In the Shadow of Just Wars

Violence, Politics and Humanitarian Action

March 2004 9781850657378 288pp


While military intervention in Iraq was being planned, humanitarian organizations were offered US government funds to join the Coalition and operate under the umbrella of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. In Kosavo, Timor, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, NGOs had previously been asked to join in ‘just’ wars. Indeed many aid agencies cooperated eagerly, subordinating their specific aims to the greater goal of ‘peace, democracy and human rights’. Few Afghans or Sierra Leoneans regret the interventions. However, the inconvenient victims of these triumphs, those from the ‘wrong’ side, are quickly forgotten. These are individuals whom humanitarian organisations have the duty to save, yet in doing so they must remain independent of the warring parties, and refrain from joining in the ‘struggle against evil’ or any other political agenda. Then there are places where the pretence of providing assistance allows donor governments to disguise their backing of local political powers. Lastly there are those whose sacrifice is politically irrelevant in the wider scope of international relations. In circumstances such as these, what little international aid is available collides head-on with the mutal desire of the adversaries to wage ‘total’ war that may lead to the extermination of entire populations. In this book, international experts and members of the MSF analyse the way these issues have crystallised over the five years spanning the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. The authors make the case for a renewed commitment to an old idea: a humanitarianism that defies the politics of sacrifice.


‘This book is an aid to clearer thinking in an era in which, as David Rieff argues in his essay, states have decided that “humanitarianism is too important to be left to humanitarians”. But, although he is pessimistic, their appropriation of it is not yet complete, and ought to be resisted.’ — Martin Woollacott, The Guardian


Fabrice Weissman is Coordinator and a Director of Studies at MSF–Crash. A specialist in Sub-Saharan Africa, he has been working with MSF since 1995, and spent many years in the field. He is the editor of In the Shadow of ‘Just Wars’: Violence, Politics and Humanitarian Action (2004), and co-editor of Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (2012).

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