Condemned to Repeat?

Condemned to Repeat?: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action

Fiona Terry
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Condemned to Repeat?
    Book Description:

    Humanitarian groups have failed, Fiona Terry believes, to face up to the core paradox of their activity: humanitarian action aims to alleviate suffering, but by inadvertently sustaining conflict it potentially prolongs suffering. In Condemned to Repeat?, Terry examines the side-effects of intervention by aid organizations and points out the need to acknowledge the political consequences of the choice to give aid. The author makes the controversial claim that aid agencies act as though the initial decision to supply aid satisfies any need for ethical discussion and are often blind to the moral quandaries of aid. Terry focuses on four historically relevant cases: Rwandan camps in Zaire, Afghan camps in Pakistan, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan camps in Honduras, and Cambodian camps in Thailand.

    Terry was the head of the French section of Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) when it withdrew from the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire because aid intended for refugees actually strengthened those responsible for perpetrating genocide. This book contains documents from the former Rwandan army and government that were found in the refugee camps after they were attacked in late 1996. This material illustrates how combatants manipulate humanitarian action to their benefit. Condemned to Repeat? makes clear that the paradox of aid demands immediate attention by organizations and governments around the world. The author stresses that, if international agencies are to meet the needs of populations in crisis, their organizational behavior must adjust to the wider political and socioeconomic contexts in which aid occurs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6864-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    F. T.
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In October 1996, the Rwandan refugee camps on the banks of Lake Kivu in eastern Zaire were attacked by Zairean rebels and their Rwandan army allies. Narcisse, a Rwandan refugee, survived.

    It was during the day, around 3 P.M. We heard gunfire, two shots far from us, and we were afraid it was the start of an operation. We took the possessions we could carry and fled. . . . in the meantime, the soldiers encircled the group left in the forest with the children and took them away to massacre them, even the babies. . . . Every time...

  7. 1 Humanitarian Action and Responsibility
    (pp. 17-54)

    Concerned with preserving the dignity of humanity, the term “humanitarian” encompasses constraints, or things that individuals and governments must not do, and obligations, or things that they should do. International humanitarian law imposes limits on permissible behavior during war; human rights law sets the minimum standards to which individuals are entitled by virtue of their membership in humanity; and humanitarian action seeks to restore some of those rights when individuals are deprived of them by circumstance. Hence the “duty” to provide humanitarian assistance occurs only once the duty to avoid depriving and to protect from deprivation have failed to be...

  8. 2 The Afghan Refugee Camps in Pakistan
    (pp. 55-82)

    Pakistan was one of the most generous and compliant asylum states of the 1980s. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and during the ten years of Soviet occupation, Pakistan hosted over three million Afghan refugees and resistance fighters. The Afghan refugee camps, situated close to the Afghan border, served a dual purpose as a refuge for victims of conflict and as a sanctuary in which mujahideen (“Warriors in the Way of God”) could rest, recuperate, and recruit new combatants. Zolberg, Suhrke, and Aguayo dubbed the Afghans in Pakistan “the world’s most effective refugee-warrior community.”¹

    One of the striking...

  9. 3 The Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Refugee Camps in Honduras
    (pp. 83-113)

    Central America was the scene of large refugee movements from the late 1970s to the end of the 1980s as state repression, guerrilla warfare, and human rights abuses drove millions from their homes to become displaced people within their own countries or asylum seekers in neighboring states. El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were the three main refugee-producing countries, and the United States, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica were the principal countries of asylum.

    Sharing borders with three countries torn by civil strife, Honduras housed refugees fleeing U.S.-backed regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala in the west of the country, and...

  10. 4 The Cambodian Refugee Camps in Thailand
    (pp. 114-154)

    The Cambodian refugee crisis along the Thai-Cambodian border, which unfolded in 1979, arguably posed the greatest challenge to the international humanitarian system of the Cold War period. Victims and oppressors, at the outset indistinguishable in their needs, became bound together in a symbiotic relationship by the relief operation and the politics that determined its path. Seemingly powerless to change the political context in which their work was embedded, aid agencies had to confront the probability that their aid was reviving one of the most brutal regimes in modern history, the Khmer Rouge.¹

    Unlike those in the situations described earlier, the...

  11. 5 The Rwandan Refugee Camps in Zaire
    (pp. 155-215)

    Fifteen years after the first Cambodian peasants were marched across the Thai border by the Khmer Rouge, the same scenario was replayed with different actors on a different continent. In a small country in central Africa, the governing regime ordered the annihilation of a segment of the population, and was ousted from power by an invading force. To avoid defeat, the regime directed the exodus of two million of its compatriots to neighboring countries and settled among them, evading justice and rearming for future conflict. The analogy with the Khmer Rouge was immediately drawn: “Hurry to Prevent a Cambodian Epilogue...

  12. 6 Humanitarian Action in a Second-Best World
    (pp. 216-246)

    As Narcisse and hundreds of thousands of his compatriots watched the international staff of aid organizations depart from Uvira, Bukavu, and Goma, they realized that they were alone to face the consequences of the misuse of the refugee camps. In spite of the millions of dollars pumped into the camps and the impressive technical achievements of the hundreds of aid organizations in providing adequate shelter, water, food, and sanitation in the hostile terrain of eastern Zaire, the refugees lacked the one element they needed most to survive: protection. With the best intentions, aid organizations had come to their assistance, and,...

  13. Appendix: Documents from the Rwandan Refugee Camps
    (pp. 247-276)
  14. Index
    (pp. 277-282)