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Security Council Can Do More to Protect Health Care in Conflict

Doctors Without Borders

Courtesy George Bush Presidential Library and Museum/Flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 27 September 2016.

In May the UN Security Council adopted a wide-ranging resolution designed to protect health care in conflict. On September 28, under New Zealand’s leadership, it will have a briefing and consultation on the resolution, designated 2286, including consideration of the Secretary General’s extensive recommendations for its implementation.

Although Resolution 2286 was a welcomed landmark, the upcoming discussion of next steps challenges member states to take the strong actions needed to lessen the likelihood of attacks on hospitals and health workers and to impose severe consequences on perpetrators of such attacks. But the session represents more than that: After the paralysis the Security Council has exhibited in light of the horrific, relentless attack on an aid convey in Syria on September 20, the very credibility of the Council is at stake.

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Against the Merger of Humanitarianism with Development and Security

This article was originally published by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) on 8 June 2016. 

In the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul 23-24 May, the interconnections between humanitarianism, development and security were highlighted. Recognising that humanitarian assistance alone cannot address ‘the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people’, the conference chair’s summary report states: ‘A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts together’ (page 2). Similarly, the background report of the UN Secretary General – One Humanity: shared responsibility – prescribes the merger of humanitarian policies with peace and development agendas. These agendas include the prevention and management of conflict and disaster, the building of institutions conducive to ‘the protection of civilians’, the fight against terrorism, and the building of ‘resilient societies’.

Yet, while coordination across these policy domains is certainly needed, the current challenge for humanitarianism is rather to establish a clearer division of labour between them, where humanitarian relief retains its political neutrality, development aid its concern with justice, and where policies of peace and security maintain focused on the mitigation of international and civil war rather than a broader humanitarian agenda of ‘human security’.

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Can Secretary-General Seal His Legacy at Humanitarian Summit?

Portrait of the UN Secretary-Generals past and present, courtesy Eneas De Troya/flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 22 March 2016.

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a long-awaited report, One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, outlining his vision for reforming the global humanitarian system. Riding a wave of successful negotiations on climate change and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Secretary-General is seeking to end his final term by laying the groundwork for what he calls “a new paradigm” for the international aid system. During his tenure, the UN has witnessed large-scale suffering in Syria, climate-related natural disasters, and a massive exodus of refugees to Europe. With the humanitarian system buckling under extraordinary pressure—including 60 million people forcibly displaced and requiring an estimated $20 billion USD to feed and care for them—the timing could not be better.

UN secretaries-general from Dag Hammarskjöld to Kofi Annan have released landmark reports and spearheaded initiatives that went on to have significant—albeit under-recognized—impacts on the multilateral system. Notable among these is Agenda for Peace, written by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1995 in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre. The fact that Ban titled his report’s annex Agenda for Humanity is likely no coincidence. Some of these past initiatives may offer instructive guidelines for today. With the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) approaching in May in Istanbul, can the Secretary-General help reshape the global humanitarian agenda?

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‘Ungoverned Space’: the Concept that Puts Humanitarian Aid in the Firing Line of the War on Terror

Syrian Hospital. Source: Syrian Hospital, courtesy of Freedom House

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 16 October, 2015.

The hospital bombed by US troops in Kunduz, Afghanistan, treated trauma patients, no matter whether they were civilians or Taliban fighters. The bombing happened as Afghan and US forces fought to drive Taliban out of the city the latter had captured just days before.

If the targeting of the hospital, which killed at least 22 people, had been an accident, it would leave no doubt about the return of war to the urban centres of Afghanistan. But knowledge of the hospital’s GPS coordinates by the US and Afghan armies and the precision of the attack suggest otherwise.

Both Afghan and US officials at one point in the aftermath suggested that they were targeting Taliban fighters on the hospital’s grounds, something that Médecins Sans Frontières‎, which runs the hospital, denies was the case. If the attack was in fact intentional, how can we make sense of such a breach of the Geneva conventions that forbid attacking humanitarian structures? » More

Foreign Aid and the 28 Percent Myth

The crew of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) loads boxes of food and water into helicopters during humanitarian aid missions to Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Image: Tyler J. Clements/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Harvard International Review on 11 March, 2015.

Public opinion on United States foreign aid varies widely depending on who is being asked. However, one domestic opinion on the matter is clear: we spend too much on foreign aid. In a 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans wanted to either maintain or increase spending for almost all US government initiatives. Foreign aid was the only exception. Facing a national debt of more than sixteen trillions while news of humanitarian initiatives in foreign nations proliferate, it is not surprising that so many Americans believe the US should be cutting back on foreign aid. However, much of this sentiment is based on an ongoing misconception — the majority of Americans believes the US government spends 28 percent of its federal budget on foreign aid. In reality, foreign aid accounts for only 0.7 percent. Military aid, which is accounted for separately, makes up another 0.5 percent. » More

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