Author Archives: Andrea Silkoset

Antonio De Lauri takes over as NCHS Director

The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS)  has been a joint collaboration between CMI, NUPI and PRIO since its establishment in 2012. The leadership and administration of NCHS rotates between the institutes, and after having been led from PRIO since 2012, it is now going to CMI for the next four-year period. 

Antonio De Lauri  (Research Professor at CMI) becomes the NCHS Director in the period 2021-2022 and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (PRIO) will be the NCHS Co-Director in the same period, alongside Stein Sundstøl Eriksen  (NUPI) continuing in his role as Co-Director. Emily Hume (CMI) will take over from Andrea Silkoset (PRIO) as NCHS coordinator.

Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert has been Director of NCHS since 2016, then taking over from Kristin Bergtora Sandvik who led the Centre from its foundation in 2012. The NCHS was in the first period funded through a Research Council of Norway project, “Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice” (2012-2016). New funding was secured for the period 2019-2022 with network funding from the NORGLOBAL program of the RCN, leading to the establishment of the “NCHS: Research Network on Humanitarian Efforts”, led by Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert. Maria continues as project leader for this network in the coming period.

New ERC grant awarded to Antonio De Lauri

NCHS Co-Director Antonio De Lauri has been awarded the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant for his project War and Fun: Reconceptualizing Warfare and Its Experience.

While several of the projects De Lauri is currently working on relate to aspects of humanitarian studies, this project will stengthen our understanding on the deep and long-term effects of war on soldiers and veterans. The project has a duration of five years, and will bring three new post docs and one new PhD student to the project team based at CMI.

You can read more about De Lauri’s new project at CMIs webpages by clicking this link.

Refugee Legal Aid in Humanitarian Operations

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This post first appeared on Maja Janmyr’s blog, and is re-posted here. You may access the original post by clicking this link. Nora Milch Johnsen is a research assistant at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, where she works on the REF-ARAB, BEYOND and ASILE research projects led by Maja Janmyr.

A building with curtains in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Alev Takil via Unsplash

How do humanitarian organisations provide legal aid to refugees in countries that do not have any refugee-specific legislation and where rule of law is largely absent? I spent most of 2020 examining this question closer in my MA thesis focusing on the legal aid program of one international humanitarian organisation in Lebanon. More specifically, I sought to understand how Lebanon’s legal and policy framework on refugees influenced this organisation’s legal aid operations, and which strategies were used to promote and to improve refugee protection in this context. As I will argue in this blog post, the endemic lack of rule of law in Lebanon has discouraged the organisation I studied from outrightly challenging the restrictive refugee policies of the Lebanese government.

Refugee legal aid in the context of a humanitarian operation

The humanitarian response to influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon has been among the largest humanitarian operations globally. The legal aid program I studied is operated by one of the leading humanitarian NGOs in Lebanon and specifically targets refugees and others affected by the Syrian crisis. The program offers information sessions, legal counselling and representation on different predefined legal topics and is also involved in legal research and advocacy.

Legal aid is provided in a context of increasingly restrictive policies with regards to refugees, and a justice system suffering from endemic lack of rule of law. Despite the fact that refugees make up a quarter of its population, Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the country does not have any formal legislation affording any special status to refugees. Ten years into the Syrian crisis, the situation for refugees in Lebanon is becoming ever more precarious. As a result of tightened regulations, it is estimated that only 22 per cent of refugees in Lebanon have legal residency status. Without a valid residency visa, Syrian refugees are considered illegally present in the country and can face criminal sanctions that might lead to arrest, detention, deportation orders or deportation. To avoid interactions with the authorities, refugees are restricting their movement, limiting their access to basic services such as education and health care.

This situation is further aggravated by the fact that Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system – largely based on elite-bargaining and clientelist networks – uneasily interacts with institutionalized responses to refugee protection and principles of rule of law. The presence of refugees is largely governed through elite-bargained decisions, some of which are kept confidential. Political interference with the judiciary is also not uncommon, and judgements challenging the political interests of the Government are not necessarily enforced. As such, the lack of rule of law affects not only the nature of Lebanon’s refugee response, but also the prospect of challenging it through the use of legal mechanisms.

Manoeuvring Lebanon’s refugee policies and justice system

In my thesis, I argue that the lack of rule of law that is endemic to the Lebanese justice system has discouraged the humanitarian legal aid program from outrightly challenging the restrictive refugee policies of the Lebanese government. Rather than engaging in strategic litigation, I argue, the legal aid program pragmatically explores the possibilities for protection within the existing bounds of Lebanon’s legal and policy framework.

A main finding in my work is that the legal aid program I studied is hesitant to engage in strategies that directly challenge the Government’s restrictive refugee policies either in court or through advocacy. As they often owe their positions to political leaders, judges are generally unwilling to challenge the Government’s policy by accepting pro-refugee argumentation. In the few successful cases, the judgements have not necessarily been enforced. Political interference with the justice system seems thus to discourage the use of strategic litigation.

