The Humanitarian Times

January 29, 1999

 

- POST-CONFLICT TRANSITION GAP DEBATED BY UN HEADS at Jan. 15 summit at the Brookings Inst. in WashDC. The group, convened at the behest of UNHCR’s Madame Ogata including a few high-level bilaterals, the EC, and the World Bank will work together via working groups to effect reintegration, reconciliation and reconstruction in a more reliable and comprehensive manner.

 

- CONGRESSMAN HALL ENCOURAGES EXPANDED AID TO BURMA to address primary health care problems and the spread of HIV/AIDS. US Democrat Congressman Tony Hall, from Ohio, met with both Suu Kyi and the SPDC military rulers inside Burma earlier this month.

 

- REBELS CONTINUE MUTILATIONS IN SIERRA LEONE as aid agencies found continuing cases of severed limbs in Freetown. 350,000 believed to be displaced now by the fighting. FAO cites severe food shortage.

 

- ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA POISED TO RENEW FIGHTING Early warning analysts note likelihood of war; US Gov is evacuating embassy personnel. Troops are building along both sides of border.

 

- EDUCATION PROGRAMS IN EMERGENCIES & RECONSTRUCTION will be the subject of a two-day NGO workshop March 15, 16 in WashDC, for which sponsors seek case studies, and is subject of a new internet list-serve, at: intrwrksatexecpc.com.

 

- AID AGENCIES DEBATE PULLING OUT OF ANGOLA; even as the Security Council overturned Sec. General’s suggestion for elimination of UN peacekeeping presence in Angola, other aid agencies ponder closeout of education, health and related programs.

 

- HONDURAN MILITARY SURRENDERS AUTHORITY TO ELECTED GOVERNMENT this week, after almost three decades of military independence.

 

- VENEZUELA TENSIONS MOUNT AS PRES. PLANS TO DISSOLVE CONGRESS. Newly-elected President Hugo Chavez claims to seek to dissolve the national Congress, viewed by many as as unconstitutional. Civil conflict is a likely result, pitting the Venez. Army, which supports Chavez, and the National Guard, which thwarted his coup attempt in 1992. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economic crisis might be worsened if Chavez’ intent to nationalize industry sparks capital flight from Venezuela. While oil prices have halved, Venezuela’s equity market has steadily collapsed over the past 2 years.

 

- COLOMBIA QUAKE DISPLACES 200,000; KILLED OR INJURED OVER 5,000; 6.0 quake has led to food shortages, vandalism and riots.

 

- AFRICAN NATIONS END SANCTIONS AGAINST BURUNDI after 30 months. Burundi’s neighbors at last week’s Arusha meeting agreed to disable the sanctions following a report by former Tanzanian Pres. Nyerere. Economic sanctions were imposed after now-Pres. Pierre Buyoya overthrew democratically elected government. The most noted impact of the sanctions had been high food prices and widespread malnutrition.

 

- INDONESIAN MINISTER PROJECTS INDEPENDENCE FOR EAST TIMOR in 1999

 

- WORLD VISION WARNS OF COMPLEX EMERGENCIES IN 1999: calling attention to ten hotspots: Angola, Balkans, C. Africa, Colombia, Eritrea vs. Ethiopia, Pakistan vs. India, Indonesia, Iraq, N.Korea, & the Sudan, in report released to media in Dec.

 

- 50 YEARS ALONG: 1948 UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS The 50th anniversary of the signing of the most important document in human history saw some events in December. The UDHR, passed as General Assembly resolution 217A, in December 1948, continues to serve as the touchstone for human rights activism today. Excerpts: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude" (Article 4) "No one shall be subjected to torture" (Art. 5) "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or exile." (Art 9) "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." (Art. 13) "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." (Art. 14)

 

- CLINTON ANNOUNCED NEW US GOV. 'GENOCIDE WATCH' AT DEPT. STATE at Holocaust Museum’s Conference on genocide last December. This was one gesture that recognized the 50th anniversary of the genocide convention. Separately, the Pope called upon the public "to restrain the bloodied hand of those responsible for genocide."

 

- RAPE AS A WAR CRIME: FIRST EVER CONVICTION was ruled in December, by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, against Croatian paramilitary officer Anto Furundzija.

 

- RECENT BOOK: HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 1998 WORLD SURVEY (1998, New York: Human Rights Watch) One of the most important books for both reading and reference, Human Rights Watch’s annual world survey is the closest thing to truly comprehensive (country by country as well as topical) and fair summary of human rights problems and progress worldwide, touching on such topics as repression against press, political persecution, arms control, women’s rights, child soldiers, academic freedom. A few notable observations: "High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson took great strides toward reinvigorating an office that had retreated into irrelevance of quiet diplomacy under its first occupant." "The unbridled proliferation of conventional weapons continued to play a significant role in the humanitarian crises that evolved in 1998, especially in Africa." "The slow progress in 1998 in trying 126,000 prisoners accused of murder in Rwanda. "Torture or ill-treatment during interrogation by the Israeli General Security Services continued to be widespread & systematic." "UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata continued to elevate the provision of humanitarian relief over the agency’s core duty to protect refugees." "Pervasive official ignorance of the US’s international human rights obligations."

