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Suffering civilians in Africa: between the justifications for humanitarian war and the ethics of humanitarian assistance --ICRC and MSF perspectives--.


The article focuses on pitfalls, shortcomings, and ethical dilemmas resulting from humanitarian crises and is structured as follows: the first section seeks to present a brief terminological and conceptual overview and to identify correlations between relief activities, forcible humanitarian intervention, humanitarian assistance, and features of violent armed conflicts in Africa. The second section is dedicated to the presentation of ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and its core principles, while the third is centred on Medicines sans Frontieres (MSF) and its pivotal tenets.

The following two parts of the text will present two major African crises (namely the war in Nigeria/Biafra from 1967, and the civil war in Somalia in 1991-1994) while at the same time discussing humanitarian assistance and its shortcomings. Due to the centrality of ICRC and MSF relief operations, a broader attention will be given to their activities in the two case studies.

The last section of the paper will problematize the optimal measures meant to protect civilians, to alleviate human suffering, and to secure humanitarian convoys. The main argument will focus on limits in achieving a state of normalcy by employing outside forcible humanitarian intervention relying on firepower, and the pitfalls and features of new war scenarios that transform relief workers from humanitarians into walking targets.

The main research questions tackled here are: to what extant is the use of force the appropriate means to end civilians' plight? What were the impediments of Cold War geopolitics with respect to relief actions? What are the features of the new wars in Africa that clearly hamper the proper response to humanitarian disasters?

Intertwining terms and ethical dilemmas: forcible humanitarian intervention, humanitarian assistance, NGOs, relief work, and international humanitarian law

Humanitarian intervention, internal armed conflicts (or "new wars") and international humanitarian law (IHL henceforth) are interrelated key terms in current debates and analyses on international politics, and within the contemporary lexicon of International Relations.

The concept of humanitarian intervention was diversely defined, debated on and revisited in the scholarly milieu. Ever since the Cold War period, R. J. Vincent emphasized a chief feature of the bipolar international order and an adamant restriction in inter-state relations, namely the rule of non-intervention in the domestic politics of states (as twin attribute of state sovereignty): "Activity undertaken by a state, a group within a state, a group of states or an international organization which interferes coercively in the domestic affairs of another state." (1) Therefore, traditionally intervention was regarded as violation of state practice and as a controversial act, and Vincent captured all this in his definition: "[Intervention] is a discrete event having a beginning and an end, and it is aimed at the authority structure of the target state. It is not necessarily lawful or unlawful, but it does break a conventional pattern of international relations." (2) However, the aftermath of the Cold War brought along intra-state turmoil associated with violence, humanitarian catastrophes, suffering civilians and the subsequent destabilizing effects for entire regions. Consequently, scholars like Weiss and Hubert focused on the "the definition of 'humanitarian', as a justification for intervention", since it "is a high threshold of suffering. It refers to the threat or actual occurrence of large scale loss of life (including, of course, genocide), massive forced migrations, and widespread abuses of human rights. Acts that shock the conscience and elicit a basic humanitarian impulse remain politically powerful." (3) J.L. Holzgrefe and Allen Buchanan underlined the act of humanitarian relief and the concern for human rights associated with the humanitarian-driven act of intervening; their definition is specific in stating that "[humanitarian intervention] is the threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or group of states) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals others than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied." (4) The correlation between the legitimate use of force in order to achieve humanitarian outcomes, on the one hand, and the situations that justify such action, on the other hand, is emphasized by Michael Walzer who claimed that "humanitarian intervention is justified when it is a response (with reasonable expectations of success) to acts that 'shock the moral conscience of mankind'." (5)

At this point a distinction should be made between 1) the military force employed to end humanitarian emergencies and 2) relief work or humanitarian assistance provided to alleviate human suffering. Nicholas Wheeler and Alex Bellamy distinguished between non-consensual, forcible humanitarian intervention and non-forcible intervention, explaining that while the former involves coercion and the breach of sovereignty, the latter "emphasizes the pacific activities of states, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations in delivering humanitarian aid and facilitating third party conflict resolution and reconstruction." (6) Furthermore, the authors clarified the difference between consensual non-forcible intervention and non-consensual non-forcible intervention: the first is illustrative for the activities of different humanitarian agencies or relief organizations and particularly to the International Committee of the Red Cross whose work is correlated with consent of sovereign governments; the second is relevant for relief work of other NGO's, and one example is the activities of Medecins sans Frontieres which operates without the consent of host governments. (7)

In ICRC's terms, the notion of humanitarian assistance is a part of humanitarian protection that seeks
   to protect human dignity in conflicts by three primary means:
   development of international humanitarian law (IHL), detention
   visits, and assistance, mostly to civilians. This assistance, or
   relief, includes provision of food, water, clothing, shelter, and
   health care. It also includes restoring family contacts through the
   tracing of missing persons, restoration of other family ties, and a
   variety of other civilian-related tasks such as reintegrating
   former child soldiers into civil society. (8)

With respect to NGOs, there are, of course, various definitions of non-governmental organizations (broadly comprising "any organization which is not a governmental body"); however, in a much narrower sense (and for the purpose of this article) "the term NGO is used to refer to not for profit organizations, which have social and political agendas that aim the advancement of a public good." (9) As mentioned in the introduction, this study will focus on the activities, mandate and principles of the International Committee of Red Cross and Medicines sans Frontieres.

In what concerns the relation between international humanitarian law and internal armed conflicts, Elisabeth Griffin and Basak Cali show that "historically, the regulation of civil wars (referred to by international lawyers as non-international armed conflicts or internal conflicts) was not seen as being an appropriate topic to be addressed in international relations", because ot states' stricture and reluctance to allow fissure in state sovereignty. Therefore, "states regard dissidents as criminals rather than combatants", but gradually changed their attitude towards the topic, by accepting that "minimum considerations of humanity should apply in internal armed conflicts" (in 1949) and, since 1977, by contributing to an increasing humanization of IHL coupled with the strengthening of the human rights movement." (10)

As the empirical data indicate, the proliferation of armed conflicts in Africa and the resulting human tragedy (posing both a threat to regioanal stability and to international peace and security) rather complicates the attempts of conflict designation; in many cases, what initially appears to be an internal armed stuggle turns out to be an "internationalized non-international armed conflict." (11)

According to Scott Peterson, "Africa has always known violence and war, its soil regularly stained with the blood of its people. But the conflicts of the last ten years of the millennium have been the most vicious, have created the most suffering, and so are most worthy of examination." (12) In fact, ever since the Cold War increased violence, massive refugee flows, and shocking human tragedies were associated with armed conflicts in Africa (Congo in the early 1960s, Nigeria in the late 1960s, Algeria etc.). The withdrawal of superpower support at the end of the Cold War, in some cases, and the removal of a long-time dictator, in other cases, often led to mounting clan/religious/ethnic struggle and the terrorising of civilians as main tactics employed by irregular groups in Africa. In a scenario of lawlessness, emerging anarchy, increasing multiplication of military irregular groups, child-soldiering, looting and banditry, the key provisions of the Geneva Conventions (or International Humanitarian Law) seem to find no place.

