Armed conflicts are not just a national catastrophe with internal consequences, but a crisis that has its impact on the rest of the world. Migration crisis is only one signal of that devastating impact that makes the rest of the world being alert as well as responsive. The humanitarian sector plays a key role that goes further than just “aid assistance”. Thousands of aid workers have been killed and the intensity and complexity of each conflict makes access to people almost impossible, becoming more and more extreme vulnerable communities and vulnerable aid organizations. War in cities, killing of aid workers, use of chemical weapons, attacks to civilians, etc. become the” new normal” strategy of war.
“Extremists” are identified as violent people that move through hysteria and bigotry and maybe there are groups of people that could be considered that, however there are many that are defending their own principles based on democracy. Syria is an example that “rebels” are fighting against a dictatorship and there methods don’t justify its means but definitely it gives sense and coherence to their fight. Although, in a context of no respect to war rules. When there are no rules, there is chaos and the humanitarian sector cannot continue being stuck with the same rules in front of an overwhelming reality. Is for that reason that it needs to be adapted and reshaped accordingly. A change of focus of the Neutrality principle becomes a must. Over time and the growing trend of violation of IHL make us reflect about the meaning of “being Neutral” that it does not suppose to be indifferent and stagnate to this devastating process. An in-depth adaptation is an imperative that goes beyond the idea of delivering aid without a political position, although not ideological. That’s the point of difference: “being political” in current humanitarian chaos is not the same as “being ideologically” part of one side of the conflict. A Mediator position it’s also a political position in which certain rules are above parts of the conflict. That rules represents a philosophical perspective –on human rights, individual freedom, etc.- that demands a strong and severe defense, also from the humanitarian sector.
That is the challenge: getting involved in the conflict without becoming politicized by reshaping and adapting the Neutrality principle. “Not being politicized” doesn’t mean inaction but and active involvement on a process highly politicized. The Neutrality principle shouldn’t suppose avoiding responsibilities but take action thorough a framework of not political judgment, conciliation and strict respect to IHL.
Recent declarations from Peter Maurer about it are as inspiring as wise: “We cannot let ourselves become politicized: neutral humanitarian action is never a bargaining chip”. However, without being attached to old traditional models of humanitarian action in which Neutrality principle works because both sides respect the rules. War in cities and steady attacks towards civilians are showing that the rules of this devastating game are literally killing any possibility for applying IHL
I do not believe that humanitarian action could be performed when some of its basics are violated, as the killing of aid workers. The humanitarian action in itself should be Neutral on the widest sense of it, however not with the same focus and strategy as in the past, as the guarantee framework based on IHL and “code of honor in war” is not respected.
The idea of an “assistance organization” that delivers aid without involvement in any aspect of the conflict is not possible under current circumstances that undermine directly any possibility for delivering aid with minimum standards of safety. Is it so, that Neutrality as a principle of not involvement on the conflict in itself, should be transformed into a new focus that delivers the same but from an active and empowered position.
If being involved with civilian’s feelings and needs is associated with “being politicized”, aid organizations should consider the possibility to enter on a new innovative road that implement Neutrality through a strong process of adaptation within a political process. Printing humanitarian aid work within a framework of resilience.
This “political indifference” from aid organizations is translated on a paralysis that leaves more and more people and IHL on an extreme vulnerable situation.
The world is polarized by an excess of politics, that´s the reason why a 100% Neutral-organization doesn’t exist and if they pretend to perform under a fully implementation of the Neutrality principle it will fail in its mission. We need to move beyond conflicts and for achieving results we cannot isolate them from politics.
Delivering aid is not only one goal of helping the victims, but to keep the focus also on the means and is represented by negotiation and involvement in politics.
The citizens of armed conflicts cannot afford more delays because of a philosophical organizational position that is not getting results. In fact is driven humanitarian aid into paralysis.
Humanitarian sector: get involved without loosing Neutrality…. its possible! Mediation and dialogue with both sides of the conflict is it also the role of aid organizations that boost citizens´ empowerment and a long-term counterweight.
*Thanks President ICRC Peter Maurer for your inspirational quote!
*Adam Martinakis, The Insiders