In This Review

Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action
Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action
By Fiona Terry
Cornell University Press, 2002, 304 pp

An insider's searching critique of the humanitarian aid system. Humanitarian assistance has become a massive global enterprise, involving hundreds of aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations spread around the world's war-torn regions, offering help based on time-honored principles of neutrality and need. Terry argues that the system is deeply flawed, for international aid and refugee regimes unwittingly play into the hands of warring factions and rebel movements. The result is "refugee-warrior" communities: militarized refugee camps that use their protected space to fight against their home state. Indeed, the protections accorded by international law and humanitarian assistance help refugee camp-based guerrilla movements legitimate their control over the civilian population. Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, Tutsi refugees who fled post-independence Rwanda, and anti-Soviet Afghan refugees in Pakistan are just a few examples. The result, Terry concludes, is a deep paradox at the heart of humanitarian action: The international community's good intentions have created structures of aid and protection that, when injected into disintegrating states without authoritative rule, often fuel violence rather than reduce suffering.