When peacekeepers put lives at risk
30 May 2006
The ethical duty of Rowan Gillies, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is simple: in crisis-affected countries, he goes to the person who is most sick, regardless of race, religion, politics or sex.
Executing the task in the field, however, becomes dangerous and complicated when peacekeeping forces and government-linked humanitarian groups interfere in dispensing humanitarian aid, Dr Gillies told an audience at a Sydney Ideas lecture hosted by the University last night.
Peacekeeping and conflict resolution are essential, but they are different to humanitarian aid, argued Dr Gillies, who is also president of MSF Australia.
"Over the last two decades, we have seen the principles of impartial and independent humanitarian action set aside in order to harness aid to 'higher' goals of security and development. Aid is deployed as a reward or denied as a sanction, resulting in avoidable suffering and death," he said.
Dr Gillies knows the effects of this first hand. Apart from heading the world's leading medical and humanitarian organisation, he has been an MSF field volunteer in many crisis zones, including South Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
In Afghanistan, Dr Gillies watched as the Americans dropped leaflets to civilians telling them they must give information about the Taliban if they wanted to receive aid.
"It was dangerous to MSF and other Non-Government Organisations as the local people were unable to distinguish between government-backed campaigns and humanitarian aid. This exposed us to kidnappings and violence," he explained.
Dr Gillies was critical of the United Nations' coordination policy which brings together various aid groups in crisis response. The problem, he said, is that the UN is a group of governments with foreign policies and it assumes that everyone has a shared agenda.
"We need a separation of responsibilities depending on the different goals of different groups. We need aggressive government leadership and World Health Organisation leadership" he argued.
Contact: Kate Rossmanith
Phone: 02 9351 3168