges to the analysis. First, research into the organisation of the genocide disputes the degree to which it was planned in advance. Second, micro-level research into the motivations of those who participated disputes the influence of ideology on the genocide. Third, research has provided increasing evidence and details of violence perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). I contend that despite these correctives, much of the analysis continues to hold up, such as the role of national figures in promoting genocide at the local level, the impact of the dynamics of local power struggles on the violence, and the patterns of violence, including the effort after the initial massacres to implicate a wide portion of the population. Finally, as a member of the team that researched and helped write Leave None to Tell, I reflect on the value of this rare sort of research project that engages human rights organisations in an academic research project.
The Politics of ‘Proximity’ and Performing Humanitarianism in Eastern DRC
This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.
German Responses to the June 2019 Mission of the Sea-Watch 3
The European responses to irregularised migrants in the second decade of the twenty-first century have been qualitatively new not so much because of the often-celebrated cultures of hospitality in countries such as Germany and Sweden, but because of acts of solidarity that have challenged the prerogative of nation-states to control access to their territory. I discuss elements of the public response in Germany to the criminalisation of one such act, the search and rescue (SAR) operation of the Sea-Watch 3 in the Central Mediterranean in June 2019, which led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, by Italian authorities. I argue that while the response to Rackete’s arrest was unprecedented, it built upon a year-long campaign in support of private SAR missions in the Mediterranean, which drew on the discourse of rights and was therefore not reliant on a short-term outpouring of compassion. Rackete’s supporters have also been energised by alternative visions of Europe, and by the vitriol reserved for her by followers of the populist far right.
A Framework for Measuring Effectiveness in Humanitarian Response
Vincenzo Bollettino and Birthe Anders
In most of today’s crises, humanitarian organisations operate in the same environment as a range of military and non-state armed actors. The effective engagement between militaries and humanitarian aid agencies can be beneficial for the timely delivery of aid and is also often unavoidable when trying to gain access to areas controlled by military or non-state armed actors. However, such engagement also comes with risks. Previous literature on the subject has described some of the benefits and potential risks of different types of engagement between military and humanitarian actors. To date, however, quantifiable data on how civil–military engagement unfolds and which factors influence the effectiveness of coordination is lacking. This paper proposes an indicator framework for measuring the effectiveness of civil–military coordination in humanitarian response. It provides nineteen descriptive level and twenty perception and effectiveness indicators that may be used at any stage of a response to a humanitarian emergency, from mission planning and assessment through the various stages of a response and post-response assessment. The full set of questions, or a more targeted subset of these questions, may also be used as periodic polls to actively monitor developments in theatre.
The Law and Politics of Responding to Attacks against Aid Workers
Julia Brooks and Rob Grace
Violence against aid workers seeking to bring assistance and protection to vulnerable people amid ongoing armed conflicts, disasters or other crises has fuelled growing concern over how to protect the humanitarian mission. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted with 118 practitioners involved in humanitarian operations and security management, this article considers three under-analysed prongs of grappling with humanitarian insecurity. The first three sections, in turn, examine the pursuit of accountability at both the domestic and international levels, public advocacy efforts and confidential negotiation. The fourth section links the article’s assessment of these three modes of responding to humanitarian insecurity to the broader discourse on security management in the humanitarian sector. Specifically, this section revisits and reimagines the security triangle, a framework that has played an influential role in shaping discourse on security management in humanitarian operations. The final section offers concluding remarks.