Understanding the Priorities for Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC)

Stuart Gordon (Copyright 2001)

Royal Military Academy Sandhurst*‘Modern war consumes governments and administrations in its path, leaving anarchy and chaos behind. If authority and the necessary minimum of order and administration are not at once re-established, disorder and subversion can all too quickly erode the victory that has been won in the field. It is said that the British habitually lose all the battles except the last. It will profit them nothing to win even the last, if they then throw away the peace.’

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Planning considerations for international involvementin post-taliban Afghanistan

Jarat Chopra, Jim McCallum, and Alexander Thier

On November 14, 2001—the day after the fall of Kabul—the US Army Peacekeeping Institute at the US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, in collaboration with the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown University, hosted an informal meeting on Afghanistan. The meeting brought together a mixture of experts on Afghanistan, humanitarian and military operations, and transitional political arrangements. Most of those present were current or former US and UN officials. This combination of experts allowed the synthesis of multi-dimensional operational planning experience and Afghan-specific knowledge to produce comprehensive mission planning considerations. The purpose of the meeting was to explore a range of options and issues affecting the design of international intervention in Afghanistan.  The following report is a reflection of the issues discussed, and incorporates many of the ideas contributed by meeting participants. The recommendations are the responsibility of the authors alone.

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Military ethics in peacekeeping and in war: Maintaining moral integrity in a world of contrast and confusion

Dr. Ted A. van Baarda[1]


Both combat operations and peacekeeping operations can put the moral integrity of a soldier under pressure. This, in turn may lead to unethical behaviour, war crimes or a lack of understanding for humanitarian considerations. The key-issue is the need of members of the military to retain a measure of integrity and humanity which transcends a world of hatred and bloodshed. The author commences his paper with two examples from the Falkland Islands He subsequently lists the main causes for moral confusion and the difficulties in distinguishing morally right from wrong. Several of these causes are the same for humanitarian fieldworkers. He concludes by emphasising the need for the moral education of members of the military, including ethical decision-making skills.

In April 1982, Patricio Perez was nineteen years old. He had just finished high school when he was summoned for military service. That was a week after the Argentinean take-over of a group of small islands from the British. The islands were known as the Malvinas to the Argentineans and to the British as the Falklands. Patricio Perez became a Private serving with A Company, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Argentinean Army. He was positioned on the main island, East Falkland, just north of the capital. He had rejoiced in the islands coming under Argentinean control. He was eager to defend them though neither he, nor his superiors expected the British to attempt to re-take the islands by force. Only a few months later however, a British amphibious force landed successfully at San Carlos Bay on East Falkland and was making deep inroads into the Argentinean defences.

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UNHCR’s Relief, Rehabilitation and Repatriation of Rwandan Refugees in Zaire (1994-1997)

Sreeram S. Chaulia*

“The whole of eastern Zaire was an impossible mission. There were many mistakes, but I still don’t know what we should have done differently, as humanitarians or human beings”

Kilian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR Official [1]


The Great Lakes refugee crisis of the mid-nineties was one of the toughest and most discussed operations in the history of the world’s premier refugee agency, UNHCR. The complexity, controversy and sheer dimensions of the problem thrown up in this crisis challenged and brought into question many established forms of management and response mechanisms of UNHCR and left a permanent impression on all its subsequent projects, particularly in southern Africa. This essay intends to critically investigate UNHCR operations in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), starting with the influx of nearly one million refugees after the Rwandan genocide until their repatriation in 1997, from the points of view of performance-based management and programme evaluation. There will be an attempt to pinpoint the salient internal organisational drawbacks of UNHCR while keeping in mind the extreme difficulties presented by the explosive external environment that provided the backdrop to its functioning in Zaire. Finally, a set of management improvements drawn from the foregoing assessment and evaluation procedures will be suggested and recommendations made for improving the organisational efficiency and credibility of UNHCR.

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Military Humanitarianism and the new Peacekeeping: an agenda for peace?

[This document was first posted on 22 September 1995]


This paper examines the rise of the military humanitarian policy of the United Nations since 1992 and outlines the new military doctrine on peacekeeping. First it explores how a military based approach to the increasing number of complex political emergencies emerged as a deliberate policy within the United Nations in the new humanitarian era after the Cold War. Secondly, it looks at various NGO reactions to this new era. Thirdly, it compares the very different nature of today’s UN peacekeeping operations with its Cold War predecessors. Fourthly, it examines current British Army doctrine of “wider peacekeeping” and its emphasis on the principle of consent. Finally, it takes the view that the new peacekeeping is here to stay and that the main challenge facing all those involved in humanitarian assistance is to further refine its basic principles and techniques.


In 1993 Adam Roberts, the Professor of International Relations at Oxford University observed that:

“`Humanitarian war’ is an oxymoron which may yet become reality. The recent practice of states, and of the United Nations, has involved major uses of armed force in the name of humanitarianism: especially in norther Iraq, in Somalia and in Former Yugoslavia. These humanitarian activities in situations of conflict raise many awkward questions.” (Roberts, 1993)

The period 1991-1994 has indeed witnessed the use of UN military humanitarianism on an unprecedented scale. And since Roberts’ comments UNISOM military actions against General Aideed’s forces in Somalia and NATO airstrikes in Former Yugoslavia have indeed made an awkward reality of humanitarian war. In 1992 there were a mere 12,000 military and police personnel operating as UN peacekeepers around the world. By the end of 1994 there were some 79,948 military and police personnel operating under UN auspices (IISS, 1994), a figure which does not include the 10,000 US troops involved in “Operation Restore Democracy” in Haiti. Equally striking is the fact that in the 40 years of the Cold War between 1948 and 1988, only 13 UN peacekeeping operations were launched. But in the six years between 1988-1994 there have been a total of 21 UN peacekeeping operations (Fetherstone, 1994).

For people affected by war related crises which are now increasingly described as “complex emergencies”, and for the relief and development agencies who seek to help them, the presence of UN military forces “represents the arrival of a major new player in today’s humanitarian operations – a large new kid on the block” (Slim, 1995). And in the last three years in particular it is no exaggeration to talk of “the militarization of the international relief system” (Slim, 1995). This new interventionist period in humanitarian affairs has been an extremely steep learning curve for UN agencies and NGOs, as well as for UN military forces themselves and for the members of the UN Security Council who have despatched them to such situations. At the policy level, this has given rise to much earnest debate about the role of the military in humanitarian emergencies by soldiers, politicians, international lawyers and NGOs alike. The result has been a plethora of working papers, conferences and manuals on the subject (Keen et al, 1995).

This paper examines the rise of what can be described as the military humanitarian policy of the United Nations since 1992. It does not attempt to examine particular UN operations in detail but instead to trace the origins of current UN policy and the outlines of the new military doctrines on peacekeeping which have emerged during the last three years. As such it seeks to introduce relief and development workers to some of the emerging military thinking behind UN peacekeeping. The paper is organized into four parts. First it explores how a military based approach to the increasing number of complex political emergencies emerged as a deliberate policy from within the United Nations in the new era of consensus after the Cold War. Secondly, it looks at various NGO reactions to this new era. Thirdly, it compares the very different nature of today’s UN peacekeeping operations with its Cold War predecessors. Fourthly, it examines the principle of consent in UN military humanitarianism and looks at what the British Army in particular have come to define as good peacekeeping practice in the light of recent operations. Finally, it takes the view that the new peacekeeping is here to stay and that it has a lot to offer. The main challenge facing all those involved in humanitarian assistance is to further refine its techniques and not to reject all military intervention on principle.

A New Humanitarian Era

With the end of the Cold War, the United Nations entered into a new a veto-free era of international consensus. It looked set to be given a second chance to become an overarching force for peace and security throughout the world. To encourage it to get down to its new business, the heads of state of the Security Council, in their first ever meeting in January 1992, commissioned the new Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to come up with: “an analysis and recommendations on ways of strengthening and making more efficient within the framework and provisions of the Charter the capacity of the United Nations for preventive diplomacy, for peacemaking and for peace-keeping” (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992). Despite the typically tortuous prose of this UN mandate (a feature of the UN which has determinedly not changed since the end of the Cold War!), the Secretary-General was not deterred and later that year produced the landmark document entitled An Agenda for Peace(Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992).

Agenda for Peace set out the main principles by which the UN intended to take the lead on preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peace-keeping and post-conflict peace-building. At the heart of Agenda for Peace is the policy that increased use of UN military force should play the major part in implementing these new strategies. The text of Agenda for Peace reverberates with a new optimism. Its timing and the strategies for peace which it expounds seek to herald a new era of conflict resolution and active humanitarianism. Not only does it sketch out the UN’s new strategy of military humanitarianism but it also declares the UN’s right to pursue such a strategy. In the now famous words, it declares that “the time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty has passed” (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, para 17). More than ever before, Agenda for Peace declared the right of the UN to intervene in a state under Chapter VII of its charter in the name of its citizens’ human rights. This is a position which has since been explored in more detail by UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report which suggests four kinds of situation [2] which “would appear to warrant international intervention” (UNDP, 1994, p57).

In the two years which followed Agenda for Peace, the UN, and particularly the Security Council, sought to put the agenda into action through a series of Security Council resolutions in response to humanitarian emergencies round the world (Slim and Penrose, 1994). In what has frequently been described as a series of humanitarian experiments, UN military operations have been carried out in the name of peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, post conflict peace-building and humanitarian assistance in countries like Somalia, Former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda and most recently in Angola. And since 1992, the Secretary General has been urging member states to set aside particular sections of their armed forces to be on permanent “stand-by” for immediate deployment by the UN. Convincing the more powerful member states to earmark troops has proved problematic, but by June 1994 the Secretary General was able to report that there were firm pledges of 30,000 stand-by troops from 21 countries with a further 40,000 troops likely to be pledged by 27 other member states (United Nations, 1994b).

To implement this increasingly militarized peace and humanitarian policy the UN has also, albeit after a long delay, increased its military capacity at the Secretariat level in New York. By the first half of 1994, the Secretariat had 148 military personnel coordinating its forces worldwide (United Nations 1994a). Although this military staff suffers from a high rate of staff turnover, it means that the UN now has a round the clock “Situation Centre” for its military operations. The annual report of the International Institute of Strategic Studies has also observed that “intelligence is no longer a UN taboo” (IISS, 1994, p268) and that the UN is expected to gather an increasing amount of its own intelligence or gain access to the intelligence of member states. However, such intelligence sharing remains a controversial issue and looks set to be worked out selectively on a case by case basis.

Although events in Somalia have discouraged the United States in particular from entering wholeheartedly into new largescale peacekeeping operations, the broad strategy of Agenda for Peace as a whole remains in place at the heart of the UN today. The concept of UN peacekeeping itself is not in question and is still being implemented in countries like Angola with the creation of UNAVEM III and its mission of up to 7000 UN troops (UN, 1995). However, the main powers of the Security Council now recognize that after the initial burst of enthusiasm for such military humanitarianism, there should be a period of more cautious and considered reflection on when and how best to mount such operations. Most significantly, in May 1994, the Clinton administration’s Presidential Decision Directive (PDD 25) on US peacekeeping policy made it clear that US involvement in such operations would require greater deliberation. In particular it stated that any US involvement in UN peacekeeping would depend on their being a definite advancement of US interests, a real threat to international peace and security, clear mission objectives and scope, an effective ceasefire and agreement to UN presence by all parties, and an identifiable “end point” to UN operations (the so-called “sunset clause”) in any peacekeeping mandate (Albright, M and A. Lake, 1994). One obvious and tragic result of this new caution has been the distinct lack of timely UN military intervention in the Rwanda genocide.

As a result, the original policies of Agenda for Peace are still in place but their implementation is being viewed still more selectively by the main powers in the UN on a case-by-case and “can-do” basis, largely determined by individual national interest. Despite the initial optimism of 1992, the UN today neither has any agreed and universal criteria for military humanitarian intervention, nor any effective standing capacity to implement such intervention.

A Chorus of Disapproval

The human rights group, African Rights, has described UN and NGO operations in the new humanitarian era as the liberation of the humanitarian organizations from “the Cold War straight-jacket” – and characterized it as a reckless period of “humanitarianism unbound” in which assertive humanitarian policies have often done more harm than good (African Rights, 1994, p1). More generally, UN military operations have been the objects of a loud chorus of criticism or mixed messages from parts of the media and NGO community in particular -some calling for military intervention one day and then castigating it the next.

With the exception of some researched and considered assessments (African Rights, 1993a) and the reporting of particular and grave human rights abuses (eg. African Rights 1993b) much of the well publicised criticism of UN military humanitarianism has been generalized and reactive rather than thorough and considered. Among the NGO community in particular, it has certainly been almost de rigueur to concentrate on the failings of UN military humanitarianism rather than to identify what military forces can do well in such situations (Keen et al, 1995). But in their reflective rather than telegenic mode, most NGOs give a more balanced and pragmatic view. Two recent contributions on the subject from Save the Children and Oxfam frame the current NGO dilemma well. The first view from Save the Children might be said to encapsulate the general conclusion of most relief agencies that military humanitarianism is a high risk, usually short-term and imperfect strategy which can easily backfire:

“military intervention is no panacea…greater [military] intervention by the international community should not be automatically equated with rapid and durable solutions…once the United Nations intervenes militarily in a humanitarian emergency, as in Somalia, its actions can all too easily become part of the problem – another complicating ingredient” (Save the Children, 1994).

Yet at the same time, a recent statement by Oxfam recognizes the increasing need for some form of UN military protection in many of today’s humanitarian operations:

“Oxfam works in seventy countries around the world, including many in which we cooperate with UN humanitarian operations, and ten where we work alongside a UN peacekeeping mission. In many situations of conflict, the fulfilment of our mandate to alleviate poverty is increasingly dependent on UN protection. Equally, many UN programmes depend on Oxfam and other NGOs to implement major projects.” (Oxfam, 1995)

While Oxfam’s remark seems to refer mainly to its own protection, the need for protecting affected civilian populations is of course far greater. But these two statements do reveal the main challenge for most UN military humanitarian operations: the need to find a balance between protection and escalation. In other words, the need to protect various communities within a conflict while not escalating that conflict.

As will be seen, British military strategists see this balance as determined by the effective management of consent in any peacekeeping operation. But first it is important to identify how today’s military humanitarianism differs from traditional UN peacekeeping and why it is proving so much more complicated to strike this balance. The short answer is that today’s UN forces are trying to do much more than they have ever done before, usually in much more difficult circumstances.

Peacekeeping Old and New

The term “peacekeeping” is really a misnoma when applied to the majority of the military humanitarian operations of the new humanitarian era – not least because UN forces are frequently being asked to operate in situations where there is no peace to keep. In Agenda for Peace, Boutros-Ghali talked of “new departures in peacekeeping” (Boutros-Ghali, 1992, p.29) and since 1992 a number of new terms have been coined to describe what Mackinlay and Chopra refer to as “second generation” multinational UN military operations, recognizing the fact that today’s operations have gone “beyond peacekeeping” (Mackinlay and Chopra, 1993). Such new terms include phrases like peace support operations (PSO), multi-dimensional operations, wider peacekeeping or peace enforcement and involve a range of very different tasks to traditional peacekeeping as developed out of the original Canadian initiatives of the 1950s.

The traditional UN peacekeeping of the Cold War era was nowhere defined in the UN charter, but emerged as a pragmatic way in which the international community supported peaceful settlements to international conflicts. With a mandate falling between chapters six and seven of the UN charter, these peacekeeping operations were known as operations carried out under Chapter six and a half of the UN charter. Their main characteristics have been best described by Marrack Goulding, a previous head of UN peacekeeping, who identified traditional peacekeeping as:

“Field operations established by the United Nations, with the consent of the parties concerned, to help control and resolve conflicts between them, under UN command and control, at the expense collectively of the member states, and with military and other personnel and equipment provided voluntarily by them, acting impartially between the parties and using force to the minimum extent necessary.” (Goulding, 1993).

The principles and practice of today’s second generation peacekeeping operations are obviously radically different from this form of traditional peacekeeping. In operational terms, the main task of traditional peacekeeping was the inter-positioning of UN troops between warring parties already abiding by a ceasefire. Peacekeeping therefore largely involved ceasefire monitoring, surveillance and conflict prevention and could last for many years. UNTSO in the middle east has been running for 46 years while UNFICYP in Cyprus is now in its 31st year. The command and control of such operations was a genuinely UN command and expenses were born collectively by the UN member states. Such operations were also governed by three key principles of consent, impartiality and minimum force.

In contrast, the recent UN “peacekeeping” operations differ in matters of environment, principle and practice from their Cold War predecessors. The change in environment for UN peacekeeping is an obvious one. Second generation peacekeeping has seen UN forces intervene in the middle of civil wars when they are still “hot” rather than at the end of inter-state wars when they are “frozen” or in remission. As the Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie (a former UN commander of UNPROFOR in Former Yugoslavia) has observed, the traditional environment of UN peacekeeping operations were relatively tame:

“The UN would be presented with a nice little conflict where the belligerents had decided to end the conflict and had pledged to keep the peace…[but] the UN avoided civil wars because they were much too nasty to get involved in” (MacKenzie, 1993).

In practice, the operational range of the new peacekeeping is characterised by five main tasks as set out in the table below, adapted from Mackinlay and Chopra (1993, pp7-23) and the British Army (1994, pp2:1-2):

Objectives                            Tasks                                  

Conflict prevention                   Preventive deployment, interposition,  
                                      early warning, surveillance            

Guarantee and denial of movement      No-fly zones, safe-havens, blockades,  
                                      sanctions enforcement, guaranteeing    
                                      free passage                           

Protection and delivery of            Protection and escort of humanitarian  
humanitarian relief                   relief and agencies, or direct         
                                      delivery of logistics, health or       
                                      infrastructure support                 

Supervision of a comprehensive peace  Demobilization, disarmament,           
settlement                            demining, election monitoring,         
                                      reforming/training of security forces  

Military assistance to civil          Peace enforcement, political           
structures in a failed state          trusteeship                            

This range of activities differs enormously from the routine inter-positioning and observer operations of traditional peacekeeping. Today’s activities are much more assertive and interventionist in nature. They show the new peacekeeping to be much more militarily and politically active with operations ranging from war-fighting (Somalia) to being the political midwife to the birth of new democratic governments (Mozambique and Cambodia).

But the new peacekeeping does not differ from traditional peacekeeping in its activities alone. In matters of principle, it frequently struggles to maintain or deliberately oversteps the three key peacekeeping principles of consent, impartiality and minimum force. In the mainly intra-state civil wars of today’s humanitarian emergencies, the consent of all parties concerned to UN operations has been extremely difficult to achieve and maintain. Likewise, with judgements about UN impartiality being so much a matter of the perception and vested interest of the different parties concerned, most UN peacekeeping actions are perceived as at best ambiguous and at worst downright partisan in wars which are still “live”.

Most disturbing of all perhaps, has been the apparent erosion of the principle of minimum force and what Regehr has warned of as “the developing conventional wisdom that peacekeeping is evolving towards a much greater reliance on the use of force” (Regehr, 1993). The traditional peacekeeper’s function has been described as “that of the lightly armed gendarme” whose “absence of arms encouraged the perception of a non-threatening body acting under the authority of the UN” (Connaughton, 1992). While this may still be an accurate description of the UN guards in Iraq or the UN force monitoring elections in Mozambique, such a gentle peacekeeper stands in stark contrast to members of the US force in Somalia or to the NATO airstrikes in Former Yugoslavia. Although acting in self-defense in both cases, an increased use of force does surely raise the stakes and the risks in any peacekeeping operation. In terms of the balance between protection and escalation, this development combined with the vagaries of consent in the new peacekeeping environment are the most alarming. In the Somalia operation in particular, second generation UN operations consistently chose to use maximum force in response to UN casualties – an indication that the temper of the new UN peacekeeping has shifted away from exerting a more traditional moral authority to a more aggressive physical authority.

A third and final difference in the new peacekeeping has been the possibility of UN operations being launched under the command of a single nation and not some form of collective UN command. In Africa, such one nation operations have been carried out in Somalia by the USA (UNITAF) and in Rwanda by the French (Operation Tourqoise). Such undiluted command and control of UN operations in the hands of single nations is in contrast to the collective control of traditional peacekeeping.

Hearts and Minds: Consent Management as Good Peacekeeping Practice

The revolution in UN peacekeeping which has been demanded of UN forces in the last three years has seen a determined effort by military policy makers to keep up with the events into which their political masters in the Security Council have landed them. Military policy -or “doctrine” as soldiers call it – has been hard put to draw good practice conclusions from the many and diverse operations of the last three years. However, in many armed forces new peacekeeping doctrines have emerged and continue to evolve. One of the most clearly stated and thought through is the peacekeeping doctrine of the British Army which was finalized in manual form towards the end of 1994 (British Army, 1994). Those relief and development workers likely to work alongside UN peacekeeping operations would do well to study this manual. Its clear vision of good peacekeeping practice should help NGOs to understand what to expect from UN soldiers in such situations. The doctrine itself gives cause for optimism by showing that soldiers are thinking creatively, pragmatically and in earnest about their new roles. And the doctrine is free from any unhealthy zeal for intervention, nor is it prone to delusions of quick fix military solutions.

At the heart of the British peacekeeping doctrine sits the principle of consent. The British Army have introduced the term “wider peacekeeping” to capture the new environment and demands of second generation peacekeeping (British Army, 1994, chapter one, section 8). And they use the notion of consent to distinguish between wider peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. Wider peacekeeping operations, like traditional peacekeeping operations are “carried out with the general consent of the belligerent parties” (ibid, ch.2 p.5). In contrast, peace enforcement activities are those carried out “to restore peace between belligerent parties who do not all consent to intervention” (ibid, ch.2, p.5). The principle of consent – the most fundamental principle of traditional peacekeeping – has therefore remained a corner stone of current military peacekeeping doctrine. But it does so not as a given but as a variable in today’s peacekeeping environment. Because in volatile and multi-factional civil wars consent is dispersed and uneven:

“Consent to wider peacekeeping activities is likely to be anything but absolute. In theatre, depending on the volatility of the general environment, it is unlikely ever to be more than partial and could amount to nothing more than tolerance of presence. Consent is something that the peacekeeper can expect to have bits of, from certain people, in certain places, for certain things, for certain periods of time.” (ibid, ch2, p7)

The art of wider peacekeeping is therefore, first and foremost, the management of consent – its generation, maintenance and retrieval. And the main concern of a peacekeeping force is to stay on the right side of the line of consent. For only by maintaining as much consent as possible can the force fulfil its humanitarian and mediation tasks and remain relatively secure. Operating without consent, a peacekeeping force becomes a peace enforcement force and is liable to enter a war-fighting situation and in which its own security will become its over-riding preoccupation. UNOSOM’s operations in Somalia after 5th June 1993 are regarded as the prime example of when a peacekeeping operation crossed the line of consent and slipped into a peace-enforcement and war-fighting situation (Slim and Visman, 1995). And many soldiers now refer to the line of consent as the “Mogadishu line”. Once this line has been crossed, peacekeeping doctrine dictates that there is no way back. If the use of force is perceived as being partial and without consent, it is unlikely that this particular UN force will ever be able to function as a peacekeeping force again in that situation. Figure Two, from the British Army Manual on Wider Peacekeeping (ch.2, p13) illustrates this point.

In military jargon, the management of consent is all about “hearts and minds”. People need to be persuaded of a peacekeeping force’s third party status. The principles which govern good practice are thus identified as “impartiality, legitimacy, mutual respect, minimum force, credibility and transparency” (ibid, ch.2, p8). Loss of any of these endangers consent. The techniques for managing consent are the everyday work of the effective peacekeeper and are identified as: “negotiation, mediation, liaison, civil affairs, community information, public information and community relations” (ibid, ch.5, p1). Only by communicating with the affected population in this way will the model peacekeeper be able to create the environment which allows him or her to carry out the broader objectives of humanitarian assistance, conflict resolution, ceasefire monitoring, electoral supervision, demobilization and so forth.

