A Focus on the Actors

Core Issue


An analysis of the actors

Of course, some humanitarian workers are clearly more "intelligent" than others and it would be a pity to put them all in the same “stew”. From the best to the worst, the diversity of the humanitarian movement shows the need for a critical observation of NGOs working in war-torn societies: not only the international organizations from industrialized countries, which sometimes act on the account of their state, but also the local charities which have taken advantage of the aid business to create networks of power and influence in developing countries. Some American researchers share these conclusions when they demand the creation of an independent organization, Aid Watch, to follow performances of relief agencies. As things are, lists of partners recognized among donors are available informally and in a scattered way. The drawback is that, as they stress the longevity, the management capacity and the technical performance of NGOs, they give very superficial information on strategic positions. An independent assessment could therefore fill these gaps by studying the history and the activities of an NGO, on the one hand, and by rating the modalities of its humanitarian operations on the other hand. After all, lobbies like Transparency International or Global Witness already rate the corruption of governments or the ethics of corporate firms. When assessing the commercial and political drifts of the humanitarian system, there is no reason why NGOs should be spared such a review.
It is true that there is no “ideal” NGO as a standard. In general, making humanitarian norms tends to lower standards and requires a difficult consensus, as did the Sphere Project in Oxford. However, nothing prevents us from apprehending every agency according to its strategic position in war-torn countries. If we are to consider the information available, it does not seem impossible to distinguish a charity from a guerrilla cloak. In developing countries in particular, genuine initiatives must be differentiated from “covers” for political parties or business groups as well as artificial entities launched by intergovernmental agencies and fated to die once their program is completed. Many third-world NGOs are like “empty shells”, “one-man shows” quickly created to attract humanitarian funds. Handicapped by a bitter lack of professional and financial resources, these charities appear like the weak and peripheral link of a tripartite system where developed states have dismissed their social responsibility onto international NGOs, who themselves subcontract their assistance operations with local actors.
One of the main tasks of Aid Watch is therefore to analyse the NGOs that define themselves as “non-profit making” “private voluntary associations” with a “charitable aim”. Only the associations dealing with situations of crises and armed conflicts are to be considered, which implies on a longer term studying programs for the prevention of violence or for post-war reconstruction in a view towards development. Less stress is to be put on the fake dichotomy between those working in “development” and those in “emergency”. The former can become involved in a crisis and the latter sometimes conduct long-term programs when insecurity has become permanent and when countries rebuild themselves after the signature of a peace treaty or the military exhaustion of the combatants. The intervention in war situations constitute the core issue of the study. As Aid Watch does not aim at an exhaustive review, it will only consider the most pertinent organizations from that point of view.