Oxford Committee for Famine Relief
Oxford Committee for Famine Relief - History
-From 2000, Great Britain: in October 2000, Oxfam joins an international campaign launched in November 1999 in Amsterdam by Health Action International, Médecins sans frontières, Act Up and the Consumer Project on Technology. The aim is to help developing countries have access to cheaper generic medicines through the importation or the production of molecules which are still under license of the pharmaceutical industry. The campaign, which focuses first on treatments against AIDS, is extended in February 2001 to public health in general. It gets politicized because one of its founding members, the Consumer Project on Technology, is the lobby of Ralph Nader, an independent candidate at the American presidential elections and a lawyer who denounces the collusion between the pharmaceutical industry and the Democrat and Republican parties. Backed by Washington, trans-national corporations argue that their intellectual property rights fund the discovery of new molecules. On the contrary, the NGOs show that the innovations of pharmaceutical firms actually come from public research. An intense lobbying at the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme ends up bearing fruits. After they lost support of the United Nations and the European Union, the pharmaceutical laboratories withdraw in April 2001 their complaint against the South African government regarding a law which authorizes the use of generic medicines without paying expensive patents. In Cancún, Mexico, in August 2003, the fifth ministerial conference of the WTO (World Trade Organization) eventually gives priority to public health over intellectual property rights: it imposes a moratorium which is confirmed in Hong Kong in December 2005. However, the bilateral or regional agreements of the United States bypass those measures. Moreover, the special dispensations required to export generic medicines turns out to be so complex that they are almost impossible to implement.
-From 2001, Tanzania: led by Barbara Stocking, who replaced David Bryer after he resigned in 2001, Oxfam-UK begins to withdraw from Burundian refugee camps and refuses to take part in a repatriation programme which is not voluntary. Indeed, many asylum seekers do not want to go back to a war-torn country despite the pressures from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and the Tanzanian authorities.
-2002, Uzbekistan: in the semiarid province of Kashkadarya, NOVIB begins in October 2002 to support micro-credits for the women of Beshchashma, Beshkent and Karshi. But the repayment rate of the loans declines when foreign donors stop to supervise directly the programme. In Karakalpak, especially, the local NGO in charge of the micro-credits embezzle funds with fake customers; accordingly, explains Deniz Kandiyoti, the project has to be ended.
-2003, Iraq: the different sections of Oxfam International do not approve the military intervention of the anti-terrorist Coalition against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Eager to preserve their neutrality, they refuse funds from the belligerent governments, namely Great Britain, the United States and Australia. As soon as March 2003, just before the American attack, the organization decides to avoid contacts with Allied troops in the regions where armed protection is not necessary. In Baghdad, it accepts to be coordinated by the United Nations, not the United States, and differs from NGOs such as SCF-USA and Mercy Corps, which openly collaborate with the military of Washington and their DART (Disaster Assistance Response Teams). After Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship falls down in April, the situation quickly deteriorates. Oxfam eventually decides to withdraw in August 2003 after a terrorist attack against the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad. The organization then laments the way the Allies favour Iraq to the detriment of other regions. In a letter signed with Christian Aid, the CAFOD, SCF-UK, CARE International and ActionAid in October 2003, Oxfam-UK asks the British Prime Minister Tony Blair not to reduce public aid to development, but to no avail: in November, the government deducts 1.5 billion of Euros to fund the reconstruction of Iraq.
-2004, Rwanda: active in the country since 1979 despite the closing down of its office in Kigali during the genocide in 1994, Oxfam-UK begins to worry about the authoritarian drift of President Paul Kagame. In a report published with Cordaid, ICCO and Kerkinactie in February 2004, NOVIB asks the biggest foreign donors, namely Holland, Sweden and Great Britain, to suspend their aid as long as Kigali has not answered human rights organisations about the disappearance of opponents and the looting of Eastern Congo by the Rwandan Army. Paradoxically, such a criticism also shows the failure of international assistance, including some of Oxfam programmes in the country. From 1995 until 1999, explains Zoë Marriage, the organization tried to provide clean water to the inhabitants living along Muvumba and Akagera Rivers. But the system of costs recovery, which intended to give the population a sense of responsibility, generated frauds. Actually, the inhabitants ended up paying their water to community development committees which diverted funds.
-2005, China: at the opening of the sixth ministerial conference of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in Hong Kong on the 13th of December 2005, Oxfam-International brings a petition signed by ten million people to make trade fair, end governmental subsidies to western farmers, allow developing countries to protect their market and take into account their interests in international agreements. Entitled “Big Noise”, this initiative follows a campaign started during the former WTO’s summit in Cancún in Mexico in September 2003, when Oxfam-International collected four millions of signatures in favour of fair trade. At that time, many businessmen criticized the movement for its lack of responsibility. The Economist of 20th September 2003 claimed that it blocked the negotiations and prevented any compromise with developing countries. Interviewed in an issue of Development in Practice in April 2004, Oxfam-UK’s Director of Communication, Adrian Lovett, had replied that unfortunately, his organization did not have such an influence, especially with the Brazilian, Chinese and Indian giants.
-2006, Venezuela: Oxfam decides to keep a low profile at the sixth World Social Forum, which opens on the 24th of January in Caracas. The organization fears that the meeting, which is funded by President Hugo Chavez, will be politicized with a view to promote the struggle against North American imperialism.
-From 2007, Nicaragua: unlike the revolutionary period of the 1970s, Oxfam-UK is on the side of the opposition after the return to power of the Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega in November 2006. Thus the police searches the offices of two of its partners in Managua, namely the Autonomous Women’s Movement MAM (Movimineto Autonomo de Mujeres) and the Center for Communications Research CINCO (Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación). Oxfam is accused by officials of plotting to destabilise the government. As for the heads of MAM and CINCO, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and Sofía Montenegro, who were both Sandinistas journalists, they are investigated, officially for money laundering, unofficially because they informed against the restrictions of media freedom. MAM is a political target because it campaigned against the ban and the criminalisation of indirect abortion, voted in 2006 by the Sandinistas allied with the Catholic Church. Later on, the charges against MAM and CINCO are dropped in January 2009. In June, Oxfam’s partners accuse Daniel Ortega of being responsible of the suspension of American aid because of governmental frauds during local elections in November 2008.
-2008, Burma: Oxfam sends relief to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 133,000 people in Rangoon and the Irrawaddy Delta on 3 May 2008. Like in Cambodia some thirty years ago, the organisation predicts a famine that never comes. On 11 May 2008, Oxfam’s head in Bangkok, Sarah Ireland, claims that 1,5 of people might die if nothing is done. But other humanitarian organisations do not confirm these allegations. Actually, floods do not cause epidemics and the teams of MSF (Médecins sans frontières) in the Delta do not record higher rates of mortality or malnutrition amongst the villagers who survived the typhoon. Facing the questions of journalists like Thierry Falise, Oxfam eventually admits that its alarm was maybe a bit too early, for the organisation had been delayed before being allowed to go to Burma to evaluate the real needs of the victims. In a report published in 2009, however, Tanja Schuemer-Cross and Ben Heaven Taylor still pretend that the number of the victims of climate-related disasters worldwide will raise from a yearly average of 250 millions to 375 in 2015.
-January 2009, Israel/Palestine: with Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, CCFD, Christian Aid, the FIDH, Medico International, Muslim Aid, Trócaire and the British section of World Vision, Oxfam International condemns Tsahal’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza and calls on the European Union to immediately suspend any further enhancement of its relations with Israel, until it agrees to a comprehensive ceasefire and provides unimpeded humanitarian access. The communiqué comes ahead of an informal meeting of European foreign ministers in Prague.