Members of the RRN will be familiar with the terrible drama being played out in Bosnia-Herzegovina through the extensive international media coverage. Though such coverage often focuses upon the progress of relief efforts in relation to particular communities, it is difficult for those not directly involved in the relief operations to understand how they are organised and how such arrangements differ from the type of operation that most RRN members are familiar with. Drawing on material from a recent study(1) (Duffield, 1994), this paper describes the effects of the conflict, and the organisation of military protection for humanitarian assistance, the organisation of the relief programme focusing upon the role of UN agencies, NGOs and donor organisations.

Duffield examines the characteristics of the Bosnian relief effort, comparing and contrasting it to earlier efforts in Africa and elsewher, drawing conclusions about the evolving nature of complex emergencies. The concept of neutrality is central to the argument: neither is UNPROFOR perceived as neutral, nor is there any clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants in an internal war.

In a situation in which 75% of relief supplies may be being creamed off by the military, the question then becomes: when does a relief effort become the means for prolongation of the war? And does negotiating access to those in need of relief somehow add legitimacy to armed thugs? Duffield argues that the relief that sustains war is simply the inevitable consequence of a policy which substitutes the supply of humanitarian assistance for efforts to reach a political solution.

In 1991, resolutions establishing UNPROFOR and its mandate permitted it to use all measures necessary to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid. Yet to Bosnian Serbs, UNPROFOR acted as a prison warden. When this paper was published, as the status of blue helmets plunged in Bosnia, so political pressure for more decisive action grew in the West.

The paper also highlights other differences between the Bosnian situation and that of African relief operations, such as the different funding mechanisms for operational NGOs and the fact that comparatively few NGOs working in Bosnia had international experience, many more coming from a local background – an early indication of how future programmes may be implemented.


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