The Humanitarian Times

January 14, 2000


- AFRICA'S HIV/AIDS TOPIC OF EXTRAORDINARY U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING this week, at which US VP Al Gore said the US would give an extra $150M for HIV prevention programs, including vaccine research & education in Africa. The US Govt, which has provided $1.2B to fight AIDS in developing countries to date, is steeply increasing its contributions, to exceed $250M in 2001. Beginning Jan. 24, the Sec. Council will devote a week to peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Laurent Kabila is expected to attend.

- UNHCR MANDATE FOR INTERNALLY DISPLACED PROMOTED IN UN SEC. COUNCIL meetings, held yesterday, by the US Gov Ambassador, R Holbrooke, in meetings Madame Ogata (the High Commissioner for Refugees) & Francis Deng (the UN Spec. Rep for internally displaced persons - IDPs). Ambassador Holbrooke argued that IDPS continue to be neglected, particularly in Africa, & that UNHCR is the best-equipped of all agencies to take on IDP efforts.

- 300-500 KILLED IN INDONESIA'S MALUKU ISLE PROVINCE IN LAST 3 WEEKS in fighting between Muslim & Christian groups, each side apparently abetted by elements of govt security forces. The conflict which erupted a year ago on Ambon Island has led to 1-3,000 deaths, plus 100,000 forced displacements. Current violence on Buru & Seram islands led to thousands fleeing into forests or to other islands.

- 40 TO 50 CIVILIANS MURDERED DEC 31 NEAR CAPITAL OF BURUNDI by the national army, according to Amnesty International, apparently in retaliation to other massacres by primarily-Hutu rebels.

- RUSSIAN TACTICS BECOME MORE ABUSIVE IN CHECHNYA, AS WAR WEARS ON; The few NGOs giving aid to Chechen refugees in Ingushetia, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), are compelled to spend limited time in affected areas -- organizing relief at a distance -- so as to avoid incidents such as kidnapping, that would then require complete withdrawal of the few expatriates able to monitor, witnessing & protect the refugees. This week, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) published a unique full-page letter in the New York Times to Pres. Clinton, stating: "to stop the indiscriminate targeting of the pop. remaining in Chechen territory, the intl. community must do more & it must be done immediately." MSF appealed for "safe & unhindered passage for those wanting to leave Chechnya to seek refuge outside the republic, including opening the Georgian border; (&) free & unimpeded humanitarian access to all populations & all areas inside Chechnya as guaranteed under intl. humanitarian law."

- UN HIGH COMM. FOR REFUGEES CAUTIONS AGAINST REPATRIATION TO BURMA stating last week that it could not support return of ethnic-Karen refugees now in Thailand back to Burma because it can not monitor their safety on return, having no access to those areas.

- GERMAN GOVT ANNOUNCES INTENT TO FORGIVE $5 BILLION IN DEBT of 30 of the most "Highly-Indebted Poor Countries" with bilateral debts.

- MORE RAINS HIT VENEZUELA, CREATE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS (HAZMAT) PROBLEMS: Continued heavy rains still are displacing people, collapsed of bridges this month & released hazardous chemicals at Port La Guaira. This week Ven. Pres. Chavez told the US military that its help was no longer welcome, though US ships were en route (now turning around) with construction supplies that the Venez. Govt had requested after the large floods of Dec. 15 & 16.

- 10,000 REFUGEES FROM ANGOLA HAVE CROSSED TO ZAMBIA IN PAST MONTH, adding to 20,000 who crossed in last 4 months.


- NEW CONSERVATION REPORT WARNS OF PRIMATE EXTINCTION: "Primates in Peril," by Conservation Intl. & the IUCN (intergovernmental) projects that over 120 of the current 620 primate species (apes, lemurs, monkeys & others) are likely to become extinct within the coming decade or two, given trends in the destruction of natural habitats.


- "DIPLOMA" COURSE IN HUMANITARIAN AID OFFERED IN GENEVA: Jan 30-Feb. 26 sponsored by the Center for Intl Health & Cooperation, by Hunter College of NY & by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, & supported by the Geneva Foundation to Protect Health in War. It is targeted to govt. inter-govt & NGO personnel & offers a comprehensive framework for dealing with relief work in the field. The course will also be offered in NY City, June 11- July 8. Contact: .




After decades of conflict over the racially discriminatory Apartheid system, South Africa achieved a peaceful transition to full-population democracy in 1994, with large economic & security consequences for the whole of southern Africa. Now, 40 years since the Sharpeville massacre & 24 years since shooting of schoolchildren in Soweto, South Africa suffers some of the highest rates of crime & violence in the world (witness this week's racially motivated killings of 3 black bus passengers by a white citizen), reflecting the difficulties of social transition, persistent high unemployment (34% in 1998) & large disparities between wealth & squalor.