 

- ----- 1998 HUMANITARIAN PERSPECTIVE YEAR IN REVIEW ----- -

 

1998, the warmest year on record, saw continued declines in refugee numbers, continued repatriation, fewer intense internal conflicts, but some new ones, several famines, but overall progress in appreciation of human rights and codes of humanitarian aid. 1998 saw continued search for humanitarian solutions in conflict prevention, responsibility for internally displaced persons, and for post-conflict reintegration. While overall foreign aid continues to decline, the proportion dedicated to emergency and post-conflict reconstruction purposes grows. Decreasing respect for asylum worldwide continued & borders became ever-more closed.

 

-NUCLEAR MIDNIGHT The world inched closer to nuclear midnight in 1998, as India (May) and Pakistan (June) detonated thermonuclear bombs; and as nuclear materials became more available to private markets in Russia, as new evidence revealed Iraq’s ongoing and current commitment to producing various weapons of mass destruction, and as North Korea’s government is believed to be continuing its pursuit of nuclear weapon capabilities. In responding to North Korea, governments forecast that any surgical strike against North Korean capabilities would likely lead to an attack on South Korea, which could, in turn provoke use of tactical nuclear weapons to protect Seoul.

Continued progress was seen against landmines, as 133 countries have signed and 60 ratified the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty, though reports of re-mining come from areas, including Angola.

 

-NATURAL DISASTERS RETURNED TO THE FORE after years of taking a backseat to ‘complex-conflict emergencies.’ March brought news of a close shave with global devastation by a large asteroid. Destruction followed actual early 1998 ravages of El Nino (e.g., Peru), and summer and Fall hurricanes that pounded Papua New Guinea, C.America and Caribbean. In 1998, 10 major hurricanes developed in the North Atlantic ocean, the most in perhaps 300 years. Earthquake deaths claimed over 9,000, significantly up over previous years.

 

-FAMINES DEATHS RISE as severe malnutrition was widespread in S.Sudan (60,000 dead in 1998), North Korea (several million believed dead over course of 3-year famine), and Somalia, and are now threatening parts of Sierra Leone and Zambia.

 

-TYRANNIS TREMBLAR 1998 was an unlucky year for military dictators from Nigeria, Chile, Indonesia and Cambodia. The thirty year rule of general Suharto came to an end in July, thanks to popular uprisings, and he is now subject to indictment. Also subject to criminal court are former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which dissolved in 1998. Twenty-six years after brutally crushing the hemisphere’s longest- lasting democracy in Chile, General Pinochet was put under house arrest in England waiting the humiliation of a very public international indictment to and possible trial in Spain.

 

-INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT ESTABLISHED BY TREATY, July 17 in Rome, with authorities for independent investigation and authority in internal, as well as international armed conflicts. Historic progress was also seen as existing tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda handed down their first judgements, and courts in Rwanda (finally) began sentencing (and releasing) some of the 130,000 who began 1998 in jail for murder.

 

COMPLEX EMERGENCIES RECRUDESCE 1998 was a year of attention to growing conflicts in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zaire, Colombia and Angola. Continuing fighting and human rights abuses plagued Liberia and Sri Lanka. In Afghanistan, the Taliban captured more territory in their Afghanistan’s north, leading to concerns of refugee flows and cross-border conflict with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the possibility of full-scale war with Iran which was not pleased with the massacre of Suni Muslims in Mashir. Cambodia saw fighting early in the year, with renewed refugee flows into Thailand. But now Khmer Rouge no longer represent a conflict risk, for the first time since the late 1960s.

Rwanda and Burundi are more at peace than they have been in years, although border fighting and forced detentions still occur. Tajikistan too saw peace and reconstruction, despite periodic killings and outbreaks of violence. Azerbaijan, while at peace, remains unable to resolve its IDP and refugee problems, or its long-standing readiness to renew conflict with Armenia.

1998 was a good year for peace, reconciliation and growth in Guatemala, Mozambique, Salvador, Nicaragua, and South Africa.

 

SHARP ECONOMIC COLLAPSE THREATENS RUSSIA’S POOR 1998 saw the Asia financial crisis extend to Russia and Brazil. China has so far weathered the financial pressures. Indonesia’s plight (tens of millions of newly poor and unemployed) motivated several sets of special legislation in the US to provide emergency food aid as well as conflict prevention funds. Thailand, the Philippines, and South Korea have shown promising recovery from the financial crisis.

 

AID AGENCIES CONTINUE TO PROFESSIONALIZE The Sphere project released its humanitarian charter for NGOs to adhere to. Related projects, such as the 'People in Need' and the Relief and Rehabilitation Network’s accountability projects have attracted attention. The International Crisis Group, established posthumously with the visions of Fred Cuny to provide comprehensive strategies for complex emergencies has indeed published a wide range of analyses in 1998. The World Health Organization underwent an organizational overhaul, currently giving high priority to rolling back malaria. In just the last year the World Bank created three new units for dealing with crises: the post-conflict unit (for complex emergencies), the financial crisis unit (for economic collapse), and a natural disaster unit. Foundations increased their involvement in humanitarian affairs in 1998, including targeted giving to NGOs and universities.