I would like first to thank the Chair of the symposium, David Malone, and the International Peace Academy for inviting Medecins Sans Frontieres to participate in this discussion on the launching of the report "The Responsibility to Protect".
The report tackles very important issues and, should its recommendations be implemented, one has to recognize the report's broad impact. Since there are so many issues and facts raised, I will try to convey the perspective of a humanitarian organization, and offer some comments most relevant to our work as a humanitarian actor.
The Secretary-General and a number of international NGOs have initiated, since the fall of 1999, a serious debate on the issue of protecting civilians in conflict. Canada took the lead in raising this issue, especially during its presidency of the Security Council in April 2000. Invited to the Security Council meeting that month, MSF reiterated the right and responsibility, as spelled out in international humanitarian law, for impartial aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance.
Such activities should be kept separate and independent from the kind of armed intervention, often labeled humanitarian intervention, carried out by political and military bodies.
When humanitarian action is coopted or subsumed into broader military and political intervention, it may be perceived as interference. This is precisely what made us hostages in the Northern Caucasus, targets in Burundi and undesirable in Belgrade during the Kosovo war. It may even mean killing in the name of humanitarianism.
In Somalia, for example, women, children and humanitarian aid workers became targets of 'friendly fire'. Such attacks increased once American troops arrived.
And after the US bombings started in Afghanistan in October, UN offices in Islamabad were attacked and burned down the very next day. MSF had to pull out its international staff from most of Afghanistan, not because of the bombings, but because of the danger caused by rising 'anti-Western feelings' that did not distinguish between humanitarian agencies and other actors.
This is why MSF criticized the US military's airdropping of so-called 'humanitarian food rations' in Afghanistan as a propaganda operation. Dropping food alongside bombs put humanitarian action in question and danger, and raised doubts among the population as to the real goals and actions of international humanitarian NGOs.
Carrying out our activities in war zones, we encounter enough problems without artificially creating additional ones. Confusion is not acceptable. Unfortunately, the blurring of lines between humanitarian and military intervention has seriously increased these past years, making our work to impartially access and assist populations in need even more difficult.
The report makes an important step towards eliminating confusion by naming what are now often misleadingly called 'humanitarian interventions' as 'military intervention for human protection purposes'. We however must go further. This is why MSF would object to the last recommendation, in para. 4/F of the operational principles of the Synopsis, that calls on intervention forces to have 'maximum possible coordination with humanitarian organizations'.
When working in countries surrounding Kosovo during the NATO offensive against Yugoslavia, MSF refused to work in refugee camps where the armies were involved, and we refused funding from NATO members for our programs in the region. Independent and impartial humanitarian organizations cannot associate themselves with any of the parties, even if the intervention is carried out for 'human protection purposes'.
"Carrying out our activities in war zones, we encounter enough problems without artificially creating additional ones. Confusion is not acceptable. Unfortunately, the blurring of lines between humanitarian and military intervention has seriously increased these past years, making our work to impartially access and assist populations in need even more difficult."