The Humanitarian Times

January 5, 2000

 

HT's TOP TEN HUMANITARIAN BOOKS OF THE LAST YEAR, 1999:

 

1. U.S. COMMITTEE FOR REFUGEES' "WORLD REFUGEE SURVEY 1999" (WashDC: Immigration & Refugee Services of America). Each year USCR publishes the most authoritative annual report compiling data on refugees, internally displaced & refugee-like trans-migrants, & every year it gets better. Each edition combines a country-by-country review of events & refugee conditions along with global data tables & topical essays. In one essay, B Frelick argues that basic principles of asylum have been undermined by 1990s preoccupation with rapid solutions to mass forced migration, such as the use of internal 'safe havens': "Where once the intl refugee regime was predicated on the idea of burden sharing, it is now characterized by burden shifting...because internally displaced people, unlike refugees, lack a binding intl. convention on their behalf...& deference is paid to sovereignty, UNHCR will never be able to provide comparable protection on their behalf." In her recap of the 1990s, K Newland agrees with Frelick, observing that govts have invented new ways to avoid full refugee asylum, including "temporary protection" & interdiction, yet, "while practices are converging, there is not much agreement on norms, principles or laws." USCR's tables cite 17m internally displaced persons in 41 countries (but acknowledging inclusion of more countries would push the total higher). USCR estimates there are at least 13.5m refugees in the world (at press time), down from a peak 17.6m in 1992.

USCR's country reviews are fact-filled & impartial. Also included is a valuable directory of organizations.

2. JONATHAN MANN's "HEALTH & HUMAN RIGHTS" (co-edited with Sofia Gruskin, M Grodin, G Annas 1999 NY: Routledge).

The late Jonathon Mann, who died in an airplane crash last year, was an inspiring teacher & leader, author of 2 global surveys on HIV/AIDS & director of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Centr for Health & Human Rights which hosted several intl conferences, of which this compendium is a mature distillation of ideas. Many of the 30 chapters discuss to the Univ. Declaration Human Rights, conflict, torture, Nazi medical experimentation war crimes, the Red Cross, Physicians for Human Rights, & MSF. Female genital mutilation, disabled people, & informed consent in health research are touched on.

Aly Yamin argues against the terminology "ethnic cleansing" which she finds to be vague; she favors more precise inquiry, including forensics. AIDS comes up often; Mann writes "the evolving HIV/AIDS pandemic has shown a consistent pattern of discrimination, marginalization, stigmatization & lack of respect for the human rights & dignity of individuals." One chapter articulates a method for the human rights impact assessment of health policies. Mann's final chapter brilliantly establishes a framework for the respective roles of human rights, ethics, public health & medicine. "It is clear that we do not yet know all about the universe of human suffering...

(As) bioethical pioneers at the frontier of human history, we affirm that the past does not inexorably determine the future."

3. COURT ROBINSON'S DEFINITIVE "TERMS OF REFUGE" ABOUT INDOCHINESE refugee flows & intl. aid & asylum responses (1998 Zed Books).

Robinson masterfully captures the many strands of forced migration, lately forgotten, that, for a period, riveted the world's attention on SE Asia: "over the last 20 years more than 3m people left their homes in Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia, many with their lives in obvious peril & others fleeing fear, hunger & uncertainty; they ran the gamut from generals & ministers to farmers & fishermen. They left on foot, on large freighters & small fishing boats, by oxcart & airplane, swimming rivers & stealing through jungles," & spread to Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, the US, Canada & oth countries. While describing overall operations, & power politics, Robinson also captures the experiences of individuals caught in state-less asylum, with no place to go. Robinson documents the historically important Orderly Departure Program, the Comprehensive Plan of Action & the large refugee returns to Cambodia (360,000) & Vietnam in the early 90s. Robinson deftly compares the different stakeholders (govts)' policies on & definitions of exodus & asylum in SE Asia.

4. GEORGE SOROS' "THE CRISIS OF GLOBAL CAPITALISM" (1998 NY: PublicAffairs) More than any other major philanthropist, Soros's investments, public celebrity persona, & foundation giving converge to jointly influence the things he cares about: the transition from authoritarian regimes to free "open" societies. In his latest book, Soros calls for reform of the intl. financial system to reduce effects of boom/bust cycles on populations, particularly drawing on the recent finance crises in E Asian & Russia. Soros applies his previously-published concept of "reflexivity" which corrects the static economic principle of "equilibrium." Soros argues for tempering pure capitalism with morality, participatory democracy & arrangements for preserving peace & law: "The supreme challenge of our time is to establish a set of fundamental values that applies to a largely transactional (market-oriented), global society." In recognition of growing trends of rapid intl. capital movements & escalating mergers/acquisitions, Soros recommends, among other things, reducing the Intl Monetary Fund's penchant to bail-out irresponsible lender nations while creating a standby facility for "calming" lending in emergencies. (see also / voir aussi)

5. "CREATING PEACE IN SRI LANKA: CIVIL WAR & RECONCILIATION" edited by Robert Rotberg (1999 WashDC: Brookings Inst. Press): 12 chapters about the roots, history & consequences of the 16-year conflict, which has displaced 100,000s & killed 60,000, that began when Tamils were disenfranchised after independence from England in 1948, compounded by discrimination such as the imposition of Sinhala language on non-speakers. This book grew out of a 1997 conf. convened by the Harvard World Peace Foundation. Authors consider how 3rd-party mediation may be a necessary road to peace: "third-party mediation - - a skilled interlocutor can reframe discussions away from competitive positional bargaining toward an analysis of both sides' underlying fears, needs & interests...can become a repository of trust." Editor Rotberg concludes, "the war in Sri Lanka can be extended either by brilliant generalship or by consummate diplomacy. Collapses or exhaustion do not seem obvious outcomes in 1999."