Another strong feature underlying the British Army doctrine is its acceptance of the protracted turbulence of most of the wars they are operating in today and the essential no-win position of peacekeeping forces. Success is understood as the capacity of the force, working in tandem with political and humanitarian efforts, to create the right environment for peace: the recognition that peacekeeping forces can create space but not solutions. Inherent to the doctrine of wider peacekeeping therefore is an element of pragmatism which recognizes its limits and the extreme difficulties and uncertainty inherent to today’s peacekeeping environment.

This particular acceptance of longterm turbulence and uncertainty integral to the British Army doctrine differs to the American approach represented in PDD 25 which is so insistent on having a clear view of “end-states” before beginning a peacekeeping operation and having them clearly in writing as “sunset clauses”. At the risk of stereotyping, Connaughton puts down such differences to national temper. Writing almost prophetically in September 1992 he notes that: “American force characteristics are arguably unsuitable for peacekeeping operations, which tend to be drawn out, require inordinate patience and the ability to turn the other cheek.” (Connaughton, 1992, p40). Instead, he recognizes the characteristics of American military might as having outright comparative advantage in peace-enforcement or preventive deployment. Such an appreciation of the distinctive competence of different national armies in the new range of peacekeeping activities will obviously need to be developed in any UN peacekeeping strategy in the years ahead. With some 40 different countries currently contributing to UN peacekeeping operations (IISS, 1994), it is to be expected that some forces will be better at some things than others, and vice versa. Connaughton describes this important point by his phrase “forces for courses”.

The fundamental emphasis placed on consent, complexity and longevity in the British Army’s new peacekeeping doctrine should perhaps gladden NGOs and UN relief agencies. Most agency criticisms of recent UN peacekeeping operations in Africa have focused on the inability of peacekeeping forces to relate to and engage with local populations, and their inability to take the long and complex view. The British doctrine at least sets out to take a longterm and sophisticated approach which puts the affected population at the heart of its analysis. But good practice manuals are seldom translated effortlessly into action and three challenges remain in particular.

First, no matter how good the troops, any peacekeeping operation is still vulnerable to being set an impossible mission and unreasonable mandate by politicians. Secondly, the doctrine’s notion of consent is not necessarily as simple and participatory as it sounds. Any peacekeeping force must seek to establish a genuine depth of consent which takes into account the whole community’s view. At present, there is a hint that consent means the consent of faction leaders or local war lords and – as any development worker knows – such community leaders do not always have the best interests of their communities at heart and are not necessarily representative. Thirdly, it seems important that the seasoned British approach which recognizes turbulence, longevity and complexity in today’s emergencies does not slip into a certain fatalism. A major criticism of peacekeeping has always been that it freezes conflict but does not make peace. An overly phlegmatic approach to the turbulence and complexity of today’s conflicts may tend to make a virtue out of simply “being there”. Such a passive position would doubtlessly involve the maintenance of a status quo within the conflict which would often be unfair and unresolved. Instead, peacekeeping must remain active, determined and resolute over the longterm.


The period from 1991-1994 has witnessed a range of peacekeeping experiments which have involved the powerful members of the international community doing something (Somalia) and doing very little (Rwanda). But there are signs in some of the emerging military doctrine on peacekeeping that there is a middle ground in which the practice of second generation UN peacekeeping, if properly refined and well communicated, could have a consistently useful role to play alongside political, humanitarian and human rights responses to complex emergencies. In a recent article, the former UNPROFOR commander in Bosnia, General Sir Michael Rose, posed a challenge to the international community:

“Sadly, in the 50th year of UN peacekeeping operations, the perceived failures and costs of the UN mission in Former Yugoslavia, and recent experiences in Somalia, have led to widespread disillusionment. Yet if the world loses faith in peacekeeping, and responses to the new world disorder are thereby limited to the extremes of total war or total peace, the world will become a more dangerous place. Rather than lose faith in the whole peace process, we need to analyse the changed operational circumstances and try to determine new doctrines for the future.” (Rose, 1995)

This paper has sought to show how UN policy makers and the British military in particular have tried, and continue to try, to develop new peacekeeping doctrines to meet the changed environment of the post Cold War world. It has emphasised that the appropriate doctrine is the one which manages to tread the tightrope between protection and escalation in any ongoing conflict. Getting this balance right is essential and all NGOs and other agencies concerned with humanitarian assistance, development and human rights in today’s complex emergencies would be well advised to engage with the military on the subject. Only in this way can they bring their influence to bear upon the future development of peacekeeping and the emerging doctrines of military humanitarianism.


African Rights (1993a) Operation Restore Hope: A Preliminary Assessment, May, London.

African Rights (1993b) Somalia: Human Rights Abuses by United Nations Forces, July, London.

African Rights (1994) Humanitarianism Unbound: Current Dilemmas Facing Multi-Mandate Relief Operations in Political Emergencies, November, London.

Albright, M and A. Lake (1994) The Clinton Administration’s Policy on Reforming Multilateral Peace Operations, statement in US Department of State Dispatch, May 16, 1994, Vol.5 No.20.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992) An Agenda for Peace, United Nations, New York.

British Army (1994) Wider Peacekeeping, Army Field Manual Volume 5, Operations Other Than War, Part 2, Army Code 71359(A).

Connaughton, R.M. (1992) Peacekeeping and Military Intervention, Occasional Paper No.3, Strategic and Combat Studies Institute, Camberley.

Fetherstone, (1994) Putting the Peace Back into Peacekeeping Theory: Theory Must Inform Practice, International Peacekeeping, Vol.1 No.1.

Goulding, M (1993) The Evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping, International Affairs, Vol.69 No. 3.

International Institute for Strategic Studies (1994) The Military Balance 1994-1995, Brasseys, London.

By What Authority? The Legitimacy and Accountability of Non-governmental Organisations

The International Council on Human Rights Policy International Meeting on Global Trends and Human Rights — Before and after September 11

Geneva, January 10-12, 2002

Hugo Slim
Senior Lecturer
Oxford Brookes University

© 2002, International Council on Human Rights Policy


In September 2000, the IMF and the World Bank were preparing for their annual meeting. The meeting was to be in Prague but the memory of the Battle of Seattle was fresh in everybody’s mind — not least that of the Czech police. The week before the meeting, The Economist ran a special issue on globalisation which included a long article on Anti-Capitalist Protest. The piece examined the nature and tactics of the groups that loosely form the vanguard of the ‘backlash against globalisation’, distinguishing between small ‘activist groups’ and ‘mainstream NGOs’. In a backlash against the backlashers, it went on to question their credentials:

The increasing clout of NGOs, respectable and not so respectable, raises an important question: who elected Oxfam, or, for that matter, the League for a Revolutionary Communist International? Bodies such as these are, to varying degrees, extorting admissions of fault from law-abiding companies and changes in policy from democratically elected governments.They mayclaim to be acting in the interests of the people — but then so do the objects of their criticism, governments and the despised international institutions. In the West, governments and their agencies are, in the end, accountable to voters. Who holds the activists accountable?[1]

One of the ways that The Economist makes a profit, pays its journalists and rewards its shareholders is by selling advertising space. As a result, on the facing page of this article, there was a full page celebratory statement by the large multinational company, Bayer, announcing a first half rise in sales of 22% to EUR14.8bn and a 31% increase in operating income to EUR 2bn. Much of this growth came from their pharmaceutical group, particularly its cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensive drugs — treatments that seem to be essential for combating the stresses of globalisation! Below the blurb, in the bottom right hand corner, the Bayer logo sat proudly on top of the company strap-line: ‘Expertise with Responsibility’. Here was corporate accountability at its most glowing, informing existing and prospective shareholders of large profits growth while also reassuring them of the company’s moral respectability. If ‘expertise’ is what gives Bayer their competitive edge, the company’s sense of ‘responsibility’ resonates with the newly espoused business values of ‘corporate social responsibility’. Such values have been encouraged by the likes of Oxfam whose own credibility was being so seriously questioned on the facing page. Here, within a staple’s breadth, were two competing claims about the legitimacy and accountability of two different types of international organisations — the transnational corporation and the transnational NGO. Both types of organisations are distinctive features of today’s mainly capitalist, neo-liberal and globalised world system. Both are under pressure to be increasingly accountable.

Human Rights organisations have also regularly come in for questioning on their legitimacy and have by no means been immune to the kind of criticisms levelled at Oxfam and others. Some of the most articulate questioning has come from within the human rights movement itself. Chidi Odinkalu has criticised the elite nature of much of the human rights movement and in doing so called into question their legitimacy. Talking about human rights groups in Africa, Odinkalu has observed how they are seldom part of inclusive and participatory struggles for justice but that they appear almost by design to exclude the participation of the people whose welfare they claim to advance.

Most human rights organisations are modelled after northern watchdog organisations, located in an urban area, run by a core management without a membership base (unlike Amnesty International), and dependent solely on overseas funding. The most successful of these organisations only manage to achieve the equivalent status of a public policy think-tank, a research institute, or a specialised publishing house…Instead of being the currency of a social justice or conscience-driven movement, ‘human rights’ has increasingly become the specialised language of a select professional cadre with its own rites of passage and methods of certification. Far from being a badge of honour, human rights activism is, in some of the places I have observed it, increasingly a certificate ofprivilege.[2]

The focus of this paper will be on international NGOs — mainly humanitarian, development and human rights organisations. But it is important to recognise that accountability is a central issue for all forms of human organisations and that it is not just a matter for voluntary organisations. However, as groups who make it their business to demand accountability in others, it could be said that NGOs and human rights organisations have a particular responsibility to lead by example in this area and shine as beacons of legitimacy and accountability.

This paper is in three main parts. First, it reviews the changing understanding of NGO accountability as it has developed in the last ten years. Secondly, it sets out a framework for identifying the main tangible and intangible sources of NGO legitimacy, specifically identifying the question of whether organisational democracy is necessary to NGO legitimacy. Finally, it examines the mechanics of accountability, emphasising stakeholder analysis and involvement as central to accountability methodology alongside an appreciation of context and a commitment to transparency and responsiveness.

Redefining Accountability in the 1990s

The two pages of The Economist cited above, saw both Bayer and Oxfam called to account on two fronts: who they represent and how they perform. For Bayer — an example of The Economist’s group of ‘law-abiding companies’ — there is a very traditional mercantile formula for accountability. The company represents the interests of the shareholder and its performance is measured in profit and growth. This mercantile tradition of accountability has long roots in western capitalism but has now been challenged by progressive business people, NGOs and others who demand that corporate accountability become deeper and broader. Moving beyond a single financial ‘bottom-line’, companies are now being urged to account for a ‘triple bottom-line’ that also encompasses social and environmental accounting. Ethical business is increasingly being understood in terms of ‘corporate citizenship’ that makes companies explicitly responsible for wider ‘public goods’[3]. Their legitimacy increasingly depends on doing this or, at least, being seen to try to do it.

Also in the western tradition, charities have a well-worn way of accounting that has long historical precedent. Many western charities have traditionally reported in a similarly minimalist vein to the business enterprises of the numerous merchant philanthropists who founded or supported many of them. In broad terms, charities have mainly been asked to report on the money raised and spent, the number of poor people reached, and the administrative cost of raising and spending the money. This last measure is the notorious fund-raising and administration ratio that has become the peculiar benchmark of organisational probity and efficiency in the voluntary sector. Strangely, this ratio has always attracted far greater scrutiny than the actual effect of the expenditure on poor people. Such is the pecuniary focus of the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalist charity.

But like commercial companies, NGOs are also forcing themselves, and being required by others, to broaden and deepen their notion of accountability. Their legitimacy also depends on this. With the rise of NGO advocacy as a mainstream strategy in alleviating poverty and working for social justice, issues of accountability and legitimacy have become critical in recent years as NGOs speak out to challenge corporations, governments, armed factions and other non-state actors. Long before it reached the pages of The Economist, discussion of NGO accountability was already well advanced amongst NGOs themselves. Throughout the 1990s, on paper at least, international NGOs working in the humanitarian and development fields had staked out the key issues fairly well. Their policy makers and resident thinkers had long recognised that to be credible and legitimate they were required to meet two main requirements. First, they had to justify the voice with which they spoke in their campaign materials, press conferences and private lobbying. Secondly, they had to prove the effectiveness of the things they actually did in slums, villages and refugee camps around the world. And, of course, all of them realised that one of the best ways to justify the former was by relating it directly to the latter. The corridors of many a relief and development NGO embarking on major advocacy work echoed with the mantra that: ‘we must always be seen to be speaking from our own practical experience’. NGOs knew instinctively that their authority came essentially from their presence in that mysterious place they call ‘the field’.

Performance Accountability

In the 1990s, therefore, the challenge was set within the NGO community to be ‘more accountable’ for what NGOs actually did. In the community of humanitarian agencies, this call to account for agency performance achieved a new urgency in the wake of criticisms of some NGO response to the Rwandan genocide. To their credit, humanitarian NGOs came together to try and put their house in order. In so doing, they overtook their development colleagues and emerged at the end of the decade with several mechanisms to try and achieve this: a Code of Conduct; a Humanitarian Charter and a set of technical standards[4] a not-quite Ombudsman called the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP); a new emphasis on the quality and transparency of evaluations[5]; an active learning network gathering and sharing the lessons learnt from humanitarian operations (ALNAP), together with initiatives to explore quality models and professional accreditation.[6]

On the development side, moves were rather slower with less immediate results in the form of new overview institutions and standards. Nevertheless, things happened. Many NGOs realised that they too had a multiple bottom-line in their development work. It was no longer acceptable to simply report in terms of programme ‘outputs’ like a well dug or the distribution of a tonne of improved seed. The quest for ‘outcome’ monitoring and ‘impact’ assessment began.[7] The practice of social audit was also actively explored by several NGOs — not least because they were also urging social and environmental audit on commercial corporations. From the late 1980s onwards, most international NGOs also adopted strategic planning and logical framework analysis that enabled them to set specific objectives across their whole organisation (from Board level to project level) and account for them corporately.[8] But none of this has proved to be easy. New managerialist modes of working have been difficult to ‘roll out’. Most NGOs have found that profit or outputs are much easier to show than more nuanced questions of outcome, impact and attribution. Creative accountants have a long tradition of complicating financial reporting to make profit a matter of interpretation. But the current art and science of social and environmental accounting is truly complex on occasion. Accounting for the impact or outcome of NGO work can be uncertain, is usually contested and can border on pure speculation at times as NGOs try to track cause and effect between their actions and the personal, social, economic, environmental and political change around their projects.

In the UK, the five biggest international NGOs (British Overseas Aid Group — BOAG) took the lead from the SPHERE humanitarian standards and the new emphasis on quality frameworks in the UK voluntary sector to explore the idea of quality standards in development work.[9] The subsequent report cautioned against the tendency of standards to proliferate and further bureaucratise organisations with an overly procedural mind-set. However, it did recommend the idea of organisational definitions of quality, a commitment to continuous improvement and a core set of around 10 key organisational standards, making the point that several of these (like a participation standard) could be drawn directly from existing human rights standards. A number of humanitarian and development NGOs are continuing to pursue a quality and standards approach. World Vision International has ten ‘ministry standards’ for its 65 member agencies. Oxfam International has agreed common programme standards between its 11 organisations and, most recently, Caritas International has begun its own attempt to set quality standards across its many member organisations. Mike Edwards of the Ford Foundation has also put forward the development of ‘light but firm’ quality standards for NGOs, an independent development Ombudsman, certification and agreed complaints procedures but with no result as yet.[10]

But the risks involved in standardising development are not just bureaucratic but also relational. The BOAG report warned against an over-zealous adoption of a business quality model in particular:

The world of development is not the world of business and may not want to be subsumed into a quintessentially business-like contractual relationship of manufacturer and consumer or service provider and client. In its more charismatic form, western development discourse still talks of a relationship of solidarity, accompaniment and partnership between NGOs and poor people. An overly business-like application of quality and standards could distort such relationships forever.[11]

Mike Edwards has similarly pointed out that the problem with elaborate systems of accountability is that they ‘professionalise’ still further a relationship between NGOs and poor primary stakeholders that should be continuous, immediate and human.[12] More technical accountability mechanisms may mean less relationship

Voice Accountability

If in the last 10 years, NGOs realised they had to account differently for what they did, they also had to account for what they said. This sort of ‘voice accountability’ had to respond to two areas of interrogation: the veracityof what they said and the authority with which they spoke. Although obviously linked, questions of veracity were essentially empirical (can you prove it?) while questions of authority were essentially political (from where do you derive your power to speak?). International NGOs have tried to respond to both. In the 1990s, many of the big NGOs have significantly increased their own research capacity or made strategic alliances with academics and think-tanks to assure the quality of their research. But they have also kept firmly to their mantra of experience-based advocacy. Much of what they advocate, lobby and campaign on uses detail drawn from their own projects. This micro case-study approach is then added to the more macro analysis of academic and policy researchers to produce an advocacy discourse of personalised facts which claim to illustrate trends.

If this is a research technique that seeks to guarantee veracity, the question of authority is more complicated. It is on this point that The Economist and others have sought to pin down NGOs and it is here that many NGO people have felt vulnerable. This vulnerability is not just technical around issues of representation, it is also very personal because not many people in international NGOs are or have been poor themselves. Their experience of poverty and suffering in war or disaster is indirect and mediated through ‘their’ projects. The issue of class is therefore critical to discussion of NGO voice. Being mainly middle class, people in international NGOs can feel, or be made to feel, somehow fraudulent in speaking out about poverty. The British Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, does a particularly good line in tormenting the white man with his burden. She often lashes out at this Achilles heel when being cornered by British NGOs but has few reservations about her own right to boss governments around in Africa and Asia. At the time of the G8 summit in July 2001, she observed “Who is better placed to speak on behalf of the poor, middle-class white people in the north or the elected representatives of the poor of Africa themselves?”[13]

This question of voice is perhaps the most contested area of NGO accountability and legitimacy. It seems to have replaced the old fundraising and administration ratio as the critical criteria of NGO legitimacy in the new century. And curiously, like its predecessor, this new voice ratio also bears very little relation to the actual effectiveness of an NGO in the lives of poor people. Most NGO critics are still not primarily concerned with whether or not NGOs do any good in the struggle against poverty or human rights violations. What matters, it seems, is their class and their politics. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the fundraising ratio determined the key question of charitable probity. In the 21st century, the voice ratio looks set to determine the key matters of NGO legitimacy and credibility.

NGO discussions of voice accountability have been serious and thought through — not least because of the criticisms they receive from critics in rich and poor countries alike. The questions NGOs have asked themselves concentrate on how their voice relates to the people they are primarily concerned about — the poor, people whose rights are violated, and the victims of war. These debates about NGO voice might be summed up as follows:do NGOs speak as the poor, with the poor, for the poor or about the poor? As so often in life, it is the little words in the debate that are complicated rather than the big ones. Arguments of NGO voice accountability are essentially prepositional and hinge on the nature of their relationship with the poor or the victims of human rights violation.

How NGOs answer this question determines the precise nature of their legitimacy. If they are an NGO or CBO (community based organisation) that is made up of poor people or the victims of human rights violations then they can be regarded as speaking as. If an NGO is working very closely with such people and speaks with their consent, then they can be said to be speaking with. If — as much NGO rhetoric declares — the poor and the oppressed are effectively unable to speak out and so are somehow ‘voiceless’ then NGOs could claim to be speaking for or on behalf of them. However, this last form of voice must be treated with great caution as it can be argued that it is in the organisational interests of middle class NGO people to keep lower class people voiceless. In other words, some voiceless-ness may be the result of NGO oppression as well as government or other violent oppression. The problem of northern NGOs ‘capturing’ the agenda and taking over the voice of southern NGOs is well known.[14] Finally, if NGOs are not strictly speaking as, with or for a particular group of poor or victimised people, or are speaking so generally as to make specific relationships meaningless, then they may claim to be speaking about poverty or oppression.

Many NGOs will not have one uniform form of voice. Depending on the situation, an NGO will be speaking with in one place and speaking about in another. But some NGOs and CBOs will always be speaking as while others at the more policy end of the spectrum will always be speaking about. But even in the most rooted and apparently representative of membership organisations, certain power dynamics may mean that the voice of the group may also be ‘captured’ by a section within the group and skewed accordingly. It is obviously important for NGOs and human rights groups to be clear about where their voice comes from in a given situation and to be transparent about it. The precise nature of their legitimacy will change depending on which mode of voice they are using. But they will lose all legitimacy if they are found to be masquerading — a sort of ventriloquist to the poor and oppressed.

Sources of Legitimacy

As seen from the above review of the new accountability challenges to NGOs, legitimacy and accountability are not the same thing, but they are closely related. Without indulging the academic’s tendency towards protracted definition, the rest of the paper will use a single sentence summary definition of legitimacy and accountability. It will then try to unpack each term a little further and identify some principles which NGOs and human rights organisations might use to develop and argue their accountability and legitimacy.

For our purposes, legitimacy might be defined as ‘the particular status with which an organisation is imbued and perceived at any given time that enables it to operate with the general consent of peoples, governments, companies and non-state groups around the world’. From this working definition, it can be further observed that an NGO or human rights group’s legitimacy is both derived and generated. It is derived from morality and law. It is generated by veracity, tangible support and more intangible goodwill.

Moral and Legal Sources

At a fundamental ethical level, an organisation derives its legitimacy legally and morally. NGOs are essentially self-mandating. In the international arena, by definition, they do not operate in accordance with specific mandates given to them by states under international law. This is in contrast to specifically mandated organisations like the ICRC and United Nations agencies. Their legality and their moral recognition must therefore be argued more from first principles than from specific international statutes.

NGOs gain legitimacy simply from claiming their legality within international law and by their being law-abiding. The fact that they operate legally, nationally and internationally in accordance with government legislation thus contributes to their legitimacy. Internationally, NGOs can also claim to operate legally as NGOs recognised in Art.71 of the UN Charter. As importantly, NGOs and human rights groups can claim to work in support of international law because in their human rights, humanitarian or development work, they operate with reference to human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law. Under international humanitarian law, the staff of NGOs operating as impartial humanitarian organisations are recognised as protected persons in an armed conflict.[15] Protection by these laws increases their legitimacy.

But the legitimacy of human rights groups and development NGOs does not come as a result of simply recognising human rights law. As organisations of concerned people, such organisations can actually claim legality, legitimacy and protection from these laws because of the importance these laws place on human duties alongside human rights.[16] Key articles of human rights law emphasise the individual’s responsibility to promote respect for the human rights of others and to limit their actions when they may violate the rights of others.[17] These are duties that people must actively take on. Such duties and responsibilities have been spelt out in further declarations relevant to NGOs and human rights groups. In 1986, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Development. This makes clear that ‘all human beings have a responsibility for development, individually and collectively’.[18] Building on this principle of responsibility, the UN General Assembly also adopted a specific Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998 that affirms the right of individuals and groups to promote and protect human rights.[19]

So, in an important way, an organisation’s duty or responsibility to promote development and human rights can be argued from international human rights law. In much of their advocacy work with governments, armed factions, corporations and the public, NGOs and human rights groups can be seen as reminding people of these duties and, in so doing, meeting their own responsibilities and duties under human rights law.

But legality is only a small part of an organisation’s fundamental legitimacy. An NGO or human rights group’s wider legitimacy is morally derived. An organisational mission to challenge and end human rights violations is derived explicitly from a moral case based on the values of human equality, dignity, impartiality, justice, freedom and personal and collective responsibility. This moral case gives human rights organisations and NGOs an ethical legitimacy that resonates with the moral reasonableness of people across the world. Expression and recognition of this fundamental morality is essential to an organisation’s legitimacy. This is particularly important because simply being part of the new sacred space of ‘civil society’ is not enough to guarantee an NGO’s legitimacy. As Alan Fowler has pointed out, there are many groups who exist in the space made by civil society who cannot claim moral legitimacy. He gives the example of the Klu Klux Klan in the USA but there are many other civil society organisations around the world who are distinctly ‘uncivil’ in their mission and values and cannot claim moral legitimacy.[20]

Tangible and Intangible Sources of Legitimacy

If legitimacy is thus derived legally and morally from first principles, it is also actively generated tangibly and intangibly in practice.