ICRC and core principles

The International Committee of the Red Cross represents the most widely known humanitarian symbol and the oldest relief movement; its long history goes back to the 19th century and to the actions and ideas of Jean Henri Dunant. (13) The International Committee of the Red Cross (henceforth ICRC) was established in 1863, and it is at the centre and origin of the Geneva Conventions and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. According to its stated mission, "it is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance [and] it directs and coordinates the international activities conducted by the Movement in armed conflicts and other situations of violence." (14) According to its mandate,
   The ICRC is an independent, neutral organization ensuring
   humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed
   conflict and other situations of violence. It takes action in
   response to emergencies and at the same time promotes respect for
   international humanitarian law and its implementation in national
   law. (15)

According to David Forsythe, the ICRC is based "on two fundamental subjects: the ICRC's core role of humanizing war, and the relevance to the organization of the official seven Red Cross principles", namely humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, unity, universalism, volunteerism. (16) The ICRC has played a chief and unique role in the development of International Humanitarian Law (17) and the first Geneva Convention of 1864 was adopted by states due to ICRC's initiatives. In what concerns the legal bases of the actions undertaken by the ICRC, they include

* The four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I confer on the ICRC a specific mandate to act in the event of international armed conflict. In particular, the ICRC has the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees. The Conventions also give the ICRC a broad right of initiative.

* In non-international armed conflicts, the ICRC enjoys a right of humanitarian initiative recognized by the international community and enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions.

* In the event of internal disturbances and tensions, and in any other situation that warrants humanitarian action, the ICRC also enjoys a right of initiative, which is recognized in the Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Thus, wherever international humanitarian law does not apply, the ICRC may offer its services to governments without that offer constituting interference in the internal affairs of the State concerned. (18)

As Forsythe accurately indicated, the main difference between ICRC and other organizations is that the former is a consensual type of humanitarian assistance: "unlike Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders, the ICRC has long preferred a cooperative rather than an adversarial role vis-'a-vis public authorities. Its basic modus operandi is a discreet search for cooperation in humanitarian matters, preferably in keeping with IHL." (19)

MSF and core principles

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (henceforth MSF) is "one of the world's leading independent humanitarian medical aid organizations, responding to the emergency medical needs of people affected by armed conflict, natural disasters, and such medical catastrophes as malnutrition, malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), kala-azar, other neglected diseases, and epidemic outbreaks of meningitis and cholera." (20) According to the MSF Charter, it "is a private, international association" which is "made up mainly of doctors and health sector workers and is also open to all other professions which might help in achieving its aims." (21)

The central doctrine is centred on:

1) "assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions; [...]

2) independence from all political, economic or religious powers";

3) volunteerism. (22)

The principles of MSF are independence, impartiality, neutrality ("in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claim[ing] full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions"), medical ethics (respecting "patients' autonomy, patient confidentiality and their right to informed consent"), bearing witness (which refers to the right to speak out publicly, when MSF "witnesses extreme acts of violence against individuals or groups" in order to "bring attention to extreme need and unacceptable suffering when access to lifesaving medical care is hindered, when medical facilities come under threat, when crises are neglected, or when the provision of aid is inadequate or abused"), and accountability (in the sense of "responsibility of accounting for actions to patients and donors"). (23)

However, in contrast to the ICRC's principle of confidentiality (or the so-called "doctrine of silence"), according to MSF statement, "the principles of impartiality and neutrality are not synonymous with silence." (24) Therefore, MSF has tailored its relief profile ever since its inception by assuming the underlining role of exposing human tragedies, mismanagement of humanitarian crises, and disrespect for the rules of war.

Suffering civilians between military troops and humanitarian assistance, and ethical dilemmas

We selected two case studies for analysis (Nigeria/Biafra and Somalia) and the choice was deliberately centred on both the Cold War period and the post-Cold War one in order to capture the different pitfalls and limits regarding humanitarian aid. The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria/Biafra indicates the shortcomings of humanitarian aid in situations whereby warlords manipulate relief workers and use refugees and suffering civilians in order to attract international sympathy, whereas Somalia in the 1990's shows the anarchical conditions in which humanitarian convoys, confronted with massive looting and banditry, tried to reach starving civilians.

Nigeria/Biafra, 1967-1970

The civil war in Nigeria broke out in 1967, after two coups in 1966 and subsequent military rule. Several factors led to the fragmentation of the post-colonial fragile country, to the internationalisation of the crisis, and to the shocking humanitarian emergency. The liabilities of the Nigerian state are mostly interlinked with its post-colonial heritage, since "the state of Nigeria was an artificial British imperial creation", comprising three "major ethnic groups--the Hausa-Fulani of the north, the Yoruba of the west, and the Ibo of the east", each having a population larger "than most individual African states"; moreover, it lacked a "historical basis for the unity" of the three regions "whose interests tended to draw them away from central authority and, once the British had departed, there was intense rivalry as to who should control the centre." (25) Similarly to other African states, "the political structure inherited from the British rapidly broke down over the period 1960-1966", and, as Guy Arnold argued, this was also eased by the fact that "Great Britain fostered strong regional governments and encouraged a sense of regional rivalry, maintaining the balance between the three great regions from the centre." (26) James Mayall discusses the fact that "divide and rule is one of the oldest principles of imperial statecraft" (27) and explains how in most cases "the imperial powers frequently co-opted minorities to help them run the colonial state"; in the case of Nigeria, "Western-educated Ibos spread all over Nigeria and made themselves a target of resentment by the northern, primarily Hausa Fulani, majority prior to the civil war in 1967." (28) In fact, almost two millions Ibos were dispersed in other parts of Nigeria, "many holding jobs in the more conservative Islamic north where they were often resented." (29) The events during the two coups precipitated inter-group suspicion and resentment, and finally led to horrid attacks and slaughter of hundreds of people.
   When the coup leader, General Ironsi promulgated a law stating that
   the federal government had been abolished and that state civil
   service jobs would henceforth be based on merit, the reaction was
   swift. The Igbo became the immediate target because they were
   Christians and more educated in contrast to the Hausa of the north.
   The latter were suspicious that the former would take all the
   lucrative jobs offered by the government. The reaction to the
   promulgation led to the death of thousands of Igbo living in the
   north. Once again, a few months later, approximately 30,000 Igbo
   perished in further massacres. (30)

The violence and subsequent emergency scenario included "anti-Ibo demonstrations [which] took place in the north and between 10,000 and 30,000 Ibos were killed [...] resulting in an exodus of Ibos from the north (where there were one million), the west (400,000), and Lagos (100,000) back to the Eastern Region." (31) Nigeria's eastern region began fighting to break free from the military government (dominated by northern ethnic groups) which represented the federal state of Nigeria. The declaration of independence came on July 6, 1967 (32) and the new state was named the Republic of Biafra (33); according to William Reno "a spokesman justified this decision in terms of 'unworkable colonial boundaries' that denied justice to "people within them who want nothing more than self-determination." (34) What was initially believed to be a secessionist attempt that would be quickly hampered (since "at the beginning of the war the federal government assumed that Biafra would collapse in a matter of weeks" (35)), turned out to be one of the most violent armed conflicts in the late 1960's, a "full scale civil war" which led to the following dramatic results: "Estimated casualties were 100,000 military (on both sides) and between 500,000 and two million civilians, mainly the result of starvation, while 4.6 million Biafrans became refugees. In the end, 900 days of war had not destroyed Africa's largest black state, while Biafra's bid for secession and independence had failed." (36)

Similarly to other modern civil wars or "new war" scenarios, the armed conflict in Nigeria/Biafra was an internal and internationalized one. Cold War geopolitics played a considerable role in rallying states (and subsequent arms provisions) either around the Nigerian federal government (thus resisting secessionism and African post-colonial state fragmentation), or around the Biafran self-declared state and the leader of the rebellion Chukweumeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (thus legitimizing claims of Biafrans, even though for controversial and varied reasons).

