Save us the rescuers

Save us the rescuers

Calls for military action to force aid on Myanmar

march us down a dangerous road, that we are willing to accept

By David Rieff May 18, 2008

Sorry, Mr David Rieff we disagree with you and I erased ‘From’ your heading. And I added the pharase, ‘that we are willing to accept’, at the end of your subheading.

The decision by the government of Myanmar not to admit foreign humanitarian relief workers to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis has been met with fury, consternation and disbelief in much of the world.

  • With tens of thousands of people dead,
  • up to 100,000 missing
  • and more than a million displaced
  • and without shelter, livelihood or possibly even sufficient food,
  • the refusal of the military rulers of the country to let in foreign aid organizations or to open airports and waterways in more than a token way to shipments of aid supplies
  • seems to be an act of sheer barbarism.

In response, Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister who heads the International Crisis Group, made the case last week that_

  1. the decision by Myanmar’s authorities to default on their responsibilities to their own citizens might well constitute “a crime against humanity,”
  2. and suggested that the United Nations might need to consider bringing aid to Myanmar non-consensually,
  3. justified on the basis of the “Responsibility to Protect Resolution”
  4. adopted at the 2005 U.N. World Summit by 150 member states.

To be sure, R2P (as the resolution is colloquially known) was not envisaged by the commission that framed it (and that Evans co-chaired) as a response to natural disasters, but rather as a way of confronting “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

To extend its jurisdiction to natural disasters is as unprecedented as it is radical. But as Evans put it last week, “when a government default is as grave as the course on which [Myanmar’s] generals now seem to be set, there is at least a prima facie case to answer for their intransigence being a crime against humanity — of a kind that would attract the responsibility-to-protect principle.”

  • Evans’ warning was clear. Myanmar’s generals should not delude themselves into thinking that the international community would allow them to act in any way they wished
  • not if it meant turning a blind eye to the dangers the cyclone’s survivors faced.
  • These dangers, according to the British charity Oxfam, threatened an additional 1.5 million lives.

And a number of European governments took the same line.

  1. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated that military action to ensure that the aid got to where it needed to go might be legal and necessary.
  2. And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner echoed this argument, saying that France was considering bringing a resolution to the U.N. Security Council allowing for such steps to be taken.

For Kouchner, a co-founder of the French relief group Doctors Without Borders, this was familiar ground. He was a leading, and controversial, figure in the relief world long before joining Nicolas Sarkozy’s government last year,

  • and he is one of the originators of the so-called right of interference
  • a hawkish interpretation of humanitarianism’s moral imperative
  • and an operational license that basically held that outside aid groups and governments had a presumptive right to intervene when governments abused their own people.

At first glance, the arguments of Evans, Miliband, Kouchner and the leaders of many mainstream relief organizations may seem like common-sense humanism.

  1. How could it be morally acceptable to subordinate the rights of people in need to the prerogatives of national sovereignty?
  2. In a globalized world in which people, goods and money all move increasingly freely,
  3. why should a national borderthat relic of the increasingly unimportant state system — stand in the way of people dedicated to doing good for their fellow human beings?
  4. Why should the world stand by and allow an abusive government to continue to be derelict in its duties toward its own people?

Surely, to oppose this sort of humanitarian entitlement is a failure of empathy and perhaps even an act of moral cowardice.

This has been the master narrative of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

It has dominated the speeches of officials and most of the media coverage,

which has been imbued with an almost pornographic catastrophism in which aid agencies and journalists seem to be trying to outdo each other in the apocalyptic quality of their predictions.

I hope that the author ended here. But we sadly see the communist/socialistic views of the author, who do not know the sufferings of Burmese citizens. We know about the SPDC than you!

(Comment: unfair counter accusation: First, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, without having left the city, told reporters that though only 22,000 people had been confirmed dead, she thought the toll could rise as high as 100,000. A few days later, Oxfam was out with its estimate of 1.5 million people being at risk from water-borne diseases — without ever explaining how it arrived at such an extraordinarily alarming estimate.In reality, no one yet knows what the death toll from the cyclone is, let alone how resilient the survivors will be. One thing is known, however, and that is that in crisis after crisis, from the refugee emergency in eastern Zaire after the Rwandan genocide, through the Kosovo crisis, to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the 2004 South Asian tsunami, many of the leading aid agencies, Oxfam prominent among them, have predicted far more casualties than there would later turn out to have been. In part, this is because relief work is, in a sense, a business, and humanitarian charities are competing with every other sort of philanthropic cause for the charitable dollar and euro, and thus have to exaggerate to be noticed. It is also because coping with disasters for a living simply makes the worst-case scenario always seem the most credible one, and, honorably enough, relief workers feel they must always be prepared for the worst. But whatever the motivations, it is really no longer possible to take the relief community’s apocalyptic claims seriously. It has wrongly cried wolf too many times.We should be skeptical of the aid agencies’ claims that, without their intervention, an earthquake or cyclone will be followed by an additional disaster of equal scope because of disease and hunger. The fact is that populations in disaster zones tend to be much more resilient than foreign aid groups often make them out to be. And though the claim that only they can prevent a second catastrophe is unprovable, it serves the agencies’ institutional interests — such interventions are, after all, the reason they exist in the first place.)

Unwelcome as the thought may be, reasonable-sounding suggestions made in the name of global solidarity and humanitarian compassion can sometimes be nothing of the sort. Aid is one thing. But aid at the point of a gun is taking the humanitarian enterprise to a place it should never go. And the fact that the calls for humanitarian war were ringing out within days of Cyclone Nargis is emblematic of how the interventionist impulse, no matter how well-intended, is extremely dangerous.

