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Pamela Murphy investigates the role of the UN and other non-profit organizations on intervention, specifically regarding occurrences of genocide and the lack of humanitarian aid.
Like many others I am sure, I have always looked up to non-for-profit organizations that have strived to ‘help make the world a better place’. Growing up, I was in awe of those who would travel hundreds of kilometers away from their hometowns to the middle of Sub-Saharan Africa to help those less fortunate than myself. However, after delving deeper into the work of the United Nations (UN), I realized I was somewhat naïve to only look at the glorified Western perspective of non-for-profit organizations. More often than not, when intervention surfaces it is out of misplaced privilege or personal gain, rather than legitimate desire to provide humanitarian relief.
It is in these positions where mistreatment of others and a belittling viewpoint of those in need commonly occurs. In this article, I want to delve into various instances where non-for-profit organizations, big or small, turned a blind eye to those they so publicly claim to be protecting.
Genocide can be defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion or race,” and has occurred in all nations in the past and present. The UN has continually failed to identify or condemn genocidal regimes and their failure still continues to this day. Since the UN first acknowledged and defined genocide in 1948, I want you to think about the number of mass killings you know of. From Indonesia in 1965, Bangladesh in 1971, Darfur in 2003, there have been millions of deaths under the umbrella of genocide, however the UN only acknowledges three specific regimes of genocide; Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia. Without the clear recognition of genocide, how are the UN meant to act and cause change?
One of the first major instances where humanitarian organisations blatantly failed to acknowledge genocide was during the Rwandan Civil War. In 1994, over 800,000 local Rwandans were slaughtered and over 2 million were displaced during a civil war. Ethnic tensions rapidly turned into brutality and while leaders of the UN were warned about the atrocities that were about to occur, they were decidedly absent from intervention. Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire was the force commander of the UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) at the time and sent various warnings of the high genocide probabilities. Turning a blind eye to the information, the UN did not interfere nor send out extra troops for back up. The UN, in this instance, did not provide any humanitarian aid or assistance that was required, thus failing in their role as the ‘preventative peacekeeping organization’ of the world. This has been confirmed by the UN with “the international community failed” being stated on their website. Following the atrocities, the UN finally declared the killings as genocide, however, there is no bandaid big enough to cover the 800,000 deaths the NGO had on their hands.
Moreover, in late 2018, the US House of Representatives recognised the 2016 crimes against the Rohingya in Myanmar as genocide, however despite the recognition there was no action taken by the UN to assist the rebuilding of lives after the displacement of over 670,000 people and 24,000 deaths. Senior UN officials have dodged discussion of these events and have been rightly accused of downplaying the severity of the human rights issues at hand. I see this as a clear systemic miscarriage of justice and complete disregard of human rights. However, the UN turning a blind eye to genocidal events is not a historical matter, but in fact a modern day occurrence.
The Syrian Civil War is currently being fought between the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic and various domestic forces creating horrendous civil unrest. However, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been committing genocide, with his troops closing in on the city of Idlib. At least 500,000 killed and over 13 million Syrians being displaced since 2011, the international forces of NATO need to declare Syria a no-fly zone to ensure Assad’s air-force has boundaries, however without the declaration of genocide, this will not happen. It is almost as if the UN is so political that it does not want to interfere with internal conflict, the exact opposite of what they were created to do. A great article about this conflict and the role of the UN can be seen by the Washington Post. It said, “the consequences of ignoring such a genocide are so large, so severe, that we cannot allow it to persist any longer”. It begs the question of whether the UN is actually fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.
However, it is not just large organisations such as the United Nations who fail to provide aid. With specific reference to the NGO of Oxfam and the abuse scandal that shocked the world. In 2010 Haiti was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that claimed the lives of over 250,000 people . Oxfam was one of the major NGOs that ‘provided aid’, however it was later revealed some of the workers were sexually abusing minors and taking advantage of the vulnerable survivors. An article written by Afua Hirsch, is a perplexing investigative report that delves into the abuse that occured, going against what most people perceive humanitarian intervention to look like. Revealing “handouts have been offered, allegedly, in exchange for sexual favours… its obviously unequal and exploitative”, many members of the public have started to lose faith in the NGOs they put so much trust in. Since this unjust behaviour came to light, The Guardian conducted a survey of over 2,000 people and it was disclosed “35% of people were less likely to donate to humanitarian charities such as Oxfam in the future.” With all this being said, it is imperative to mention that although what is being demonstrated in the Oxfam scandal is unjust, it is not true of all people working in this industry. However, it only takes one instance to spoil thousands of opinions.
Although I did not want to come onto Drew’s News to sway your opinion on NGOs as there is no doubt they do amazing things to help society, I did come on to write something that would persuade you to start critically thinking about the UN and large organizations that seem to ‘do no wrong’. Many NGOs have created a facade that masks the truth of their inaction and human right disregard, which needs to be taken off. In my opinion, organisations need to be more transparent with their aid and think less about their reputation and more about the people they are meant to be protecting. Trust needs to be regained, with constant discussion about the ways in which NGOs can use their power for positive humanitarian intervention and clear mistreatment identification.