As Reno underlines, even though "Biafra's army proved to be almost as militarily capable as Nigeria's", "this was not enough to convince most other governments to recognize Biafra's independence" and therefore the only African countries which "extended diplomatic recognition to Biafra, a flagrant contravention of African norms endorsing old colonial boundaries, [were] Zambia, Tanzania, Gabon, and Cote d'Ivoire." (37) As far as other states were concerned, according to Guy Arnold, Nigeria's oil wealth "ensured a high level of international interest in the war as well as a readiness on the part of outside powers to intervene" especially in the case of Great Britain which had "substantial investments" and whose "two giant oil companies, British Petroleum and Shell, were heavily involved in the exploitation of the country's oil." (38) Just like in the case of Congo, wherein the secession of the province Katanga was hampered after a four-year war and massive UN military intervention, the Biafran war triggered international reaction and support alongside ideological or economic interests; therefore, the internationalization of the war pitted the international community as follows:
   Britain [...] came down firmly on the side of the federal
   government and was to be its principal source of light arms
   throughout the war. France, in pursuit of its own geopolitical
   interests in the region and the hope of increasing its influence
   generally in western Africa, supported breakaway Biafra which it
   aided with arms and other assistance through its proxies Cote
   d'lvoire and Gabon. The USSR [...] was ideologically opposed to the
   breakup of a federation and Moscow saw providing assistance to
   Nigeria as a way of obtaining influence in a region in which, up to
   that time, it had had little impact, and during the course of the
   war it supplied about 30 percent of the arms imported by the
   federal side [...]. The United States signalled its intention of
   remaining outside the conflict [...]. Both Portugal and South
   Africa, which were facing growing problems justifying white
   minority rule to an increasingly hostile world, supported breakaway
   Biafra on the general grounds of prolonging a war (and chaos) in
   the largest independent black African state, so as to bolster their
   claims on behalf of white minority rule in the south of the
   continent. (39)

The violent nature of this armed conflict was caused by a number of factors: first of all, according to Guy Arnold the presence of mercenaries on both sides of the conflict contributed to "unwelcome complications" and the strategy of the Nigerian federal government triggered massive civilian suffering since it aimed "to blockade the shrinking enclave of Biafra and bring about its surrender by starvation." (40) Secondly, the proponents of the secession argued that separation was an existential issue and "that it was in search of security for the Igbo"; the war was based on representations of struggle between "the 'Christian nation' of Biafra and the Muslims of Northern Nigeria who launched a jihad against the Igbo." (41) Guy Arnold believes that the war was actually prolonged because of strong "Ibo belief cultivated by its own propaganda that they were fighting for survival and faced genocide." (42) Finally (and of utmost importance for our topic), the suffering and starving Biafrans were not only targeted by the military, but they also became instrumentalized in order to achieve international recognition for Biafra's secessionist effort and international relief aid. According to Guy Arnold the relief workers and relief agencies were caught in a trap because "international charities, aided by mercenary airlifts of supplies, provided relief when otherwise Biafra would have been forced to surrender. The war became a cause for various charities whose propaganda 'to feed the starving Biafrans', however well-intentioned, in fact prolonged the war and the suffering." (43)

The ICRC and Nigeria/Biafra

As already indicated, the International Committee of the Red Cross's involvement in the Nigerian conflict was "a precursor to the widespread manipulation of humanitarian issues by fighting parties." (44) Just as ICRC personnel would act later (in Somalia or in Bosnia in the 1990's), in the midst of the Biafran violence the relief workers were trying to find solutions to help starving civilians, while at the same time trying to protect themselves and remain loyal to ICRC's principles, especially the essence of its involvement, namely consent of all warring parties. David Forsythe explains the efforts and subsequent ethical dilemmas confronted by ICRC volunteers, but also the fact that Biafra represented a turning point in ICRC history:
   At times the ICRC proceeded with relief flights into Biafra, 'at
   its own risk' in the words of Lagos, mixing its planes with flights
   running weapons to the rebels, and thus contributing indirectly to
   the rebels' fighting ability. But after one of the planes on loan
   to it was shot down by Federal fighter aircraft with loss of life,
   the ICRC reverted to the more cautious position that, according to
   the principles of humanitarian law, Lagos had the right to
   supervise relief flights to inspect for contraband. (45)

If relief work's essence is providing help to those who suffer from atrocities of war and if the suffering of thousands of civilians doomed to starvation was conspicuously signalling an international humanitarian emergency, what was ICRC (or other relief organizations) expected to do? Several courses of action are available, but none would actually have been able to stop the suffering immediately: on the one hand, the ICRC could have maintained absolute loyalty to the principle of neutrality and move away (when warned by the Nigerian government) from dying and starving innocents in a violent and gradually shrinking Biafra (due to attacks from Nigerian army, the blockades of roads for humanitarian convoys). This option would be based on close collaboration with authorities in order to have access to the suffering people and presumably best serve the humanitarian cause. Another course of action in such situations could be centred on departure from key principles, on expressing public outrage concerning immense human tragedy that shocks the conscience, and on helping those in need in any way possible. In fact, Nigeria/Biafra was a crucial event resulting in the separation of the two mutually exclusive courses of action and on the distinction between what we currently designate as conventional or traditional humanitarians (ICRC), on the one hand, and radical and "new humanitarians" (Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Human Rights Watch), on the other.

According to David Forsythe and Rieffer-Flanagan,
   The Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) demonstrated to the world (via
   media coverage) and even to the ICRC itself, that a number of its
   policies and procedures needed rethinking. The ICRC entered this
   war without a well developed strategy and was unable to cope with
   new challenges, such as intense media coverage, other humanitarian
   actors working in the country, lack of well trained professional
   staff, and the political implications of some of its decisions.
   Following its controversial performance in the Nigerian Civil War,
   the ICRC agreed, without enthusiasm, to a review of Red Cross
   activities by a team of international scholars and officials. (46)

The ICRC's involvement in Nigeria was linked to the Biafran "televised disaster" (47), but also it meant the realization of the fact that Biafran leaders manipulated relief issues to attract international, and mostly Western, support for their cause, as Forsythe accurately expressed it:
   One of the best "weapons" they had, in order to draw attention to
   their secessionist efforts, was the media image of starving
   children. Biafran leaders would not agree to balanced or
   Lagos-inspected relief schemes that would cut off that image. They
   also wanted to use relief shipments to contribute to weapons
   delivery. Thus Biafran leaders profited from the spectre of mass
   starvation supposedly caused by the Federal side, and for a time
   they counted on the reluctance of Lagos to attack the night time
   weapons flights for fear of hitting Red Cross planes in the
   process. (48)

