MSF Speaking Out

Somalia 1991-1993: Civil War, Famine Alert and a UN “Military-Humanitarian” Intervention

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Dilemmas in Somalia: Civil War, Famine Alert and a UN “Military-Humanitarian”

The ‘Somalia 1991-1993: Civil War, Famine Alert and a UN “Military-Humanitarian” Intervention‘ case study is describing the difficulties and dilemmas met by MSF during the first years that it was committed to helping the Somali people, after the civil war started in 1991. 

Due to rising insecurity in the region, MSF started employing and paying armed guards. This insecurity gave rise to an intervention by the UN's armed forces aiming to protect aid convoys and humanitarian workers from looters, however the intervention was tarnished by a series of incidents and excessive demonstrations of violence committed by the international 'peacekeeping' troops stationed around Somalia. 

Facing a host of questions and dilemmas:

  • Should MSF employ armed guards at the risk of adding to the climate of violence?
  • As the quasi-only source of information in the field, how far could MSF go in releasing information without favouring one party to the conflict or another?
  • How to draw attention on the famine in Somalia, when all cameras were focused on the Gulf War?
  • What position should MSF take about an armed intervention aiming to protect humanitarian aid convoys, with widespread support of the population, but raising MSF’s fears that it would worsen the insecurity?
  • How should MSF react to the excesses and abuses of this 'humanitarian' intervention?

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Additional materials

MAP MSF Programmes set up between January 1991 and November 1993
MSF Programmes set up between January 1991 and November 1993
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