6. "CRIMES OF WAR: WHAT THE PUBLIC SHOULD KNOW" BY THE CRIMES OF WAR Project, 1999, edited by Guttman & Rieff (NY: WW Norton), arrays many contributions by varied & experienced war correspondents to explain the principles & histories of different aspects of complex emergencies, from crimes against cultural property, to landmines, to medical experiments on POWs, to death squads, to Kuwaiti oil wells, to re-foulement. The book should be required reading of anyone writing or teaching about current affairs in Chechnya, Burundi, Colombia or Indonesia. It was reviewed in the Aug 12 issue of HT. (see also paper 2 / voir aussi article 2)

7. AMARTYA SEN'S "DEVELOPMENT AS FREEDOM" (1999 NY: A KNOPF PUB.) is based on a series of lectures given at the World Bank by Sen, last year's Nobel prize-winner & expert on the economics of famine vulnerability. Likely to become a classic, this text summarizes many of Sen's general views about the importance of individual freedom as a goal of economic development, while criticizing much of development/ aid practice that views freedom as a luxury that comes later. Sen argues "there is every evidence that even with relatively low income, a country that guarantees health care & education to all can actually achieve remarkable results in terms of length & quality of life of the entire population...comparatively cheap in the early stages of econ. dev. when labor costs are low. (Moreover) the rewards of human development go well beyond the direct enhancement of quality of life & include its impact on people's productive abilities...improved health care as well as nutrition make the workforce more productive & better remunerated...There is much confirmation in the contemporary literature of the impact of education, especially female education, on reducing fertility rates...There is strong evidence that economic & political freedoms reinforce one another." (see also / voir aussi) (see also / voire aussi)

8. "THE END OF THE REFUGEE CYCLE: REFUGEE REPATRIATION & RECONSTRUCTION" by Richard Black & Khalid Koser (1999 Oxford: Berghahn Books) looks at mass migrations home (repatriation) in the 1990s, based primarily on country case studies including Bosnia, Angola, & Cambodia. The contributors tease out refugees' differing perceptions /constructions of "home" (some nationalist, some related to areas of high productivity or fertility) that have meaning for refugees; in some cases, home is a new creation (Eritrea, Bosnia) that had not existed when they fled.

The book also casts light on the new cycle of vulnerabilities which begin after refugees reach home. The authors recognize many of the key issues involved in repatriation, including the importance of complex social networks as the basis for identifying and pursuing livelihood in the course of reintegration. Refugees typically do not return home en masse, without some networks to receive them.

Decisions about whether & when to return depend on each household's particular ability to reclaim property that often is in dispute.

The authors also take a hard look at the intl. structures of delivering protection & aid which are increasingly conflicting one with the other: "In response to financial & political pressures imposed by donors, UNHCR has been perceived by many commentators as actively promoting the repatriation option in the short term, rather than facilitating voluntary repatriation when conditions have become conducive."

9. FRED CUNY'S "FAMINE, CONFLICT & RESPONSE, A BASIC GUIDE" (with Rick Hill & Pat Reed 1999 W Hartford, Conn: Kumarian Press) -- already reviewed in the June 16 HT. Cuny summarizes years of ground - breaking insights into how to run a relief operation, often cautioning on how to support local structures, not undermine them; after a food crisis, intl. organizations often maintain food delivery supply chains that "continue to exist for years as a competitor to economic activity in the recovering society." The authors note: "a well-planned counter-famine measure may also build on a local capacity in a way that creates new social mechanisms to deal with the pressures of increased population or environmental degradation that contributes to recurrent famine." The text gives many examples on technical topics: "in logistics, time equals money - when a procured commodity sits in a warehouse or on a ship, it costs the agency, although the commodity is not in motion. During the Ethiopian famine in 1985, the final cost of imported food doubled because of the long delays in the ports & attempts to transport it overland."

10. "ALL OF US" - SELECTIONS FROM THE EARTH TIMES" (1999 NY: Earth Times Books) subtitled "Birth & a Better Life: Population, Development & Environment in a Globalized World" edited by J Freeman & P Gupte collects 90 brief articles, stories & essays from 1990s editions of The Earth Times news monthly that debate trends in developing countries, with common references to the stories of real people, & stories from/about India, China, Indonesia, Colombia, Cambodia, Yemen, Egypt. Among the stories is how child labor was eliminated in Bangladesh, with the ILO & garment unions working to send children to school. The Earth Times is available in print & on the internet: see www.Earthtimes.org.

-- These additional, noteworthy publications were reviewed in previous issues of The Humanitarian Times:

"World Disasters Report 1999" (The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent & Oxford Univ Press) provides readable & informative analyses of emerging trends in global crises, plus tables of disaster data. "Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention" edited by Jonathan Moore (1998 London: Rowman & Littlefield Pub) tackles the biggest questions of the 1990s, with case studies that include Cambodia, Haiti. "Humanitarian Crises" by J Leaning looks at tradeoffs between various health priorities & human rights protection. Kim Maynard's "Healing Communities in Conflict: Intl. Assistance in Complex Emergencies" (1999 NY: Columbia Univ Press) summarizes much of the new thinking on healing societies & rebuilding trust post-conflict. Thomas Weis' "Military- Civilian Interactions" is the most intelligent, informative look at the role of military interv. Mary B Anderson's "Do No Harm, How Aid Can Support Peace or War" (1999 London: Lynne Rienner Pub) gives a framework for analyzing the impact of aid on tensions, divisions & capacities for forging peace, drawing on 15 country case studies & working extensively with NGOs. Finally, key new emergency handbooks by the SPHERE Project, & UNHCR ("Handbook on Emergencies") were reviewed earlier this month in HT.

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Jan 5, 2000 The Humanitarian Times