On the one hand, the work of ICRC was considerable in the case of Nigeria, because "it had no trouble mobilizing considerable assistance based on the assessments provided by Hoffmann and Lindt" (the ICRC delegates) and "both Western governments and Red Cross societies provided the goods, services, personnel, equipment, and money needed for a major relief effort." (49) Moreover, "the ICRC delivered 120,000 tons of nutritional and medical assistance during the conflict, while operating forty-five medical teams, fifty-three first aid stations, and five hospitals; the total cost to the organization at that time was about 600 million Swiss francs; fourteen persons working for the ICRC paid with their lives." (50) The amount of humanitarian aid came from several other relief agencies, such as Joint Church Aid and Caritas, as well as from certain African countries like Rhodesia (at the time on the verge of becoming independent) and Haiti. (51)

On the other hand, ICRC found itself trapped by both sides to the conflict which saw relief "in political terms", and was "competing particularly with Joint Church Aid for 'market share' in delivering relief", since ICRC was "based in pro-Biafra Europe" (but its entire activities were, ever since its inception and formulation of Dunant's goals, the founding father of the Red Cross, built on the doctrine of silence and on the principle of neutrality) and "Joint Church Aid, a Western faith-based consortium of relief NGOs [...] tended toward solidarity with Biafra, not being much interested in nice notions of Red Cross neutrality" (52)). Additionally, it faced a fragmentation of the Red Cross Movement. The French and the Swedish Red Cross Societies were pro-Biafra and especially the French National Society of Red Cross worked separately from its British, Finnish or even Swiss ones. The involvement in Nigeria/Biafra also indicates internal mismanagement. According to David Forsythe "ICRC headquarters, despite having some knowledgeable persons on the ground in Nigeria (e.g. Georg Hoffmann), never fully understood the various issues in the conflict and never developed a clear and viable strategic vision for its management" which meant that "ICRC in the late 1960s was still a very amateurish organization." (53)

The ICRC developed its entire doctrine on compliance to international humanitarian law (and proper conduct during armed conflict consistent to provisions of the Geneva Conventions) and assumed the chief role in "civilizing war" (54), namely it gained international recognition for supervising how warring parties or combatants lawfully conduct armed hostilities in a manner that limits human suffering. This role is present in IHL, which
   is the only body of international law that provides a special
   status and role to an international humanitarian organization. The
   1949 Geneva Conventions task the ICRC to play a major role in
   encouraging compliance with IHL and it is recognized in treaty law
   as having the authority to visit prisoners, organize relief
   operations, reunite separated families, and carry out other
   humanitarian activities during armed conflicts. Many states
   recognize the international legal personality of the ICRC and
   accord it privileges and immunities under their domestic laws. (55)

The case of Nigeria/Biafra indicated a debilitating moment for the core activities of ICRC. According to David P. Forsythe and Barbara Ann J. Rieffer-Flanagan, "the ICRC as an organization paid too little attention to IHL and its principles concerning neutral relief" and due to the fact that it was "caught up in competition with Joint Church Aid, it paid too little attention to the norm that belligerents had the right to supervise relief to guarantee its neutrality"; in the end, the authors show, "it tilted toward Biafra, was manipulated by [...] Biafran leaders, and paid too little attention to the efforts at reasonable relief by [...] Federal officials. The ICRC was unwilling to recognize the implications of Red Cross neutrality." (56)

The fact remains that the violence in Nigeria/Biafra raised several questions about the proper response to alleviate human suffering, and about Cold War geopolitics and state attitude with respect to crises implying secessionist attempts.

The MSF and Nigeria/Biafra

Events in Nigeria in the late 1960's also signified a major turning point for the subsequent evolution of Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders. Some of the doctors who set up the organization had worked for the French Red Cross in the Biafran brutal conflict. Others had been involved in relief activities in eastern Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) during the disastrous tidal wave that resulted in astonishing human suffering. Though operating in different types of conditions, both "groups discovered (the first during a war, the second during the aftermath of a natural disaster) the shortcomings of international aid"; therefore, "by forming MSF, this core group intended to change the way humanitarian aid was delivered by providing more medical assistance more rapidly and by being less deterred by national borders during times of crisis." (57) One of the chief MSF founders, Bernard Kouchner, "was an ex-militant from the Communist Students Union" and was "active in left-wing, anticolonial, and activist causes during France's turbulent 1960s." (58) As we shall see, he played a key role in setting the core doctrine of later MSF. The evolution of the MSF is based on previous activities within the French Society of the Red Cross, but also on the understanding that, although "during the early part of the twentieth century, humanitarian emergency aid was provided primarily by the Red Cross movement, [...] the effectiveness of its actions was compromised by slow transport facilities and cumbersome administrative and diplomatic formalities." (59) During the war in Biafra, some of the future founders of MSF departed from ICRC's strict rules in providing assistance, with respect to the personnel's "reserved public attitude toward the events they witness during an assignment" (60); in addition, since ICRC always operates with the consent of the involved parties (and in the case of Biafra this meant allowance by the Nigerian government),
   Several doctors defied this prohibition by organizing a 'committee
   against the Biafran genocide' as soon as they were back in
   France--less to make the public aware of the plight of the Biafran
   population than to denounce the political sources of this conflict,
   which were too often hidden by the journalistic accounts of the
   war. By dropping their apolitical stance, though, the French
   doctors gave legitimacy to the rebels' secessionist cause. (61)

The result was that after the conflict, Bernard Kouchner established Medecins Sans Frontieres, and later Doctors of the World, and the pivotal doctrine was fostered by the fact that he and his colleagues were completely dissatisfied with "the limitations imposed by the notion of Red Cross neutrality. He wanted a relief organization that could do well on the ground, but that would also speak out against civilian distress and other violations of human rights and humanitarian norms. He wanted active solidarity with 'victims', not neutrality." (62) Consequently, "the notion of temoignage, or speaking out, coupled with appeals to the mass media became an integral part of MSF's concept of modern humanitarian action." (63)

Somalia (1991-1994): between humanitarian intervention and relief aid

Somalia gained independence in 1960, even though the remnants of British Somaliland in the North and Italian Somaliland in the South ("which had been made a Trusteeship Territory of the United Nations in 1945" (64)) have never been properly reconciled or unified; at best, Somalia's cohesiveness as a nation was precarious. Historically speaking, Somalia "has, for centuries, been a land inhabited by itinerant herders", since "the dusty, dry earth did not nurture a settled lifestyle", and "the constant search for water, food, and shade bred instead a loosely connected web of nomads"; consequently, "such a harsh heritage of wanderlust makes Somalis, by nature, fiercely independent." (65) In contrast to other African countries where internal divisions and rivalries range across ethnic lines and corresponding minority-majority conflicts (such as Rwanda, Burundi, and D. R. Congo) or across religious lines (such as the violent conflict in Nigeria), the case of Somalia displays different features: "Though all one ethnic tribe, Somalis are divided by clans, and those cleavages are deep." (66) According to a former senior UN official, Somalia "is a nomadic society with very odd institutions [since] power is spread in peculiar ways, through strongmen, tribal institutions and village elders", and therefore, "it is a very difficult society to penetrate." (67) In the words of Somali historian Said Samatar, "extreme individualism is the political culture, so that it is practically impossible for one Somali to command the allegiance of another Somali; everyone is a king unto himself." (68)