Tangible Support

An organisation’s most tangible form of legitimacy probably comes in the form of direct support from the people it seeks to help, its members, its supporters and its admirers. Perhaps the most powerful form of tangible support for a human rights organisation comes if it has the strong support of the people whose rights it is trying to protect and to realise. The fact that an organisation has their consent and they feel that it is working with them in pursuit of their interests is a strong source of legitimacy. Similarly, if an NGO has an extensive and representative membership, their legitimacy is enhanced considerably because they can show the precise extent of their support and identify it as essentially democratic.

But most NGOs are non-membership organisations. Yet they can still make a strong case around the tangible support they receive — albeit in a way that it is not explicitly democratic and vote-based. For example, the financial support that Oxfam receives from the public from 600,000 committed monthly givers, thousands of other additional occasional givers and from governments gives it a large claim to both popular and official legitimacy. In the UK, Oxfam gets massive voluntary support from around 20,000 volunteers. Such contributions in time and in kind are another hugely important element of support. So too is the kind of support that can come from the media, from opinion-formers and academics who support Oxfam’s arguments or disagree with them from a position of recognition and respect. This kind of tangible support that is made manifest in money, time, intellectual agreement and shared conviction has to be actively generated by NGOs and human rights groups. It can reveal that a broad base of people and governments back an organisation as a morally important and practically effective operation, and one with which they actively seek to ally themselves. In Oxfam’s case, such support generates a very tangible asset in Oxfam’s legitimacy.

But such support must be linked to real and transparent accountability mechanisms. If Oxfam’s publicity material and supporters’ briefings give a completely different view of Oxfam’s programmes to that which actually exists on the ground, then their legitimacy on this score would be fraudulent. Direct support does not of itself create legitimacy but only when the supporters are properly informed about what they are actually supporting. Popular consent for Oxfam’s activities, therefore, must be ‘informed consent’ if Oxfam is to be truly legitimate on this count.

Tangible Relationships, Knowledge and Expertise

An organisation’s legitimacy is also generated from its knowledge and its relationships. What an organisation knows and whom it knows is a major source of its legitimacy. That a human rights group knows certain facts about human rights law and patterns of human rights violation is extremely important, giving it a legitimate expertise. Because NGOs know people who experience human rights violation, poverty and extreme suffering (like IDPs in protracted war), or people who are in a position to do something about it (like politicians, military leaders and TNCs) also gives these organisations legitimate contacts. The fact that an NGO has relationships with people at some or all levels of a problem of human rights violation means that it generates legitimacy from knowing such people directly. In this way, precise knowledge and the right relationships are an important and quite tangible source of legitimacy. These legitimacy assets might be summed up as valuable expertise and connections.

Tangible Performance

As discussed above, legitimacy is also generated by good performance. An NGO is more legitimate the more it can show that its actual performance positively effects human rights, poverty and suffering. Effective performance gives added value to a group’s legitimacy because it means that it not only knows about human rights violations and oppression but can really do something about them. Tangible action by an NGO which delivers a good performance and enables real benefits to people is thus a major source of legitimacy. It means that an NGO does not just care about human rights violations, know about human rights, know both victims and powerful people, raise money for the cause but also actually achieves things. Proven good performance can transform an NGO from being a morally good idea to being a very practical moral pursuit. The fact that it works in practice makes it a more legitimate enterprise.

As a tangible asset of organisational legitimacy, performance and impact are extremely significant. Come the crunch, they may act as something like the asset of last resort in any contest over an organisation’s legitimacy. However, results are not everything. In any performance, the means to the end are vitally important when it comes to generating legitimacy. Notions of NGO performance and impact must be properly nuanced and take full account of human rights in their means as well as their ends. A good performance is not simply one that gets the obvious result. For example, an all-male team of surgeons and nurses may well conduct a successful operation on a woman that saves her life. But they may do so in such a way that they fail to discuss her illness with her, make sexist remarks about her body, give precedence to male patients who turn up after her, operate without administering an anaesthetic and send her home immediately. This is a result but it is not a good performance. So it is with human rights work, NGOs must be able to show evidence of a well-rounded performance that resonates with the values of human rights, not simply a result.

Intangible Sources of Trust, Integrity and Reputation

But there are also more intangible aspects of an NGO’s legitimacy. Qualities such as credibility, reputation, trust and integrity are critical to an organisation’s legitimacy. Although they are closely dependent on the tangible sources of legitimacy — support, knowledge and performance — they are unusual because they can take on a life of their own. They thrive on perception to function more like belief than fact. They can rely on image rather than reality and may not require any empirical experience to influence people one way or the other. For example, I might easily have a strong sense that Organisation X is a really good thing even though I have never given it my money, seen its work, read its books or met anyone that works for it. But I feel that it is good and legitimate because I have a sense of its credibility, its integrity and its reputation. And so, I feel able to trust it and regard it as highly legitimate.

These intangible qualities generate what an accountant might call ‘goodwill’ on her balance sheet. Classicists might describe them as determining an organisation’s ‘aura’ (literally its breeze or breath) or establishing the particular ‘kudos’ of an agency (its glory or renown). Whatever we call it, these more intangible assets of legitimacy are hugely important because they are the basis on which most people perceive and value an organisation of which they have little or no direct experience.

Legitimacy without Democracy?

The question asked of Oxfam by The Economist — ‘Who elected Oxfam?’ — implies an assumption that only democratically elected organisations are truly accountable and legitimate. The easy retort to such a question is obviously ‘Who elected The Economist?’ But the democracy issue requires more thought than this because it will be a determining point for NGO legitimacy and requires NGOs to have a solid answer to it. The are perhaps two possible answers. Either NGOs could agree that only democratic structures are truly accountable and legitimate. This would require them all to transform themselves into democratic organisations. Or, NGOs could make a strong case for non-democratic accountability. This will require them to shape the case and prove it.

Either answer requires some pretty massive change in the NGO sector. Opting for democracy would require major reorganisation. Opting for the second position would require the elaboration of some very considered argument alongside some accountability mechanisms to prove it. Alan Fowler has observed that:

Most NGOs do not have a civic constituency of governing members. The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya and the Landless Rural Workers Movement in Brazil — NGOs with mass membership — are not typical. More usual is a self-perpetuating, self-selected set of directors or trustees.[21]

This is obviously the case in the great majority of human rights organisations and NGOs and the onus on such organisations is to show that they can still be legitimate without being democratic. A key part of this argument will be determined by the claims they make for themselves as to whether they speak as, with, for or about oppressed people. Different claims will require different accountability hurdles to be jumped to claim their legitimacy. Alan Whaites of World Vision feels strongly that most NGOs of the kind described by Fowler can be most legitimate if they specifically position themselves as critics and experts:

The special contribution of civil society has often been the art of critique or the negative campaign rather than the promotion of a real vision for change. Landmines, debt, slavery…civil society, particularly in the rich world, usually knows more clearly what it wishes to abolish than to build.[22]

He concludes that real change will and must really be brought about by political society, its parties and its politicians but that as a key part of this process “civil society has a real and legitimate role in the education of political society on issues in which it has expertise”. This expert and educational role may be enough for some NGOs. But it may not be enough for some human rights groups and NGOs who want to be a specific part of political society and to be as one with some of the parties and politicians within it. As part of their efforts to argue their legitimacy, all NGOs will have to be transparent about the precise nature of their activism. Yet, the idea of activism still remains strangely unexplored in development circles.

Methods of Accountability

If these are some of the main sources of an NGO’s legitimacy, they are intricately connected to specific mechanisms of accountability. If performance is critical to an NGO’s legitimacy, it must then find convincing and transparent ways of proving the quality of its performance. If goodwill and trust are critical, the same NGO must find ways to gauge such intangibles. If an NGO claims that it gains part of its mandate from the people that support it and work with it, then it must be able to show that it is engaged in a meaningful relationship with these people which ensures they are informed about the organisation and influential in its operations. And beyond just proving and gauging these things, an NGO must also be able to show that it is acting on them. In other words, that it is acting positively on what it learns about its performance and the levels of trust in which it is held — then reporting its new actions back to its supporters.[23]

A working definition of NGO accountability has, therefore, to involve the three aspects of reporting, involving and responding. In this way, we might define NGO accountability as: ‘the process by which an NGO holds itself openly responsible for what it believes, what it does and what it does not do in a way which shows it involving all concerned parties and actively responding to what it learns’. The fact that accountability is primarily a process means that applying it is all about designing and operating practical mechanisms to make it a reality. NGO thinking and experience on accountability to date suggests a number of key factors that are critical to designing the right kind of mechanisms.

The great thrust of evolving thinking on accountability has centred on the need to recognise a much broader range of people (living and not yet born) to whom any human organisation must be accountable. In order to identify these people, the methodology of stakeholder analysis has become one of the key tools of NGO and other organisations’ accountability. The first step in any accountability process is to map and analyse an NGO’s various stakeholders in a given situation. Even an initial mapping usually reveals certain conflicting interests between stakeholders. An NGO must then find ways to prioritise these stakeholders in some way as primary, secondary etc. This stakeholder analysis then becomes the key document with which to design the right accountability mechanisms — whether they be social audits, evaluations, external regulation, complaints procedures, membership systems, environmental impact assessments, specific stakeholder surveys etc.

Contextualising Accountability

A key part of the process of tailoring the right accountability mechanism to the right stakeholders is a recognition of context. The context in which human rights organisations and NGOs operate is by no means uniform. For example, the right accountability mechanism for a human rights organisation working on labour rights in a European country with high levels of literacy and well developed unions is not likely to be appropriate for one working on labour rights with working children in South Asia where literacy rates are low, child labour remains non-unionised and where obvious activism may carry extreme personal risks. In other words, accountability procedures cannot be realistically expected to be uniform across a wide range of NGO activity. Accountability methodology will have to be developed imaginatively in any many contexts where ‘off the shelf’ mechanisms may be unworkable.

Accountability mechanisms must be open for all to see. While this is a given in current accountability doctrine, it may pose certain problems for human rights organisations who may not always be in a position to reveal their sources and contacts – some of the ‘how’ of their operations. Nevertheless, any accountability system must recognise transparency as primary and identify specific (and transparent!) criteria for reserving certain information on occasion.

A Basic Framework

Several people in the NGO world have produced simple accountability frameworks.[24]For most NGOs, only a small part of this accountability is legally required but increasingly the bulk of it is more professionally, commercially, politically and morally demanded. Although the predominant metaphor of accountability is financial, the actual demands of NGO accountability today are much wider than a financial procedure that ensures that figures tally. Accountability is much more about reporting on relationships, intent, objectives, method and impact. As such, it deals in information which is quantitative and qualitative, hard and soft, empirical and speculative. It records facts and makes judgements. Also, current orthodoxy in accountability is as keen to ‘embrace failure’ and so learn from it, as it would be to celebrate success and repeat it. The simple frameworks to date might be summarised as having four main dimensions to them.

Accountability for What?

An accountability process should start by identifying the rights involved in any NGO programme, the relevant rights-holders and duty-bearers related to that right and the content of the duty in the situation. From this rights-duties analysis, an NGO can then identify its own specific duty and set out to account for it, while making clear the responsibilities of others. It can then account for what it does by being able to tell as true a story as possible about the piece of work that it did in a given situation. This story will involve an angle on all the different people involved, their experience of the work, the relationships that emerged, the quality and standards expected, the money that was spent, the things that it was spent on. From these perspectives, it should then be able to report on the overall impact that this combination of people, relationships, money, things and time had on the rights concerned.

Accountability to Whom?

In any piece of work, an NGO will need to account to different groups of people as stakeholders. These will be the targeted rights-holders, the various duty-bearers and those secondary and tertiary stakeholders beyond the primary stakeholders who operate as interested or critical observers.

Accountability How?

Different stakeholders will require accounting to in different ways. Some people will require figures alone. Others will require figures and impact. Some will be literate, others will not. Some will want to know a lot of detail. Others will want to know the main points. So accountability will require diverse media. Accountability processes must also involve key stakeholders through representative meetings, research, representative assemblies or voting systems. But virtues common to all NGO accountability mechanisms must be veracity and transparency. What an NGO is saying about itself, or what it reports others as saying about it, must be reasonably true, easily available and accessible to all.

Accountability to Improve

NGO accountability mechanisms must show clearly how the agency is responding to what it has learnt and what its stakeholders are telling it. The mechanisms chosen must demand and show responsiveness by informing people about, and involving people in, new action taken.


This paper has tried to give an overview of some of the key themes in the current discussion of NGO legitimacy and accountability. At the end of the day, questions of NGO legitimacy and accountability can only really be answered by an organisation once it has decided what kind of organisation it wants to be. In other words, once it has defined the exact nature of its activism. Some will opt to become democratic social movements. Others will remain as accountable expert organisations. Ironically, those NGOs who choose the latter course might then do well to adopt the Bayer Group’s strap line ‘Expertise with Responsibility’! Or, more ironic still, both expert groups and social movements could agree to come under the joint banner of Price Waterhouse Cooper’s global strapline ‘Together We Can Change the World’! Such is the mad rush for respectable global citizenship.


[1] The Economist, 23rd September 2000, p. 129.

[2] Chidi Anselm Odinakalu, “Why More Africans Don’t Use Human Rights Language”, Human Rights Dialogue, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs 2, 1, 2000.

[3] Simon Zadek, The Civil Corporation, London: Earthscan, 2001 and Building Corporate Accountability, London: Earthscan, 1997.

[4] SPHERE, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, Oxfam, 2000.

[5] Wood et al, Evaluating International Humanitarian Action, London: Zed, 2001; ALNAP, Humanitarian Action: Learning from Evaluation, London, 2001.

[6] See Dorothea Hilhorst, Being Good at Doing Good? Review of Debates and Initiatives Concerning the Quality of Humanitarian Assistance, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, October 2001. Also, HAP Project, Humanitarian Accountability: Key Elements and Operational Framework, Geneva, 2001.

[7] Chris Roche, Impact Assessment for Development Agencies: Learning to Value Change, Oxfam, 1999; Mike Edwards and David Hulme, Non-Governmental Organisations: Performance an Accountability, London: Earthscan, 1995.

[8] Tina Wallace, Standardising Development, Oxford: Worldview 1997.

[9] Hugo Slim, Future Imperatives: Quality, Standards and Human Rights, Report of a Study to Explore Quality Standards for the British Overseas Aid Group, Oxford: Oxford Brookes University, October 1999.

[10] Michael Ewards, NGO Rights and Responsibilities: A New Deal for Global Governance, London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2000, p. 30.

[11] Hugo Slim, “Not Philanthropy But Rights”, International Journal of Human Rights, 2002, p. 8.

[12] Michael Edwards, Future Positive: International Co-operation in the 21st Century, London: Earthscan, 1999, chapter 11.

[13] Clare Short, quoted in Jeremy Seabrook, “Why Clare Short is Wrong”, Guardian, July 24, 2001.

[14] Alan Fowler, Civil Society, NGDOs and Social Development, Geneva: UNRISD, 2000, pp. 25-27; Wachira Maina, Kenya: The State, Donors and the Politics of Democratisation, in Alison Van Rooy, Civil Society and the Aid Industry, London: Earthscan, 1998.

[15] Protection and legitimacy provided by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols have also been enhanced in UN law by the 1994 UN Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

[16] For a full exploration of this issue, see International Council on Human Rights Policy, Taking Duties Seriously: Individual Duties in Human Rights Law, Geneva: ICHRP, 1999.

[17] See for example: Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Preamble to the two International Covenants, and the Preamble to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.

[18] Declaration on the Right to Development, Article 2(2).

[19] This is officially called The Declaration on the Rights and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

[20] Alan Fowler, Civil Society, NGOs and Social Development, Geneva: UNRISD, 2000.

[21] Alan Fowler, Civil Society, NGDOs and Social Development, Geneva, UNRISD, 2000, p36.

[22] Alan Whaites, NGOs: Facing Dilemmas and Answering Critics, in Development Dilemmas, World Vision, forthcoming 2002.

[23] Peter Raynard, ALNAP Paper on Mapping Accountability in Humanitarian Assistance, 2000, p. 7, describes the ‘accountability cycle’ as progressing from responsibility, to action, to reporting, to responsiveness and back to responsibility.

[24] This summary draws particularly on Raynard op cit and The Humanitarian Accountability Project, Briefing 3, Humanitarian Action and Accountability: Why is it an Issue?, Geneva, 2001. It also draws on Hugo Slim, “Not Philanthropy But Rights”, International Journal of Human Rights, 2002.

Reassessing the Need for Emergency Seed Relief Post-Disaster

The Case of Honduras after Hurricane Mitch [1]

by Jon Magnar Haugen [2] and Cary Fowler [3]


This paper is based on interviews with farmers that received emergency bean-seed provisions in Yorito, Honduras following Hurricane Mitch. It analyses the need for and appropriateness of these provisions. Although crop losses were extensive in Yorito, most farmers were able to secure a harvest of at least one major crop, and many of those who lost all their beans had access to local seed sources. No bean varieties were lostin Yorito as a result of Mitch. Conversely, as provisions introduced improved varieties that were previously unavailable, they augmented thelocal gene pool. However, the seeds provisioned were of a narrow genetic base (due to the low variation in the varieties distributed). Taking account of the differences in agroecological and socioeconomic variables between communities and households, the seeds provisioned were not appropriate to all farmers.


Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in October 1998, leaving Honduras with thousands of dead and an economy in ruins. Landslides, floods and winds devastated houses, infrastructure and cropland. Rural communities of subsistence producers experienced severe harvest failures (UN 1998).

As most subsistence farmers depend on their own agricultural production, or other local sources, for their planting material for the next cropping season, it was expected that the harvest failure would severely restrain people’s ability to save or secure such planting material (CIAT et al 1998). In response, various institutions distributed seeds with the intention of restoring agricultural production and reducing the dependency on external food provision (de Barbentane and Fowler, 2003).

However strong, the linkage between agricultural production and food/seed security of subsistence households is only indirect. Coping strategies often make it possible to secure food and seeds despite harvest failures. These capacities may make programs for emergency seed provision not only unnecessary, but even counterproductive (Pottier 1997, Sperling 1997, Longley and Richards 1999).

The present study, based on research in villages that received emergency seed provisions in Honduras following Hurricane Mitch, assesses the need for such provisions. In addition, it discusses the appropriateness of the approaches that were employed in these programs.

The fieldwork this text is based upon, was undertaken in the municipality of Yorito in central Honduras in February, March and April of 2000 (see Haugen 2001). A survey was undertaken with 85 respondents in six different communities, using a questionnaire with open-ended questions. The resulting quantitative data were supplemented by information obtained in interviews with individuals and groups. These small-holder communities cultivate beans in two seasons a year, and maize once a year as their staple crops.

In the following text, the communities are placed in three groups, depending on their altitude. In the ‘low’ communities of Luquigue and Jalapa, households cultivate lands at 600-900 meters above the sea level. In the ‘intermediate’ communities of La Ladera and Vallecillos, and in the ‘high’ communities of Santa Cruz and Mina Honda, households cultivate at 900-1200 meters and 1200-1600 meters, respectively. Access to markets was generally poorer at higher altitudes.

The households that were interviewed were classified with respect to their well-being, using 12 different indicators [4] . Households in Luquigue were found to be relatively well-off, while poor households were most frequent in Vallecillos and Mina Honda. In Jalapa, La Ladera and Santa Cruz, households were generally intermediately well off.

Cropping system Food security and crop traits

Farmers have various “interests” that their cropping system is meant to fulfil. While the ultimate goal is to achieve a high level of well-being, the more immediate interests may be to achieve a good harvest in terms of quantity and quality. Farmers undertake a continuous evaluation of their seed lots [5] to secure that the seeds/crops serve these interests satisfatorily (see Bellon 1996). A number of different criteria can be considered in this evaluation, reflecting the different interests involved.

Table 1 shows the criteria that were most frequently reported among respondents to the survey in Yorito, and how farmers evaluate the most common bean-varieties in the area relative to these criteria. The table shows that varieties are most frequently evaluated with respect to criteria like ‘production’, ‘market acceptance’ and ‘taste’, indicating that, overall, these criteria are most important to farmers.

Table 1 : The number of respondents at low and high altitudes who have a positive or a negative perception of different traits of the bean-varieties that are most common in their area*.

Variety TioCanela Retinto Chingo Concha Rosada Pedreño
Zone Low High Low Low High High
Perception Pos Neg Pos Neg Pos Neg Pos Neg Pos Neg Pos Neg
Production 27 16 4 7 11 1 11 24 3 13 1
Market acceptance 21 20 1 18 9 23 1 13
Colour 6 1 3 3 4 2 1
Taste 8 8 2 14 14 1 7 1 10 8 13
Adaptation to zone 3 2 10 2 14 7
Adaptation to production system 8 5 4 2 3 1 1 6 2 5
Resistance to drought 3 3 1 3 4 1 1
Resistance to diseases 14 2 1 9 6 5 9 7 4 7
Resistance to pests 6 2 2 4 5 2 1 3
Storability 1 6 4 1 5
Time for maturity 5 6 1 2 6 9 1
Simultaneous maturation 5 1 4 2 1
Nutrition 2 1 2 4
Maintenance of tradition 2

*The figures in this table cannot be directly compared across zones or across varieties as the sample size may differ from case to case. For instance, almost all the farmers in the low zone have tried Tio Canela and could evaluate this variety, while the number of farmers who could evaluate Chingo and Retinto was much lower. As fieldwork did not register sample sizes, it is impossible to give the data in proportions and compare columns directly. However, the reader will be able to use the table to infer various information, as presented in the text.

Table 1 reveals that farmers’ experiences with different varieties of beans differ strongly. Furthermore, experiences with Tio Canela, the variety most commonly supplied after Mitch, differ markedly between zones. The criteria farmers use to judge their seed lots vary as well, both between communities and between households, and may even differ within households (Synnevåg et al 1999). While a significant number of respondents at higher altitudes in Yorito were interested in varieties with ‘adaptation to zone’, ‘storability’, ‘simultaneous maturation’ and ‘nutrition’, respondents at lower altitudes put much less emphasis on such criteria.

The differences in the criteria farmers use to judge their seed lots reflects differences in interests between farmers. Lack of homogeneity in such ’sets of interests’ may be analysed in the light of differences in socioeconomic conditions between zones. While households in zone 1 are relatively well-off and have easy access to markets for inputs and produce, households in zone 3 are poorer and have less access to markets. Easier access by farmers in zone 1 to fertilisers and pesticides may reduce the demand for varietal adaptation. The widespread use of silos for storage similarly reduces the relevance of storability. An interest for nutrition may be reduced when more foodstuffs can be purchased in the market.

Strategies for securing seeds

Most subsistence farmers depend on their own production, or other local sources, for their planting material for the next cropping season (Wright et al 1994). Among respondents in Yorito, only 11 % (9 out of 82) said they have ever purchased bean seeds in the market. On the other hand, only 21 % said they exclusively use seeds saved domestically, so the majority of the respondents (68 %) base their seed security on a combination of domestic saving and local, informal procurement.

Seeds can be procured locally in a number of different ways, through seed exchange, or exchange for money or labour, but also as loans. Small amounts may be procured in the form of gifts, but this form of social support has not been widespread in recent years.

Seed procurement strategies vary strongly between zones in Yorito. While saving seeds domestically is most frequent in Santa Cruz and Mina Honda, purchases in the market are employed most frequently in Luquigue and Jalapa. This observation is relevant for research on the intensity of seed shortages: While households in Santa Cruz and Mina Honda were underrepresented among the households that acquired seeds externally after Mitch, this alone does not indicate that the seed shortage was less intense in these communities, as these households have a tendency towards saving seeds domestically.

Dynamics in PGR use

Table 2 shows the number of farmers growing different bean varieties across different cropping seasons. While some varieties have fallen out of use during the last ten years, others have been introduced and are now widely used.

Table 2: The number of respondents in Yorito cultivating different bean varieties in six different cropping seasons.

