The Assisting Civilian Populations to Reduce the Burden on Them: Strong Preventive Measures of the Dominant Government – Research Paper Example
Twenty-six years of civil war in Sri Lanka, between the dominant Sinhalese community and the minority Tamil community came to an end on May 18, 2009, when the Sinhalese government forces overcame the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). During this period and in particular the closing stages of the campaign, when the government forces went all out to defeat the LTTE, civilians bore the brunt, leading to many civilian casualties. Humanitarian aid organizations, like Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), have a mission to assist civilian populations to reduce the burden on them through the violence and the usual atrocities on civilian populations in such ethnic strife, but can find themselves restricted in such a role through strong preventive measures of the dominant government and the lack of international concern expressed through the legitimate world bodies. Weissman Fabrice, through the article Sri Lanka: All Out War, attempts to highlight the difficulties faced by international humanitarian organizations in executing their mission roles by painting a picture of the actual experiences of MSF during the final years of the conflict in Sri Lanka.
In the perspective of the author, humanitarian organizations like the MSF play a vital role in reducing the suffering of the civilian population during armed conflicts. Yet, in Sri Lanka, MSF was forced to become a part of the government plan of using humanitarian organizations and the aid provided by them to further their political and military objectives. Furthermore, MSF views that its role in providing humanitarian assistance extends beyond being mere spectators to atrocities on civilian populations in armed conflicts, but in making the international community aware of such atrocities and bringing pressure on the dominant force to avoid such actions in attempting to win the armed conflict. The main argument of the author in the article is that in armed conflicts, when the governments are determined to win the war at any costs, humanitarian aid organizations are forced to bend to the will of the government and military and any humanitarian aid organization if viewed as hostile to the political and military objectives will find its role extremely limited, as experienced by MSF in Sri Lanka. Such actions of humanitarian organizations run against the tenets of humanitarian assistance in armed conflicts (Weissmen, 2009).
The general viewing of humanitarian aid is to provide assistance to the victims in armed conflicts without any discrimination (ICRC, 1998). The author’s viewing of the role of humanitarian organizations extending beyond just humanitarian aid to prevention of atrocities, stems from the need for assistance provided to be without any discrimination. History is replete with instances of governments using humanitarian rationales to mask politically driven agendas in armed conflicts, but this does not allow humanitarian aid organizations to be used as tools in the promotion of these agendas. The United Nations viewing of humanitarian assistance, based on its Charter is that “humanitarian law insists that relief of suffering be the compelling reason for humanitarian action” (United Nations, 1994, p.9). It was in trying to remain within the tenets of humanitarian assistance that MSF faced many dilemmas in Sri Lanka.
MSF believed that it would play a more fulfilling role by being present in the LTTE run civilian areas, which were facing the brunt of bombing and shelling from the government forces and the human shield tactics of the LTTE. MSF was also primarily responsible for highlighting government atrocities in the civilian areas and in the refugee internment camps, through their interviews of the injured civilians. This put MSF at loggerheads on two fronts with the government. The atrocity propaganda of MSF made them suspect in the eyes of the government, which viewed them as LTTE supporters. In addition, allowing MSF into rebel held civilian areas would only cause greater exposure of government atrocities of bombings and shelling of civilians and poor treatment of Tamil refugees. Therefore, the government clamped down on humanitarian activities of MSF, restricting their role in aiding the civilians. The dilemmas faced by MSF pertained to providing humanitarian aid or not being a part of it at all. They had either to bend to the will of the Sri Lankan government in moulding their humanitarian aid to the requirement of the government or end up not doing anything at all. So they compromised. They set up their humanitarian aid initiatives to wherever they were directed to by the government, but extended this whenever the local authorities allowed to and kept tabs on the civilian atrocities through interviews with injured civilians and refugees. In addition, they tried to cajole the government into being more sensitive to the injured and interned civilian needs.
ICRC. 1998, ‘The Impact of Humanitarian Aid on Conflict Development’, [Online] Available at: http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/misc/57jpcj.htm (Accessed January 3, 2012).
United Nations, 1994, ‘’Humanitarian Principles and Operational Dilemmas in War Zones, [Online] Available at: http://iaemeuropa.terapad.com/resources/8959/assets/documents/UN%20DMTP%20-%20Humanitarian%20Principles%20and%20Operational%20Dilemmas%20in%20War.pdf (Accessed January 3, 2012).
Weissmen, F. 2009, ‘Sri Lanka: Amid All-out War’, [Online] Available at: http://www.msf-crash.org/livres/en/book/export/html/502 (Accessed January 3, 2012).