After its independence, Somalia experienced a nine-year calm period, until 1969, when, following a coup, strongman Muhammad Siad Barre became president, ruling "as an increasingly dictatorial figure until his overthrow in 1991." (69) Moreover, Siad Barre "tried to forbid clan loyalties (the core of Somali life) and attempted to persuade clan elders in the rural areas to make his ban stick" (70) and his despotic rule gradually created "increasing political and economic disparities between clans, by favouring his own", which in turn augmented Somalis dissatisfaction throughout the country who "felt disenfranchised." (71) Cold War geopolitics and the impact of proxy wars also played a major role in the evolution of Somalia's destiny. Though at the beginning a client state of USSR, Barre's territorial ambitions which triggered the war with Soviet-backed neighbouring Ethiopia in 1977 (over the Ogaden region) resulted in shifting Cold War allegiance towards the USA. Therefore, "over the next ten years, the United States poured nearly $ 250 million in lethal and nonlethal arms into Somalia" so that "the combined stockpiles of Soviet and U.S. weaponry turned Somalia into an arsenal, with more machine guns, automatic rifles, mines, tanks, and mortars than almost any other country in Africa." (72) April Oliver accurately indicated that "much of the weaponry would be used not against a Soviet threat, however, but against the Somali people by their own leader" (73).

The rule of Siad Barre became increasingly contested and several groups rose against the regime, with two major separatist groups emerging: The Somali National Movement and the Democratic Front for the Salvation of Somalia. Barre's "poor human rights record steadily alienated international opinion" and "by 1990, he had not only failed to eliminate the Somali clan system, but had produced a situation in which there was escalating fighting both among clans and between clans and the government, so that the country had been reduced to a state of anarchy and Barre was steadily losing control." (74) In the period 1990-1991 the traumatic experience of growing civil war was doubled in disastrous effects by the drought. The Government declared a state of emergency (75) and "according to Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance reports, food prices began to rise sharply in the cities, as much as 1.000 percent; this encouraged hijacking and looting of relief supplies by ruthless profiteers." (76)

The so-called Magadishu Manifesto, signed by 114 Somali politicians and intellectuals, expressed willingness to organize a national reconciliation conference and urged Barre to resign. (77) The country was fragmenting and finally Barre was ousted from power in January 1991; the removal of the autocratic strongman left behind a power vacuum which was not filled in by another political figure (enjoying countrywide legitimacy) thus turning Somalia into an archetypal example of what scholar William Zartman has coined "collapsed state". As April Oliver pointed out, "prominent opposition groups fought, but never formally united against Siad Barre" and even though groups like Somali National Movement, Somali Salvation Democratic Front, United Somali Congress, and the Somali Patriotic Movement were "joined by their hatred of Barre, [they] were divided by clan and ideology as well as geography." (78) Another disturbing factor was the presence of local warlords and their increasing control over parts of the Somali territory while institutional capacity was breaking down, lawlessness and looting became an every-day experience and fear turned into an endemic feature of daily life. Scott Peterson, a journalist who witnessed atrocities in Somalia, vividly described the situation wherein humanitarian aid was hijacked or stolen and used as ransom: humanitarian agencies "[...] unloaded [...] tons of relief food, meant to help save the lives of Somalis made miserable by the reign of warlords and militia, by tempestuous gunmen [...]; these were the predators that made Somalis suffer, the militiamen who foraged to survive, abusing and looting at whim." (79)

The dramatic situation in 1991 determined Oliver to state that "Mogadishu was hell on earth" and the appalling crisis and mounting starvation shocked the international community. In April 1992, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 751 established UNOSOM I (United Nations Operation in Somalia) (80); this was a peacekeeping mission, set up because a fragile peace agreement was reached among different military groups and warlords. Also, the UN dispatched a fact-finding mission led by Mohamed Sahnoun (who, in the words of April Oliver, could not have been a better choice). Sahnoun reported the "total disaster" and urged for the provision of "urgently needed humanitarian assistance." (81) According to his testimonial account "more than 3.000--mostly women, children, and old men--were dying daily from starvation. That was the tragic situation in Somalia at the beginning of 1992". (82) In a report sent to the UN headquarters he warned that "some 4.500.000 people [were] in urgent need for food" and that "an absence of food breeds insecurity which, in turn, causes instability leading to starvation, suffering and disease. Breaking this diabolical and vicious cycle may be the key to resolving the intricate social and political problems in Somalia." (83) Due to increased levels of violence and dangerous conditions, most of the UN relief agencies have left Somalia in 1991 (84) and "their absence of nearly one year had created intense anger among Somali [who] felt abandoned and saw no reason to trust the UN." (85) While Sahnoun's efforts to mount necessary and appropriate measures, showing that there was not only a food crisis, but also a security crisis, were considerable, the UNOSOM troops proved to be completely inefficient in the Hobbesian status naturalis that Somalia had regressed into, given their limited peacekeeping mandate. April Oliver emphasized that the US State Department insisted on labelling the situation as a "food problem", and not "a security one" and thus the solution was to deliver more provisions; in fact, "the more food was sent in, the more was stolen. The more that was stolen, the more the warlords' political capital increased. During the final months before the US military intervention, as much as 80% of UN relief may have been looted, or blocked in the warehouses and harbour, while Somalis starved." (86)

With respect to aid agencies in Somalia, Oliver discusses the "fissures in the Relief Community" and shows that
   Perhaps foremost, the crisis deepened in Somalia as a result of a
   humanitarian community that, for understandable reasons, pulled out
   when it became too dangerous. [...] Except for the International
   Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a few NGOs, most relief
   groups fled Somalia during the crucial year of 1991, after Siad
   Barre's departure. The UN itself was totally absent during the
   crucial year of 1991. Those who stayed risked their lives. As
   conditions deteriorated inside Somalia, so did security for the
   NGOs. As a result, the ICRC hired armed protection for the first
   time in their history. They hired as many as 20.000 Somalis at some
   point labelling them (and their armed vehicles) 'technical
   assistance'87. Some 'technicals' turned on the agencies themselves.
   Many relief workers lost their lives; others were severely injured
   trying to deliver or protect supplies. (88)

Our central point of discussion is centred on the optimal ways for protection of suffering civilians and on the lessons that could be drawn from African case studies. The question is whether in such cases of immense violence an outside heavily military intervention (authorized under Chapter VII and comprising of troops ready to engage in military action) is the adequate response, in order to best restore normalcy, law and order, and further alleviate the suffering; or, whether a less military-centred reaction, and a more relief, humanitarian-centred one is in order, so that the presence of military does not frustrate the warlords thus triggering revenge and elevating the state of violence; besides, in the latter scenario, a combat mission, even though aiming at humanitarian outcomes, might produce "collateral damage", accidentally killing innocent civilians, as we shall see was the case of Somalia.

