NGO Case study / The thematic criteria
In the NGO database, we only consider international charities providing physical, legal or moral assistance in situations of crisis, mainly in war-torn societies or in countries about to be rebuilt, bearing in mind that the ending of a conflict is always very fragile.
The investigation focuses on the relationship between humanitarian aid and war, as it is in such a situation that challenges, risks and drifts of relief operations are most striking. Much has already been said about the failures of development assistance in times of peace. The embezzlement of bilateral or multilateral funds is truly regrettable as it can be indirectly responsible for the deaths of people when the budget for a hospital ends up on a bank account in Switzerland and allows dictators to survive economically while torturing and killing their opponents. But the use of humanitarian aid by the combatants during a fight is far more serious as it directly supplies war economies, and increases the number of casualties as it contributes to buying weapons and making conflicts last longer.
The field of investigation is also limited to NGOs. Not because donor states and intergovernmental organizations are not concerned by the issue. But because charity or humanitarian NGOs are in charge of a heavier moral burden. As they are more or less free from the political constraints of states, they claim to be the watchdogs of international ethics; they challenge decision-makers and seek public generosity by incarnating “the conscience of the world”.
In the history of an NGO, special interest is thus dedicated to the social origin and the ideological motivations of its founders and executive members; to its relations both in the head office country and in the countries of intervention with trade unions, political parties, military forces and religious movements, as well as the press and the judiciary; to the strategy of the organization regarding its programs; to the problems encountered in the field (expulsions, assassinations, accidental deaths); to the impact on the recipient populations…
Aid Watch does not pretend to be exhaustive. Only the most relevant NGOs are considered. On an institutional level, the study does not consider the various collective bodies that gather operators, as ICVA (International Council of Voluntary Agencies, 70 members) in Switzerland and VOICE (Voluntary Organizations In Co-operation and Emergency, 95 members) or CLONG (Committee of Liaison of NGOs, 938 members) in Europe, not to mention religious groups like APRODEV (Association of Protestant Development Agencies, 19 members) created in 1990 for the Protestants or ICDS (International Committee for Development and Solidarity, 16 members) created in 1969 for the Catholics. Neither does it look at public offices and intergovernmental specialized agencies: refugees directorates in developing countries or bilateral co-operation departments in developed countries, as for instance USAID (United States Agency for International Development). The only exception is the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), halfway between an NGO and an intergovernmental organization since it is 90% publicly funded, it has a status of observer at the United Nations and it is the watchdog of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the Protection of Civilian Persons.
Finally, in developing countries, the study will put aside charities without a formal NGO structure in the modern sense of the word: trade unions, students associations, doctor’s or engineer’s corporations, Sufi brotherhoods and Christian missions whose social work was born far before the humanitarian trend, etc. Much attention is dedicated, in that prospect, to possible “straddling” between donors and recipients of programs, which makes it possible to distinguish between: tribal unions where the number of donors is usually smaller than the recipients’; co-operatives and professional corporations in which the two groups almost overlap; and the religious communities in which the number of donors can be higher than the number of recipients.