Variety Season 1990, prim 1990, post 1998, prim 1998, post 1999, prim 1999, post
Concha Rosada1 31 26 42 40 40 32
Retinto2 18 19 15 14 10 9
Chingo2 13 11 3 7 5 5
Del Estica1 13 8
Concha Blanca4 9 7 2 3 4 6
Pedreño1 7 5 4 4 4 1
Careto1 3 1
Chile4 2 2 2 1 2
Catracho1 2 1 1
San Martin2 1 3 3 6 3
Puerto Rico2 1 1 2 1 2
Tio Canela3 8 14 45 59
Dorado3 3 7 14 4
Don Silvio3 3 2
DICTA 1233 2
Banqueño 1 1
Concha Blanca rojo 1
Gualiqueme 2
Liberal 1
Negro Concha M. 1 1 1
Pansa de Mono 1
Quarenteño 1
Unknown 1 1
Number of varieties 14 10 11 13 14 13
Total number of seed lots5 104 81 83 99 137 127

1 Land-races

2 Improved varieties introduced 10-20 years ago

3 Improved varieties introduced 1-3 years ago. Tio Canela and Dorado were widely distributed in post-Mitch emergency seed provisions

4 Unclear origin

5 As some farmers manage more than one seed lot, the total number of seed lots exceeds the number of farmers.

The effects of Mitch

Effects on varietal diversity

Mitch struck in October 1998, affecting the postrera of beans. FAO (1996) calls attention to the danger that disasters, such as Mitch, may cause the loss of crop genetic diversity. As shown in Table 2, two varieties that were cultivated in the postrera of 1998 were not cultivated in 1999, and may therefore be candidates for such loss. However, these two varieties have always been cultivated very sparingly, and it is impossible to conclude from the survey that these have become extinct. Conversely, in-depth interviews brought information that these varieties were still in use on the time of the fieldwork.

Effects on food security

The proportion of respondents in Yorito that reported crop losses of maize and beans as a result of Mitch is provided in Tables 3 and 4, respectively. The tables report the proportion of respondents that claimed any loss whatsoever. In the case of beans, the proportion of farmers that reported a total loss is also given.

Losses varied across zones and between crops. Farmers contended that the differences observed are related to differences in the agroecological conditions between zones. As the second crop of beans at lower altitudes was sown well before Mitch, bean plants were at intermediate stages of development when Mitch struck. Most farmers in this zone cultivate level terrain, which became waterlogged as a result of Mitch. This caused heavy bean losses. Maize, on the other hand, was already mature and the maize that was not already harvested tolerated waterlogging. At higher altitudes, the maize was not yet mature, and the stronger winds at these altitudes caused lodging. The second crop of beans, however, was in many cases not yet sown, while in other cases the germinating plants could survive, as steep fields, common in these zones, did not become waterlogged.

Table 3: Proportion of respondents in different zones in Yorito that reported crop losses of maize.

Zone Proportion of farmers experiencing any loss whatsoever
Zone 1 (Luquigue/Jalapa) 31,0% (n=29)
Zone 2 (La Ladera/Vallecillos) 66,7% (n=24)
Zone 3 (Santa Cruz/Mina Honda) 79,3% (n=29)

Table 4: Proportion of respondents in different zones in Yorito that reported crop losses of beans.

Zone Proportion of farmers experiencing any loss whatsoever Proportion of farmers experiencing total loss
Luquigue 92,3% (n=13) 61,5% (n=13)
Jalapa 69,2% (n=13) 30,8% (n=13)
Zone 2 59,1% (n=22) 36,4% (n=22)
Zone 3 55,6% (n=27) 18,5% (n=27)

Evidence suggests that most farmers in Yorito were able to secure a harvest of at least one major crop, reducing problems with food shortages. This was the case even in the southern region of Choluteca, which was severely affected by Mitch (Haugen 2001). This indicates that cultivating different crops, thus diversifying cropping systems, was important in preventing food shortages after Mitch. However, preventive strategies are not the only way to reduce vulnerability towards harvest failures. Most households have livestock, an important reserve when the crops fail. Off-farm employment exists. In Yorito, day-labouring is widespread in the coffee-sector, for example. Informal mechanisms for the provision of seeds to seed-short households also exist, and seed loans are widespread.

In some cases, however, the use of certain coping mechanisms started to erode the very basis of long-term household food security: some sold land in exchange for food. Thus, there is no doubt that food provisions that were given in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch were crucial for some households.

Seed security after Mitch

Despite the crop losses caused by Mitch, only 9,3 % (7 out of 75) of the respondents who wanted to cultivate beans in the Primera 1999 reported that they had insufficient amounts of seeds for this season. Of these seed-deficient households, three reported that they are chronically deficient, meaning that they probably would be deficient even in the absence of Mitch. The absence of significant seed-shortage after Mitch is confirmed by studies of price-changes for seeds after Mitch. There was no major price-increase for seeds in Yorito after Mitch, indicating that seeds were accessible to farmers. However, seeds were extensively distributed in Yorito. How would the picture have looked if no such distributions had taken place?

Need for seed provisions

About one-third of the respondents to the survey reported that they had lost their entire harvest of beans (Table 4). However, the experience of harvest failures is not uncommon in this area. The overall proportion of farmers who occasionally experience harvest failures of such intensity that they need to look for seeds elsewhere, is slightly above half. People are accustomed to securing seeds elsewhere when the household supply fails. As two-thirds of the households in the region were able to secure some harvest and the bean harvest of more than one-third was unaffected, seed shortages would not have been acute even in the absence of relief supplies.

Choice of beneficiaries

Emergency seed provisions were undertaken at a high scale in Yorito after Mitch. Of 75 households that planned to cultivate beans in the first cropping season after Mitch, 49 received provisions. How efficient were agencies in targeting those households in need?

Households whose domestic supply was deficient were over-represented among households that received emergency seed provisions (75 % of non self-sufficient households received seeds, compared to 56,4 % of self-sufficient households). However, this tendency is not statistically relevant (p-value for Chi-square-test = 0,091 (n=75)), so the relief efforts lacked a strong bias towards seed-deficient households.

More prosperous households were more likely to receive provisions than poor households (p-value = 0,77 (n=75)). This might be accounted for by the fact that Luquigue, which is comprised of relatively well-off households, was most severely affected by Mitch. However, it has already been shown that farmers in this community supply themselves with seeds from formal markets even in regular years, so these farmers may not have needed seed relief. As noteworthy is the fact that households that were already actively taking part in farmer networks organised by the organisations that undertook seed provisions were far more likely to receive such provisions. This latter tendency is statistically relevant (p-value <0,01 (n=75)).

Choice of varieties

As shown, even self-sufficient households took advantage of the opportunity of receiving seeds from the relief supplies. This enthusiasm for trying out new material may simply be based in curiosity, but may also suggest that there was dissatisfaction with traditional varieties. Tio Canela, the most commonly supplied variety, increased in use from the first to the second season in 1999. Farmers generally liked it. Clearly, making this new variety accessible to farmers was an important outcome of assistance efforts.

At higher altitudes, however, Tio Canela enjoys few advantages compared to traditional varieties. Tio Canela is less productive, and has a higher degree of variation in yield than traditional varieties (Haugen 2001). As farmers generally appreciate productive and stable varieties, it may be argued that focusing solely on Tio Canela and similar improved varieties, could not be optimal for restoring the short-term food security of seed-short households after Mitch.

Though traditional varieties were not lost as a direct result of Mitch, the introduced varieties may gradually replace traditional ones. Table 2 shows that Retinto, Chingo and Pedreño are all in danger of being replaced.Chingo may be most vulnerable. According to Table 1, Chingo has no advantages relative to Tio Canela, suggesting that farmers have good arguments for discarding the variety. Thus, unless new advantages emerge, farmers cannot be expected to maintain this variety.

The threat of genetic erosion, resulting from the abandonment of traditional varieties when new varieties are introduced, should not be an argument against the introduction of new varieties. Rather, the introduction of new varieties may, through making more material accessible to farmers, strengthen farmers’ traditions for experimenting with material and thus adapting to changing conditions. However, there is a different question of whether post-disaster turmoils are an appropriate occasion for such introductions.

Mitch did not restrict farmers access to material in the way some severe or repeated disasters may. However, it is important to recognise that disasters, and post-disaster relief, may undermine farmers’ capacities to experiment and adapt even in other manners. The ever-increasing presence of external organisations, inter alia, in supplying seeds post-disaster, may undermine farmers’ confidence in their traditional systems for securing seeds. This might also cause erosion of traditions for experimenting with and selecting germplasm. Thus, there is a danger that the traditional system of varieties being adopted and abandoned on the basis of farmers’ own experiences is becoming substituted by a system where institutions external to the agricultural system is making the decisions. Thus, relief agencies and other external actors may trigger genetic erosion even when disasters themselves do not have an impact.


The overall picture of communities that remained largely seed-secure even after Hurricane Mitch leaves no evidence of hurricane-caused genetic erosion in bean and maize systems in Yorito. Moreover, the simultaneous cultivation of maize and beans made farmers less vulnerable to the disaster, and generally, food security was protected in the short run. This suggests that the massive seed relief efforts in Yorito may not have been entirely necessary.

Taking account of the complexity of and differences in ‘concern profiles’ between households and communities, the strategy of the post-Mitch seed relief, built on a narrow genetic base, may have been simplistic. Lack of targeting towards seed-deficient and poor households suggests either that relief agencies could have discovered there was no major seed emergency, or that they were simply unable to distinguish those in need from others.

In the long run, the distribution of new varieties augmented the existing gene pool and may ultimately promote more effective farmer plant breeding and selection. However, programs of emergency seed provision may also undermine informal institutions that people employ to cope with food and seed shortages, and others that people employ to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Time will tell.


Barbentane, S. De and C. Fowler (2003) Seed Relief after Hurricane Mitch in Honduras: A Critical Analysis of Institutional Responses. (Manuscript)

Bellon, M.R. (1996) The Dynamics of Crop Infraspecific Diversity: A Conceptual Framework at the Farmer Level. Economic Botany 50 (1) 26-39

CIAT, CIMMYT, CIP and IPGRI (1998) Semillas de Esperanza para Honduras y Nicaragua. CIAT, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

FAO (1996) Global Plan of Action on the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome

Haugen, J.M. (2001) Whatever the Will of the Weather: A Study of Seed Systems in Honduras, and their Importance for Food Security and Agrobiodiversity in the Aftermaths of Hurricane Mitch. Thesis submitted for the Cand. Agric. Degree, Agricultural University of Norway

Longley, K. and Paul Richards (1999) Farmer Seed Systems and Disaster, in Restoring Farmers’ Seed Systems in Disaster Situations: Proceedings of the International Workshop on Developing Institutional Agreements and Capacity to Assist Farmers in Disaster Situations to Restore Agricultural Systems and Seed Security Activities. : FAO, Rome. 123-137.

Louette, D. and M. Smale (1996) Genetic Diversity and Maize Seed Management in a Traditional Mexican Community: Implications for In Situ Conservation of Maize. NRG Paper 96-03. CIMMYT, Mexico D.F.

Pottier, J (1997) Agricultural Rehabilitation and Food Insecurity in Post-War Rwanda. IDS Bulletin 27 (3) 56-75

Sperling, L. (1997) The effects of the Rwandan war on crop production and varietal diversity: A comparison of two crops. AgREN Network Paper No. 75 19-30. Agricultural Research & Extension Network, ODI, London

Synnevåg, G., T. Huvio, Y. Sidibé and A. Kanouté (1999) Farmers’ Indicators for Decline and Loss of Local Varieties from Traditional Farming Systems: A Case Study from Northern Mali. in Serwinski, J., I. Faberová (eds.): Proceedings of the Technical Meeting on the Methodology of the FAO World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources. FAO, Rome

UN (1998) UN Inter-agency Transitional Appeal for Hurricane Mitch. United Nations, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Wright, M., T. Donaldson, E. Cromwell and J. New (1994) The Retention and Care of Seeds by Small-Scale Farmers. Natural Resources Institute, Chatham UK


[1] This article is based on a thesis submitted for the cand. agric. degree in Nature Conservation – Tropical Ecology and Management at the Agricultural University of Norway.

[2] Campaign Coordinator, Friends of the Earth Norway. Contact information: jon_m_haugen@hotmail.com

[3] Professor, Center for International Environment and Development Studies, Agricultural University of Norway, Aas, Norway, and, Senior Advisor to the Director General, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy.

[4] The following indicators were employed: ‘Ownership and standard of housing’, ‘Ownership of land’, ‘Amount of land cultivated’, ‘Engagement in day-labouring’, ‘Destination for the on-farm agricultural production (domestic vs. market) and need to purchase food’, ‘Health conditions and access to health services’, ‘Access to non-agricultural sources of income’, ‘Ownership of livestock’, ‘Ownership of cattle’, ‘Experience of food shortages’, ‘Use of day-labourers on own farm’ and ‘Capacity to lend money to others’

[5] A seed lot is a particular population of seeds (or crops) that is managed separately because it is seen as having qualities that are distinct from those of other populations of seeds/crops (Louette and Smale 1996). In general, this separate management is based on the seed lots being recognised as belonging to different varieties. A variety is composed of all the seed lots used and recognised as distinct units by farmers, and sharing the same name.

Normalising the Crisis in Africa

Mark Bradbury

4 February, 1998

8 Woodlea Road
Stoke Newington
London N16 OTP


The critique of conventional relief strategies in complex political emergencies well developed (Duffield, 1994; Macrae & Zwi, 1994). This critique, however, has not been accompanied by an analysis of the effectiveness of development aid on conflict management and reduction. Having participated over the past 18 months in a number of reviews, evaluations and studies for UN agencies and NGOs in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and Uganda, for me, the need for this is clear. What I want to do in this paper is to dissect what Joanna Macrae (1988) has called the ‘developmentalist attack’ on humanitarian principles by looking at developmental approaches to humanitarian relief which have gained currency in aid policy and in aid practice. The paper seeks to highlight two things:

  • the shortcomings in applying developmental relief models and strategies in complex political emergencies;
  • and the negative impact that such developmental approaches to relief can have on the rights, welfare and livelihoods of populations in distress.


In Sudan, the 1996 Review of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) concluded that a key weakness with the UN operation in northern Sudan was the absence of any analysis of the “mainstream development process” (Karim et al., 1996). At the outset of OLS, in 1989, a key UN document for emergency assistance to the displaced proposed to:

help the government of the Sudan to put sizeable amounts of its displaced citizens back into the mainstream development process of the country (cited in Karim et al. 1996, July)In northern Sudan the international community continues to pursue this objective through programmes such as the UNDP area rehabilitation schemes in war-affected areas of the country. On the premise that peace can only be achieved through development, these rehabilitation schemes are directly linked to the UNDP/UNESCO culture for peace programme. These schemes are being developed in “peace villages”. These are villages created by the government for war-displaced populations, as part of the government policy of “peace from within”; a policy that promotes self-reliance. The creation of “peace villages” is also directly linked to government military strategy.[2] In such places these UN supported rehabilitation schemes, neatly packaged in project proposals complete with the language of participatory development, village committees, empowerment etc.., are intended to boost agricultural production and “reduce dependence on emergency assistance in areas affected by civil strife” (ibid).

In government held areas of the Nuba Mountains one such project proposed to:

resettle [‘returnees’] in peace villages and then promote agricultural development to strengthen their attachment to land. (cited in ibid, emphasis added)Given that the ‘returnees’ are Nuba who have been cleansed from their lands by the military, or dispossessed by private or internationally financed parastatal mechanised farming schemes, this objective at best suggests an ignorance of the context, at worst an accommodation with, if not support, for government disaster producing policies.

In Sudan displacement is not an unintended consequence of war. A history of the war and an examination of labour flight from the south, suggests that displacement is an objective of the warring parties, and part of the “mainstream development process” in the Sudan.

From such cases one begins to question developmental approaches to relief.


The first thing to note is that the developmentalist model of relief is pervasive. Whether it is in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda or northern Uganda – crises which have different histories, local characters and dynamics – there are striking similarities in international aid policy and practice. Whether formulated as the relief-to-development continuum, or linking relief to development, preventative development, or capacity-building etc., developmental approaches are now a central tenet of ‘good practice’ in relief operations.

If discussions about the relief-to-development continuum are considered by many to be an old debate, I would suggest this is because it is already part of mainstream aid policy. Whether we talk of UN, or NGOs, the language and strategy is largely the same.

In Sudan, for example, the UN Resident Coordinator asserts that “relief should always be administered with the continuum in mind” (UNCERO, 1996 September 10). In Somalia, the relief-development continuum is a living concept. The bi-monthly situation report of the office of the UN humanitarian and resident coordinator for Somalia goes under the title “From Relief to Development in Somalia”. And in what was a serious move to develop a strategic plan for Somalia, the 1997 UN Consolidated Appeal demarcated the whole of Somalia along a continuum from relief to development; dividing the country into crisis zones, transitional zones and recovery zones. Similarly in Rwanda, linking relief and development was an explicit strategy of agencies in the immediate post-genocide period (Macrae & Bradbury, 1998).

Significantly, the developmental orthodoxy is not confined to international relief and development agencies. The Sudanese government, and southern movements are both articulate in the developmental continuum. Not because they share the same development objectives, but because as volumes of oda in Sudan have declined the incentive for authorities to capture development aid resource has increased. Furthermore, as a direct transfer, bilateral development aid helps to legitimise their political claims.

Similarly in Rwanda, long term developmental goals of aid agencies resonate with those of the government, who in 1996, after the refugees returned from Zaire, served notice to the international community that the “emergency is over”, and that development assistance was what was needed. Following this line, UNDP recently tendered a consultancy for a study on “The impact of Humanitarian Assistance on Rwanda and how to ensure a sustainable transition to development”. At a time in December 1997 when the UN itself had access to only 50% of the country.


The second point to note is the way in which situations of chronic instability and accompanying humanitarian crises are redefined as opportunities for development. A central assumption of developmental models of relief is that these crises are temporary phenomena. As developmental relief not only postulates a return to normality, but seeks to engineer it, emergencies become a process of transition to development.

Clearly the crises in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and northern Uganda are not temporary ones. In redefining them as opportunities for development, what we are seeing is a process of ‘normalisation’. This normalisation is characterised by a creeping acceptance of higher levels of vulnerability, malnutrition and morbidity.

In Sudan this is evident in continuing high rates of malnutrition among war-affected communities (Karim et al., 1996, July). In 1989, malnutrition rates of between 10% and 20% (less than 80% WFH) were sufficient to triggered the major relief intervention that became OLS. Now rates above 30% among displaced populations in northern Sudan are considered normal.[3]

A recent monitoring mission by DFID to Sudan to review emergency food distributions in the Red Sea State proposed in 1996 initially concluded that, despite malnutrition rates of between 30% and 60% (less than 80% WFH) and above-normal mortality rates in some rural areas, there was no evidence of a widespread and severe humanitarian crisis to justify large-scale food distributions.[4] If this was not a crisis what is? Are the implications of this that we should no longer talk of famine, just ‘food gaps’?

Similarly in Somalia, perceptions of the emergency have changed (Bradbury, 1997a). In 1992, with some 3,000 people a day dying from starvation, the situation in Somalia was described by one US diplomat as “the worst humanitarian crisis faced by any people in the world”. By the end of 1993, as US troops prepared to pull out, the acute emergency was considered to have ended, and donors began to focus on rehabilitation rather than emergency needs.[5]

Yet Somalia by most standards remains in a state of chronic disaster. Early last year before the floods, infant and maternal mortality rates were amongst the highest in the world (UNDHA, December 1996a:13). Some 12, 000 children and others were still receiving supplementary feeding in Mogadishu (UNSC 1997, February). Cholera was believed to be endemic.[6] Crop production, though improved remained at half pre-war levels (UNCU 1996 16 July-2 August). Other social sectors remained in a desperate state.

And yet, in early 1997, according to the UN, there were no longer any major humanitarian crises in Somalia. In their words daily life for most Somalis just remained “very difficult” (UNSC, 1997, February: 7).

In Rwanda, following the return of old and new ‘caseload’ refugees in 1996, agency programmes have by and large fallen in with the government’s view that “the emergency is over”. Programmes are planned with a view that the country is progressively moving towards rehabilitation and development, despite the absence of indicators to prove this (Macrae & Bradbury, 1998).[7] As one senior UN senior official noted:

The phrase the ‘emergency is over’ is just a sound bite. The ‘loud’ emergency is over. The question is whether it is a priority to deal with the emergency or structural problems? There are still critical problems that need to be dealt with. There are 130,000 in prison. There are 1.6 million repatriated that need to be dealt with. 60,000 child-headed households. These are not “normal” structural problems. (cited in Macrae & Bradbury, 1998)

In Uganda, a country perceived as an exemplar of successful development in sub-Saharan Africa, progress is threatened by renewed insecurity. According to one UN report:

Almost one third of the country is engulfed in a brutal conflict which has resulted in massive death, destruction and displacement. (cited in ibid)By late 1997 in Uganda’s northern districts, the numbers people displaced by the war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government were estimated to be as high as 479,000, with another 125,000 displaced by fighting in the west. Therapeutic feeding centres in Gulu town were reported to be receiving upto 30 children per week, with increasingly high levels of malnutrition evident among adolescents and adults. Despite this, there has been a reluctance by UN agencies to respond, and to use the term “emergency”, for fear of jeopardising long term country-wide development programmes (ibid).

Two conclusions suggest themselves. First, an analysis or model that posits an early return to stability, fails to understand, or ignores the nature of these emergencies. As David Keen (1994) and others have pointed out, large-scale population displacements, as seen in Sudan, northern Uganda, southern Somalia and Rwanda, serve military, political and economic functions. To argue that these are environments for development – as in the Nuba Mountains – is to ignore the political, military and economic strategies that aim to ensure certain populations do not develop.

Second, responses to these crises are selective. The political acceptance that the emergency is over in Rwanda, the ease with which the international community has marginalised the problems in northern Uganda, the apparently “acceptable” rates of malnutrition in Sudan, and the acceptance that Somalis will periodically suffer hardships, suggests there has been an accommodation with these crises. Explicit criteria or standards for defining when an emergency is an emergency are missing. Mandates are slipping or not being adhered to. With this comes an acceptance of different life-chances for different populations.

This is clear in Somalia. In 1993, with the creation of UNOSOM II, it was immodestly claimed by Madeline Albright that the international community in Somalia was embarking on:

an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less that the restoration of an entire country as a proud, functioning and viable member of the community of nations. (cited in Jan, 1996: 3).Since the demise of UNOSOM, the international community’s goals, as represented by the UN, have become more modest. In the 1997 Inter-Agency Appeal, the UN strategic framework defined its actions, among others, as being to strengthen those rehabilitation efforts:

which represent the most minimal, essential needs required for Somalia to exist in its current state of crisis (UNDHA 1996, cited in Bradbury, 1997a, emphasis added).In other words, we see a shift from nation-building to the maintenance of a population in a state of crisis.

This is reflected in Somaliland, where a UN programme to reformulate health policy has involved persuading the authorities there that universal free health is impractical, and to focus on developing a “minimum package” of health services. The rational for this is:

the need to achieve sustainable development of health services in Somaliland through efficient and strategic utilisation of the available limited resources. (Somaliland Ministry of Health, 1997:1)THE DEVELOPMENTALIST CREED

This latter quote highlights two key aspects of developmental relief: the end goal of sustainable development, and the local financing of this. Not only are entitlements to acceptable health services being compromised, but these minimal services must be paid for by resource poor communities. This relates to two aspects of the normalisation of crisis: the ‘myth of dependency’, and what one might call the ‘internalisation of war’.

If developmental relief has become the creed. Then the pillars of this are to be found in the common ‘good practice’ wisdoms of self-reliance, sustainability, capacity building, and more recently peace-building. The developmental critique of relief is couched in terms that relief is unsustainable, dependency-creating and disempowering, that relief aid should not only seek to save lives, but save livelihoods, promote self-reliance and sustainability. We need to reexamine these wisdoms in the context of political emergencies.

The Myth of Dependency

A commonly articulated rationale for making relief more developmental is a view that relief assistance creates dependency. The sentiment of an NGO worker in Sudan that “relief is not good for anyone” is not uncommon.[8] The following statement from the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan at the time of the OLS Review is more extreme:

We often define humanitarianism as putting bread in the mouth of a starving person, but it is not humanitarian to let him get into that situation. We should replace free food deliveries and make people repay what they have received. This is what we are doing in Wau…People should repay this humanitarian loan not to us but to the community. We are taking them out of the beggar mentality. People are proud to pay for themselves…this is part of society building, enabling people to feel more consciously self-reliant. It is linked to democracy building because people have to elect a management committee. (cited in Karim et al., 1996, July).