In addition, by exposing individual refugees to the authorities, the legal aid program often considers that directly challenging political interests comes with a risk of harm for the individual concerned. Informed by a rights-based approach to humanitarian assistance, the legal aid program is committed to the ‘do no harm principle’. In this case, this principle seems to prevent the use of more confrontational strategies altogether. The humanitarian organisation’s dependency on the cooperation of the Lebanese government in order to fulfil its functions also makes it vulnerable to any backlash that could be triggered by directly challenging the Governments’ refugee policies.

In this context then, the focus of the legal aid program is less on strategic litigation and more on administrative procedures. As refugees are not afforded any special status under Lebanese law, the legal aid provided by this organisation is focused on assisting refugees in navigating their options within the fragmented and often inconsistently applied legal and policy framework. The activities related to legal residency thus focus on the administrative procedures available to renew or regularize residency at the General Directorate of General Security (GSO), either based on a UNHCR registration certificate or a ‘pledge of responsibility’ by a Lebanese national. For example, even seemingly straightforward administrative procedures for legal residency and civil registration require legal representation due to burdensome document requirements and the Government’s inconsistent application of these. And as I specifically discuss in my thesis, the legal aid program seeks to improve refugees’ access to civil documentation by engaging with the relatively independent institutions of the religious courts and the elected neighbourhood leaders, the Mukhtars.

Possibilities for protection and potential for harm

Providing legal aid within a legal and policy framework that is inherently hostile to refugees is not a straightforward task. In my thesis, I discuss the ways in which the legal aid program’s politically pragmatic approach, in its quest for practical solutions, in some cases may result in increased protection in some respects, but heightened protection risks in other.

In 2015, on the request of the Lebanese government, UNHCR suspended its registration activities and no longer provides ‘new’ refugees with a UNHCR certificate. This means that currently, the only way to secure legal residency for those unable to obtain this certificate is to find a Lebanese national willing to ‘pledge responsibility’ for their stay.

Residency based on a ‘pledge of responsibility’ is not identical to the regions’ infamous kafala system but it mirrors the same exploitative dynamic, as the migrant’s residency is tied to the contractual relationship with the employer sponsoring the residency. In response to reports of migrant workers suffering horrific abuse under the kafala system, numerous rights groups have called for the dismantling of this system altogether, although not specifically with regards to the ‘pledge of responsibility’ available for Syrian refugees.

Because it is currently the only option of legal residency for a large number of Syrian refugees, the legal aid program’s assistance in obtaining residency based on a ‘pledge of responsibility’ is indeed a pragmatic solution. This approach nevertheless raises questions about the role of humanitarian organisations in assisting refugees to enter into a contractual relationship which, on the one hand, may protect them from the severe consequences of illegal stay, but, on the other, might expose them to exploitation in the hands of potentially ill-meaning sponsors. Choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, as the saying goes, is often a fundamentally difficult question – both legally and morally.

My study of the legal aid operations of this one humanitarian organisation in Lebanon sheds light on the dilemmas humanitarian legal aid providers are confronted with when they operate in contexts similar to that of Lebanon, where rule of law is largely absent, and where the legal framework does not provide for the protection of refugees. More than anything else, however, my study raises more difficult questions than it answers: In the pursuit of refugee protection, to what extent can – and should – humanitarian organisations engage in principled and sometimes outrightly confrontational strategies that nonetheless may backlash?  And to what extent should these strategies rather be pragmatic? In Lebanon, the legal aid program I studied balances these dilemmas by manoeuvring the protection possibilities within the existing bounds of the legal and policy framework, while at the same time steering clear of direct confrontations with the Lebanese government.

The Coldest Cold Chain: Chilling Effects of Covid-19 Vaccines

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This post first appeared on the International Health Policies (IHP) blog, and is re-posted here. You may access the original post by clicking this link.

Woman receiving an influenza vaccination at the Maternal and Child Hospital in Vientiane, Laos. Photo: CDC via Unsplash

After various stretches of lockdowns and the related dire political, social, and economic consequences, the world has welcomed the news that several companies – including ModernaAstraZeneca and Pfizer – are approaching an effective vaccine for Covid-19. Approximately 200 more are in the pipeline, of which 48 in clinical and 164 in pre-clinical stages of development. While there is thus hope on the horizon, for low and lower-middle income countries the roll-out of the vaccine will be enormously expensive, whatever option is eventually selected. As such, the life-saving vaccine may bring ramifications for future prioritization within domestic health budgets as well as allocations in foreign aid budgets.

In terms of ethics considerations, much of the debate so far has either focused on (1) criticizing high-income countries scrambling to secure vaccines for their citizens for lacking in solidarity and for inadequate support of equitable distribution schemes (COVAX) – or (2) on prioritization of population groups (see herehere and here). Contributing to the emergent analysis of the ethics of Covid-19 vaccination schemes while things are still ‘up in the air’ – the coordinated ‘mammoth operation’ led by UNICEF is in the midst of a vaccine tender process (running 6 weeks from November 12) – in this commentary, we suggest that attention must also be paid to the complex ethics challenges arising from the logistical challenges of distributing specific vaccines.

