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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

First, do no harm

Fiona Terry, who currently works for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Myanmar, has won the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The Louisville Courier-Journal has the story that will likely be picked up by Australian papers soon:
Although well-intentioned, humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in Zaire became the fuel for more repression and death, Fiona Terry says.

For analyzing how that occurred and urging international aid groups to understand that their actions can have unintended consequences, Terry was awarded the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order....

Terry, 38, is an Australian who worked for Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in camps in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She wrote a book in 2002, "Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action," about that tragedy and similar ones in refugee camps around the world.

"Not enough organizations look into the political side of their aid, what they're contributing to," Terry said. "They turn a blind eye to it."
The award is a $200,000 prize. Terry's book was published by Cornell University Press and is available in paperback.

Dr. Terry provided the newspaper with quite a bit of detail about the Zaire case:
In Zaire, Terry said she saw how the assistance that nations, including the United States, were sending was being diverted to illegitimate purposes.

"The aid was helping the refugees," Terry said, "but the refugees were being controlled completely by the same people who had committed genocide in Rwanda."

The majority Hutus had directed a bloodbath against the minority Tutsis, resulting in up to a million deaths and a mass exodus of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to neighboring countries.

As the Tutsis wrested power from the Hutus in Rwanda, many of those responsible for the mass killings ended up in the camps as well. They "were stealing the food and preventing the refugees from going home," Terry said.

Eventually, the French section of Medicins sans Frontieres, including Terry, pulled out of Zaire.

"We have an obligation to say no sometimes -- 'This is unacceptable,' " Terry said.

The Hutu militia used the camps as bases to attack Rwanda, and in 1996 Rwanda attacked and destroyed the camps.

"Up to 200,000 people went missing from the camps," Terry said. "It was really a slaughter."
Terry also claims that aid to Afghan refugees in Pakistan gave birth to the Taliban.

I'm looking forward to meeting Terry in April when she visits Louisville. Full disclosure: I have been the chair of the Grawemeyer World Order committee for more than a decade.

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