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Human Rights Quarterly 26.2 (2004) 553-555

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Emergency Relief Operations (Kevin M. Cahill ed., 2003; New York: Fordham University Press and The Center for International Health and Cooperation, 2003) 288 pp.

Some may tend to forget that emergency relief operations have been a part, and often an important part, of international relations on a regular basis since the middle of the nineteenth century. The 1850s and 1860s constituted the era of Henry Dunant and Florence Nightingale. The first major international involvement of the American Red Cross came in the 1890s when it sought to respond to the forced displacement and massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Certainly since the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, emergency relief operations in conflicts have often played out on the front pages of western newspapers. Sometimes, as in the Ottoman Empire and Nigeria, media coverage has been accompanied by charges of genocide and other intentional gross violations of human rights. Even where intentional abuse within humanitarian crises is absent, or mostly absent, widespread malnutrition and starvation remain inconsistent with internationally recognized human rights. One does not need genocide or crimes against humanity to produce human rights violations in humanitarian crises. Denial of recognized rights to nutrition and health, among other socio-economic rights, suffice. Of course it was after the Cold War, in places like the Balkans and Somalia, that emergency relief operations in humanitarian crises or complex emergencies or just plain war commanded considerable attention in the western countries that are so influential in international relations.

If one wants a fascinating review of emergency relief operations and human rights in international relations, the book under review, edited by Kevin M. Cahill, is not that publication. Rather, Cahill has organized a book for graduate students taking an advanced degree, as at Fordham, or perhaps Tufts, in humanitarian assistance. Thus, in chapter four by Tom Arnold, we get mind numbing details, complete with multiple pictures no less, about how to construct latrines properly. In chapter six by Gerald R. Martone, we get no less than ten pages, covering almost 150 specific points, in an exhaustive check list of how to incorporate human rights protection into relief activities. In chapter ten, by Randolph Martin, we get more mind numbing details, this time about the field security of non-governmental organizations.

On the other hand, some of the chapters might prove of interest to general readers, social scientists, and lawyers. In chapter one Ted R. Gurr and Barbara Harff discuss the prospects for an early warning system for humanitarian crises. In their view a model exists that can predict such crises two years in advance, with 70-80 percent reliability. In chapter five Francis M. Deng, perhaps the foremost expert on the subject, gives a concise overview of the problem of internally displaced persons. In chapter seven, Judy A. Benjamin shows clearly why gender is an important subject for emergency relief, given that most of the victims of wars and complex emergencies are women and girls, and that most if not all of the relevant power structures are male dominated. In chapter nine, Major General Timothy Cross of the United Kingdom provides an interesting chapter on military-NGO interaction, complete with candid comments about some of the weakness on both sides of that divide. [End Page 553]

The editor lined up authors who write with devotion to their subject. But another strategy would have been to present authors who write with considerable detachment. For example, Gurr and Harff believe in early warning models, since they construct them. There is another point of view, namely that it is rare to encounter a humanitarian disaster resulting from conflict that is not already predicted by numerous sources already extant. Only in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) do we find a modern humanitarian crisis not anticipated. And in that case academic models could not have predicted it either, for the same reasons, namely that no outside and independent parties had access to what was going on.

As Ed Tsui notes in chapter two,1 the usual pattern is that disasters from...


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