Saturday, April 21, 2018

Humanitarian relief is increasingly seen as giving Western governments the appearance of ‘doing something’ in the face of a tragedy while providing an alibi to avoid making a riskier political or military commitment that could address the ‘roots of a crisis’. The advocates of human rights-based foreign policy are in the forefront of the campaign against humanitarian approaches. Under the slogan that ‘humanitarianism should not be used as a substitute for political action’ they are in fact arguing for a rights-based humanitarianism that is entirely subordinate to policy ends.

Today, instead of feeding famine victims, aid may well be cut back as the UK government has done over Sudan and Ethiopia. Human rights advocates would seem to be happier with military intervention and the establishment of ‘safe areas’ rather than granting asylum which is seen as legitimising ‘ethnic cleansing’. As journalist David Rieff notes: ‘humanitarian relief organizations...have become some of the most fervent interventionists’. Thomas Weiss observes the human rights community have redefined humanitarianism as its opposite: ‘These actions are, by definition, coercive and partial. They are political and humanitarian; they certainly are not neutral, impartial, or consensual 

From being based on the universal nature of humanity, which inevitably caused conflict with the pro-Western agenda of the Cold War, today’s ‘new humanitarians’ have challenged every principle that demarcated the traditional framework of humanitarian action. No longer do they advocate a principled neutrality, nor defend the most basic level of humanitarian relief as a universal right if this threatens to undermine broader strategic human rights-based aims. Through the human rights discourse, humanitarian action has become transformed from relying on empathy with suffering victims and providing emergency aid, to mobilising misanthropy and legitimising the politics of international condemnation, sanctions and bombings." 

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