This dilemma also placed the relief community in two opposing views: on the one hand, some rejected the idea of military intervention, fearing that this might "hinder their work, making them vulnerable pawns in a war" while others believed that intervention could "obstruct the fragile political reconciliation process." (89) The fact remains that in many cases the mere presence of humanitarians in the theatre of conflict is regarded with suspicion (90) and often belligerents do not see "humanitarian agencies as true neutrals, but instead as agents of outside powers." (91) On the other hand, InterAction which reunited eleven relief agencies (among which Oxfam America, CARE, and the International Rescue Committee) held a press conference in Washington in order to attract international protection for their convoys; however, Human Rights Watch, for instance did not want a full-scale nation building operation, but rather "a more minimal strategic intervention--to protect the ports and airports, and protect the truck convoys so food could be distributed"; according to a representative of HRW (in a telephone interview with April Oliver), "we did not want American soldiers involved in all aspects of Somali society. We knew that would have a bad effect." (92)

Finally, in December 1992 the United Nations sanctioned Resolution 794 authorizing UNITAF (United Nations International Task Force), led by the United States, comprising of 28.000 American soldiers and other more than 10.000 troops, with a mandate enabling it to use "all necessary means" in order to solve the humanitarian crisis. While never receiving the formal Chapter VII authorization, UNITAF is regarded as a Chapter-six-and-a-half operation, namely it had the ability to use force in order to achieve its goals. Resolution 794 determined "the magnitude of the human tragedy caused by the conflict in Somalia, further exacerbated by the obstacles being created to the distribution of humanitarian assistance, constitutes a threat to international peace and security", expressed that the UN is "gravely alarmed by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia", underlined "the urgent need for the quick delivery of humanitarian assistance in the whole country", and expressed "grave alarm at continuing reports of widespread violations of humanitarian international law occurring in Somalia, including reports of violence [...] against personnel participating lawfully in impartial humanitarian relief activities, deliberate attacks on non-combatants [...] and impeding the delivery of food and medical supplies essential for the survival of the civilian population." (93) Most analysts agree that UNITAF was the most successful attempt to solve the crisis in Somalia. (94) UNITAF had a clear-cut (though limited as far the deep-rooted problems of Somalia's political and social life was concerned) set of goals aiming at securing relief convoys and ending starvation; in tactical terms, US force commander Robert Johnston corresponded the goals of the mission into four "no's": "no technicals (trucks or other vehicles with crew-serviced weapons such as heavy machine guns); no banditry; no roadblocks; no visible weapon". (95) One of the achievements of UNITAF was that it forged a coherent civil-military strategy, namely the Civil/Military Operations Centre (CMCO), which "aimed to provide a workable interface between the NGOs, who coordinated their efforts through the Humanitarian Operations Centre (HOC), and UNITAF" (96); by appointing daily meetings the two centres were interconnected and produced a certain level of communication and cooperation, although
   CMOC/HOC did not always work well, and Marine and NGOs perceptions
   of its success vary widely. Relief workers who had been in the
   country for a long time resented the Marines' "take charge
   attitude" and considered the soldiers insensitive to local culture.
   The Marines in turn believed that the NGOs withheld valuable
   information on the Somali factions and cooperated with the military
   only when it suited them. (97)

Since UNITAF had a six month mandate, in May 1993 it handed over the operation to the UN. Therefore, "the mandate of UNOSOM II, as approved by the Security Council in resolution 814 (1993) under Chapter VII of the Charter, covered the whole territory of Somalia and included:

* monitoring that all factions continued to respect the cessation of hostilities and other agreements to which they had consented;

* preventing any resumption of violence and, if necessary, taking appropriate action;

* maintaining control of the heavy weapons of the organized factions which would have been brought under international control;

* seizing the small arms of all unauthorized armed elements;

* securing all ports, airports and lines of communications required for the delivery of humanitarian assistance;

* protecting the personnel, installations and equipment of the United Nations and its agencies, ICRC as well as NGOs;

* continuing mine-clearing, and;

* repatriating refugees and displaced persons within Somalia." (98)

UNOSOM set up a more ambitious role, even though it had so much more modest resources, it targeted one of warlords (Aideed), considered chief part of the Somali problems, it established a ransom for capturing Aideed and initiated the manhunt (99), thus departing from the strictly humanitarian-oriented mission, and finally it initiated several military actions meant to capture Aideed and then to proceed to full-scale disarmament which produced the death of innocent Somali civilians. Consequently, the UN "was no longer an impartial peacemaker" because "it had taken sides decisively in the conflict" (100); the more Aideed was hunted, the more the Somali support for the latter grew, and the more the UN was perceived as an intruder. The result was that "beyond strengthening Aideed" the manhunt operation "was a neglect of humanitarian work" and due to this "relief efforts were reduced by half." (101) According to Thomas Mockaitis, UNOSOM II lamentably failed and "it demonstrates the consequences of relying on military force to solve a political and humanitarian problem"; therefore, in trying to achieve a human-suffering alleviating outcome,
   UNITAF had found an appropriate mix of humanitarian aid and the use
   of force to protect its delivery and had kept in constant touch
   with the Somali faction leaders. UNOSOM II placed military activity
   ahead of diplomatic and humanitarian, over-relied on firepower, and
   concentrated too much on arresting individuals rather than on
   stabilizing the situation. (102)

The ICRC and Somalia

In Somalia, the ICRS "one of the first organizations to sound the alarm about the plight of the civilian population" and "despite the death of one of its Belgian expatriates, the ICRC stayed in the country to try to deliver humanitarian assistance." (103) Also, it played a major role in attracting international attention to the plight of the Somalis (though in contradiction to its core principles, especially the so-called doctrine of silence):
   the ICRC, with some reluctance about the ethics involved, paid for
   journalists to come see the misery at first hand. '[I]n the course
   of five weeks between August and September [...] 730 journalists
   were brought from Nairobi into Somalia and transported back to
   Kenya, briefed and otherwise taken care of by the ICRC.' This
   effort, along with publicity from other groups, finally produced
   coverage by the New York Times, the BBC, Le Monde, and other major
   western media centres. (104)

The ICRC worked with the Somali Red Crescent and established a complex food distribution network, so that
   between February and June 1992 the ICRC brought in a total of
   53.900 MT of food into Somalia through twenty different entry
   points, by sea, by air, and overland across the Kenya-Somalia
   border. Multiple delivery points at small locations circumvented
   the extortion network that was centered on Mogadishu [...] The ICRC
   also handled the distribution of food to several hospitals in
   various cities [...]. Most of the US food sent to Somalia was
   handled by the ICRC. (105)

The hiring of local armed men for protection was necessary due to violent conditions (as previously discussed) but in abstract thinking constituted a small contribution to the perpetuation of violence and to the war economy, thus raising ethical dilemmas: should the ICRC have retreated as other UN agencies and stayed loyal to its principles? Or, with the purpose of saving suffering civilians, should it have remained in operation and adjust its relief activities to the "new war scenario" in Somalia?

