Iraq: NCCI's Weekly Highlight 14 Jun 2007

News and Press Release
Originally published


Humanitarian Space within a "Disintegrated" Multilateralism

Within the International Community working for Iraq, the question of neutrality and impartiality raise concerns, in addition to those of operational difficulties and high level of insecurity that all humanitarian agencies face in Iraq. Unfortunately, uniting all these difficulties hampers responses and many of the actors turn around without finding creative solutions and ways to start responding to the humanitarian crisis.

The 'Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief (1)' addresses this type of situation. It spells out standards to which disaster-response NGOs should aspire, reiterated how these standards conform with international humanitarian law and then, in three annexes, elaborates on the responsibilities of host governments, donor governments and international organisations. The foundation of the 'Code of Conduct' is the recognition that the humanitarian imperative comes first and that the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need, regardless of any other consideration, is not a partisan or political act and should not be seen as such. It denies the legitimacy of using aid to further political or religious standpoints or as the instrument of government foreign policy. It pledges accountability to both donors and recipients and endeavours to respect local customs, build on local capacities, and strive to reduce future vulnerabilities in the delivery of aid.

So where is the problem situated?

Lack of security is part of the response. Another piece of the answer is the mandate of the UN System in Iraq. It is defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1546 adopted by the Security Council at its 4987th meeting on June 8th, 2004 (2). At the time of its inception, 3 years ago, the resolution defines the UN mission in Iraq as an Integrated Mission. An Integrated Mission is "an instrument with which the UN seeks to help countries in the transition from war to lasting peace, or to address a similarly complex situation that requires a system-wide UN response, through subsuming actors and approaches within an overall political-strategic crisis management framework." (3) The major problem is that 3 years on, the context has changed and the resolution is not adapted to current realities and conditions anymore.

In May 2005, an independent study for the expanded Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) core group reported on the "Integrated Mission"(4) and reviewed the theory in practice. The report found "At least three dilemmas are raised in relation to integration: The humanitarian dilemma reflects a tension between the partiality involved in supporting a political transition process and the impartiality needed to protect humanitarian space. The human rights dilemma relates to the tension that arises when the UN feels compelled to promote peace by working with those who may have unsatisfactory human rights records, while still retaining the role of an "outside critic" of the same process. The local ownership dilemma relates to the need to root peace processes in the host country's society and political structures without reinforcing the very structures that led to conflict in the first place."

After defining these 3 dilemmas, the report states: "Transition and development programmes need to be incorporated into the long-term strategic policies and operational objectives of integrated missions. The objectives of the humanitarian community are somewhat different. When it comes to humanitarian principles, space and action, the Secretary-General has stressed that, in order to save unnecessary pain and suffering, it is essential to ensure a conducive humanitarian operating environment, including safe and unimpeded access to vulnerable populations. In that regard, the principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity are seen as practical tools for providing access and protection for humanitarian workers. These principles in the first instance limit the extent to which humanitarian actors can integrate into the more "political" activities of peacebuilding missions. The tension that has arisen between mission integration and humanitarian principles is intensified by: (i) the ambiguous nature of humanitarianism; (ii) competing agendas within missions; (iii) contending peacekeeping perspectives; (iv) definitions of humanitarian space (v) ill-defined roles of senior mission management; and (v) assumptions about UN structures. Each of these issues carries implications for mission design and structure."

No doubt that most of the recommendations of the report have been taken into consideration when it was time to design new Integrated Missions, especially the need for the humanitarian component of the mission to be separate and distinct from the overall structure in order to place emphasis on its neutrality and independence. The situation in Iraq has drastically changed since 2004. Today the motto "humanitarian imperative comes first" should be at the forefront of everyone's mind at every second. Iraqis are suffering. Iraqis need help. Affected by more than 20 years of conflict and sanctions, they deserve humanitarian support from the International Community. NGOs and Iraqi aid workers also need more support to increase and improve their responses.

As recognised by the UN Secretary General 5 months ago, there is a humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Yet "Integrated Missions" are not designed to respond to the humanitarian crises. Humanitarian actors do not need Security Council Resolutions to save lives. But they cannot save lives if they are handcuffed by political affairs and political transition process support, which are, by definition not neutral, nor impartial. Today, humanitarian actors need to be able to highlight their independence, to advocate for the rights of the affected people. It is time to give to the Humanitarian Country Team the space to respond to the crisis.

Obviously, humanitarian actors cannot respond to the entire Iraqi quagmire. They do not have the capacity to answer all the needs. So, humanitarian actors need to all work together, and with other stakeholders. But limits have to be well-defined. While humanitarian actors will not seek to make profit in competition with private companies, while they will not compete with military and armed forces for security purposes, they in return expect the same respect for their space and operational modalities. The Military and the militias, private sector or people and groups involved in the conflicts have no right to be in the humanitarian space, no matter what their agendas are.

Humanitarian organisations have a great added-value for the vulnerable: they don't have any other agenda than saving lives and they don't look to recruit or use their beneficiaries for another agenda. It's our specifics. It should be respected and, in a highly politicised context such as Iraq, it can only be done by dissociating humanitarian actions from political mandates.





(3) According to the study detailed below