Philip Gourevitch’s critique of humanitarian intervention

A must read for anyone involved in, interested in, or even heard of humanitarian interventions in warzones: Philip Gourevitch’s critique of humanitarian aid in the New Yorker. Ostensibly a review of Linda Polman’s new book, “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?”, Gourevitch argues that most instances of humanitarian intervention in conflict zones has probably resulted in prolonging conflicts, and that in some cases it may be that conflicts were made more severe in order to attract humanitarian interventions. Gourevitch know of what he speaks; he is the author of several critically-acclaimed books on human rights issues — Rwanda, the US record of torture, among others.

The whole piece is worth a careful read. But the argument is summed up best by a quote from Polman’s interview with a former leader of the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.), the ruthless rebel force in Sierra Leone’s war in the 1990s:

In the end, he claimed, the R.U.F. had escalated the horror of the war (and provoked the government, too, to escalate it) by deploying special “cut-hands gangs” to lop off civilian limbs. “It was only when you saw ever more amputees that you started paying attention to our fate,” he said. “Without the amputee factor, you people would never come.”

Now whether this former warlord is a credible historian is somewhat beside the point — because he’s right.

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