South Africa's transition will be a yardstick applied to other crisis- affected areas -- its lessons touch on the role of violent & non-violent protest, international solidarity, sanctions (see Massie's "Losing the Bonds" reviewed in Dec. 1999 Humanitarian Times) & the controversial Truth & Reconciliation Commission which, in the 1990s, made public enormous amounts of information about the patterns of & complicities with brutality, torture, & state-sanctioned killings, plus unexpected lessons about health problems, as well as the role of the govt. in conflicts in neighboring countries. The S. African Truth & Reconciliation Commission is a model other countries will build from in dealing with post-crisis reconciliation: this week the British Govt offered $400,000 to Sierra Leone to set up its own truth & reconciliation commission: Sierra Leone has already given a blanket amnesty to war criminals, in order to achieve a peace accord.

- HOW S. AFRICA's TRUTH & RECONCILIATION COMMISSION BROKE NEW GROUND is detailed in the new book, "Coming to Terms: South Africa's Search for Truth" by Martin Meredith & Tina Rosenberg (1999 NY: Public Affairs).

Meredeth explains both the crimes of Apartheid & the compelling story of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission slowly unveiled these horrors, through extensive inquiries in the daily in the spotlight of full & open TV, radio & newspaper coverage. In each chapter, Meredith takes on a different aspect of Apartheid's damage, including the crimes of Winnie Mandela & Mandela United. He explains the tradeoffs the Commission embodied: "The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that emerged in 1995 was born inevitably of compromise; (its) focus was limited to the investigation of gross violations of human rights in the 34-year period from 1960, starting with the massacre at Sharpeville. These violations were defined as the killing, abduction, torture, or severe ill-treatment of any person, or any attempt, conspiracy, incitement, instigation, command or procurement to commit those acts. ...the wider injustices of apartheid -- such as the forced removal of some 3M people from their homes, imprisonment of millions for pass-law offenses, and wide-spread detention without trial -- would not be addressed." The most controversial aspect of all was the decision to grant amnesty to those who came forward & disclosed the full truth of their actions, (as long as their actions were politically motivated).

Policies about amnesty, prosecution, targeting, testimony taking, public exposure have varied in the experiences of different countries, as explained in the introduction by Tina Rosenberg; her contribution which alone makes the book a valuable read; it does a better job than any other in comparing the elements of truth commissions and war crimes trials in different settings, such as Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Bosnia, Spain, & Rwanda. About S. Africa, she warns, "The future danger to South Africa is not a resurgence of apartheid. Like communism, apartheid was shot in the heart & is not oming back. The danger is a highly polarized society or one that falls into African-style dictatorship. Apartheid left South Africa with a legacy of abuse of power, corrupt police & unfair courts.

The rebellion against apartheid left South Africa with one-party domination. South Africa will not always have leaders with the restraint & wisdom of Nelson Mandela. Without stronger institutions, South Africa could someday become another Zimbabwe, with a capricious, corrupt & autocratic ruler who permits little dissent."

- ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU'S "NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS" (1999 NY: Doubleday Pub) tells more of the inside story of how the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which he chaired during its 3-year operation.

Tutu is explicit about the many ethical, policy & legal questions grappled with. Tutu recalls that "we ended up obtaining over 20,000 statements; people quite extraordinarily did want to tell their stories; they had been silenced for so long, made invisible & heard their stories & wondered how they had survived...carrying such a heavy burden of grief & anguish, so quietly with dignity." Tutu explains some of the commission's conclusions: "The commission recommended that streets & schools could be named after fallen heroes & communal facilities erected in their memory - such as clinics, community centers, recreational facilities - & this has already begun to happen." Tutu discusses the ethical questions over how victims were to be compensated - "can a monetary value be given to suffering?" he writes, though in the end the commission favored govt. reparations: "without adequate reparation & rehabilitation measures, there can be no healing & reconciliation" Tutu argues for the essential role of forgiveness in post-crisis rebuilding: "To forgive is not just to be altruistic; it is the best form of self-interest. It gives people resilience, enabling them to survive & emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them." He recalls how Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison was still able to free himself of hate: "everything had been done to break his spirit and make him hate-filled; (yet) he emerged as a whole person."

- "FAULT-LINES: JOURNEYS INTO THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA" by D Goodman (1999 Berkeley: Univ. of CA Press) is an interesting companion to the books cited above; as it provides in-depth perspectives of individual South Africans, & how they view various problems, from political scandals to urban congestion. In the process, Goodman provides background on different individuals & regions in S. Africa.

He concludes that reconciliation has been uneven, that there is a danger of compassion fatigue souring the burst of energy to redress Apartheid: "Reconciliation has often proven to be elusive; in its place, contradictions linger...a place of great tension & possibility, where people are haunted by memories, unsettled by changes, & tantalized by potential that remains maddeningly out of reach."

- SOUTH AFRICA RECONSTRUCTION OUTLINED IN 4 VOLUME SERIES "Building the New South Africa" by the Intl. Dev. Research Center (1995 Ottawa), edited by M Van Ameringen); one volume each examines dev. priorities in economic policy; urban policy; science & technology; & the environment / reconstruction.


Jan. 14, 2000 The Humanitarian Times