Taking the Pfizer vaccine, with a storage requirement of -70˚C (-94 F) or below, as our case example, we identify a preliminary list of challenges relating to the feasibility and societal impact of a successful roll-out of an ultra-cold chain dependent vaccine. The cost and the probability of logistics failure is extremely high – and even if a program can be successfully implemented, serious ethical issues with chilling effects on global health outcomes will likely arise. We also suggest that laying out some of the issues related to the Pfizer vaccine, if it were to be rolled out globally, can shed some light on medium and long-term ethics challenges for other vaccines as well, even if some probably present fewer challenges in this regard.

Feasibility

With respect to feasibility, ultra-cold chains require special cooling systems in facilities and during transportation. The tradeoffs involved in successful implementation must be carefully considered. Technical challenges greatly increasing risk include time constraints, freezing units, package sizes, and kitting:

  • The vaccine puts significant constraints on time: The proposed active plus passive cooling in containers will enable keeping vaccines in the required temperature range for 72 hours, after which the combination of power cells (active cooling) and dry ice (passive cooling) deteriorates. Such a short delivery time calls for air transportation; yet carrying dry ice on airplanes, especially passenger planes, is regulated as it consumes oxygen. The same solution has been used for ultra-cold chains before (e.g., STRIVE Ebola vaccine), but the scale of any Covid-19 vaccination programme will be constrained by the global availability of such containers, and the regulations constraining their use.
  • The unaffordability of freezing units is a possible spoiler: The estimated time that vaccines will stay usable after opening a package is 24 hours only. At facilities, including storage, customs, cross-docking, materials handling, and vaccination centers, freezing units will be required to store and appropriately handle the vaccines. In a bidding war, rural, small, and underfunded hospitals will lose out.
  • Proposed package sizes are for 5,000 vs 1,000 units. While optimal for transportation, these sizes do not consider usage patterns: the administration of 1,000 vaccines within 24 hours requires huge distribution facilities and massive manpower. Throwing away unused vaccines comes at an exuberant cost. Locations with lower population density may not be able to use such package sizes and de facto be excluded from the distribution of vaccines.
  • Vaccination programs have a host of material needs: syringes, gloves, PPE, tents for locations etc. Kitting will be of the essence; yet the other parts of these health kits will differ in their temperature control requirements. Inter-agency health kits have in the past been developed for vaccination programmes as well as emergencies, and include from cholera kits to entire field hospitals as a kit. They are composed in a way that regardless of the administering unit, any humanitarian organisation or health centre would know what to find in which box, and which items would need special processes (such as temperature control) in handling and storage. In the case of COVAX, UNICEF has started to procure and stock up on e.g. syringes and gloves, as to say, items that will for sure be needed to be able to administer vaccines.

Societal impact

In terms of societal impact, the following chilling effects of getting an effective vaccine program rolled out urgently need ethical consideration:

  • The Covid-19 response focuses on an increasingly narrow range of options for combatting the pandemic. We are now at a point where the solution – in the form of a vaccine (any of the vaccines) – is steering problem framing. However, even if cold chains can successfully be kept intact in hard-to-reach areas, and the vaccine can be distributed successfully, a vaccine program does not solve the structural problems in public health infrastructure that are greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Food shortages, lack of access to clean water and basic hygiene, domestic violence and drop-outs will not be magically cured through a vaccine.
  • While the Covax Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) scheme will likely be a useful vehicle to secure health outcomes, it should be noted that GAVI explicitly mentions co-payments: “it is likely that the 92 ODA-eligible countries accessing vaccines through the AMC may also be required to share some of the costs of COVID-19 vaccines and delivery, up to US$ 1.60 – US$ 2 per dose – a mirror of the amount paid upfront by self-financing participants.” Taken together, the knock-on effects of the cost of vaccines and ultra-cold chains constrain future decisions about health budget allocations. Already overwhelmed health budgets in poorer regions will be additionally burdened by high-income countries demanding that vaccine coverage is prioritized to combat Covid-19 once and for all. In other words, the countries with the youngest populations and the highest child mortality will be asked to invest their health budgets to rescue the aging West.
  • Whichever vaccine or set of vaccines are procured for distribution through global mechanisms, this decision will likely determine pathways for foreign aid. For example, once effective ultra-cold chains have been financed and established, there is a likelihood that allocations for vaccines will tie up a significant portion of donor budgets for the short-to-medium time. We argue that the funding of vaccine initiatives –in particular the financing of the ACT-Accelerator through ODA budgets– needs to be subjected to careful ethics impact assessments.

In conclusion, while a vaccine requiring an ultra-cold chain may be the most daunting one logistically, all options come with their own requirements on temperature ranges, but also with differences in vaccine efficacy, and regimes to administer. Technically, if we can manage the Pfizer one, the other ones should follow. Regardless, the ethics of every single vaccine candidate, including its likely logistics pathways and distributive impact on public health, needs to be carefully mapped out.

