The Humanitarian Times

May 9, 1999


- MENINGITIS IMMUNIZATION EXPANDED IN SUDAN, in an effort to stay ahead of a spreading epidemic, that has seen 16,591 cases since December.

- NORTH KOREA TO RECEIVE MORE WHEAT, while it enters its lean, pre-harvest season, amid a famine; the US recently approved an additional 400,000 MT of grain. Meanwhile, the UNDP country representative stated that the country needs not food aid, which promotes dependency, but agricultural assistance which can help improve upcoming harvests.

- UP TO 400 KILLED IN FERRY BOAT SINKING IN SOUTHERN BANGLADESH yesterday. Drownings are common in Bangladesh; in 1986, both ferries on the main Dhaka-Barisal line sank, drowning over 600.

- EBOLA-LIKE EPIDEMIC HAS KILLED SOME 50+ PERSONS in a short span in a small mining town in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Lab tests indicate that it is Marburg virus which, like Ebola, has high case fatality rate.

- PAKISTAN & INDIA CLASHED ALONG BORDER, FRIDAY. Indian troops were killed in fighting near the Siachen glacier sector of Kashmir, still in dispute between the 2 countries.

- DONORS DEBATED FINANCIAL EARLY WARNING MECHANISMS in new "early warning stability forum" that met in WashDC mid-April, composed of finance and central bank officials to improve surveillance of financial market crises. The Intl Monetary Fund approved special new emergency loans that are meant to mitigate extreme financial fluctuation.


- ETHIOPIA & ERITREA EXTEND WAR INTO SOMALIA as each side takes advantage of allied factions within Somalia OCHA reports).

- AIDS VACCINE RESEARCH GETS $25 MILLION BOOST, from Bill Gates Foundation grant, disbursed over several years.

- LANDMINE CONFERENCE NOTES KEY HOLD-OUTS who have not signed the Ottawa land-mine convention, including the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Tanzania & Burundi. 135 governments have signed and 74 ratified the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. Cambodia, which as a country is crippled by more landmines than any other country with 365,000 hectares mined, is acceding to the Ottawa treaty banning landmines. see:




The Kosovo crisis repeats a familiar theme: good information about refugees reaching asylum, but comparably little information about the scale of problem in the area of origin -- inside Kosovo.

- EXCESS DEATHS IN REFUGEE SETTINGS IS KNOWN TO BE LOW There has been no discernable excess mortality, among the Kosovar refugees, of preventable diseases, including infectious disease. No epidemics or regional food shortfalls have been recorded. The main health problems have seen have had to do with continuing care of chronic conditions, such as hypertension, as well as psycho-social disturbances and an estimated 4,000 wounds. Limited sanitation conditions and overcrowded camps allow for the possibility of increased risk of childhood death from diarrhea & dysentery, but no heightened incidence has been reported. Health agencies are watching for typhoid fever, measles, cholera. Vaccinations against measles, polio, pertussis and diphtheria are proceeding. WHO & the Albanian Health Ministry report that in April, among some 280,000 refugees, there were 75,000 medical consultations, 264 births, and 64 deaths. Roughly half of all childhood morbidity observed is of acute respiratory infection, of which there have been no deaths.

- THE DEATH RATE OF PERSONS DISPLACED WITHIN KOSOVO REMAINS UNKNOWN Aid agencies are unable to confirm or rule out suggestions of growing malnutrition in villages in Kosovo. While malnutrition related to food-shortage in a conflict is very plausible, no representative surveys have been possible to begin to provide measures. Only one NGO, from Greece, has been active inside Kosovo. Recent studies by the Physicians for Human Rights and Medicines Sans Frontiers provide preliminary evidence that mortality among young Albanian males may be high, related to armed killings.

- CLAIMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS, INDUCED BY BOMBING, among Serbs in Yugoslavia. Russian and Yugoslav documents observe that toxic pollution, gas poisoning and water pollution have resulted from bombing of industrial facilities and forest fires related to NATO's bombardment. While stating an increase in health-care services by Serb citizens, it is unclear what is the human impact, if any.

- WHO's "HINAP" PROJECT OFFERS HEALTH DATA ON CRISES beginning with Kosovo: or via list-serve:



- JUNE 14-16 CONF. ON DISASTER MANAGEMENT & MEDICAL RELIEF will be held in Amsterdam, for operational agencies; contact:

- COURSE AT CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV., JUNE 21-25 on "Management of Complex Humanitarian Emergencies" will focus on "Children & Families." Contact:

- YORK UNIVERSITY MASTERS DEGREE TRAINING IN POST-CONFLICT RECOVERY The Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) multi-disciplinary training of professionals in issues of management & planning of reconstruction after war, humanitarian intervention in complex political emergencies, and post-war recovery. Contact:




-- The Hum. Times posed questions about Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), such as seen in Kosovo and Angola today, to Francis Deng who serves as the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons.


