Wednesday, May 7, 2008

NATO's war blocks civilian aid: Orbinski

Doctor James Orbinski, ex-president of MSF and subject of a recently released documentary, has authored a book entitled Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century. He's interviewed in Embassy. Excerpt:

By Cynthia Münster

James Orbinski, the former international president of Médecins San Frontières who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organization, has worked as a humanitarian doctor in conflict and war zones throughout the world.

Q: ... Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, right now, the dialectics are of "we are there to help the Afghanis," to in some way, "do humanitarian work." What's your take on that?

"We are at war. I mean, it's easy, it's comforting, to paint the picture of what we are doing in Afghanistan using humanitarian colours, but the first fact is that we at war... NATO is at war and that's the first fact and we shouldn't forget that and nor should we allow a humanitarian rhetoric to obscure that fact. Nor should we allow that fact to obscure the importance, the centrality, at least from my perspective, of an independent and impartial humanitarian assistance ...

[T]here are vast swaths of the territory of Afghanistan that are virtually humanitarian no-go zones, and that is a direct consequence of the way in which NATO is waging war and it's also a direct consequence of the Taliban's response to NATO's manner of waging war and the people who suffer are not us, who are in some ways comforted by the humanitarian rhetoric, but the people who suffer are Afghanis."

Q: So [the way] you see it, we are right now at the crossroads of how humanitarians define themselves because it's being manipulated so much right now?

"Yes, and what happens in Afghanistan or Iraq obviously affects people in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also, it has broader implications around the world and just simply because of the power of the communication apparatus, if you will, it has a direct implication on the way in which other countries wage war, for example.

In Colombia, just as an example, the Colombian government uses the same rhetoric around the War on Terror to deal with its own insurgency and the same kind of manipulations of humanitarian assistance are evident in Colombia, so this is directly affects, again, not just people in Afghanistan and Iraq, but millions of people who literally have no other choice and who suffer what they must in war."

Q: But wasn't it always used like "we are going to help them and that's why we are going to war?"

"Not always. That's a relatively new phenomenon. Humanitarian intervention as it is called, it's not that it's never occurred as a rationale in history, it certainly has. But today, especially Kosovo was really the turning point, today it is the dominant rhetoric and justification for waging war by the West, largely, and the impact is profound, profoundly negative. Instead of humanitarian action as a response to the suffering of war, it has become a weapon of war and a justification of war and that is a dangerous change." ... (link)

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