WFP Logistics – Delivering on the promise (WFP Nobel Series, 6)

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The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP) for “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and food insecurity and food aid are much-discussed topics in humanitarian studies. In this blog series, we examine the implications of the award and critically engage in debates on food (in)security, food aid, innovation and technology and the WFP as a humanitarian actor. This is the sixth post in the series. Gyöngyi Kovács is Erkko Professor in Humanitarian Logistics at the HUMLOG Institute, Hanken School of Economics.

Mozambique, Goonda, 24 March 2019 WFP unloading food distributions. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

Congratulations to the World Food Programme for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020! Apart from the fundamental yet difficult relationship between hunger and peace, which has been problematised earlier, it is perhaps time to reflect just how WFP sees to it that food is being available, and/or delivered to people who need it.

For a long time already, WFP logistics has had the mantra of “moving the world”. Their logistics and supply chain team is massive, not only in terms of numbers of vehicles and warehouses, but also when it comes to where these are located. Logistically speaking, food is bulky. In other words, it requires volume, capacity, and the related equipment. Given the volumes WFP needs to be able to move anywhere in the world, it is less surprising that they’ve built up their logistics capabilities, and have therefore also become the lead of the Logistics Cluster.

The “Log Cluster”, as it is often referred to, has an important co-ordination role to play if and when large volumes need to be delivered, and many organisations are involved. This is the case in larger sudden-onset disasters, but also after consecutive droughts, when regions and countries have run out of food altogether. The Log Cluster has though also come a long way in co-ordinating other global efforts in logistics and supply chain management, harmonising templates, contributing to global preparedness, writing a logistics operational guide (the “LOG”) to assist other organisations in their logistical efforts, assessing the logistics capacities of various countries etc. The list of initiatives is endless.

But what’s the link between food supply chains and peace? Food has been used as a weapon of war, as discussed earlier in this series. Delivering food to people who have been deprived of it, and negotiating humanitarian convoys to get secure passage is an important aspect. It is so important that “negotiation skills with warlords” is frequently noted as an eligibility criterion on job ads for humanitarian logisticians (Kovács and Tatham, 2010). Furthermore, the way the supply chain is configured can reinstate interdependencies between conflicting parties. Creating, or reinstating interdependencies of traders and industries across conflict lines has been used as a peacebuilding mechanism already in the Balkans in the 1990s (Gibbs, 2009). In essence, the way (food) supply chains are designed can indeed contribute or undermine local capacities, but also contribute to conflicts or conversely, to peacebuilding.

Yet come to this, do we always need to move food, or any other in-kind goods for that matter? Food is a basic need, yes, but importing food can also undermine the local industry and economy. WFP engages in all sorts of innovation projects, from trying out new types of vehicles (amphibious vehicles, drones, trucks delivered by helicopters – some of which may be problematic in conflict zones to begin with, see “The good drone”), to fortifying local foods. Perhaps the most important innovation is though the combination of cash-based initiatives (CBI) with making food available through bringing (local) retailers closer, ensuring the availability as well as affordability of food. The main selling proposition for CBI is that recipients can make their own decisions what they prioritise, and vote with their feet, or rather, their money. This is most certainly a very welcome development. From a supply chain perspective, they require a complete rethink, however (Heaslip et al., 2018). WFP and many other organisations have full-heartedly embraced CBI, with increasing percentages of their “deliveries” being ones in cash. The next question will though be, how to ensure that food is in the markets also during the pandemic. At the end of the day, if everything else fails, humanitarian organisations will still need to deliver.

References

Gibbs DN, 2009. First do no harm: Humanitarian intervention and the destruction of Yugoslavia. Vanderbilt University Press.

Heaslip G, Kovács G & Haavisto I, 2018. Innovations in humanitarian supply chains: the case of cash transfer programmes, Production Planning and Control, Vol.29 No.14, pp.1175-1190, doi: 10.1080/09537287.2018.1542172

Kovács G & Tatham P, 2010. What is special about a humanitarian logistician? A survey of logistic skills and performance. Supply Chain Forum: An International Journal, Vol.11 No.3, pp 32-41, doi: 10.1080/16258312.2010.11517238

AidAccount project to set up Humanitarian Lab

The AidAccount project, which studies accountability in civic and professional humanitarian aid, has officially started with a virtual 3-day kick-off meeting that involved participants in Norway, the UK, Uganda, Somaliland and Sri Lanka. During the kick-off, NCHS director Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert joined the team to inform about NCHS and opportunities for synergies with the project.

Besides discussing the practical and academic details of the project – through a presentation of a literature review and working group discussions on the three case studies – the AidAccount team spent a day discussing the set up of its Humanitarian Lab. The AidAccount Humanitarian Lab aims to support knowledge-based policy decisions and cultivate relationships between researchers, humanitarians, policy makers, donors and aid recipients that will lead to sustained interactions and collaborative learning. Through co-creating knowledge approaches and interactions with key stakeholders, the lab explores new ways to promote research relevance.