Q: How has the intl. community improved its response to IDPs?

FD: "Over the last ten years or so, the international community has openly acknowledged that internal displacement, which affects some 25 to 30 million people in over 40 countries in all continents is a truly global crisis. But despite efforts to develop a normative framework, which recently culminated in the launching of Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and efforts at enhancing the collaborative capacity of relevant agencies, the vacuum of protection and assistance for IDPs persists. The gist of the crisis is that the victims of displacement in conflict situations are often viewed by their Governments, not as citizens to be protected and assisted, but as part of the enemy to be persecuted."

Q: What is the significance of the new Guiding Principles on Intl Displacement?

FD: "The gist of the Guiding Principles is to stipulate sovereignty as a normative concept of responsibility for the protection & general welfare of all those under state sovereignty. It is by discharging that responsibility that states can invoke and enjoy legitimate sovereignty. But to be effective, this normative concept of sovereignty must be backed by accountability at all levels."

Q: What does the current problem of protecting IDPS inside Kosovo tell us about where the humanitarian community needs new solutions?

FD: "Ironically, even in Kosovo where the intervention of NATO is dramatically assertive, international protection and assistance are more available to refugees than to the IDPs who are virtually out of sight and out of mind. The challenge is to make international response to humanitarian situations consistent, predictable and effective.

"In the prevailing international climate, the only practical alternative is the collaborative option based on state responsibility, supplemented by regional efforts, and the collective involvement of all pertinent agencies in the international system. This will also require empowering local and international NGOs, who are often in closest contact with the affected populations, to play an effective role in providing protection & assistance for the IDPs."


-- Also interviewed was Roberta Cohen who, along with Deng, co-directs the Brookings Inst. Project on Internal Displacement.


Q: What are steps are being taken to assist IDPs in different parts of the world?

"To raise consciousness, in the coming months we will be working with other agencies to hold meetings in Colombia, Thailand and other places to encourage applied strategic thinking at the national and regional level about this problem."

"The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, of UN agencies, has just hired a senior advisor on IDPs. The working group of the Standing Committee has become the primary body engaged in IDPs, which have now become a standing item on its agenda."

Q: Are IDPs at last being recognized as a group meriting protection?

RC: "There has been a stretching of the sovereignty idea. We're inching toward a sense of a kind of international responsibility to protect people displaced within their own countries. We're leaving this century without any sort of situations to protect these sort of peoples who are subject to attacks, abuse and atrocities. Kosovo is bringing this issue home starkly; it's horrifying."

-- For more info:


- NEW "GUIDING PRINCIPLES ON INTERNAL DISPLACEMENT" (1998, UN OCHA) has been issued as a pamphlet, after development over a number of years by an intl. legal team, managed by Brookings project on internal displacement. Drawing on a variety of existing international laws, it sets forth those principles that therefore apply to all internally displaced persons. Among these are:

- "INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE: A GLOBAL SURVEY" by the Norwegian Refugee Counil (1998, London: Earthscan Pub), has many contributors who provide case by case descriptions of severely-affected countries. For example, in the Sudan it is judged that some 4 million can be seen to be IDPS: "Approximately 170,000 displaced people live in official camps in the south, and hundreds of thousands have settled themselves in rural southern areas without any official aid." Overall, "taking size and duration into account, the 1990s is seeing a shift from large-scale refugee displacements to increasing internal displacements."

- NEW BOOK "EXODUS WITHIN BORDERS" BY DAVID KORN, 1999, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute, describes IDP issues in easily-accessible language, drawing heavily on the early book by Cohen & Deng "Masses in Flight" which was reviewed in the Dec. Hum. Times. "The internally displaced are the single largest at-risk population in the world. They are beset by hunger, disease, & lack of adequate shelter." Korn observes that because "no UN agency can be counted on to respond with predictability to situations of internal displacement, and there is no international accountability," IDPs end up with insufficient registration, observation, protection and assistance. IDP return home is a growing concern. "In Peru the government provides assistance only to those internally displaced persons who return to their original homes. In Sri Lanka, assistance has been used to induce returns, but to its credit, the government has adopted guidelines against physical coercion."

- "INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS COMPILATION & ANALYSIS OF LEGAL NORMS" 1998, Geneva: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, provides detailed citations for applicable international laws, treaties and conventions that apply to IDPs. Its value is in conveniently organizing a wide range of laws as they apply in IDP crises, commenting on hostage-taking, slavery, subsistence, forced return, etc. It concludes "in many aspects relating to the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the prohibition of hostage-taking, of slavery, subsistence rights and many aspects of religious rights, present international law seems to protect sufficiently most of the specific needs of internally displaced persons." It also highlights "clear gaps" where more work is needed in existing legal standards, regarding disappearances, landmines, detention, and duties related to documentation for personal identification.


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