Fear of creating relief dependency, and “institutionalising relief” drives agency strategies in northern Sudan, and is used to rationalise a cut in food rations. However, the OLS Review Team concluded that the reduction of food rations to war-displaced, rather than promoting self-reliance, is forcing displaced to become dependent on unsustainable ‘coping strategies’, and exploitative economic relations.[9] In Khartoum, the reduction of food rations was forcing the war-displaced to intensify ‘survival strategies’. One such strategy allegedly involved mothers maintaining their children in a poor state of nutrition in order to qualify for food rations. If true, such dysfunctional coping strategies indicate the depth of a mother’s crisis, rather than wanton dependency. The punitive response of aid agencies to withhold food rations to mothers who’s children’s nutrition deteriorates only exacerbates their crisis. Importantly, the cut in rations is not accompanied by any monitoring of a mother’s access to services or income.

The view that people in distress willingly abandon their coping strategies and independence in the face of crisis has long been dismissed in studies of famines (de Waal, 1988). Famine victims we are told are not passive. Yet the view persists that relief creates dependency. The case of an NGO programme in Southern Somalia serves to illustrate this.

The NGO, which has worked in Somalia for many years, is working with some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in southern Somalia. These are minor Somali agro-pastoral clan groups, and non-Somali ‘Bantu’ agriculturalists. A key premise of the programme in 1994, in the wake of UNOSOM, was that international emergency relief had created a ‘relief mentality’ and a ‘dependency syndrome’, and that this was an obstacle to sustainable development. The programme therefore aimed to:

to strengthen the capacities of communities in [the area] to be self-sufficient under conditions of conflict and reduce their reliance on food relief (cited in Bradbury, 1997b).Our evaluation in fact found no evidence of a relief mentality in the villages the agency was working in, nor proof that people had willingly abandoned their farms or independence during the famine. Historical time lines and trend lines collected in villages during the evaluation in fact suggested the opposite.

First, not everyone suffers equally in war and famine. During the Somali famine of 1991-1993, those who died in their greatest numbers in southern Somalia were the minority Somali and non-Somali ethnic groups such as the Bantu, who had no recourse or defence against the warring factions. For the Bantu, their vulnerability arises from their political marginalisation within Somali society, and from the alienation of their lands under the former Barre government for private and internationally financed parastatal agricultural schemes.

During the war a combination of factors lead to a breakdown in normal coping strategies.[10] Bantu villages were deliberately targeted by militia and, like people of weaker Somali clans, they were stripped of their assets. An interesting insight from trend lines constructed with villagers during the evaluation, was that while villagers reported declines in cattle holdings during the famine period, cattle holdings among town dwellers increased.[11]

It is known that much food aid was diverted during the famine in Somalia. And it was estimated that in this particular area perhaps only 10% of rations reached the poor outlying villages. If true it is unclear how these communities were ever dependent on food aid. Self-dependency rather than relief-dependency more readily epitomises the condition of disaster affected populations. People survived through their own initiative, sought out relief kitchens or died. According to one village visited during the evaluation, up to a third of the village died during the famine.

The myth of dependency is used to rationalise the shift from relief to development. The flaw with this is that it really fails to tackle the issue of political control over aid. This was very evident in the camps in Zaire. It is political control that actually lies at the heart of the dependency myth. It is no coincidence that those who define populations as dependent are the very people who control the aid, including local officials, NGOs, the UN and donors.


Sustainability is another pillar of developmentalist creed.

The notion that it is feasible for war-displaced to achieve sustainability in food production or welfare service provision in the context of an on-going war is highly questionable. The claim that developmental interventions are more cost-effective than relief also merits examination. If rehabilitative programming implies the restoration of infrastructure, investment in human resource development, and so on, then rehabilitation is likely to be more expensive that relief. Sustainable improvements in welfare service provision will be dependent on adequate public financing.

Behind the rhetoric of sustainability lies the problem of sustaining the financing of large-scale humanitarian relief operations. The global decline in aid transfers and the persistent under-funding of OLS and the UN operation in Somalia attests to this. In Rwanda UNICEF’s expenditure has declined from $100 million between 1994-1997, to $36 million for the three years 1988-2000 (Macrae & Bradbury, 1998)

As few donors have dedicated budget lines for rehabilitation, reductions in the budgets of agencies such as UNICEF are not being parallelled by an increase in development assistance through other channels. Interviews with agency personnel in the field consistently confirm that an important factor determining the form that the transition from relief to development takes is the availability of funds to sustain basic services.

The more modest goals of the international community in Somalia noted earlier, reflect a severe decline in assistance for the country. From an operation of $1.5 billion for UNOSOM II in 1993, the annual inter-agency appeal now stands at roughly $100 million. In 1997, only 30% of this was funded (Bradbury, 1997a).

Several factors account for such a decline.[12] Critical has been the view that the emergency in Somalia ended in 1993, after which needs were redefined in rehabilitation rather than emergency terms. In the absence of a political settlement in Somalia, however, donors have been reluctant to commit longer term development funds. The now popularised view that the only solutions to Somalia’s problems are internal, provides a rationale for reduced assistance.

UNDP’s relief-to-development strategy, for example, is based on:

the principle that the main resources required to improve the conditions of these communities will come from the Somalis themselves (UNDHA 1996b December: 5).The aim is to assist populations to attain sustainable livelihoods. The strategy is community participation and local capacity building to ensure sustainability. The assumption is that Somalis will take responsibility for their own development. By redefining the crisis in Somalia as an ‘internal’ development problem, responsibility and costs are passed on to Somalis.

It is clear, however, in Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan or Uganda that the capacity of local populations to sustain services is highly limited. In Rwanda, for example, teachers salaries have deteriorated from pre-war levels. Ranging from RF 7,000-25,000 per month, teacher salaries are insufficient for an estimated minimum of RF 60-80,000 required to keep a family in food alone for one month.

In Somalia people have less capacity to sustain development today than they had before the war. A survey of pastoral and agro-pastoral areas in Somaliland in 1996, for example, revealed deepening poverty in rural communities (Ahmed M. Hashi, 1996).

In Sudan, the wider economic crisis in the country and weak public financing means that ‘host’ populations are encroaching on humanitarian resources intended for the displaced.[13] In the absence of international development investment or government finance for basic welfare services, developmental relief interventions cannot be sustained.

Aid agencies face real dilemmas here. Declining resources mean they are failing to sustain service provision. And to continue sustaining service provision would weaken the obligations of local authorities to provide for their own populations. The problem is that agencies are not being transparent about these dilemmas. Clearly response on the ground is being shaped by international aid policy. Yet agencies are not challenging this. Instead basic cuts in entitlements are being justified on the grounds of sustainability.

It is in this context that one can begin to understand the negative impact, and what Joanna Macrae has called, the ‘anti-humanitarian’ consequences, of developmental relief strategies. With donors, national governments and aid agencies unwilling or unable to pay for public investment the burden shifts to the local ‘community’ level. It is in this context that one can understand minimum health packages in Somaliland, reductions in food rations in Sudan, selective responses to emergencies such as in northern Uganda, and declining standards in international responses to humanitarian crises. The real danger is that as programmes change from relief to development, far from there being a progressive shift towards provision of sustainable services, entitlements and access are actually being cut.


This internalisation of the costs of war reflects a broader view of contemporary wars in Africa – that they are internal wars, and that their causes and solutions lie within. In programmatic terms capacity building, institutional strengthening, together with trauma, psycho-social programming, as well as conflict resolution, reflect a tendency to analyse these wars in terms of internal causes.

What does this mean in terms of humanitarian principles?

First, acceptance by the international community that there can only be ‘Somali solutions to Somali problems’, and by extension Rwandese solutions to Rwanda’s problems is to renounce responsibility for its role in the genesis of these crises. And also to neglect the on-going political and commercial involvement by the international community in these crises – whether it is form of arms supplies to the Horn of Africa ‘frontline states’, diamond exports from Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo, timber export from Liberia, or banana export from Somalia.

Second, by locating the problem to be within, blame for the causes of conflict, of poverty, or marginalisation are effectively laid at the feet of the poor and marginalised. In a climate of declining oda, assigning also the solutions to the poor, the marginalised and victimised, through enhanced community participation and financing of social services, not only sustains a myth that development in such situations can achieve something, but risks compromising people’s right to basic standards of care.

Finally, as some of the cases reviewed here suggest, the very ‘victims’ of development- be they the Nuba or Bantu – those alienated from the ‘top-down’ internationally sponsored state development, and the ‘victims’ of war are, in the main, one and the same. Now as the victims also, of cuts in entitlements that the come with the erosion of humanitarian standards in pursuit of development, the very humanitarian objectives of development – equity and justice – are corrupted.


Ahmed Mohamed Hashi (1996) Pastoral Livelihood Systems, Resource trends and Institutional Constraints in Sool and Sanaag Regions. VETAID Somaliland.

Bradbury, M. (1997a) A Review of Oxfam Somalia Programme (1995-1997). Oxford: Oxfam UK/I.

Bradbury, M. (1997b) ACORD Somalia Evaluation. London: ACORD.

de Waal, A. (1988) ‘Is Famine Relief Irrelevant to Rural People?’ IDS Bulletin 20 (2): 63-69. Sussex: IDS.

Duffield, (1994) Complex Political Emergencies with reference to Angola and Bosnia. An Exploratory Report for UNICEF. Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Jan, Ameen. (1996 July) Peacebuilding in Somalia. IPA Policy Briefing Series. New York: IPA.

Karim, A., Duffield, M., Jaspars, S., Benini, A., Macrae, J., Bradbury, M., Johnson, D., Larbi, G., Hendrie, B., (1996 July) Operation Lifeline Sudan: A Review, University of Birmingham/ Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Birmingham and Geneva.

Keen, D and Wilson, K. (1994) ‘Engaging with Violence: A Reassessment of Relief in Wartime’. in J. Macrae and A. Zwi. War and Hunger: Rethinking International Responses to Complex Emergencies. pp 209-221. London: Zed Books with Save the Children (UK).

Macrae, J. & Zwi, A. (eds) (1994) War and Hunger: Rethinking International Responses to Complex Emergencies. London: Zed Books with Save the Children (UK).

Macrae J. (1988) The Death of Humanitarianism?: An Anatomy of the Attack. Paper presented at the seminar: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes? Uncovering the collapse of humanitarian principles’ Disasters Emergency Committee, London 4 February.

Macrae J., & Bradbury, M. (1998 February) Aid in the Twilight Zone: A Critical Analysis of Humanitarian-Development Aid Linkages in Situations of Chronic Instability. A report for UNICEF. ODI & Humanitarianism and War Project.

Somaliland Ministry of Health and Labour (1997 November) Strategic Framework Plan: A Guide to Improving health Care Service Delivery in Somaliland. Republic of Somaliland, with UNICEF.

UNCERO (United Nations Coordinator for Emergency and Relief Operations) (1996, September 10) Comments by the UNCERO on the Report Submitted by the OLS Review Team. UNDP Sudan.

UNCU (United Nations Coordination Unit) (1996 16 July-2 August) From Relief to Development: Situation Report. Office of the United Nations Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia.

UNDHA (1996a December) United Nations Consolidated Appeal for Somalia October 1996-December 1996. Volume One: Joint Programmes and Projects. New York/Geneva: UNDHA.

UNDHA (1996b December) United Nations Consolidated Appeal for Somalia October 1996-December 1996. Volume Two: UN Agency Requirements. New York/Geneva: UNDHA.

UNSC (United Nations Security Council) (1997 February 17) Report of the Secretary General on the Situation in Somalia. S/1997/135. New York.


1. This paper was prepared for the seminar: ‘The Emperor’s newClothes? Uncovering the collapse of humanitarian principles’, Disasters Emergency Committee. London 4 February, 1998. I am grateful to Joanna Macrae and Mark Duffield for their comments on an early draft of this paper. Some of the material presented draws on the paper ‘Behind the Rhetoric of the Relief-to-Development Continuum’, prepared for the NGOs and Complex Emergencies Project, CARE Canada. M. Bradbury, 1997, September.

2. In 1992 in the southern town of Wau, the creation of “peace villages” on the outskirts of the town enabled the government to secure its military defence of the town.

3. The 1996 Inter-Agency Appeal for Sudan recorded global malnutrition rates in 1995 ranging from an “acceptable” 13.7% to 36% in displaced camps around Khartoum, and from 16.1% to 30% in the transitional zone and Government-held areas of southern Sudan (Karim et al., 1996, July).

4. Susanne Jaspars, personal communication.

5. The Fourth Coordination Meeting on Humanitarian Assistance for Somalia in November 1993, chaired by the World Bank, and at which the Somali Aid Coordination Body was established, was a key moment in setting the parameters for international aid in Somalia.

6. Prior to the war the last year cholera was reported in Mogadishu was 1972.

7. Evidence of the return to ‘normality’ is the return of refugees, the restoration of some social services, the rehabilitation of government institutions, and the fact that per capita GNP has recovered from an all time low of $80 in 1994 to $180 in 1996. The later indicator of success is relative to a 1985 GNP of $280. Other political, social and physiological indicators of progress are uncertain. By December 1997, 50% of the country had again become insecure and numbers of displaced were again increasing. The High Commission Field Operation in Rwanda continues to report on a permanent human rights crisis.

8. The aid worker went on to say “We like to work in communities who can provide inputs…we demand some participation, to create an environment where people take control of their own development.” (cited in Karim et al, 1996, July).

9. In Ed Dien where war displaced reported make up 85% of the agricultural labour force, a reduction in food rations is tying them into exploitative labour relations (Karim et al., 1996, July).

10. The collapse of government projects removed alternative sources of income. Insecurity meant people could not farm. The river dried up so irrigation was not possible. Bantu villagers had their grain stores dug up. Pastoralists had their livestock looted. Movement was restricted by the laying of mines. People had no choice but to seek outside assistance.

11. This is a small rural town, but settled by Somalis from the major clan families. There was some evidence that the cattle were sold in Kenya.

12. This includes the fact that less than 5% of the UNOSOM budget actually went to Somalia, but was spent on logistics and security systems. Other factors include the crisis in the Great Lakes, and the withdrawal of NGOs from Somalia in the wake of UNOSOM’s departure.

13. In a health centre in one displaced camp in Khartoum the OLS Review Team noted that 33% of those attending the centre came from outside the camp (Karim et al, 1996: 214).



Post-Modern Conflict and Humanitarian Action

Questioning the Paradigm

© 1999 Seán Greenaway – All Rights Reserved

The relationship which has grown up between States and non-governmental actors in responding to human needs in contemporary conflicts is characterised by fundamental moral as well as operational ambiguities. A healthy ethic and a viable response cannot avoid the need to rethink fundamental aspects of contemporary state society : the foreign policy paradigm, roles and limitations of state power, and forms of collective action. A transformation of the required scope would be unprecedented in peacetime – indeed some would exclude it by assumption. However, if the moral impetus of humanitarianism were to be harnessed effectively – instead of being dispersed as at present – and if a coherent framework of analysis were to be developed, an increasingly internationalised civil society may have more effective strategies than it suspects to contribute towards this goal.


The 1990’s will be remembered as the decade when regional wars were transformed, in the popular Western consciousness and to no small extent in the language of international relations, into ‘humanitarian’ emergencies. Laden with human suffering as they are, the adjective nonetheless refers to no intrinsic quality of contemporary, ‘post-modern’ conflicts[1]. It reflects rather a quality ascribed to such conflicts by key, mainly Western state actors within the international system : a collective discourse which is intended to engender – at the same time as to mask – an extension of the international paradigm of security beyond Westphalian premises. Viewed from the perspective of classical humanitarianism, in fact, ‘post-modern’ conflicts might as easily, and no less accurately, be termed post-humanitarian.

The legitimacy of the new humanitarianism has been questioned by scholars and practitioners alike – but so has the continued relevance of the old. Conceptual progress in defining a ‘post-modern’ humanitarianism which might match the reality of ‘post-modern’ conflicts has been painfully slow. Still, some literature is optimistic : one author has boldly claimed that “humanitarian values are becoming a catalyst for international relations scholarship about interdependence in the 1990’s” (Weiss & Chopra 1995: 89).

While this citation may convey an over-optimistic view of the state of contemporary international relations (IR) scholarship, it does not misrepresent a shift in the conduct of IR under conditions of regional war, and in the way that international legitimacy is conceptualised in the minds of external players – or at least marketed to public opinion. Jan Nederveen Pieterse sums it up: “Humanitarian action confronts us with the dilemmas of international relations in the age of globalization. The difficulties are not merely those of policy but of paradigms” (1998: 1).

The new humanitarianism coexists with traditional humanitarianism and relations between them are not infrequently conflictual. The International Committee of the Red Cross is the most jealous guardian of orthodoxy: its mandate is derived from the 1948 Geneva Conventions, and the Committee seeks a clear separation between ‘humanitarian’ and ‘political’ action. Other humanitarian agencies may operate differently, but the ICRC’s approach remains extremely influential – reflecting, no doubt, a deep unease on the part of many with the ‘new humanitarianism’, and particularly its real or perceived operational implications. At the same time, none can or would entirely disavow the very evident limitations of the ‘humanitarian’ approach to many recent crises, limitations which are due not only to inattention on the part of the international community to other measures of crisis management, but also to basic flaws in the operational humanitarian paradigm itself under post-modern conflict conditions[2]. Most humanitarian agencies today acknowledge that humanitarian aid is rarely non-political and neutral; there have been calls for a ‘new ethic’, and to ‘humanitarianise’ foreign policy[3].

It is evident that, like it or not, a new humanitarianism is on the march in the international arena. In the next sections we seek to map its contours and assess its prospects and legitimacy. Following on from this, the role of non-governmental actors within this emergent paradigm will be re-examined.

Contours of the new humanitarianism

Sober reflection suggests that Western state interests are of primary importance in accounting for the contemporary humanitarian landscape. State involvement goes well beyond managing systemic incentives to respect the regime, an area which has long been understood to depend on state resolve (Forsythe 1997: 47). Donor (and not beneficiary) states are the main ‘customers’ buying humanitarian services and have driven an enormous and well-documented expansion in the sector[4]. Andrew Natsios is accordingly right to claim that “the international humanitarian agenda cannot be sustained outside of the politics and foreign policy of the great powers” (1997: 32).

The nature and significance of state involvement in humanitarian action has been insufficiently recognised and inadequately explored (Natsios 1997: xxi). IR scholars in the realist tradition have either been blind to this phenomenon or content to offer dismissive accounts of it. NGOs, have also tended to absorb realist presuppositions and had difficulties in coming to terms with their funding, and by extension policy, dependence on state actors in relief contexts. Rather than enhancing autonomy, NGO deontology may have done more to limit influence on state policy (cf. Natsios 1997: 69-75).

State policy makers themselves have, repeatedly, improvised reactions to crises and groped towards more appropriate policies, palpably constrained by traditional approaches and available tools. Elements of state policy finding their origins in identical circumstances and pursuing complementary or identical objectives have been conducted in lamentable isolation from each other – most notably between military and relief operations, with consequences which have ranged between decidedly sub-optimal in Bosnia, to entirely catastrophic in Somalia.

The least one can say, therefore, is that the ‘new humanitarianism’ is anything but a finished product or an homogeneous entity – or immune from controversy. Nonetheless, its sources are much deeper than a mere recuperation of humanitarian legitimacy for states’ own Machiavellian purposes; “interventions and their claim to humanitarian aims are not simply realpolitik by another name” (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 1). They spring as much from civil society initiatives, from public opinion, and from the very nature of post-modern conflict.

One of the many ironies associated with contemporary humanitarianism is that, despite the extent to which private actors have laid claim to it, the legal clothing of humanitarianism has always been determined by states, arose historically through traditional diplomatic methods, and has always been Westphalian in form; indeed it has not infrequently been criticised as such (Bettati 1995). At the same time, the regime has always implied, in John Ruggie’s term, an ‘unbundling of territoriality’ and thus embodied the ‘paradox of absolute individuation’ inherent in the notion of state sovereignty (1998:189ff). Historically, ius in bello is no more, and no less, than the set of norms applicable to foreign citizens, be they soldiers or civilians, under conditions of war – conditions which by definition call into question absolute territoriality. Accordingly, the rules governing the conduct of war, just as those regulating diplomatic missions, are properly to be seen as intrinsic to the very emergence of the modern state system[5]. The claim of states upon those rules, and their generative function within international society, could scarcely have a more authentic pedigree.

The humanitarian regime has always incarnated a system of values, or, as constructivist IR scholars would put it, a ‘social epistemology’. Originally regulated through bilateral arrangements based on reciprocity, ius in bellotook on, in the 20th century, multilateral forms, while remaining, for the most part, bilateral in substance: it sought to establish a general framework for the resolution of bilateral issues in warfare[6]. Parallel to these formal developments, the ‘humanitarian movement’ has sought truly to multilateralise the regime by asserting moral obligations on citizens of third states, and moral, but also legal, obligations on those states themselves, to defend the application of the law in conflicts to which they are not a party – effectively, to extend the notion of joint and several responsibility for collective security embodied in the UN charter to the humanitarian regime. The aspiration seems legitimate as well as plausible – somewhat more so than many other aspirations in the international arena – and recent developments suggest it is gaining ground[7].

The value base of the humanitarian regime is encapsulated in the principle of ‘humanity’, meaning a desire to “prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found” (Ramsbotham & Woodhouse 1996: 14), and as such has always had universalist pretensions[8]. Similarly, the humanitarian movement has always known deontological and teleological variants, and even within the Red Cross movement itself, many scholars have never held its deontology to be more than instrumental and particular. Indeed, it may be precisely within that tradition that state responsibility within the overall humanitarian nexus has been most carefully and consistently emphasised. If the quarrel has been one exclusively of terminology, however, it has been nonetheless heated.

It is needless to dispute that the desire in numerous quarters to recuperate and reinterpret the notion of humanitarianism has been both opportunistic and principled. More significantly, though, it has been an obvious and inevitable response to the humanitarian problems posed by post-modern conflict, and at least had the merit of attempting to take real-world needs, rather than deontological precepts, as its starting point. In addition to the barbarity described in the literature, post-modern conflict has also been characterised by a significantly enhanced space for action by a variety of external players. Inevitably, it has not gone unnoticed that more might be done, and needs to be done, for the victims of conflict than simply providing relief. On the basis of an unchanged impulsion to alleviate suffering, actors involved in conflict response – both state and private – have articulated agendas and taken on tasks which go far beyond the classical humanitarian regime, giving rise to new forms and concepts of humanitarianism.

The ‘new humanitarianism’ may accordingly be characterised as a conceptual space permitting deontological, but not teleological, rupture with classical humanitarian thought. This definition emphasises the moral and teleological origins of contemporary humanitarianism, its heterogeneity and incipient character as well as evident potential for bifurcation, as well as its broad character allowing it to encompass, but not be limited to, traditional forms of action.

It is correct to point out that the more general acceptation is not new: article 1 of the UN Charter speaks of “international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitariancharacter” (emphasis added) and the UN has always and does increasingly attempt to address humanitarian needs through political means (Howard 1993; Roberts 1996). Often, however, this kind of involvement has been couched in the comparatively more dispassionate ‘security’ language which the Charter imposes. Clumsily, but because we will need the distinction, let us term the wider concept underlying the new humanitarianism ‘pan-humanitarianism’, and the more narrow one (admittedly somewhat abusively) ‘relief’.