The ease with which the rhetoric of rescue slips into the rhetoric of war is why invoking R2P should never be accepted simply as an effort to inject some humanity into an inhumane situation (the possibility of getting the facts wrong is another reason; that too has happened in the past).

Yes, the impulse of the interveners may be entirely based on humanitarian and human rights concerns. But lest we forget, the motivations of 19th century European colonialism were also presented by supporters as being grounded in humanitarian concern. And this was not just hypocrisy. We must not be so politically correct as to deny the humanitarian dimension of imperialism. But we must also not be so historically deaf, dumb and blind as to convince ourselves that it was its principal dimension.

Lastly, it is critically important to pay attention to just who is talking about military intervention on humanitarian grounds. Well, among others, it’s the foreign ministers of the two great 19th century colonial empires. And where exactly do they want to intervene — sorry, where do they want to live up to their responsibility to protect? Mostly in the very countries they used to rule.

When a British or French minister proposes a U.N. resolution calling for a military intervention to make sure aid is properly delivered in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, then, and only then, can we be sure we have put the specter of imperialism dressed up as humanitarianism behind us. In the meantime, buyer beware.

David Rieff is the author of many books, including “At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention” and “A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.”

See also

Now or Never! NCGUB should invite NATO to invade Irrawaddy delta


Photos:Clinging to life in Myanmar Part 2

Photos:Clinging to life in Myanmar Part 2


A Myanmar woman displaced by the cyclone fans her baby at a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Yangon. May 9, 2008
Myanmar villagers
Myanmar villagers stand beside houses damaged by last weekend’s deadly cyclone in Twantay township, southern Myanmar.
A young Myanmar cyclone survivor holds her baby sister at a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. May 9, 2008
In Kyacek Tan, south of Yangon, on Friday, people wait for food at a temporary camp. International agencies are continuing efforts to deliver aid into Myanmar to assist up to 1 million people made homeless. May 9, 2008
In Myanmar
Myanmar residents walk past houses destroyed by Cyclone Nargis in Bogalay, Myanmar. May 9, 2008

Photos:Clinging to life in Myanmar Part 1

 Photos:Clinging to life in Myanmar Part 1 

Myanmar allows first UN emergency


Residents in Yangon wait in line to buy cooking oil. Many businesses are exploiting shortages caused by damaged roads and ports, charging exorbitant prices for gasoline, building supplies and other items in high demand

Myanmar cyclone survivor in Irrawaddy Delta region

Rice farmer U Maung Saw, 58, is rebuilding his own home from scratch and trying to salvage hundreds of pounds of unmilled rice soaked by the cyclone, before it rots. He says his village, Kyaiktaw, has received no aid at all. “The government never gives us anything,” he says. “We’re not angry. We’re not surprised. We don’t expect anything else.”
May 11, 2008
Myanmar cyclone survivors at shelter
A woman comforts her child at a relief center after fleeing Kyauktan, about 40 miles southeast of Yangon, Myanmar’s main city. Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which slammed into the rice-growing Irrawaddy River delta region in the country’s south, may be followed by another storm: A tropical depression is building over the Andaman Sea as survivors of the first storm await aid. The government raised the official toll to 29,000. May 11, 2008

 Myanmar monks bathe in a river in the Irrawaddy Delta region

Young monks wash themselves in the river in Pyapon, a town in the Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar on Sunday. A a week after Nargis hit, few areas have seen proper relief efforts, with the government handing out meager rice rations while preventing foreign aid workers from entering. May 11, 2008
Myanmar cyclone survivors rest near Bogalay town
Villagers rest on the outskirts of hard-hit Bogalay town in southern Myanmar. A Red Cross boat carrying relief supplies sank, and aid groups warned that up to 1.5 million people are in desperate need of clean water and sanitation.
Myanmar villagers get medical attention at a non-profit clinic
Myanmar villagers receive treatment from a local non-governmental organization at the Paw Taw Mu pagoda on the outskirts of Bogalay town in the country’s devasted southern delta region Sunday. The government has been missing in action.
A young boy carries bags of salvaged material from cyclone debris
A boy carries away material scavenged from the debris of cyclone-ravaged houses in Kyauktan, about 40 miles southeast of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, also known as Rangoon. May 11, 2008
Raising donations for Myanmar cyclone victims
Worshipers at a Burmese Buddhist temple in Singapore collect donations for cyclone victims in Myanmar. The Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is planning a high-level meeting in Singapore soon to discuss measures to boost relief and recovery efforts. May 11, 2008
Uprooted tree and debris outside Yangon, Myanmar
A fallen tree trunk rests near a cluster of buildings on the outskirts of Yangon in southern Myanmar. Some villagers criticized the military regime. “They are very selfish,” said a man in Kyaiktaw. “They don’t care what happens to others. They only think about themselves.”
Thai soldiers load bags of supplies bound for Myanmar onto a military flight at the airport in Bangkok. May 10, 2008
Soldiers load bags of supplies onto a truck at the military airport in Bangkok.
Myanmar cyclone damage
An elderly woman comes out of her destroyed house in the cyclone-hit Dedaye township, south of Yangon. May 9, 2008
Kyaw Kyaw and his family took refuge in a Buddhist monastery across the road from their home in the village of Thamalone before the cyclone flattened his wood-frame house. Villagers are helping one another rebuild with whatever they can salvage in the rubble.
Mynamar Copes With Aftermath Of Catastrophic Typhoon
Clearing debris near a statue of Buddha south of Yangon. The city, hit hard by the cyclone, is one of the few areas where the referendum has been delayed.
In this picture made available Friday, injured villagers mill around their destroyed homes Saturday in Bogalay township, one of the regions of Myanmar hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis. May 9, 2008
Children beg for food from passengers in a passing car Thursday in Bogalay. More than a million survivors of the cyclone are battling to stave off hunger and disease. May 9, 2008