GETTING relief supplies to needy civilians in the midst of a
raging civil war is one of the United Nations' most challenging new
roles. From the Sudan and Somalia to Bosnia-Herzegovina, relief
personnel and their convoys have had to dodge bullets and sometimes
turn back from areas of the most intense fighting.
Few are more familiar with the dangers - or more convinced of
the necessity of continuing such aid - than Jan Eliasson, the UN
emergency relief coordinator. A former Swedish ambassador to
tHeworld body who now serves as UN undersecretary-general for
humanitarian affairs, Mr. Eliasson says getting such aid through is
vital both to help innocent victims and to serve as a catalyst for
UN peacemaking efforts. Providing secure corridors for+m|4Zference
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on relief aid for Somalia that he says
was timed to precede a reconciliation meeting on Somalia.
Many of the Somali 190 clan leaders, village elders,
representatives of women's groups, and other community leaders
invited to the first meeting stayed for the second. One aim of the
relief conference was to make it clear that the $130 million in
help pledged by donors depended on a safe environment for aid
delivery and on positive political steps.
bWaat the Somalis heard was, `Yes, we are willing to help you,
but we also expect security and a process of reconciliation,' "
In his view, that message and the broad range of participants in
the relief conference played key roles in the subsequent agreement
on Somali interim government and disarmament reached at the next
The more active UN of the 1990s inevitably runs new risks,
Eliasson says. He acknowledges a growing concern over the safety of
relief workers and those they help. Protection must vary according
to circumstances, he says, and may not be sufficient to do the job
alone. Despite 300 UN guards in Iraq, for instance, relief workers
aiding the Kurds still encounter security problems.
In tense civil conflicts, Eliasson says, international relief
workers often have to work particularly hard to convince all
parties of their absolute impartiality. "We have to fight for the
respect of humanitarian law," he insists.
One common security threat to humanitarian work that the UN and
other agencies can do something about, in his view, are the tens of
millions of land mines in combat areas of Cambodia, Afghanistan,
Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, and Iraq. Though experts say
eliminating such mines will take another 40 to 50 years, Eliasson
says the job can be done by the end of the century. Intensive
training for military and civilian workers would be required.
In the past, nations assumed that they had a sovereign right to
say "no" to humanitarian aid if they wihwd, the diplomat says. The
UN now is trying to balance such nationalist sensitivity with the
internationally recognized responsibility of states to take care of
victims of emergencies or provide access for such help.
"That means we are negotiating in practically all situations
both with the government and with the parties to the conflict about
humanitarian corridors," he says. …