Iraq: NCCI's Weekly Highlight 17 May 2007


Accountability on Assistance and Protection

"Some men see things as they are and say "why?" I dream things that never were and say "why not?"" - George Bernard Shaw

Nobody can ignore the plight of Iraqis and the lack of protection they face. These days, lots of talks have occurred in Amman regarding the protection issue and we welcome such a step.

Here we may have to step back. What the international humanitarian community means by protection is certainly very far from what Iraqis mean, and, perhaps, even farther than what they need.

Indeed, if you ask an Iraqi about protection, he will certainly reference Kalashnikov, militias, security, etc.

Yet, except advocating for a safer Iraq, respect of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHL), respect of the Rule of Law, end of impunity etc, the kind of security Iraqis are talking about is not in our hands. We can even wonder if any response is in the hands of somebody in today's Iraq.

Actually, according to OCHA(1), protection "strives to ensure that civilians everywhere will be afforded the basic human dignity each individual deserves". Concrete and practical issues for consideration of protection are even identified and listed in the OCHA aide-memoire.

The Inter-Agency Meeting on protection that was held in Amman this week identified 5 areas of protection: Right to life and security, violence during "security operations", Denial of freedom of movement, Impunity and absence of the rule of law, and other violations of IHL.

All these areas are related to the security situation in Iraq and have obvious consequences on the humanitarian situation and daily lives of Iraqis. But as mentioned above, the responses that can be given by the humanitarian community are mainly related to advocacy.

It's a good first step but let's translate it into concrete actions.

Indeed, only advocating for the respect of IHL will not bring water to the people of Samarra who are stuck in the city since days, will not provide food to the inhabitants of Diyala, will not give easier access to people outside of their neighborhoods, and to the hospitals or the schools, to the Baghdadis, nor will it reduce the psychological pressures endured by the children in all tense areas and hot conflict zones across Iraq.

There are multiple obstacles to being creative and finding ways to operate; from the on-going violence, to the donors' hindrances; from the limits of mandates, to the difficulties of access.

When Donors request 100% quality, 100% accountability, 100% transparency, should we respond with the Iraqi proverb that says: "Don't look from the key-hole, you either break-open the door or you go away"? Or should we counter that between 0% and 100%, there are 99 other alternatives?

Can we find a grey area, between a stark white and black?

For the past 4 years Iraqis are dying and fleeing the country by the thousands every week. They need protection.

They need active, concrete and immediate assistance now.

Are we ready to provide them this protection?

We should ponder this question considering that even in safe areas we are very often not able to provide them with the rudimentary basics of protection that would make us accountable for our mandate as humanitarian actors.

The situation can be expected to worsen. September is already expected to be one of the bloodiest months in Iraq. Indeed the decision of an eventual extension of the security surge in Baghdad will come to a head, Ramadan is set to occur, and some high political tensions related to the constitution, the Kirkuk matters and the local elections will need to be addressed. It would be fair to assume that the humanitarian needs will worsen at that time.

If we are unable to act properly now, can we expect to be ready in 4 months?

As has been heard this week, we need to find "the links between victims and rescuers".

Humanitarian actors have a great advantage over militias today to protect Iraqis: we are not enrolling the vulnerable, we are not pressuring them, we are not fixing or alienating them to a party, religious group or any other entity, we are not expecting anything from them. That might help to create an environment of trust that will be necessary to improve access, and consequently assistance.

But we have to be concrete now and go forward from the talks.

The whole international community must provide for the people active on the field the adequate means to do everything they can before it is too late. In order to build the confidence of the victims toward the rescuers, and to avoid the rescuers being amongst the victims.