That what traditional humanitarians have always seen to be a moral compulsion has come to be increasingly shared outside the narrow confines of non-governmental action can scarcely be lamented (Slim 1998). Non-governmental actors have hesitated, however, as to whether to engage themselves within this wider definition. True, the humanitarian community has played an important role in stimulating debate on related issues, but it has done so as an adjunct to relief, and almost as a palliative to its self-evident limitations, rather than as part of an integrated concern with human security. As a result, much effort has been expended in peripheral debates such as landmines, ‘early warning’, small arms, ‘developmental’ relief, and the international criminal court, which, while mostly legitimate in themselves, may have served to postpone consideration of core, higher-order issues where of necessity a degree of prior conceptualisation is required. In other words, although non-governmental actors are often driven by concerns for the global welfare of populations afflicted by war, their perceptions in practice seem to have remained shackled to the deontological precepts of relief, and this is where the debate has accordingly languished: with “the core problems … not even on the agenda” (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 20).

NGOs are of course not solely to blame for this state of affairs. Andrew Natsios has written of his surprise at “how widely off the mark some of the analytical writing has been on complex emergencies”, noting how much has been written solely from the (traditional) humanitarian perspective and hence lacks – or is extremely naïve concerning – the broader picture (1997: xx).

Where broader issues of conflict response have been addressed, their moral continuity with humanitarianism has often been unclear and not infrequently denied, resulting in considerable dispersion of the moral energy necessary to propel pertinent action. Mary Kaldor, for example, makes a number of pertinent suggestions as to how to address post-modern conflicts, and is fully aware of the need to reconceptualize the issues: nonetheless, she believes that her “new strategy of reconstruction” should “supplant the current dominant approaches of structural adjustment or humanitarianism” (1999: 11, italics added). While she is certainly right to distance herself from the use by states of humanitarianism as a means to distance themselves from intellectually, politically and (possibly) financially more demanding modes of response (cf. i.a. Duffield 1998a), rather than supplanting the humanitarian approach, such prescriptions as she makes ought to become an instrinsic part of that approach. The point of the ‘new humanitarianism’ is obviously not to expand relief indefinitely, but precisely to acknowledge that ‘complex emergencies’ need ‘complex response’.

Where authors – often those looking at issues of military intervention – acknowledge the humanitarian character of actions other than relief, they generally adopt an apologetic tone or discursive formulations. Alan James, for example, feels obliged to point out that “in a very real sense” peacekeeping has “an inherent humanitarian quality” (1997: 53) – a formulation scarcely likely to engender coherent policy.

It is self-evident that teleology has its limits – ends do not always justify means – and it is no concern of this paper to defend recent praxis per se. However, the new humanitarianism is not only an established fact which will be difficult to displace: it also appears to engage in an agenda which logically flows from the concerns of all major actors within the ‘humanitarian movement’ and might therefore expect to reckon on their not uncritical support. It is less than clear that this has been the case. Apart from conceptual inertia and operational prudence, reluctance to embrace the new pan-humanitarianism on the part of NGOs has been fed by three factors: doubts as to the legitimacy and real motives of state actors and the consequent viability of the new paradigm; doubts as to the substance of the paradigm and its impact on other agendas; and corporate interests, however subliminal, in a sustained complicity with state actors in relief. We examine each in turn.

Humanitarianism and state action: squaring the circle?

Doubts regarding the real commitment of states to the humanitarian cause are not only heuristic or paranoid (depending on one’s perspective) – probably more importantly, they also derive from the ontological legacy of realist IR theory. Scholars within this tradition – and many beyond it – are, to put it mildly, uncomfortable with the idea that states and international organisations might develop a genuine interest in a value goal such as humanitarianism which might act in such a way as to modify the conduct of IR and trump other ‘harder’ interests (Morgenthau 1984). Such diffidence is reinforced by the deconstruction of the state undertaken by the French post-structuralists, which has been similarly influential in NGO circles, most notably but not only in France itself (Campbell 1998). The realist worldview has comforted NGO non-engagement in higher-order battles assumed to be lost in advance, while post-structuralism has encouraged the maintenance of ritual distance from state-level debates and excessive claims to an inevitably particularistic legitimacy[9].

As far as realism is concerned, happily, one is not today inevitably branded as naïve and unscientific if one questions its ontology. Constructivist scholars such as John Ruggie have amply proven the point that ‘collective intentionality’ can alter the interest factors which realists assume to be constant (1998: 25). Under conditions of ‘complex interdependence’, power can be exercised to promote human interests (Keohane & Nye 1977; Crawford 1991). Post-structuralism, also, by empowering the ‘resistance’ of civil society implies there is something it can do to alter mankind’s collective destiny, even if its language, when wielded by non-specialists, appears excessively confrontational.

Admitting that change in general can take place is, of course, a simpler matter than demonstrating that this particular shift is underway and may be viable. Beyond paying lipservice, is there a chance that states come effectively to prioritise pan-humanitarian considerations in the formulation and conduct of their foreign policy? If so, how: and what other contingent factors might play a role? Does pan-humanitarianism stand a fair chance of being, or is it already, a dimension of change in IR?

Adler and Crawford analyse such issues in their anthology Progress in Post-War International Relations (1991). Although they do not look at humanitarianism as such, the approach is applicable in defining progress as “changes in the policies and relations of states that reduce … violence, misery, or human rights violations” (p. 9). Inevitably, some will object that the fate of vulnerable people in far-off countries is far removed both from politicians’ concerns and from any credible statement of state interests, which in turn are held to drive the IR system. In fact, official statements of foreign policy interests of Western states increasingly do incorporate this type of concern. Certain states – Canada and Norway come to mind – even make human security into a particular foreign policy priority. Even if a certain scepticism may be in order, it is difficult to view such statements as nothingmore than value-laden but valueless declarations.

Even if humanitarianism is a ‘value’, rather than an ‘interest’, of Western states, this is not a cogent objection. State interests may incorporate and in some ways are necessarily based on values, and it is not difficult to view the pursuit of values in IR as having a domestic payoff for political elites, even under non-democratic systems and within the bureaucracy. In fact, under conditions of ‘complex interdependence’, whereby first-order survival and second-order welfare needs are met for Western states, the pursuit of welfare goals at the expense of values may come to have negative marginal utility both internationally and domestically (Keohane & Nye 1977; Adler, Crawford & Donnelly 1991).

Aside from values and their political utility, Andrew Natsios has listed other reasons for states ‘rationally’ to support humanitarian action; it may, he says, “bring geostrategic advantage” further down the line when states start recovering – the Marshall Plan is doubtless a case in point. The convergence of values within the international system may, he argues, of itself further peace. Humanitarian action is also important for the US image abroad, and thus an investment in a national ‘corporate asset’ (1997: 21-23). “Even Pat Buchanan … endorses disaster relief” (p. 31).

Would the public support a greater engagement of states in resolving humanitarian issues in third countries? Obviously, no blank cheque is on offer. Nonetheless, in Ruggie’s view, history teaches that the US public would better support “a transformative strategy of utilizing American power to move regional balances toward regimes of cooperative security relations” than “a case-by-case material interests-based approach” (1998: 201). For K.W. Thompson, “ethics in foreign policy is an accomplishment” as far as the average American is concerned, “not a baffling and heart-breaking problem” (1984: 2). For V.C. Ferkiss, however, there is rarely “any adequate discussion of the moral aspects of [US] foreign aid” – or indeed foreign policy generally (1984: 202); yet still, no argument has more moral cogency than the humanitarian one (p. 225). For Andrew Natsios, too, the US public has a natural interest in disaster relief – which may not always spill over into support for other forms of aid (1996). Within the EU, support for humanitarian assistance is also high, suggesting humanitarianism is a good basis for building public support for what needs to be done in post-modern conflict contexts.

It might be argued that some public support would evaporate if it became clearer that what humanitarianism was understood to involve in practice could go a long way beyond providing public funds for the distribution of relief goods through volunteer agencies and the UN. However, it is equally possible to argue that greater coherence might contribute to dissipating cynicism that all that is in offer is, in most cases, an ineffective palliative. Hugely expensive military resources are already routinely enlisted on humanitarian grounds. It is both possible and imperative at least to try to improve global humanitarian response.

Accordingly, pursuit by states of humanitarian values and their generalisation within the international system are not ruled out ex-ante. Even on entirely pessimistic anthropological premises, “we have at least the mental equipment to foster our long-term selfish interests rather than merely our short-term selfish interests” (Dawkins 1976: 215). Pan-humanitarianism similarly meets Adler and Crawford’s core prediction of minimalism, in the sense that it can be seen as a limiting and irreducible subset of the more general pursuit of international human rights (Darcy 1997; Bettati 1995) and an incremental evolution within both the theory and praxis of IR. Additionally, the spread of pan-humanitarian values per se is relatively unimpeded by suspicions of cultural bias or hegemonic ambition. They are, in fact, very much in line with principles on which the international system is already based and ambitions which it has long held, at least in an embryonic form. In short, it is not over-optimistic to conceive of normative convergence around pan-humanitarian values within the international system, even on quite ‘realistic’ premises.

Humanitarianism and other agendas

While the evidence suggests that a process of mainstreaming humanitarianism within IR is indeed underway, no observer would be so bold as to suggest that progress was anything other than very scrappy. The international system has largely been built up on first- and second-order paradigms, and the cacophony of interests which characterises it has resulted in extreme fragmentation of capacities and instruments. There is little sign that pan-humanitarianism has as yet exercised any federalising influence, even at the verbal level. More ambitious agendas – in areas such as human rights and development – are certainly powerful competitors within the play of international politics, while not necessarily excluded from cohabitation in principle.

It is undeniable that the relationship between these agendas is complex, and generates genuine ethical and theoretical difficulties. Reluctance to weaken other agendas, though they may be less achievable, is certainly at the root of much diffidence vis-à-vis humanitarianism, though it may offer more opportunities for incremental progress within the international system.

There is a lively debate between those, such as Richard Falk, who see in the new humanitarianism “a move in the direction of a more humane governance”, and others who would characterise humanitarian action as either “planetary kitsch” or a smokescreen devised to divert from the real play of power politics; a mere tinkering with “a systemic crisis which the present world order is fundamentally unable to address” (see Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 15-20); and symptomatic of Western “patronising, not to say patriarchal, ways of thinking about the poor” (Middleton 1998: 155). While Mark Duffield is a defender of traditional humanitarian action, he sees within the new paradigm “a fundamental danger … [namely] that it is adapted to manage the symptoms of global polarisation and exclusion … [and acts as] a necessary ingredient of political containment” (Duffield 1998a: 156)

Nederveen Pieterse, in our view rightly, sees the answer as indeterminate, but retains the new agenda as plausible: its outcome hinges on “the scope for international reformism and the possibilities for global reform”. He notes that “even if humanitarian aims are mere fig-leaves at present, they still set new standards in international politics which will have consequences over time” (1998: 15-20). To achieve its goals, humanitarian action needs “options which transcend conventional politics, such as new forms of state, democratisation, and qualified sovereignty” (p.232). Adam Roberts concurs, recalling that recovery from war “requires changes in institutions, even sometimes in the structure of states” (1993).

Patently, modes of humanitarian ‘intervention’ require careful consideration – especially the military variety which is often a dominant connotation of the term. “The experience so far of what has come to be known as humanitarian intervention has been frustrating, to say the least,” says Kaldor (1999: 113). Clearly, “the humanitarian character of ‘humanitarian intervention’ should not be taken at face value” (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 3). “In all the recent cases involving humanitarian intervention, the repeated emphasis on the word ‘humanitarian’ has been a natural corollary of the complete absence of a serious long-term policy in respect of the target country” (Roberts 1993). Yet even if “a realistic assessment of humanitarian intervention is that it is humanitarian cosmetics for the New World Order … it would be facile to conclude that [it] should be rejected and terminated … The central problem … is political analysis” (Nederveen Pieterse 1998: 258f.). “If we eventually move towards global governance, no doubt humanitarian intervention will be part of this movement. As such, [it] is a harbinger of a new global politics, which is all the more reason to consider it scrupulously” (op. cit., p. 1).

To end this section, a word of caution is certainly in order. “Man’s powers of self-deception are seemingly endless,” observes Thompson, and not only the contingencies of circumstances determine the morality of intervention, but also the principles it creates or destroys (1984: 2). Wheeler strikes a similar note: humanitarian intervention “poses the conflict between order and justice in international relations in its starkest form” (1992: 463). A viable ethic of humanitarianism is not one that simply pursues the needs of the present situation regardless of the systemic costs over the longer term. Yet what is most intolerable – as well as most damaging – is intervention, of whatever kind, based merely on deontologically moral impulses. Within a teleological frame of reference, the duty of analysis is conveniently unavoidable.

Challenging the status quo

It is beyond the scope of this paper to articulate the implications of a pan-humanitarian agenda for international organisations and national foreign policies, but some examples may nonetheless be in order.

Evidently, there are implications for both the UN and regional organisations concerning the composition and conduct of military and police missions in third countries. Here, pan-humanitarianism may leverage what have been difficult developments to date. The UN humanitarian response system itself has also languished in ad hoc arrangements and inter-agency rivalries, while “all the organisations are seriously overcommitted in coping with the demands being placed on them” (Natsios 1996: 79): here there is an urgent need for a far more thorough reform than Secretary-General Annan instituted in 1997 (Weiss 1997). The same can be said of the system more generally, which was constructed “without architect or engineer”, as Andrew Natsios rightly observes (1997: xxi). Conflict prevention and resolution issues, approached from this angle, may become more amenable; an institutional capacity with a little more teeth ought to be considered. Lastly, one might act more effectively against what Neil Middleton has rightly called the “chronic humanitarian disaster” of poverty (1998: 4), and start attacking some of the proximate causes, at least, of conflict.

None of these will come about, however, on the basis of good wishes alone – there is a need for profound reflection to establish a road map and determined advocacy to bring it into being. At present, IR theory and praxis is locked into other paradigms, while the humanitarian movement is doing little or nothing to address such systemic issues. Peripheral progress is accordingly at the expense of fundamental inertia. The difficulty of the challenge facing those wishing to reorient humanitarianism might be dissuasive, were the status quo an option. But it clearly is not.

The question which remains to be answered is: from where will change come? In many ways we are here at the heart of the problem. If states are happy to use humanitarian action as a sideshow for other policies, and NGOs content to do no more than challenge at the periphery, it is implausible that rapid change is on its way[1]. The state side of the equation has often been criticised (Middleton 1998: 145), but it may be the dependent variable. Corporate interests in the NGO relief sector, and the corporate culture of at least the “successful” NGOs, in the competitive ‘aid marketplace’, lie in a sustained complicity with states, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary. NGOs which wish to provide assistance are also project- and people-oriented, and rarely feel ownership of a strategic concept making it possible to determine whether that assistance is socially optimal, or simply vaguely helpful (or, possibly, not helpful at all).

NGOs are amply concerned about their ‘independence’ from states, but not always, it seems, for the right reasons (Hulme & Edwards 1997; Duffield 1998a). They have, in fact, dreamt up implausible scenarios of ‘accountability’ and pursued detailed ‘performance standards’ – both in response, it would seem, to external criticisms (Edwards & Hulme 1995). This approach has been roundly and convincingly criticised by David Campbell in a recent article, where he shows that the political character of humanitarianism is irreducible: “a reliance on codes and frameworks as guides for action prevents the development of a politics of responsibility” (1998: 501).

As Hulme & Edwards note, many NGOs “were born and raised in opposition to government policy and vested interests” – a situation which no longer pertains (1997: 280). But the point is not to be in comfortable opposition to government policy, which may be a relatively easy option suiting both parties, but to encourage that policy to evolve – a duty incumbent on all citizens in a democratic polity and surely in particular on organised groupings with a humanitarian calling. A useful starting point might be to drop the convenient and omnipresent terminology of ‘donors’ and see the states behind them; they are there in any case. Duffield is cynical – perhaps exaggeratedly, but his words bear repeating:

“In terms of their numbers and the people whom they now employ, NGOs have been winners. The growing requirement for international welfare [i.e. humanitarian] assistance should itself be a powerful argument in support of a global new deal. Somehow, however, in the search for technical fixes, this argument has been lost. A first step would be for NGOs, if they are still able, to place the greater good before income and position within the humanitarian marketplace. To coin a phrase, however, this may be one more market that cannot be bucked” (1998a: 157)

Scholars who have looked at mechanisms determining foreign policy formation as well as the behavior of international organisations have not, however, been pessimistic as to the role of private actors, including value interest groups such as NGOs, within that process.

As far as the UN is concerned, to the extent that it is an architect of its own destiny, its openness to NGO influences is not in doubt (Roberts & Kingsbury 1993: 2; Gordenker & Weiss 1996a)[10]. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has written that NGOs “are now considered full participants in international life” and that “the mobilisation of states and public opinion by NGOs is an essential element in international activities to promote peace” (foreword to Weiss & Gordenker 1996). Gordenker and Weiss claim that “NGOs are omnipresent in the policy and administrative process of UN organisations” (1996: 43). In an important article, Felice Gaer charts the role of NGOs in lobbying for the establishment of UN human rights machinery, and subsequently in the development and implementation of that machinery (1996) – a role that appears to have had no parallel in the humanitarian field.

Pressure group influence is also seen by many as the dominant mode of policy formation on Capitol Hill, whether directly or via the public debate (Bowles 1998; Richardson 1996), The EU as a decentralised polity has been likened to the US in regard to its permeability to organised group interests, including NGOs, an outcome in line with the theoretical stance of Peterson (1992: 385)[11]. While acknowledging this potential, Natsios has written of US NGOs, however, that they are not very well prepared for an advocacy role: “American NGOs take positions on foreign policy with little research or scholarship to undergird their views”, which makes them “less able to guide public policy than their wide base of public support would suggest” (1997: 57-60). Other scholars concur: “much of the current analysis carried out by aid agencies is uncritical and self-serving” – and in particular fails to focus on strategic organisational and political issues (Duffield 1998c: 102). “The staff and constituencies of NGOs have generally believed that human and financial resources devoted to policy analysis and evaluation were irrelevant and even wasteful. They have preferred action to reflection” (Gordenker & Weiss 1996b: 221).

Dimensions of NGO action are substantially enhanced by transnational developments, as numerous recent scholars have observed (Rosenau & Czempiel 1992; Peterson 1992). For Andrew Natsios, NGOs are “the only private organisations with a mass popular bases that affect public opinion in the US on a broad spectrum of foreign policy issues concerning the developing world”; particularly if transnational NGO associations work together, he argues, they can be a powerful force (1997: 62; 66-69). For Peterson, “states and societal actors share a transnational public space” and are mutually dependent. Already, he sees proof that transnational civil society has “created patterns of relations that [have] constrained states and national societies” (1992: 386f.). Lipschutz concurs: there is “a political space for non-state actors to create alliances and linkages across borders and around the globe that, in the longer term, may … create visible changes in world politics” (1992: 419).

There a problems with NGO transnationality, however. Even within a single “family”, such as MSF or Save the Children, there can be difficulties in getting different branches to adopt similar policies and stances (Gordenker & Weiss 1996a: 27f.). Umbrellas such as the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), Voluntary Organisations in Cooperation in Emergencies (VOICE) or InterAction are scarcely policy powerhouses and have little authority to act as advocates for member organisations’ interests – though InterAction in the US has gone further than the rest. Yet the community is far less disparate than it may appear at first sight: if Gordenker & Weiss are right, “eight to ten large conglomerates of international NGOs account for what may be 80% of the financial value of assistance [channeled through NGOs, presumably] in complex emergencies” (1996b: 218).

It seems, therefore, that NGOs need to pay serious attention to strengthening transnational mechanisms as well as enhancing the quality of political analysis to which they have access, if they are to have the kind of impact to which they should aspire.


This essay has had as its principal objective to challenge concerned sections of civil society into a more consistent advocacy for humanitarian values within international relations, rather than being content to confine such notions to the conduct of relief, where they cannot, in any case, be confined. While this would not be new, it is argued that new emphases could be developed and that more effective strategies may indeed be available, on condition of being better thought through. To do so, humanitarian actors and committed academics need to forge a new alliance which harnesses the moral energy of the humanitarian cause. It is “the rubric of ‘humanitarianism’,” notes Campbell, which provides “the moral economy … of enacting responsibility in the context of crisis” (1998: 498). He quotes Derrida:

“However insufficient, confused, or equivocal … we should salute what is heralded today in the reflection on the right of interference or intervention in the name of what is obscurely and sometimes hypocritically called thehumanitarian… even as one remains vigilantly on guard against the manipulation or appropriations to which these novelties can be subjected” (Campbell 1998: 518, italics original)

The conditions to make progress are at least plausibly in place. As Robert Keohane has written:

“We think about world politics not because it is aesthetically beautiful, because we believe that it is governed by simple, knowable laws, or because it provides rich, easily accessible data for testing of empirical hypotheses. Were these concerns paramount, we would look elsewhere. We study world politics because we think it will determine the fate of the earth. Realism makes us aware of the odds against us. What we need to do now is to understand peaceful change by combining multi-dimensional scholarly analysis with more visionary ways of seeing the future” (Keohane 1983: 533)

This is not an enterprise which civil society either can, or should, ignore. More than appropriately, we can offer the final word to Michel Foucault:

“We must reject the division of tasks which is all too often offered … It is true that good governments like the hallowed indignation of the governed, provided it remains lyrical. I believe that we must realize how often, though, it is the rulers who speak, who can only and want only to speak. Experience shows that we can and must reject the theatrical role of pure and simple indignation … Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes, Médecins du Monde are initiatives which have created a new right: the right of private individuals to intervene in the order of politics and international strategies.” (quoted in Campbell 1998: 515f.)



The author is an official at the European Commission. He is grateful to Heloïse Gornall-Thode for research assistance in the preparation of this paper. Views expressed herein are the author’s own.


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Slim, H. (1998), “Sharing a Universal Ethic : Spreading the Principle of Humanity Beyond Humanitarianism”, paper to ECHO/ODI conference Principled Aid in an Unprincipled World, April 1998

Thompson, K.W. (1984), “Ethics and National Purpose”, in idem., Moral Dimensions of American Foreign Policy, New Brunswick NJ.

Weiss, T.G. & Chopra, J. (1995), “Sovereignty Under Siege: From Intervention to Humanitarian Space”, in Gene Lyons & Michael Mastanduno, eds., Beyond Westphalia? National Sovereignty and International Intervention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, pp. 87-114.

Weiss, T.G. (1997), “Conflict and Cooperation : Humanitarian Action in a changing world”, in Belgrad & Nachmias (eds.), The Politics of International Humanitarian Aid Operations, pp. 171 ff

Weiss, T.G. (1998), “Humanitarian Action in War Zones : Recent Experience and Future Research”, in Nederveen Pieterse (ed.), World Orders in the Making, pp. 24-79

Wheeler, N.J. (1992), “Pluralist or Solidarist Conceptions of International Society : Bull and Vincent on Humanitarian Intervention”, in Millenium, 21(3), pp 463-487


[1] We focus here – I hope not unfairly – on the broader NGO community as a proxy for civil society: For the purposes of this argument, UN agencies can be considered as dependent state agents, unlikely to generate reform autonomously, whereas the Red Cross has a specific mandate and operational niche to defend, and the arguments contained here do not necessarily apply to it. It is clear, though, that civil society is more than NGOs. The role of the media might also be underlined, and the role of academia is similarly, sooner or later, fundamental.



[1] For the term ‘post-modern conflicts’ and a description of their characteristics, see Duffield 1998b. Kaldor 1999 prefers the title ‘new wars’ but describes the same phenomenon. The term ‘post-Clausewitzian’ has also been suggested.

[2] See inter alia Hancock 1992; African Rights 1994; Macrae and Zwi 1994; Duffield 1996; Prendergast 1996; Roberts 1996; Bryer 1996; Anderson 1996; Maren 1997; Pomfret 1997; Cairns 1997; De Waal 1997; Heininger 1997 and Kaldor 1999

[3] See for example Slim 1998 andRelief & Rehabilitation Network Newsletter n° 12, Nov. 1998, ODI London, pp. 28-29

[4] See for example Duffield 1998a: 154f.; Natsios 1997: 1f.; Gordenker & Weiss 1996a

[5] Apart from Ruggie, loc.cit., see also Kaldor 1999: 13-20.

[6] With the exception of the formulation of the notion of “crimes against humanity” and the setting-up of the Nuremburg tribunals.

[7] The legal argument on third states rests on a dubious interpretation of article 1 common of the four Geneva Conventions of 1948, according to which High Contracting Parties are not only to respect but also “ensure respect” for the Conventions.