The lab functions as a methodological tool as well as a tool for dissemination and impact. It was set up to provide a regular meeting space in key locations for the study (including Oslo, Kampala in Uganda, Burao in Somaliland, and Jaffna in Sri Lanka) and the team will also experiment with creating a virtual space between differently located stakeholders. The official start-up of the lab is in summer 2021, but we encourage those interested in learning more or taking part, to contact project leader: Cindy Horst.

Close your eyes and picture “a humanitarian”. What do you see?

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The imperial past and the humanitarian present

This post first appeared on the CMI webpages, and is re-posted here. You may access the original post by clicking this link. Salla Turunen is a Doctoral Researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI).

Yemen, Hajjah, Abs, Khudaish Camp, 13 June 2019. Photo: WFP/Mohammed Awadh

In the spring of 2017, a shocking piece of news popped on my morning news screen – two UN staff members, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, a Swede and an American, had been killed in the central province of Kasai of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were kidnapped along with three Congolese drivers and an interpreter, and two weeks later, Catalán’s and Sharp’s bodies were found. Catalán had been decapitated. 

Out of the horrific news I read daily, this one lived on both in the public eye and within my mind. But why this news in particular? Was it because I was preparing to embark on my first field office location as a UN staff member that spring? Or was it because Catalán was a Swede and I am a Finn, hence this event hit close to home? The broader issue here, obviously, is what enabled something to touch me on a personal level, while other manifestations of violence or misery remains ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Catalán’s and Sharp’s dreadful ends raised waves of media attention.[1] Less is known internationally what happened to their three Congolese drivers and interpreter. Also, few would be able to connect the place and time of Catalán and Sharp’s disappearances with the decapitation of more than 40 Congolese police officers.[2] Further, perhaps even fewer could point out the decades of ongoing atrocious violence and mass graves in the region, tracing back to Rwandan genocide and beyond.

UN Sepical Envoy to the Great Lake Region, Mary Robinson’s convoy make a late trip back to Goma after she met with DRC president, Joseph Kabila in Rutshuru, the 29th of Novembre 2013 © Sylvain Liechti

Attacks against aid workers is increasing alongside the politization of their participation and motives. The most recent Aid Worker Security Report from 2019 states that the reporting year of 2018 was the second worst year on record for aid worker security. In 2018 alone 405 aid workers were affected by major violence: 131 were killed, 144 wounded and 130 kidnapped.[1] Contradictory to the media spotlight, the majority of the victims of these attacks were national staff members of the UN organizations and non-governmental organizations and received little international attention.[2] The Aid Worker Security Report continues:

“National staff, always the majority of victims in absolute numbers, now also experience increased attack rates and fatality rates per capita relative to international staff, reflecting increased localisation of aid in high-risk areas.”[3]

Why is it then fairly easy for me to recall and write about an event affecting international staff members over three years ago in contrast to something more recent with national staff members?

The geographical origins and skin colors of stereotypical humanitarians is one manifestation of its histories. As a researcher in the field of humanitarianism, I see how histories of race, ethnicity, colonialism, imperialism and Global South-Global North relations are ever-present and cross-cutting. These themes are woven into the fabric of what we understand as humanitarianism, wherein humanitarianism does not exist separately from the non-humanitarian world and, rather, is a product of it.

In a traditional understanding,[1] humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, neutrality and impartiality direct towards helping those whose human dignity is being threatened and violated. But, importantly, humanitarian misfortune – and particularly the severity of it – does not emerge from a vacuum. Even in the case of natural disasters, a high-income country is better equipped in rapid and effective response compared to a failing state. It is here where these histories and trajectories play a role, both on the sides of people in humanitarian need and the humanitarians themselves.

In shedding light on the details of ‘how’ these historical roles and trajectories manifest, I turn to Hannah Arendt. As an individual with personal experiences of antisemitism under Nazi Germany and one of the twentieth century’s foremost political philosophers, she is a master in analysis of origins of human cruelty and inequality.[2] Arendt’s ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ refers to the overlap of racism and imperialism which is elemental in understanding the history of Western humanitarianism and further, the humanitarian world of today.[3]

On the one hand, Arendt considers racism as the totalizing concept and main driver behind systematic and structural inequality and deprivation. It originates from historical developments of race-thinking which captured the fatal conceptualization of race. For Arendt, the European ideology of race signified the worst of Western civilization with the most devastating consequences: “race is, politically speaking, not the beginning of humanity but its end, not the origin of peoples but their decay, not the natural birth of man but his unnatural death”.[4]

On the other hand, imperialism, as understood in an Arendtian sense, was a child of racism and colonialism originating in the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and beginning in the 1880s. Imperialism seeks to expand political powers overseas by interference par excellence in other governance regimes and ways of living. Arendt capsulizes imperialist attempt as dividing “mankind into master races and slave races, into higher and lower breeds, into colored peoples and white men”.[5]

In the on-going era of ‘black lives matter’, a prominent question is why white lives matter already?