Throughout its relief humanitarian history, the ICRC refused to be accompanied by armed military transports, but in the case of Somalia another departure from strict ICRC requirements was signalled because
   for the first time in its history, the ICRC took the decision to
   operate as part of a military mission, because that was the only
   way, in the view of the top decision-makers of the organization,
   that widespread starvation could be checked in Somalia [...] the
   ICRC finally developed a close partnership with an internationally
   approved military force, although in reality it was overwhelmingly
   a US militarized supply chain. (106)

According to Forsythe and Rieffe, such tactics were not incorporated by International Humanitarian Law, but it "demonstrated the creativity and pragmatism of the ICRC on behalf of the usual principles of impartial and neutral humanitarianism." (107)

The ethical dilemma is again resurfacing: how to positively assess the activities of humanitarians such as the ICRC in Somalia? Based on positive outcomes, no matter to what extant strategies employed departed from core principles of the organization? Or, based on stricture of basic principles, and thus irrefutable ethical tenure, but with limited humanitarian outcome?

The MSF and Somalia

When the fierce fighting broke out in Mogadishu, when law and order completely vanished, and anarchy prevailed, "MSF was one of the few organizations, along with the ICRC and Save the Children-UK, which managed to maintain a presence in the war-torn city, providing surgical services in highly insecure conditions." (108) If the case of Nigeria/Biafra showed the opposing views of emerging MSF, on the one hand, and the ICRC, the massive humanitarian crisis in Somalia is indicative for the shared strategies by the two relief organizations. First of all, both organizations maintained their relief efforts in highly dangerous conditions, as already mentioned. Secondly, just like the ICRC, anarchical violence in Somalia "compelled MSF [...] to use armed guards, a 'necessary evil' whose costs would become increasingly apparent." Kevin Phelan showed that "in time, MSF teams would have a small militia on hire to protect their travel and work, fuelling the 'war economy'", but he also exposed the clear-cut assessment of MSF activity in Somalia, by stating that "the benefits of MSF's surgical and nutritional programs in this massive crisis overrode these concerns."109 Thirdly, MSF joined the ICRC and other organizations in the efforts to publicize the Somalis' suffering and the need to end starvation by providing protection to relief aid convoys. Basically, the costs and apparent unethical shortcomings of the relief strategy were definitely outmatched by the lives saved.


Several questions were raised throughout the article and ethical dilemmas were pinpointed. The main research questions tackled here were: to what extant is the use of force the appropriate means to end civilians' plight? What were the impediments of Cold War geopolitics with respect to relief actions? What are the features of the new wars in Africa that clearly hamper the proper response to humanitarian disasters?

In this concluding section of the article we shall try to problematize the solutions advanced by the international community for the protection of suffering civilians and their corresponding ethical dilemmas, and provide answers to the questions posed. It is our contention that the new wars (that saw a multiplication and a full-scale violence in Africa) display certain features that hamper proper humanitarian aid and adequate international action aiming at restoring peace, a state of normalcy, and the reimposition of law and order. The new war scenarios include looting the humanitarian convoys; attacks against civilians; warlord tactics meant to increase individual power (sometimes with no subsequent political goal) and based on the privatization of military irregular troops; and sometimes a regression to a Hobbesian state of nature. In such a violent scenario, the humanitarians become targets, fear becomes endemic and looting and indiscrimate killing turn into daily experience. The case of Somalia this was illustrative in this respect, and as Forsythe showed, although the Security Council "decreed that to interfere with that assistance was a war crime", most "Somali armed groups paid little attention to such legalistic statements emanating from New York. After all, this was a country in which virtually no one with a weapon had heard of the Geneva Conventions." (110) It was also the contention of ICRC that "civilians are no longer fundamentally viewed as extraneous to war itself, nor even used as a 'base' of logistic and political support, but have become stakes in the conflict or even the very reason for it." (111)

The case of Somalia pointed to the ineffectiveness of outside heavily military intervention (authorized under Chapter VII and comprising of troops ready to engage in military action) aiming at capturing warlords in order to restore normalcy and to the fact that a combined military/relief operation with a sensitive eye for local Somali culture and longer timetable might have protected civilians on the long run. The case of Biafra showed that Cold War geopolitics was capabable to produce breaches within the international humanitarian movement, and that (neutral) relief was impossible: The ICRC placed itself at the mercy (and approval) of Nigerian government, and when it did not do so, it suffered the death of its personnel, while the emerging MSF, "haunted by the passivity of the ICRC during World War II when confronted by the Holocaust", conceived the concept of modern humanitarian (centred on temoignage, or speaking out), even though, "ironically, until 1977, MSF actually forbade its members to talk about what they had witnessed during their missions, despite an early record of opposition to the ICRC's reserved policy. This silence was intended as a strong symbol of political neutrality as well as a strategic posture to ensure its ability to perform 'border-free' operations." (112)


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(1) R. J. Vincent, Nonintervention and International Order, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 13. See also, Tim Dunne, Inventing International Society. A History of the English School, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998, pp. 161, 164.

(2) Vincent, op. cit., p. 13.

(3) Thomas G. Weiss; Don Hubert, The Responsibility to Protect: Supplementary Volume to the Report of ICISS, Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 2001, p. 15.

(4) J. L. Holzgrefe, "The humanitarian intervention debate", in J. L. Holzgrefe; Robert O. Keohane, Humanitarian Intervention. Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 18; Allen Buchanan, "Reforming the international law of humanitarian intervention", in J. L. Holzgrefe; Robert O. Keohane, Humanitarian Intervention. Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 130.

(5) Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars. A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th edition, New York: Basic Books, 2006, p. 107. Walzer adds that "it is not the conscience of political leaders that one refers to in such cases. They have other things to worry about and may well be required to repress their normal feelings of indignation and outrage. The reference is to the moral convictions of ordinary men and women, acquired in the course of their everyday activities."

(6) Nicholas J. Wheeler; Alex J. Bellamy, "Humanitarian intervention and world politics", in Jon Baylis; Steve Smith (eds.), The Globalization of World Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 573-574.

(7) Ibidem.

(8) David P. Forsythe; Barbara Ann J. Rieffer-Flanagan, The International Committee of the Red Cross. A neutral humanitarian actor, London and New York: Routledge, 2007, p. 55.

(9) Maghna Abraham, "Non-governmental organizations and international law", in Bacak Cali (ed.), International Law for International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 143.

(10) Elisabeth Griffin; Basak Cali, "International Humanitarian Law", in Bacak Cali, International Law for International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 241.

(11) Ibidem, p. 242.

(12) Scott Peterson, Me against my Brother--At War in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda, New York, London: Routledge, 2000, p. xiii.

(13) For a detailed account of the initial phase of the Red Cross Movement see Michael Ignatieff, The Warrior's Honor. Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997, pp. 109-163.

(14) The ICRC's Mission Statement, available at [ overview-icrc-mandate-mission.htm], accessed April 2013.

(15) The ICRC's mandate and mission, available at [ overview-icrc-mandate-mission.htm], accessed April 2013.

(16) David P. Forsythe, The Humanitarians. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 157 and pp. 161-190.

(17) David P. Forsythe; Barbara Ann J. Rieffer-Flanagan, The International Committee of the Red Cross. A neutral humanitarian actor, London and New York: Routledge, 2007, p. 38.