[8] For an alternative formulation of the ethical basis of humanitarianism, see Campbell 1998: 506. For the purposes of the present paper, while sympathising with Campbell’s broader critique, the choice between these conceptualisations is not critical.

[9] It is not my intention to imply that this is based on a correct exegesis of the French post-structuralists.

[10] Gordenker and Weiss acknowledge, however, that “far too little useful statistical information or even basic descriptive information exists about the phenomenon of NGOs that are active in the milieu surrounding the United Nations system” (1996b: 221).

[11] Its foreign policy powers and mechanisms are of course quite unlike those of the US, however.

Humanitarian issues in the Biafra conflict

Working Paper No. 36
Nathaniel H. Goetz
Pepperdine University
School of Public Policy
California USA

E-mail: ngoetz17@aol.com

April 2001

These working papers provide a means for UNHCR staff, consultants, interns and associates to publish the preliminary results of their research on refugee-related issues. The papers do not represent the official views of UNHCR. They are also available online at http://www.unhcr.ch/

ISSN 1020-7473

Introduction [1]

Over three decades have passed since the end of the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970). During almost thirty months of fighting between the Federal Government and Biafran secessionists, the conflict received more attention from the west than any other previous African ‘emergency.’ From the standpoint of the international humanitarian sector, Biafra served as one of the first conflicts where issues of more contemporary complex emergencies began to develop. Biafra taught the international community how to better provide and coordinate aid and assistance to those affected by a complex emergency. From these lessons came the beginnings of a framework for several issues, including: dealing with internally displaced persons (IDPs), negotiating humanitarian access and repatriation of unaccompanied children. However, in spite of Biafra’s importance, the world seems to have little recollection of this conflict and the lessons learned.

The lessons that can be learned from Biafra seem to share a common thread of coordination, and the lack thereof. This commonality unites these lessons with the present, since problems of coordination have been found in many of the subsequent, large-scale humanitarian emergencies. The United Nations Coordination of the International Humanitarian Response to the Gulf Crisis, published in 1992, clearly points to this:

“Coordination” is one of the most overused and least understood terms in international parlance today. Those providing financial and moral support for humanitarian activities are increasingly insistent that coordination be improved and duplication, waste and competition be avoided. [2]

The purpose of this study is to re-visit the events of Biafra and, through debate in the humanitarian and academic communities, reconsider the lessons learned. The reason for this reconsideration is simple: little has been accomplished in terms of putting the lessons learned in Biafra to practise in present day complex emergencies.

This study is unique, in that it is based largely upon firsthand, formerly confidential documents from the archives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United States Department of State. These documents have never before been openly considered in the context of the conflict in Biafra. The use of these documents throughout this study allows for a fresh look at a conflict, from which many of today’s most pressing humanitarian issues have their beginnings. Of particular relevance, are three issues on which this study focuses: protecting and assisting IDPs, negotiating humanitarian access and repatriation of unaccompanied children.


The civil war in Nigeria is generally recognized as one of the first conflicts in which large-scale humanitarian aid operations were conducted at the regional level. With this in mind, this study will look broadly at the issues concerning IDPs, achieving negotiated humanitarian access and the repatriation of unaccompanied children during the Nigerian Civil War. It will consider some similarities to present-day emergencies, and look at what lessons can be learned from each issue as a means for solving problems in the future.

The roots of the conflict in Nigeria are ethnic and religious in nature. Political lines drawn up in 1914 by British colonial rulers had little regard for the vast diversity that existed within the new boundaries of the colony. Different groups, united under artificial constraints, had very little in common in terms of culture, ethnicity and religion. It was these conditions that set the stage for conflict.

In 1960, Nigeria peacefully gained its independence from Great Britain. However, many social disparities remained unchecked. The Northern and Southern regions of Nigeria were on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of socioeconomic development. The 1999 International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Rules of War provides a vivid picture of these disparities:

Primary amongst the differences was the disparity of educational levels between North and South – so vast that it was feared that the North would not have enough qualified civil servants to constitute a smoothly running government. In addition, economic development in the South had far outpaced that of the North. In the South, Nigerians had benefited from education and access to the colonial apparatus, while the North lacked an entrepreneurial and commercial class. [3]

The violence began on 15 January 1966. A coup, led by military officers, resulted in the assassination of the prime minister and other top-ranking officials. The coup failed, but its negative impact dragged the country further into crisis. In the chaos that followed, General Aguiyi Ironsi declared himself leader of Nigeria on 16 January, adopting military rule. Ironsi, an Eastern Ibo, took on an agenda aimed at domination of the country.

On 15 March 1967, three people were injured during an anti-Ibo demonstration in a market in the Western town of Ibadan. The Times, in Great Britain, reported that, “the incident is seen as the first phase of a reprisal against the order by Col. Ojukwu [the Eastern region’s governor] banning West Nigerians from his region.” [4]

On 30 May, Ojukwu formally declared the secession of the Eastern region and the formation of the ‘Republic of Biafra.’ Tensions reached their peak in July 1967, with the assassination of Ironsi and the subsequent counter-coup that followed, led by officers from the North. On 1 August 1967, General Yakubu Gowon became the new head of state, maintaining military rule and adopting a policy of uniting Nigeria. What followed was a protracted civil war, lasting almost two and-a-half years.

Unlike other previous conflicts within Africa, the Nigerian Civil War did not go unnoticed internationally. The heavy use of the media, primarily television, (used by both sides to gain international sympathy for their cause), fed images to the world on a daily basis. The primary images shown were shocking pictures of the starvation of millions of children. The world suddenly took a critical interest in the conflict and called for humanitarian action to be taken. J.M. Clevenger, in his 1975 thesis, described this:

The time was ripe for the internationalisation of the relief operation. A sudden burst of publicity from the world’s press in May and June 1968 brought the impending disaster to the forefront of the world’s attention and stimulated the development of a massive international effort to rescue starving Nigerians and Biafrans. [5]

One of the organizations present within Nigeria prior to the conflict was the United States Peace Corps. Following their missions, two of its volunteers, Jim and Susan Hummer, were hired by the Nigerian Federal Government to teach in secondary school, and shared some of their experiences and perspectives of the civil war:

One Nigerian official we knew well was reluctant to comment on the Federal Government’s prosecution of the war. He told us it was not their custom to criticize their leaders or to “wash their linen in public.” We were aware that there was a military blockade and that those within the Eastern Region were being denied food and the necessary supplies in order to hasten their surrender. We knew that innocent people were dying from starvation and disease. We also knew that the Nigerians we lived and worked with supported the reunification of their country. They were very certain that the Federal Government would accomplish this goal through steady tightening of the blockade as the Federal forces continued to move deep into the secession area. [6]

Internally displaced persons

The term ‘internally displaced person’ had not yet been coined at the time of this conflict. Throughout the literature and first-hand sources consulted for this section, it was found that the term ‘refugee’ was largely used for both those internally displaced, as well as for those outside their country of origin. However, this was not the case for UNHCR, which did have such a distinction. Instances found in the present-day definition of internally displaced persons reflect that, in many respects, the situation that existed in Biafra was identical in nature. This is especially true of the causation, which, argues Cohen and Deng, is predominantly as a result of “conflict among different ethnic groups or between governments and minorities of a different race, language, culture, or religion.” [7]

This particular cause of internal displacement clearly existed in Biafra. Large-scale displacement began in September 1966, after Ojukwu concluded that the safety of Easterners living outside the region could no longer be guaranteed, and asked them to return home. This request, combined with the revenge massacres of Northerners in Port Harcourt, Enugu and other Eastern cities, led to a counter-exodus of non-Easterners from the region. [8] By the final quarter of 1966, there were hundreds of thousands of IDPs throughout Nigeria/Biafra.

Problems of protection and assistance

The most severe problems for those internally displaced came with the Federal Government’s declaration of an embargo and blockade of Biafra in 1967, which kept out precious commodities, including salt, meat and fish (staples of the Nigerian diet). In response, Biafra tried to increase its production of chickens and eggs, but as refugees from other parts of Nigeria flooded in and food stocks dwindled, so hunger grew. [9] The IDPs most affected by this artificially created famine, were children, the victims of ‘total’ war. An early fact-finding mission in 1968, conducted by ICRC Doctor Edwin Spirgi, found that at least 300,000 children suffering from kwashiorkor. [10]

By the summer of 1968, the ICRC reported that three million children were near death. A combination of the vast numbers of displaced persons throughout Nigeria and the federal blockage on food was driving more than 2,500 people into the hospital every week. [11] Besides the deadly kwashiorkor, common ailments among the internally displaced included acute exhaustion and hunger. There was also a high need amongst IDPs for vaccination against various diseases.

Temporary camps established by the international community attempted to assist in the protection of those internally displaced. However, life in the camps was bleak. A personal account from Dr. Philip Emeagwali, who, as a child, spent many months in the St. Joseph’s Primary School of Awka – Etiti camp, tells of his experience:

Many children in our camp suffered from the malnutrition disease called kwashiorkor. We stood in line for warm milk, dried stockfish (okporoko) and corn meal. My mentor (I have forgotten his name, but called him “teacher”) was forcefully conscripted into the Biafran army. After three days of military training, he was posted to the war front. Teacher never returned from the war front. He was the only child of his mother. [When someone died in the camp] we unceremoniously buried the dead at the bushes behind our camp. My niece, “Baby” Okwuosa and my paternal step-grandmother were buried without a funeral. [12]

Another serious problem for IDPs came at the end of the war in January 1970. This involved how to meet the needs of the unaccompanied children displaced by the conflict. A memorandum for the creation of a welfare scheme for children stated:

These [displaced] children have to be returned sooner or later, but for the time, money and effort lavished on them to be meaningful, arrangements must be made for their continuing care and supervision upon their return. As yet no plans exist for this mainly because no properly coordinated and overall programme has been set up for the welfare of the children here in Biafra. [13]

Between 20 February and 20 March 1970, the International Social Service (ISS) and International Union for Child Welfare (IUCW) conducted a mission to Nigeria, visiting centers that had been established to deal with the unaccompanied children. The primary purpose of the centers was to assist in the identification of as many of the children as possible. However, very few had been able to achieve this monumental task. The report stated that, “this work [identification] is most difficult with those groups of children which had moved several times during the war period.” [14] However, the mission found that, for the most part, the children were well cared for and there were very few staff that were “unprepared to understand and meet the needs of the children living in large groups away from their normal family environment.” [15]

In June 1970, the first statistics concerning the number of displaced children were released. The estimated number of children inside Nigeria was 30,000, “most of whom will have to be accommodated in the [receiving] centers, at least in transition to more permanent placement.” [16]

On 3 June, in response to the needs of the displaced children, the IUCW and the Federal Military Government of Nigeria reached an agreement in Lagos. It formed a “system for the [children’s] identification, tracing their families and the promotion of family reunion as well as the children’s care on a temporary or long-term basis.” [17]

The role of UNHCR

On 9 November 1967, a confidential meeting was held between High Commissioner Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and representatives of Biafra. The topic of the meeting was to discuss the problems of Ibo and the minority tribes in Eastern Nigeria resulting from the civil war. The following indicates the High Commissioner’s response and policy position:

The High Commissioner informed [the representatives from Biafra] that the statute of the Office empowers him to assist in solving problems of refugees at the request of governments of countries of asylum. A refugee, in this context, is a person who is outside his country and does not, for various specified reasons, wish to avail himself of the protection of his country of origin. Since “Biafra” is not recognized as a separate state, the displaced people from other parts of Nigeria into Eastern Nigeria do not fall within the mandate of the Office and, therefore, there is nothing the Office could do for them. [18]

UNHCR took a position that reflected its mandate and, in doing so, could not offer protection nor assistance to those displaced persons in Biafra. [19] Despite this position, UNHCR did closely monitor the problem of internal displacement. Material found in the UNHCR’s archives suggests that its reasoning for doing so was because of the large number of persons who crossed frontiers into several West African states, including Gabon and the Ivory Coast.

International response By May 1968, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), OXFAM, Caritas, World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), were distributing supplies and dozens of other organizations were also providing assistance. It is the ICRC that is largely credited for leading the internal humanitarian operations within Nigeria/Biafra during the conflict.

In April 1969, the ICRC, greatly helped by supplies and medical teams from UNICEF and the WCC, was running the biggest relief operation they had ever mounted, employed many hundreds of foreigners, Swiss delegates, doctors seconded from the national societies and expatriates, as well as 2,000 Nigerians. [20] The ICRC had 400 vehicles and various ships and aircraft, delivering over three million meals a week in Biafra. [21] Between 1967 and 1970, some 60,000 tons of food was distributed to the starving population. [22] The ICRC also carried out an extensive vaccination program. [23]

Negotiating humanitarian access [24]

The term ‘negotiated humanitarian access,’ like that of ‘internally displaced person,’ had not yet been coined at the time of Biafra. Instead, the term ‘negotiated agreement’ was found in several sources consulted, which had a similar meaning to ‘negotiated access.’ Similar to the present day, there was no pre-planned framework for negotiating access; rather it was done primarily on an ad hoc basis, by a variety of actors, mostly at the highest levels of government. Biafra is very likely to have been the first complex emergency where such negotiations took place solely in the name of transportation of aid to affected groups.

This section considers the development of negotiated access talks, primarily between the United States, the Federal Government of Nigeria and ICRC, and the extent to which they succeeded in reaching their objectives.

The access process: trial and error

By 1968, the fighting between the Federal Government and Biafran forces had escalated and, in response to the amount of civilians in need of relief, the international community made its first efforts to supply aid to those affected populations.

The first transport efforts were by religious organizations that chartered planes to send in aid, “sometimes permitting weapons to travel alongside.” [25] This was done primarily because no alternative existed in terms of being able to bargain with the warring parties. Secondly, since an open ‘air corridor’ existed, gunrunners took advantage of the opportunity to fly their supplies into Biafra as well. This created a situation of protection for both gunrunners and aid flights. This is because the warring parties did not want to be held responsible for shooting down a humanitarian aircraft and drawing negative attention upon themselves. Although such early efforts managed to get in some aid, the fact that weapons were sometimes transported in by the humanitarian airlifts, and gunrunners misused the system provided by the airlift, only served to increase the mistrust between the warring parties.

Unlike the independent religious groups, organizations such as the ICRC, were bound by Article 23 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which states:

All delivery of aid in this kind of situation was to be subordinate to the agreement of the contracting power, who had to be convinced that the relief would go only to the civilians to whom it was destined and that enemy troops would derive no gain or advantage from it. [26]

This created difficulties for the organization, but after recognizing just how severe the humanitarian problems were, Gowon gave the ICRC authorization to begin flying relief into Biafra in early 1968. Although this gesture was seen as positive, only one plane carrying 16 to 20 tons of food per night was being delivered.

However, the airlift did manage to expand with support from other International Red Cross Societies. On 8 April 1968, the ICRC commenced a regular flight operation direct from Europe to Biafra via Fernando Poo Island.[27] But even this was short-lived, for by August 1968, the “mercy” flights of the ICRC ceased, reportedly because “Biafran arms planes have taken advantage of the reduced flak Gowon puts up against the mercy flights, so that Gowon has stopped making any special provisions and the Red Cross has had some near misses.” [28]

Despite the setbacks, negotiations continued. The warring parties both firmly believed that the humanitarian aid that did make it in was going to help support the other side’s military efforts. Thus, the element of mistrust became one of the primary factors that hindered the amount of aid reaching the affected populations.

United States support

United States policy toward Nigeria in 1968 was, on the whole, in agreement with the Organization of African Unity’s position of supporting a “unified” Nigeria. In terms of other African states’ support for such a policy, “more than thirty-five recognized Biafra or showed sympathy toward Biafra. The rest of them were in favor of the unified Nigeria, partly because they all shuddered at the thought of breaking up over tribal ground.” [29]

A 12 August 1968 cable from the United States National Security Council to the President’s Special Assistant outlined specific U.S. policy toward the conflict: [30]

  • Stimulate the Red Cross to serve as the international cover for a relief operation.
  • Confidentially put pressure on both sides to agree to a settlement or at least to a relief agreement.
  • Offer all help necessary to make a relief operation work.
  • Push particularly hard on Gowon to dramatize the fact that it is not the Federal Government keeping the food out of Biafra.
  • -Work out the logistics of the relief scheme so that it is ready to move as soon as political arrangements are made.

In an effort to reopen the air corridor, Edward Hamilton of the United States National Security Council staff proposed to:

Persuade Gowon to permit airdrops of food from planes departing from Federal territory. This would allow him to inspect cargoes to be sure there are no arms; dramatize the fact that he wants to feed the hungry; and it would actually move sizeable amounts of food into Biafra. [31]

As the United States was preparing this proposal, the ICRC was working on a new plan to airlift aid from an airstrip in Federal territory to one in Biafra. However, with both of these plans for a new air ‘mercy’ corridor, there came many problems: 1) should Gowon and Ojukwu approve the plan, they would need to each provide an airstrip for the exclusive use of humanitarian actors under the guidance of the ICRC and, 2) they would need to at least provide some sort of guarantee that those international aid workers would be safe from attack.

The United States Embassy in Lagos presented both proposals to Gowon on 14 August 1968. However, they were rejected. A State Department cable on the 15 August stated:

Gowon told the [United States Ambassador] that he had already decided that the FMG [Federal Military Government] could not accept the ICRC’s proposal for a relief airstrip because the airstrip that Ojukwu had offered was already under attack and likely to fall into FRG hands soon and because he did not like the way the ICRC had handled the matter, attempting to face the FMG with fait accompli. [32]

In response, United States President Lyndon B. Johnson sent Gowon a cable concerning the proposed access corridor. Johnson attempted to appeal to Gowon personally in order to get him to reconsider the proposal. The cable read:

Knowing that you [Gowon] share my own deep concern over the suffering of those innocent persons, I feel justified in addressing this personal appeal to you to give your urgent agreement to the ICRC proposals for an air mercy corridor. Hopefully, this can be followed by rapid agreement on a land corridor. [33]

Once again, there was rejection from the Federal Government. For the international community, especially the ICRC and United States, this meant “frustration by the failure of Biafra and the Federal Government to reach agreement on the methods of transportation and distribution.” [34] J.M. Clevenger noted the complexity of this issue:

Neither of the belligerents was willing to concede the superiority of humanitarian over political considerations, which made it impossible to reach any agreement about the routes and methods to be used for moving relief supplies through the Federal blockade. In these circumstances, the humanitarian agencies felt compelled, given the gravity of the nutritional situation inside the enclave [of Biafra] in the summer of 1968, to step up their ‘clandestine’ airlift of relief supplies. [35]

Another difficulty lay in the internal operations of the access negotiations. Since there were several relief organizations working within Biafra, it became difficult to coordinate one united effort amongst them. Instead, there emerged an element of competition amongst humanitarian organizations. A cable from the National Security Council to the President’s Special Assistant noted this on 14 November 1968:

[There are] very real difficulties of getting relief organizations to pull together and of persuading the two sides in the civil war to let them operate as freely as necessary. [36]

Because of the amount of media attention being given to the conflict, American public opinion grew in favour of humanitarian support for Biafra. At the Congressional level, Senators Kennedy and Mondale, among others, had been approached by church voluntary agencies to help secure eight Globemaster transports [aircraft] for the international relief effort. Secretary Dean Rusk recommended in a 24 December 1968 United States Security Council meeting that,

The only real problem [with supplying these aircraft to the various church voluntary agencies] is with the [Nigerian] Federal Government. They are bound to object to our giving planes, if only because they regard the voluntary agencies as pro-Biafran and sometimes gunrunners. We have to come up with 8 planes rather than 6 and can afford to split the contribution between the voluntary agencies and Red Cross, which puts a better face on it for the Feds. This deal makes eminent good sense. It will cost us nothing, can save lives, and will, for the time being at least, lessen the Congressional heat here at home. [37]

The plan, approved by President Johnson the following day, would significantly help the ICRC in its efforts to airlift aid into Biafra. Representatives from Biafra met secretly with Rusk to discus the preparation of an airfield to be used “exclusively” for relief. Rusk reported that although there were many problems with this proposal, “we are quietly offering to send in an expert from one of the relief agencies to see what they have in mind. We are telling the Biafrans, as we tell everyone else, that we are closing no options on saving lives.” [38]

By the end of 1968, a new airstrip had been opened in Biafra for ICRC use. Aware of this, the Federal Government allowed the flights to resume, however, on an “at your own risk” basis. In January 1969, the ICRC successfully negotiated with the Governments of Equatorial Guinea and Dahomey to use airstrips for flying in relief to Biafra. With airstrips on Fernando Poo island, Equatorial Guinea and at Contonou, Dahomey “the humanitarian aid airlifts occurred under the auspices of Inter-Church Aid” between 1 and 2 February 1969. [39]

The United States and ICRC reached an agreement of cooperation in early 1969, dividing the access negotiations between air and land corridors, the United States taking the former. Although previous efforts to negotiate a land corridor under President Johnson had failed, it was agreed that the Nixon Administration to make a final attempt:

The Americans believed that use of the Cross River was the best way to get large-scale relief into Biafra, with foodstuffs off-load onto shallow watercraft from ocean-going vessels. This Cross River project was eventually agreed to in principle by both sides, but it was largely a meaningless gesture, as the parties subsequently refused to discuss specifics. [40]

Politically, the possibility of a land corridor seemed impossible. One of the many disagreements between the warring parties was simple, yet it illustrates both the mistrust and complexity of what was occurring: Ojukwu forbade the necessary food to reach the country through a neutral corridor for fear Nigerian troops would poison it. [41] The ICRC continued to successfully airlift aid into Biafra, although each flight was still done on an “at your own risk” basis. This only lasted four months, when the risks involved tragically cost the organization. On 5 June, an ICRC DC-7 aircraft was shot down by the Federal air force over Biafra, killing the three aid workers on board. Because of this incident, serious disputes over the conduct of relief operations arose and the airlift was again suspended.

Access talks between July and September 1969 produced an agreement between the ICRC and Federal Government concerning daytime flights. [42] The agreement was signed on 13 September. However, the next day, it was rejected by the Biafran government on the grounds that it contained “no adequate guarantee against Nigerian military exploitation of the flights.” [43]

Effectively, this incident ended any more attempts to negotiate access. A formal agreement was signed on 2 October 1969 in Lagos between the Federal Government and the ICRC, terminating the role of the ICRC as relief coordinating authority in Federal territory. [44]

‘Ground rules’ [45]

One of the factors that caused frustration for the United States in its access negotiations with the warring parties was the inability to come to an agreement on what the ‘ground rules’ for access should be. Without agreement on such rules, talks between the warring parties and United States were largely ineffective. Several factors contributed to the inability to reach agreement on the ground rules, including: mistrust of humanitarian actors (which were seen, at times, as pro-Biafran) and mistrust of the humanitarian airlift itself (which was viewed as a ‘cover’ for running guns into both Nigeria and Biafra).

In a 1970 interview, Secretary Dean Rusk pointed out the frustration that occurred over the inability to agree on the ground rules for access:

We [the United States] were concerned about food supplies for the Biafrans; we were ready to put in large amounts of food ourselves from our own stocks and were prepared to divert food ships going to other countries to Biafra. But the leaders of the two sides in Nigeria never could get together on the ground rules for furnishing food to the Biafrans, so the problem was not the availability of food but the ability to get it to those who were hungry. [46]

Access negotiations experienced many difficulties, making them only partly successful. These difficulties or “points of friction,” as noted in 1977 by Dr. David P. Forsythe, included: [47]

  • Shielding of the gunrunners by ICRC planes, albeit unintended.
  • The ICRC had asked Lagos to lift its blockade in the fall of 1967.
  • The Federal military requisitioned some Red Cross aircraft for military purposes.
  • The Federal air force bombed not only civilian targets in Biafra, but Red Cross installations as well – and Red Cross personnel were killed by Federal troops.

Repatriation of unaccompanied children

In August 1968, evacuations led by Caritas International, began transporting children out of Nigeria to Sao Tome. Subsequent evacuations to Gabon were arranged by other international organizations, including the “Biafran” National Red Cross Society, the Order of Malta, the French Red Cross and Terre des Hommes. Similar evacuations also took place to the Ivory Coast.