The historical trajectory of racism and imperialism provides an understanding to this question, although without making the current situation any more just. One key configuration is that race has married class and its unequal power networks since the beginning. According to Arendt, race-thinking was integrated with the class societies of the nation-state building West of the 18th century. Based on an imperialist political philosophy which incorporated businessmen into politicians[6], the law of the state illustrated not a “question of right or wrong, but only absolute obedience, the blind conformism of bourgeois society”.[7] Whereas race substituted nation as the principle body politic, bureaucracy was the principle for foreign domination,[8] the glue holding overseas expansionism together.

Distribution of famine relief in the Madras Presidency. From the Illustrated London News (May 26,1877) via Wikimedia Commons

Connections can be drawn between the racial and imperial past and the humanitarian present, and also to the events of DRC in 2017 with the dramatic loss of aid workers. Humanitarianism is a product of its surrounding world and its roots lay in the same soil. A known researcher in humanitarianism, Michael Barnett, goes as far as to label the period of 1800–1945 as “the age of imperial humanitarianism”, from which the subsequent ages of humanitarianism followed.[9] The stereotype of a white humanitarian has been around long enough for our minds to associate seamlessly with it:

If you close your eyes and picture “a humanitarian”, what do you see?

These connections continue further. On a conceptual level, imperialism was, and political expansionism is, often paved with alleged humanitarian intent. Further, both humanitarian intervention and imperialism are located in the spectrum of international interventionism. On a practical level, and borrowing Arendt’s words, interventionism is primed with Western riches, not only monetarily, but also “in education, technical know-how, and general competence” (often applicable among humanitarians), which then also “has plagued international relations ever since the beginning of genuine world politics”.[10] An illustrative example is that consequentially to the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and many other related developments, the following humanitarian interventions found geopolitical ground in Africa and many of the biggest humanitarian aid receivers can still be found on the continent today. This dance between the imperial past and the humanitarian present can, of course, be found also in other places.

When racism and imperialism combined, human lives got different price tags based on geographical origins and skin color. While this was also true under colonialism, imperial ideology continues to travel by ideas. Talal Asad captures one of these fatal ideas:

“the death of poor people in the world does not matter as much as the death of people in affluent societies. In saying this and acting on this belief, the patterns of living and dying in the world come to be affected by it.”[11]

Prior their deaths, the patterns of Catalán’s and Sharp’s living varied from that of their Congolese drivers and interpreters. After all, they were the “UN experts” on their mission.[12] Is it, then, only following the unjust logic that difference also marked the pattern of their deaths?

The events of DRC are illustrative in the humanitarian context, particularly of the attention being paid to national and international humanitarian workers. Transcending from imperialism, the idea of human worth becomes a subjective estimate based on racial origins in which Western whiteness is the social norm.[13] This, of course, does not equate to whiteness becoming a safe haven for peace and prosperity. Whiteness can transcend further into specificities, divided by religious differences, nationalities and minority-majority politics. Turning to the example of Nazi Germany, certain categories of whiteness were prioritized over others.

But to conclude where I started, in Congo. In a humanitarian sense, what we pay attention to and what resonates with us on a personal level is a complex myriad of conscious and unconscious ideas of human worth. Were Catalán’s and Sharp’s lives worth more than that of their driver and interpreter companions? If measured in terms of public outcry, the answer seems to be yes. If measured in terms of grief caused by a loss of a family member, my estimate would be to say no. Perhaps it is trivial to even talk about measurements on a such horrific occasion. Rather, and on a personal note, why did I get shaken by the decapitation of one white woman, but miss the news of decapitation of over 40 Congolese police officers, when the context was the same? My best bet is to turn to the racial and imperial history from which our present conceptualizations and understanding of the world stems, and start to unlearn from there.

[1] See, for example, the statement by the United Nations Secretary-General at https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2017-03-28/statement-secretary-general-death-two-members-group-experts, the Human Rights Watch at https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/28/dr-congo-bodies-two-un-experts-found, the New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/africa/congo-zaida-catalan-michael-j-sharp-united-nations-democratic-republic-of-congo.html, Foreign Policy at https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/27/congolese-cover-up-un-congo-murder-zaida-catalan-michael-sharp/ and the Amnesty International at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/11/drc-un-must-investigate-disturbing-cover-up-claims-over-murders-of-experts/.

[2] See the Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/26/congolese-militia-decapitates-more-than-40-policemen-as-violence-grows.

[3] Humanitarian Outcomes, Aid Worker Security Report 2019, available at https://www.humanitarianoutcomes.org/sites/default/files/publications/awsr_2019_0.pdf

[4] Foreword by Egeland, J. in Weiss, T. G., & Barnett, M. (2013). Humanitarianism contested: Where angels fear to tread. Routledge.

