Debating humanitarian interventions

2:42 pm - April 25th 2010

by Conor Foley    

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I am debating Linda Polman, author of War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times at the Frontline club in London on Tuesday 11 May if anyone has energy left-over for political discussion after the election.

I have not read Linda’s book yet, but there is an interview with her here in the Observer conducted by Andrew Anthony.

I am no great fan of Anthony’s work and the political points come over as rather stale and outdated – as if someone has not really thought about the issue much since his days spent picking coffee in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas – but Polman’s prievious work is provocative and interesting.

She famously reported on how eighty Zambian UN Blue Helmets were forced to watch helplessly as thousands of Hutu refugess were murdered by government troops in Rwanda – a report which did much to shake the guilt-ridden complacent indulgency that much of the international community had previously displayed towards its President Paul Kagame.

Lest we forget, one of Tony Blair’s current consultancy positions is working to improve Kagame’s public image.

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Reader comments

Sounds like an interesting debate, and her interview makes interesting reading.

Ever since reading “Shake Hands with the Devil” by Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian Lt. General who was in charge of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda it’s seemed to me that an ounce of prevention in these situations is worth (several million?) pounds of cure.

I don’t think many people realise just how hard the international community (which in the end I suppose means all of us and our representatives) make it for missions like this to succeed because they are under funded, under equipped, not given the right rules of engagement, and hobbled by questions of “realpolitik”.

Linda Polman’s solution may not be an easy one, or easy to sell, but perhaps she has a point?

I’m sorry that I won’t be there as I will be in a certain post-conflict nation on that date. I hope that we get some feed-back.

3. John Meredith

I thought this book looked fascinating, but I have to say she comes over very badly in the interview.

The “humanitarian intervention” claim by aggressor states is open to flagrant abuse absent external and independent sanction.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 claiming this was to protect the German-speaking population of Danzig. By the time the ensuing WW2 ended between 40 and 50 millions had been killed.

Recall these reports in American media about the Iraq invasion:

“CRAWFORD, Texas — Paul O’Neill, President Bush’s Treasury secretary in the first two years of his presidency, says the Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq long before the Sept. 11 attacks and used questionable intelligence to justify the war.”

“WASHINGTON – At least $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for, according to a draft U.S. audit set for release soon.

“The audit by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s own inspector general blasts the CPA for “not providing adequate stewardship” of at least $8.8 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq that was given to Iraqi ministries.

“The audit was first reported on a Web site earlier this month by David Hackworth, a journalist and retired colonel. A U.S. official confirmed that the contents of the leaked audit cited by Hackworth were accurate. . .

“One of the main benefactors of the Iraq funds was the Texas-based firm Halliburton, which was paid more than $1 billion out of those funds to bring in fuel for Iraqi civilians.

“The monitoring board said despite repeated requests it had not been given access to U.S. audits of contracts held by Halliburton, which was once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, and other firms that used the development funds.”

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Debating humanitarian interventions

  2. Jason Lower

    @claralilli Don't know if this interests you or not:

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