The Ifekwunigwe repatriation scheme

In January 1969, Dr. A.E. Ifekwunigwe, Chief Paediatrician of the Okporoh Hospital (Nigeria), published a memorandum on the welfare scheme for refugee children, which created a framework to be used for the eventual repatriation of the evacuated children. Because of his position and experience (having participated extensively in the 1968 evacuation), Ifekwunigwe was entrusted by the Federal authorities with coordinating the repatriation of the Nigerian children. In January 1970, Ifekwunigwe published a second memorandum as a follow-up.

Ifekwunigwe’s memoranda were extremely valuable in that they served as the framework adopted as the final repatriation scheme. They provided detailed analysis and solutions, while addressing the shortcomings of the evacuation process. Most importantly, they provided the evidence that repatriation of unaccompanied children was a key policy concern for all sides involved in the Biafran conflict.

In his memorandum of 17 January 1969, Ifekwunigwe wrote:

one should consider the problem not in the narrow context of evacuation of a very small proportion of the children abroad, but one should take a global view of the situation and think of evacuation of children abroad as just one facet. [48] With regard to the coordination of the evacuation program, he noted that “there has been no definite plan to guide them as to the priorities of our needs and no attempt has been made to coordinate their activities in order to avoid the waste that results from duplication of effort. They should be encouraged as much as possible to devote their attention to what can be done for the children here in Biafra rather than having their attention diverted by the scheme for evacuating the children abroad.” [49]

Ifekwunigwe’s plan allowed for the process of repatriation not to be rushed. It rested largely on making sure that the ‘best interests’ of the children were met and that adequate staff (properly trained) and ‘reception’ centers were available before the children were moved from the host countries. Ifekwunigwe wrote:

It is desirable that the children should be returned to “Biafra” when they are well enough. The period varies with individual children, but this is generally about 3 to 6 months. However, as stressed earlier, for the exercise to be worthwhile, adequate arrangements for their resettlement and continuing care must be made. It is possible to set up camps for these children on return, but this has limitations and obvious disadvantages. Even if they go to a camp immediately on return, it should be only a transit camp for about 2 to 4 weeks and every effort should be made to place them either in their own homes or with a suitable guardian. A register of such children in the area should be kept by a Welfare Officer, specially appointed to pay home visits on them. The Relief Organizations should be encouraged to set up a Nutrition Center in each area to which these children have been returned. [50]

Moving toward repatriation

In April 1970, a meeting at UNHCR was held to begin planning for the possible participation in the repatriation of the children from Gabon and the Ivory Coast. One of the main points discussed was the pilot repatriation scheme, which was first drafted in January 1969 and 1970 by Dr. A.E. Ifekwunigwe (as seen above.) This plan was tentatively agreed to by the Federal Government of Nigeria, as well as the Governments of Ivory Coast and Gabon, but final assurances that the children’s well-being would be ensured was still a topic of primary concern.

At the meeting, UNHCR decided to take a role in the repatriation, thus making its services available to the Governments of Nigeria, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. In terms of the status of the children as defined by its mandate, UNHCR held that it “did not consider these children to be refugees and therefore, its offer of assistance [in the repatriation] falls within its good offices activities.” [51] The Federal Government of Nigeria also held this position, having indicated in a memorandum to the High Commissioner that it “is unable to accept that one of the criteria under which the status of refugee is conferred on any person under the appropriate Geneva Convention is a voluntary wish of the person to live outside his country.” [52] Instead, the Federal Government referred to the children as “evacuees.” [53]

On 3 May 1970, an article appeared in the New York Enquirer based on an interview with Princess Cecilia Bourban Parma concerning her experiences that she claimed to have had with affected children in Biafra during the conflict. In a letter from the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington, DC to Robin Jordan, Chairperson of Americans for Children’s Relief, it was believed that the interview was designed to:

…arouse sympathy for, and perpetuate the idea of, the secession and the rebellion, well over three months after the civil war has ended, and at a time when those who engaged in this civil war are working together towards reconciliation and rehabilitation of all concerned. Such an article, and its publication at this time, is an unfortunate act and a disservice to everyone, and not least to those who Princess Cecilia claims to espouse.” [54]

The interview focused on Bourban Parma’s supposed 15 months in Biafra, and never once mentions that any sort of international concern was being given to the war-affected children of Biafra. [55] A few weeks later, Bourban Parma denied conducting the interview, calling it “fabricated.” [56] Although not directly involved, UNHCR monitored the situation very closely, as Americans for Children’s Relief was playing a key role in the repatriation and the incident could have potentially complicated relations with the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Negotiating repatriation

UNHCR’s role of negotiator did not begin until the final details for the repatriation scheme had been worked out between the Governments of Nigeria, Gabon and the Ivory Coast. The original request for UNHCR to step-in came from the Federal Government of Nigeria, which was experiencing difficulties attempting to negotiate on its own with two governments who did not believe that it was stable enough for the repatriation:

Nigeria remained acutely aware of the support of Gabon and the Ivory Coast for the Biafran cause during the war, while Gabon and the Ivory Coast wished reassurances that conditions in the former secessionist areas were suitable for the return of the children. [57]

The second factor involved international borders. Since the children had been evacuated to Gabon and the Ivory Coast, each government felt that is was solely responsible for those children within its borders and, therefore, did not wish to have any sort of international intervention. This was especially true with the Government of Gabon, who, in March 1970, issued a message to those international organizations dealing with the Nigerian children, as received through the United States Embassy in Livreville:

President Bongo of Gabon convoked all the local voluntary agencies to inform them that they should not become involved in the question of Nigerian children, who were the sole responsibility of the Gabonese Government. [58]

On 5 May 1970, High Commissioner Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan sent a cable to Gowon expressing his willingness to send UNHCR Director of Operations Thomas Jamieson to Lagos to begin to “discuss how UNHCR might proceed to assist with the humanitarian objective of repatriating the children now outside of Nigeria.” [59] To help matters, on 20 May, President Bongo of Gabon announced that he was willing to begin negotiations for the repatriation of Nigerian children within his country. A UNHCR cable of 20 May stated:

Arrangements for the return to Nigeria of children evacuated to Gabon from former Biafra could only be made through direct negotiations between Nigerian and Gabonese representatives, with the possible mediation of Cameroon President Ahmadon Ahidjo.” [60]

Although both of these steps were small, they were the first concrete commitments made by UNHCR and Gabon to begin to work toward the repatriation.

Reaching agreement

It took until the beginning of June 1970 for Gowon to respond to the High Commissioner’s offer. Gowon had previously met with Antonie Noel, Chief of the Legal Section for Africa and Asia of UNHCR in February 1970 and had requested assistance in ascertaining the exact numbers of the Nigerian children and their supporting staff inside Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Sao Tome; and in helping to provide the identities of those children. Gowon reminded the High Commissioner that he had not yet heard from him on the progress made towards those two points, and once again requested his assistance in the matter. The High Commissioner compiled the information for Gowon one week later, thus helping to seal the final details for the repatriation. The following relevant information was included: [61]

  • 3,940 Nigerian children in Gabon, 2,792 of whom have been identified.
  • 908 Nigerian children in the Ivory Coast and it is unsure how many have been identified.
  • Between 120 and 130 in Sao Tome and it is unsure how many have been identified.
  • The children in general are in good health and are being taken care of either by the government concerned, jointly with the local Red Cross Society, and/or by private confessional and non-confessional agencies.
  • The High Commissioner recently took steps to obtain all necessary data on the children concerned (identity with photographs, place of birth, physical and mental conditions, etc.) This work is now being carried out in the Ivory Coast and will be available shortly.

On 25 June 1970, it was announced that Gabon and Nigeria had agreed on:

… a rapid and dignified repatriation of refugee children evacuated from secessionist Biafra in 1968. Under an agreement worked out through the mediation of President Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon, Nigeria has undertaken to transport the children home as soon as possible. About 3,500 youngsters will be involved. [62]

The High Commissioner, in order to further assist in the effort, made the decision to help fund the repatriation in late July 1970. Together with funding from UNHCR and cooperation between the Governments of Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, the repatriation was ready to take place. As had been outlined in the Ifekwunigwe memorandums, receiving centers had been established under the auspices of the Nigerian Red Cross, supported by other international organizations, including WFP and UNICEF.

By September 1970, 891 children in the Ivory Coast had been identified and, with completed dossiers (at the earlier request of the Federal Government), were ready to be repatriated. In October, the High Commissioner was called upon to “help negotiate the final arrangements between the Governments of Nigeria, Gabon and the Ivory Coast for the airlifting of the children.” [63]

A few weeks later, Thomas Jamieson, UNHCR Director of Operations, conducted his mission (which had been originally proposed to Gowon in June 1970) and found:

… all of the centers, each with a capacity to accommodate 300 to 350 children, were adequately equipped and staffed, largely by Nigerians, and ready to receive the children. Food supplied had been donated by WFP and blankets and equipment by UNICEF.” [64]

Between 9 and 22 November 1970, the operation to repatriate the 891 children from the Ivory Coast took place. The airlift for the children in Gabon occurred in two stages: the first between 23 November and 20 December, and the second between 11 January and 8 February 1971. In all, 3,711 of the refugee children in Gabon and the Ivory Coast were repatriated by an airlift totalling 78 flights. [65] The total cost of the operation was estimated to be about $500,000, of which Denmark [the largest donor] contributed $76,000. [66]


As discussed in the introduction, a key common theme that emerged in the three areas of foci of this research was that of coordination. Indeed, coordination continues to be a key problem that hinders current day complex emergencies. The following list of lessons which can be drawn from the Biafran conflict share many similarities to present day complex emergencies:

  1. In times of conflict, internal displacement will inevitably occur and the needs of IDPs will need to be identified (including protection and assistance issues) and the means found to implement programs to meet those needs. It is important to identify how to best implement such programs and who should be involved in their planning and implementation.
  2. Although the circumstances under which access negotiations take place vary, it is important to establish a clear, pre-set framework for how such negotiations will be conducted. The ability to accomplish this allows for effective communication between the actors involved (including the warring parties) and the ability to establish a clear set of ground rules at the onset of negotiations.
  3. Establishing a clear set of ground rules with the warring parties fosters trust between the various actors involved, increasing the potential for success in negotiating access.
  4. It is vital to develop a framework for the methods of transportation and distribution of aid with the warring parties as early as possible. This will minimize confusion over which organizations are participating in the access negotiations and the delivery of aid, and provides the warring parties with a clear and concise plan of action.
  5. If the evacuation of children from the affected region(s) is not coordinated effectively, then efforts are likely to be duplicated and valuable time wasted.
  6. There is a need to recognize, that regardless of the magnitude of the evacuation, it will not be possible to remove all children from the affected region(s). Thus, it is important for more attention to be paid to those children who are left within the affected region(s) in terms of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, by allowing host countries to take responsibility for what they have volunteered to do (taking in the children), primary concern can be given to those children left in the affected region(s).
  7. The process of repatriation of unaccompanied children should not be rushed. It requires careful planning and time to ensure that the best interests of the children are met.
  8. If possible, the identification of unaccompanied children before, or during, evacuation saves both time and confusion when it is time to safely repatriate them.

Have we learned from Biafra?

Unfortunately, not a great deal seems to have been learnt from the experience of Biafra. During the three subsequent decades, many of the problems faced continue in present day complex emergencies. Although some of issues faced today also emerged in Biafra, some of the lessons which the international community should have learnt have not been implemented. Several of the most recent emergencies, such as Bosnia and Rwanda, illustrate this all too clearly.

In order that the events in Biafra in the 1960s become no more than a fading memory, studies such as this, should remind us of what did happen and what was learned as a result. It is important to draw upon the experience of past conflicts as a means of assessing lessons learned.

Appendix A

List of Acronyms

ACR Americans for Children’s Relief

BBC British Broadcasting Corporation

FMG Federal Military Government of Nigeria (also known as the FRG)

FRG Federal Republican Government of Nigeria

ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross

IDP Internally displaced persons

ISS International Social Service

IUCW International Union for Child Welfare

NGO Non-governmental organization

NRC Nigerian Red Cross

NSC National Security Council (United States)

OCHA United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund

UNDP United Nations Development Programme

WCC World Council of Churches

WFP World Food Programme

YMCA Young Men’s Christian Association



UNHCR Archive Sources

“An agreement made between the Federal Military Government of Nigeria and the

International Union for Child Welfare,” 3 June 1970. #104: Unit 222: Fonds 11:

Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 –

1970, UNHCR Archives.

Ifekwunigwe, Dr. A.E. “A memorandum on the welfare scheme for refugee children,”

17 January 1970. Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-

Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

“Inter-Tribal Riot in West Nigeria: Igbos Attacked in Ibadan Market,” The Times, 16

March 1967. 6/1/NIG [3-1964/3-1970]: Fonds 11: Records of the Central

Registry. Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

“Notes on assignment to Nigeria for the International Union for child welfare,”

International Social Service, Geneva, 8 April 1970. #30-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11:

Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951-

1970, UNHCR Archives.

Notes of a confidential UNHCR meeting with Mr. Udo Affia, Commissioner for Health

of breakaway Eastern Nigeria “Biafra,” of 9 November 1967. 6/1/NIG [3-

1964/3-1970]: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry. Sub-Fonds 1:

Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

UNHCR Memorandum, 18 June 1970. #75: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central

Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

Ifekwunigwe, Dr. A.E. “A memorandum on the welfare scheme for refugee children,” 17

January 1969, Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1:

Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

Ifekwunigwe, Dr. A.E. “Plans suggested for the orderly return of the children sent

abroad during the war,” January 1970, Fonds 11: Records of the Central

Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

UNHCR Note to the file of 6 August 1970, #104-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the

Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR


Memorandum from the Federal Government of Nigeria to the High Commissioner, June

1970, Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1:

Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

Letter from the Embassy of Nigeria (sender’s name illegible) to Mrs. Robin Jordan,

Chairperson of Americans for Children’s Relief, 28 April 1970, Unit 222: Fonds

11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject

Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

“Princess Tearfully Tells of Her 15 Months Helping Children in Biafra,” New York

Enquirer, 3 May 1970, Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry,

Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

Confidential UNHCR Interoffice Memorandum of 14 May 1970, #53: Unit 222: Fonds

11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951-

1970, UNHCR Archives.

UNHCR Memorandum of 10 March 1970, #10: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the

Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR


UNHCR Outgoing Cable of 5 May 1970, #18-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the

Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR


UNHCR Incoming Cable of 21 May 1970, #57-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the

Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR


“Data available on Nigerian children outside their homeland,” UNHCR memorandum of

9 June 1970, #69: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-

Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

UNHCR Incoming Cable of 27 June 1970, #25: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the

Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR


“UN aids children in Nigeria,” Miami News, 27 July 1970, #106: Unit 222: Fonds 11:

Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951-

1970, UNHCR Archives.

United States Department of State Archive Sources

United States Department of State cable from Edward Hamilton of the US National

Security Council to the President’s Special Assistant, 12 August 1968. Foreign

Relations of the United.

United States Department of State cable to the United States Embassy in Nigeria, 15

August 1968. Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume

XXIV: Africa, Department of State, Washington, DC.

United States Department of State cable from Harold H. Saunders of the National

Security Council staff to the President’s Special Assistant, 14 November 1968.

Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume XXIV: Africa,

Department of State, Washington, DC.

Lyndon B. Johnson Library Archive Sources

“The Dean Rusk Oral History Interview IV,” Transcript, Dean Rusk Oral History

Interview IV, 8 March 1970, by Paige E. Mulhollan, Internet copy, Lyndon B.

Johnson Library.


Reports & Papers

“Memories of Biafra: A Photo Essay,” Dr. Philip Emeagwali,

“United Nations Coordination of the International Humanitarian Response to the Gulf

Crisis, 1990 – 92,” Geneva: United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs,

June 1992.

“Famine and War: Protection of the Civilian Population in Periods of Armed Conflict,”

26th International Meeting of the International Committee of the Red Cross and

Red Crescent, 15 September 1995.

“Country Report: Nigerian Country Context,” ICRC worldwide consultation on the rules

of war produced by Greenberg Research, Inc. 1999.

Clevenger, James M. “The Political Economy of Hunger: Famine in Nigeria, 1967 –

1970,” Master of Social Sciences Thesis, University of Birmingham (United

Kingdom), June 1975.


Holborn, Louise. “Refugees: A Problem of Our Time,” Volume II, Mentuchen, New

Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1975.

Moorehead, Caroline. “Dunant’s Dream,” New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.

Osaghae, Eghosa. “Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence,” Bloomington: Indiana

University Press, 1998.

“Keesing’s Research Report of Africa Independent: A Survey of Political Demands,”

New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.

Forsythe, David P. “Humanitarian Politics,” Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University

Press, 1977.

Cohen, Roberta and Deng, Francis M. (eds.) “The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the

Internally Displaced,” Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1998.


Personal interview with Jim and Susan Hummer, 16 September 2000.


[1] Nathaniel H. Goetz recently completed a graduate internship with UNHCR’s Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, during which he prepared this paper. He wishes to thank Dr. Jeff Crisp, Arafat Jamal, Sean Loughna, Ragnhild Ek, Dr. David Turton, Dr. Nicholas Van Hear, Dr. Michael McBride, Dr. David Forsythe, Dr. Robert Lloyd, Jim and Susan Hummer, and Parul Patel for their generous assistance.

[2] “United Nations Coordination of the International Humanitarian Response to the Gulf Crisis, 1990 – 92,” Geneva: United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, June 1992, p.2.

[3] “Country Report: Nigerian Country Context,” ICRC worldwide consultation on the rules of war produced by Greenberg Research, Inc. 1999.

[4] “Inter-Tribal Riot in West Nigeria: Igbos Attacked in Ibadan Market,” The Times (London), 16 March 1967. 6/1/NIG [3-1964/3-1970]: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[5] Clevenger, James M. “The Political Economy of Hunger: Famine in Nigeria, 1967 – 1970,” Master of Social Sciences Thesis, University of Birmingham (United Kingdom), June 1975, p.80.

[6] E-mail exchange between the author and Jim and Susan Hummer, 16 September 2000.

[7] Cohen, Roberta and Deng, Francis M. (eds.) “The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the Internally Displaced,” Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1998, p.3.

[8] Osaghae, Eghosa. “Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence,” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998, p.63.

[9] Moorehead, Caroline. “Dunant’s Dream,” New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988, p.615.

[10] Moorehead 1998, pp.615-16. Kwashiorkor is a symptom caused by lack of protein, resulting in severe bloating and flesh deterioration.

[11] Moorehead 1998, p.616.

[12] “Memories of Biafra: A Photo Essay,” Dr. Philip Emeagwali.

[13] Ifekwunigwe, Dr. A.E. “A memorandum on the welfare scheme for refugee children,” 17 January 1970. Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[14] “Notes on assignment to Nigeria for the International Union for child welfare,” International Social Service, Geneva, 8 April 1970. #30-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[15] International Social Service, 8 April 1970.

[16] UNHCR Memorandum, 18 June 1970. #75: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[17] “An agreement made between the Federal Military Government of Nigeria and the International Union for Child Welfare,” 3 June 1970. #104: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[18] Notes of a confidential UNHCR meeting with Mr. Udo Affia, Commissioner for Health of breakaway Eastern Nigeria “Biafra,” of 9 November 1967. 6/1/NIG [3-1964/3-1970]: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[19] The only way by which UNHCR could have assisted would have been by specifically being requested to by the UN General Assembly or the Secretary-General.

[20] Moorehead 1998, p.621.

[21] Moorehead 1998, p.621.

[22] “Famine and War: Protection of the Civilian Population in Periods of Armed Conflict,” 26th International meeting of the ICRC and RC, 15 September 1995.

[23] Moorehead 1998, p.621.

[24] For a closer look at the issue of negotiated humanitarian access, see M. Cutts’ “The humanitarian operation in Bosnia, 1992 – 95: Dilemmas of negotiated humanitarian access,” UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research, No. 8, May 1999, and A. Richardson’s “Negotiating humanitarian access in Angola: 1990 – 2000,” UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research, No. 18, June 2000.

[25] Moorehead 1998, p.618.

[26] Moorehead 1998, p.618.

[27] Clevenger, J.M. p.84.

[28] United States Department of State cable from Edward Hamilton of the US National Security Council to the President’s Special Assistant, 12 August 1968. Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume XXIV: Africa, Department of State, Washington, DC.

[29] Transcript, Dean Rusk Oral History Interview IV, 8 March 1970, by Paige E. Mulhollan, Internet copy, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, p.28.

[30] United States Department of State, 12 August 1968.

[31] United States Department of State, 12 August 1968.

[32] United States Department of State cable to the United States Embassy in Nigeria, 15 August 1968. Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume XXIV: Africa, Department of State, Washington, DC.

[33] United States Department of State, 15 August 1968.

[34] Keesing’s Research Report of Africa Independent: A Survey of Political Demands, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.

[35] Clevenger, J.M. p.86.

[36] United States Department of State Cable from Harold H. Saunders of the National Security staff to the President’s Special Assistant, 14 November 1968. Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume XXIV: Africa, Department of State, Washington, DC.

[37] Memorandum of 24 December 1968 from Roger Morris of the National Security Council staff to the President’s Special Assistant. Foreign Relations of the United States: 1964 – 1968, Volume XXIV: Africa, Department of State, Washington, DC.

[38] Memorandum, 24 December 1968.

[39] Keesing’s 1972.

[40] Forsythe, David P. “Humanitarian Politics,” Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977, p.188.

[41] “Memories of Biafra: A Photo Essay,” Dr. Philip Emeagwali.

[42] Keesing’s 1972.

[43] Keesing’s 1972.

[44] Keesing’s 1972.

[45] The term ‘ground rules’ has been used over the past few years in Southern Sudan, where it was believed to have originally emerged. However, as evidenced by an 8 March 1970 interview with Dean Rusk, this is not the case and the term dates much earlier to Biafra.

[46] Rusk interview, 8 March 1970, p.27. It must also be noted that the United States did recognize that the leadership of Biafra was creating difficulties for getting aid in, as well. Rusk stated in the same interview, “Colonel Ojukwu, the leader of the Biafran forces, has to carry a heavy share of the responsibility for the deaths by starvation in Biafra because he too was very difficult about the ground rules for getting the food in.”

[47] Forsythe 1977, p.189.

[48] Ifekwunigwe, Dr. A.E. “A memorandum on the welfare scheme for refugee children,” 17 January 1969, Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[49] Ifekwunigwe 1969.

[50] Ifekwunigwe 1969.

[51] UNHCR Note to the file of 6 August 1970, #104-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[52] Memorandum from the Federal Government of Nigeria to the High Commissioner, June 1970, Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Letter from the Embassy of Nigeria (sender’s name illegible) to Mrs. Robin Jordan, Chairperson of Americans for Children’s Relief, 28 April 1970, Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives. The article linked Jordan to Bourban Parma, temporarily affecting the relationship between Americans for Children’s Relief and the Nigerian Federal Government.

[55] See “Princess Tearfully Tells of Her 15 Months Helping Children in Biafra,” New York Enquirer, 3 May 1970, Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[56] Confidential UNHCR Interoffice Memorandum of 14 May 1970, #53: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[57] Holborn, Louise. “Refugees: A Problem of Our Time,” Volume II, Mentuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1975, p.1392.

[58] UNHCR Memorandum of 10 March 1970, #10: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[59] UNHCR Outgoing Cable of 5 May 1970, #18-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[60] UNHCR Incoming Cable of 21 May 1970, #57-A: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[61] “Data available on Nigerian children outside their homeland,” UNHCR memorandum of 9 June 1970, #69: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[62] UNHCR Incoming Cable of 27 June 1970, #25: Unit 222: Fonds 11: Records of the Central Registry, Sub-Fonds 1: Classified Subject Files: 1951 – 1970, UNHCR Archives.

[63] Holborn, p.1392.

[64] Addendum to Report to General Assembly (XXV), Supplement Number 12-A (A/8012/Add.1), p.25 (also cited in Holborn 1975).

[65] P. Rel. REF/555, 10 February 1971 (from Holborn 1975).

[66] Holborn, p.1393.