[5] Humanitarian Outcomes, Aid Worker Security Report 2019, p. 2.

[6] With this concept I refer to the mode of humanitarianism represented by its classical actors, such as the IFRC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who defend the ethical terms and neutrality of their practice. Comparatively, new forms of humanitarianism can be seen strictly instrumental toward desired outcomes, such as introducing democracy and overthrowing oppressive groups, see for example Mascarenhas, M. (2017). New humanitarianism and the crisis of charity: Good intentions on the road to help: Indiana University Press.

[7] In the field of humanitarian studies, I am not, by any means, the first or the last to affiliate to Arendt. Some contemporary examples include Owens, P. “Hannah Arendt, Violence, and the Inescapable Fact of Humanity”, in Anthony F. Lang Jr and Williams, J. (eds). Hannah Arendt and International Relations: Readings Across the Lines, Palgrave, London, 2005; Young, I. M. “Power, Violence, and Legitimacy: A Reading of Hannah Arendt in an Age of Police Brutality and Humanitarian Intervention”, in Minow, M. (ed.) Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair, (2002): 260-287, and Weizman, E. The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. Verso Books, 2011.

[8] Arendt herself addresses this issue only on rare occasions, rather, numerous similar references to human rights can be found in the publication.

[9] Arendt, H. (2004). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Schocken, p. 209.

[10] Ibid, p. 202.

[11] Ibid, p. 185.

[12] Ibid, p. 189.

[13] Ibid, p. 242.

[14] Barnett, M. (2011). Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[15] Arendt, H. (2004). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Schocken, p. 163.

[16] Asad, T. (2007). On Suicide bombing. New York: Columbia University Press.

[17] See for example Human Rights Watch, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/03/28/dr-congo-bodies-two-un-experts-found.

[18] I claim that here an intersectional connection to gender can be found; similar to male gender in the spectrum of genders, whiteness in the spectrum of races is “not an identity, not a particularizing quality, because it is everything”. Haywood, C. and Mac an Ghaill, M. 2003. Men and masculinities: Theory, research and social practice. Buckingham: Open University Press, p. 103.

Vacancy: Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies Coordinator

We are looking for a Coordinator for the NCHS in a 50% position from 1 February 2021 – 31 December 2022. The position will be based at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen, Norway. The application deadline is 27 November 2020.

NCHS forms a platform for exchange among researchers and establishes stronger and more tailored mechanisms for mutual exchanges with policy makers and practitioners, as well as the broader public, thus improving the quality of research and practice in the humanitarian sector. Specifically, the NCHS runs a network connecting relevant ongoing research on humanitarian efforts, in Norway and internationally.

For more information and details on how to apply, follow this link.

Tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Help with the day-to-day running of the centre activities
  • Serve as the contact person of the NCHS network
  • Manage the NCHS’ webpage, blog, mailing list, Facebook and Twitter accounts
  • Plan and organize conferences, workshops, seminars, and network meetings
  • Represent the NCHS at external meetings and take notes from such meetings
  • Participate in meetings and activities of NCHS
  • Develop connections with relevant stakeholders (e.g. MFA, humanitarian organizations, etc.)
  • Perform other tasks as agreed with the NCHS Director

We are looking for a candidate with the following qualifications:

  • A Bachelor or a Master degree in the social sciences or humanities, or other relevant fields, preferably on a topic relevant to the NCHS
  • Some relevant work experiences
  • ICT skills
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills
  • Ability to work independently, as well as being a team player
  • Fluency in English. Good knowledge of Norwegian or another Scandinavian language is preferred
  • Excellent writing skills

Afghanistan Week 2020: Digital events 16-19 November

What goes on behind closed doors in Doha, where representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government gather to negotiate the end of more than 40 years of war? Will Afghanistan’s powerful warlords support, sabotage or co-opt a negotiated settlement? How might the Taliban seek to Islamicize Afghanistan’s constitution and legal framework, and what would be the consequences for women and human rights? How much space is left for free speech and political activism in Afghanistan? And can any peace deal be sustainable without broader involvement of the Afghan population?

These are amongst the themes that will be explored during the 2020 Afghanistan Week, which takes place between the 16th and 20th of November.

The Afghanistan Week is a bi-annual event where politicians, journalists, academics, and activists from Afghanistan, Norway and beyond come together to address key issues facing the country, as well as to stimulate debate and understanding about Afghanistan in Norway. This year, the Afghanistan Week will be in a digital format and thus accessible to a global audience.

The Week is organized by the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC), the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue (NCPD), with support from Norad, Fritt Ord and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS).

For more information about the program, go to the homepage of the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, and press the attending buttons on their Facebook page.

The World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize. Does food aid boost peace? (WFP Nobel Series, 5)

Written by

This text first appeared in the Washington Post, and is re-posted here. Ida Rudolfsen is a Doctoral Researcher at PRIO, and Halvard Buhaug is a Senior Researcher at PRIOThe 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP) for “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and food insecurity and food aid are much-discussed topics in humanitarian studies. In this blog series, we examine the implications of the award and critically engage in debates on food (in)security, food aid, innovation and technology and the WFP as a humanitarian actor. This is the fifth post in the series.