(18) See The ICRC's mandate and mission, available at [ mandate/overview-icrc-mandate-mission.htm], accessed April 2013.

(19) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 170.

(20) Kevin P. Q. Phelan, "From an Idea to Action: The Evolution of Medecins Sans Frontieres", in Chris Stout, The New Humanitarians. Inspiration, Innovations, and Blueprints for Visionaries, Vol. 1--Changing Global Health Inequities, London: Praeger, 2009, p. 1.

(21) MSF Charter and Principles, available at [], accessed April 2013.

(22) Ibidem.

(23) Ibidem.

(24) Ibidem.

(25) Guy Arnold, Historical Dictionary of Civil Wars in Africa, second edition, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2008, p. 262.

(26) Ibidem.

(27) James Mayall, "The legacy of colonialism", in Simon Chesterman; Michael Ignatieff; Ramesh Thakur (eds.), Making states work: State failure and the crisis of governance, Tokyo, New York, Paris: United Nations University Press, 2005, p. 51. The author argues that this principle used by colonial powers was not always deliberate, since "in some cases it was an unintended consequence of a desire to protect weaker communities from those who had historically preyed on them [whereas] in others, it was a consequence of a reluctance to meddle with established religion."

(28) Ibidem, p. 50.

(29) Arnold, op. cit., p. 262.

(30) Yacob Tesfai, Holy Warriors, Infidels, and Peacemakers in Africa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 47.

(31) Arnold, op. cit., pp. 263-264.

(32) Tesfai, op. cit., p. 47.

(33) William Reno, Warlord Politics and African States, Boulder London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999, p. 18.

(34) Kenneth Dike, "Biafra Explains its Case," New York Times, 28 April 1969, apud ibidem.

(35) Arnold, op. cit., p. 264.

(36) Ibidem, p. 268.

(37) Reno, op. cit., p. 18.

(38) Arnold, op. cit., p. 265.

(39) Ibidem, p. 265.

(40) Ibidem, p. 267.

(41) Tesfai, op. cit., p. 47.

(42) Arnold, op. cit., p. 268.

(43) Ibidem.

(44) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 63.

(45) Ibidem, p. 67.

(46) David P. Forsythe; Barbara Ann J. Rieffer-Flanagan, The International Committee of the Red Cross. A neutral humanitarian actor, London and New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 22-23.

(47) Ignatieff, op. cit., p. 124.

(48) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 67.

(49) Forsythe; Rieffer-Flanagan, op. cit., p. 63.

(50) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 64.

(51) Arnold, op. cit., p. 266.

(52) Forsythe; Rieffer-Flanagan, op. cit., pp. 63-64.

(53) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 65.

(54) Ignatieff, op. cit.

(55) Elisabeth Griffin; Bacak Cali, "International Humanitarian Law", in Bacak Cali, International Law for International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 242.

(56) Forsythe; Rieffer-Flanagan, op. cit., pp. 64-65.

(57) Phelan, op. cit., p. 2.

(58) Ibidem, p. 2.

(59) Cf. ibidem.

(60) Ibidem.

(61) Ibidem.

(62) Forsythe; Rieffer-Flanagan, op. cit., p. 65.

(63) Phelan, op. cit., p. 4.

(64) Arnold, op. cit., p. 328.

(65) Cf. April Oliver, "The Somalia Syndrome", in Roderick von Lipsey (ed.) Breaking the Cycle, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, pp. 121-122.

(66) Ibidem, p. 122.

(67) Cf. Brian Urquhart, quoted in ibidem.

(68) Said Samatar, quoted in ibidem.

(69) Arnold, op. cit., p. 51.

(70) Ibidem, p. 52.

(71) Oliver, op. cit., pp. 122-123.

(72) Ibidem, p. 123.

(73) Ibidem.

(74) Arnold, op. cit., p. 52.

(75) Ibidem.

(76) Oliver, op. cit., p. 125.

(77) See details in ibidem, p. 125 and Arnold, op. cit., p. 331.

(78) Oliver, op. cit., p. 124.

(79) Peterson, op. cit., p. 5.

(80) See full text of UNSC Resolution 751 available at [ doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/751(1992)], accessed April 2013.

(81) Mohamed Sahnoun, Somalia: The Missed Opportunities, Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1994, p. vii.

(82) Ibidem, p. 16.

(83) Ibidem, p. 18.

(84) The main United Nations organizations operating in Somalia were the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO). More than other 30 NGOs had been present in Somalia working in partnership with the United Nations.

(85) Oliver, op. cit., p. 128. See also John Harriss, "Introduction: a time of troubles--problems of international humanitarian assistance in the 1990's", in John Harriss (ed.), The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention, London and New York: Pinter, 1995, p. 5.

(86) Ibidem, p. 131.

(87) The term "technicals" refers to the armed trucks or other vehicles equipped with heavy guns and used for rampage rides or looting (or, in some cases in Somalia, for protection of humanitarian convoys).

(88) Ibidem, p. 134. Our emphasis.

(89) Ibidem, p. 135.

(90) Shannon Bosch, "Relief workers in African conflict zones: neutrals, targets or unlawful participants?", African Security Review, London: Routledge, issue 19:3, 2010, p. 81.

(91) K. Anderson, "Humanitarian inviolability in crisis: the meaning of impartiality and neutrality for UN and NGO agencies following the 2003-2004 Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts", quoted in ibidem.

(92) Oliver, op. cit., p. 135.

(93) See full text of UNSC Resolution 794, available at [ doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/794(1992)], accessed April 2013.

(94) See Oliver, op. cit., p. 136; see also Thomas R. Mockaitis, "From Counterinsurgency to Peace Enforcement: New Names for Old Games", in Erwin A. Schmidl (ed.), Peace Operations between Peace and War: Four Studies, Vienna: Landesverteidigungnsakademie/Militarwissenshaftliches Buro, Nummer 11, September, 1998, pp. 21-36.

(95) Mockaitis, op. cit., p. 28.

(99) See UN Security Council Resolution 837, available at [ UNDOC/GEN/N93/332/32/FMG/N9333232.pdf?OpenElement], accessed April 2013.

(100) Oliver, op. cit., p. 142.

(101) Ibidem.

(102) Mockaitis, op. cit., p. 30.

(103) Forsythe; Rieffe, op. cit., p. 70.

(104) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 116.

(105) Ibidem, p. 117 and Sahnoun, op. cit., pp. 20-21.

(106) Forsythe; Rieffe, op. cit., pp. 70-71.

(107) Ibidem, p. 120.

(108) Phelan, op. cit., p. 14.

(109) Ibidem.

(110) Forsythe, op. cit., p. 116.

(111) ICRC, Respect for and protection of the personnel of humanitarian organizations, 19-01-1998 Report, Preparatory document drafted by the International Committee of the Red Cross for the first periodical meeting on international humanitarian law Geneva, 19-23 January 1998 [], accessed April 2013.

(112) Phelan, op. cit., p. 4.

Laura Herta has a PhD in History and is currently Lecturer in International Relations within the Department of International Relations and American Studies (Babes-Bolyai University). She is conducting lectures and seminars on Introduction to the Study of International Relations, Sociology and Analysis of International Relations and Internationalization of Ethnic Conflicts.

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