At the end of June Bernard Kouchner hosted a dinner in London which was attended by the Heads or senior representatives of the principal UK humanitarian agencies. One of the founders of Médecins Sans Frontières and formerly the French Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Bernard Kouchner is currently a Member of the European Parliament and Chair of the Parliament’s Development Committee as well as being President of the Paris-based NGO Association pour l’Action Humanitaire. Frank Judd (Lord Judd of Portsea, formerly a UK Minister of Overseas Development and Director of Oxfam) acted as the Master of Ceremonies.
In his speech Bernard Kouchner surveyed the principal humanitarian emergencies from Biafra (where he worked with the French Red Cross) to Rwanda which he had visited twice in the period since the genocide began in April. He focused upon the general tendency of humanitarian agencies to concentrate their efforts on responding to humanitarian emergencies rather than preventing such events.
He highlighted what he termed the ‘Red Zone’ – the period between the need for political and humanitarian assistance and/or intervention becomes clear to the humanitarian agencies and the point at which the international community, pressured by the media and public opinion responds significantly.
His principal concern was why NGOs were not working together more in the `Red Zone’ period to mobilise public opinion and political action. Among the reasons he put forward as to why NGOs were not more involved in prevention was that `saving’ was more attractive to agencies than `preventing’ because the latter was low profile and, if successful, difficult to claim credit for. He proposed that European humanitarian agencies should work together to pool their information to form an early warning and information centre and then coordinate their efforts on those countries highlighted by the warning system.
In the weeks following the dinner, UK humanitarian agencies and groups interested in conflict prevention met to devise ways of carrying the proposal forward. These meetings were facilitated by International Alert. As a result of these discussions, three action-oriented working groups have been established. Two of them are concerned with particular countries where conflict is at markedly different stages of development – Burundi and Kenya. The objective of these two working groups is to encourage and coordinate NGO actions to reduce tensions and help prevent the development of conflict in these countries. The third working group is exploring ways in which a capacity, independent of governments, might be established to provide information and early warning of conflict and humanitarian emergencies.
Links are being maintained between these initiatives and those resulting from the efforts of Bernard Kouchner and others in the context of the European Parliament where a Parliamentary InterGroup on Preventive Diplomacy and Humanitarian Action has recently been formed.