Humanitarian space
In the spring of 2004, a large group of Western NGOs based in Kabul wrote a letter to NATO demanding that the military alliance expand its role in Afghanistan. The demand, which was highly criticized by a handful of humanitarian organizations, illustrated the growing tensions within the humanitarian community about how best to ensure access for aid workers and protect an independent humanitarian space. Among the signatories were the Danish, Swedish and Norwegian Afghanistan Committees, Norwegian Church Aid and Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, as well as the CARE, International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Save the Children, the Dutch ICCO and the British Christian Aid. Critics included the ICRC, Médecins Sans Frontières and Action Contre La Faim, which maintained that calling on NATO for help undermined the principle of humanitarian neutrality and was tantamount to supporting one of the belligerents in the conflict.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these tensions have intensified. Emerging doctrines of counter-insurgency have led to aid being delivered by military actors and inter-governmental agencies, in an effort to “win hearts and minds”. The lines between Western military interests and assistance to those most in need are blurred. And as aid organizations are increasingly targeted in conflicts, the strictly non-political role of humanitarian actors becomes more difficult to maintain. Here are some headlines from Development Today:

• Danes link humanitarian aid to neutrality principle (Read)
• Norway fails to clarify neutrality of humanitarians (Read)
• Danish government ‘spins’ NGO role to sell unpopular wars (Read)
• ICRC: NGO actors share blame for ‘blurring of lines’ (Read)
• ‘Mixed mandates’ of NGOs, OCHA threaten humanitarian neutrality (Read)
Opinion by Major Nicolas T. Veicherts: NGOs. Their rightful place in Western wars (Read)
Opinion by Vidar Helgesen: The politics of humanitarian independence (Read)
• OECD remarks on absence of Norwegian humanitarian aid policy document (Read)
• Crisis of humanitarianism: donors and ‘embedded NGOs’ share blame (Read)
• Slow progress for good humanitarian donorship (Read)
• Political lobbying by humanitarians could have funding repercussions (Read)
• Key NGOs split over lobbying NATO to expand role in Afghanistan (Read)
Opinion by Carol Bellamy of Unicef: The problem of “humanitarian blur” (Read)
Opinion by Austen Davis of MSF: The future of humanitarianism (Read)

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