The nature of the wars current Non-Government Organizations respond to has changed in the time during the post-Cold War era. Many such wars are domestic, fought between groups within one nation, clear battlefields are non-existent, and the distinction between military and civilian is no longer evident. Citizens of multiple nations across the globe have increasingly attributed wars to their leaders’ greed, and not only see war as destructive, and ineffective, but self-perpetuating as well. War is no longer seen as a means of restoring justice, and on the other hand, opposing war can be dangerous, as critics are seen as disloyal.

Special operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased discussion within the NGO community on what constitutes “humanitarian space.” This phrase has been used in the sense of an area protected by the imperatives of neutrality, impartiality, and independence: the cornerstones of the Non-Government Organization, ‘Oxfam Quebecs’ work in conflict areas. International NGOs flooded into the conflicted nations stated above after US invasion, creating an uproar of domestic and foreign humanitarian efforts. The United States, Great Britain, and their allies poured tens of millions of dollars into projects run by the Canadian NGO Oxfam Quebec and alternatives, lured to occupy Iraq by the $300 million CIDA spent to support the foreign occupation and reconstruction (Engler 2010).

Oxfam Quebec, dedicated to humanitarian relief operations generally attempt to maintain a policy that is consistent with the NGO/IFRC ‘Code of Conduct’ in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which has three main guidelines: the humanitarian imperative, independence, and impartiality in situations of conflict. Their purpose is to relieve human suffering regardless of political, ethnic, religious, or other affiliation. NGOs that focus specifically on conflict resolution also value their neutrality; unless they are seen as impartial, they are unlikely to be able to promote dialogue and establish common ground between the individuals and community groups, as well as governments and rebel forces with whom they work. Most human rights organizations along with Oxfam are also careful to limit their advocacy to the rights of individuals or groups, rather than take sides in the conflict.

The changing nature of war lead to three new complexities for NGO Oxfam Quebec interventions. To begin with, such wars are not governed by the strict international codes of war. Next, it is becoming ever more difficult to determine where sovereignty and political legitimacy resides during a civil war or revolution similar to the conflicts occurring in many parts of the Middle east as well as the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, it is difficult to decide where moral legitimacy resides during an opportunistic war or attempted government overthrow, with whom should an NGO negotiate, and to whom should they lend aid in such cases?


Eloy Perez

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