Photo: heb@Wikimedia Commons

The Norwegian Nobel Committee named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, recognizing the World Food Program (WFP) for “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

With the World Health Organization under pressure and countries such as the United States emphasizing isolationism over international collaboration, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is a push for “international solidarity and multilateral cooperation,” the head of the Norwegian committee said. It is not surprising, therefore, that last week’s announcement was met with near-universal praise, with commentators describing the award as “highly deserved” and “badly needed.”

But is there a direct relationship between combating hunger and building peace? Our research helps explain why these linkages are so complicated.

Global hunger is on the rise

After a steady decline in the prevalence of global undernourishment, the trend has deteriorated in recent years. The covid-19 pandemic is making things worse. WFP estimates that without international assistance, the number of acutely food-insecure people in high-risk countries may nearly double (from 149 million to 270 million) before the end of the year.

Prevalence of undernourishment in 2018. Red dots indicate locations of armed conflicts from 2015 to 2019. Countries in gray lack reliable nourishment information. (Data from World Bank. Map courtesy of Andreas Foro Tollefsen/PRIO)

From conflict to food insecurity …

The Nobel committee’s announcement describes the link between hunger and armed conflict as a “vicious circle,” where conflict can cause food insecurity and food insecurity may trigger violence.

The first part of this link is clear — almost all of today’s major food crises are in countries experiencing endemic conflict and violence. The WFP spends over 80 percent of its operational budget on humanitarian operations in conflict zones. In September, WFP Executive Director David Beasley wrote, “we can’t end hunger unless we put an end to conflict.”

Experts sometimes describe war as development in reverse. Wars often trigger displacement of agricultural livelihoods, or can lead to armed groups looting or destroying crops. And wars can set back progress toward food security for decades.

Add in a global pandemic and extreme weather events and it’s easy to see why the United Nations is now warning of the potential for famines of “biblical proportions.”

… And food insecurity to conflict

But the link from hunger to conflict is less obvious. True, persistent or increasing levels of food insecurity can produce widespread grievances that can motivate people to form groups and engage in violent behavior. Likewise, there is a robust statistical relationship between increasing food prices and social unrest.

These insights reveal less about the role of food insecurity or hunger specifically, as opposed to economic hardships more generally. Widespread hunger and mass starvation are outcomes of political failures that simultaneously produce a host of social ills — underdevelopment, inequality, exclusion — that increase conflict risk. Assessing the independent role of hunger in causing such events is not easy.

People at the brink of starvation are rarely found fighting at the battle front and social movements protesting against high food prices usually originate among members of the relatively better-off urban middle class. “Food riots” usually concern broader and more complex societal challenges than the cost of bread, similarly to collective responses to peaks in the price of other basic commodities like electricity and fuel.

Food aid can have unwanted effects

Even if hunger rarely causes violent conflict, can humanitarian efforts to strengthen food security increase the likelihood of peace? Aid provided by WFP and other humanitarian efforts can be crucial in alleviating acute food crises. But aid delivery isn’t always effective, and food doesn’t always reach those for whom it is intended. Research shows that those trapped in high-intensity conflict areas receive less assistance than those less exposed to the violence.

Why? Often it’s because ongoing armed conflict makes areas of acute malnutrition inaccessible, which means that humanitarian organizations may have to rely on local armed groups for aid delivery. In Yemen, for example, WFP had to make agreements with local militias in an effort to get food to vulnerable populations, all while worrying that donations could be captured and distributed to the warring parties instead of those most in need.

A related concern is the potential effect of humanitarian assistance on conflict dynamics. An inflow of food and other lootable commodities can attract armed groups. These armed groups may want to secure access to valuable resources, to use food as a weapon in war or as tactical behavior to use as leverage in bargaining. Food relief organizations face a dilemma: They must assist those hardest hit by hunger, but must also be aware of the significant risk that corruption — or violent seizure of food aid — may inadvertently contribute to aggravating or prolonging the conflict.

An influx of food aid to vulnerable areas can also undermine local markets. When cheap or free food is brought in from outside, local farmers risk losing their income. For this reason, WFP has shifted toward a food assistance approach, giving recipients cash directly instead of food aid. This development is likely to stabilize communities’ food production capacity without disrupting local markets.

Of course, food aid doesn’t solve everything. Violent conflict and food insecurity are products of ineffective and discriminatory governments. Achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030 is impossible without ending armed conflict and strengthening political institutions conducive to peaceful political rule.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is important because it sheds light on one of humanity’s greatest challenges, one that cannot be tackled without the international community’s coordinated efforts. Nonetheless, it’s not an award free from controversies or politics; provision of food aid will not cure violence and instability, and won’t replace conventional peacebuilding efforts. In some cases, food aid may even unintentionally prolong the suffering for those most affected by armed conflict.