The September 11 Effect [Full Text]

Ethics and International Affairs, Volume 16.2 (Fall 2002)


The September 11 Effect

Paige Arthur

There is no single September 11 effect, if by "effect" we mean the way in which something - an event, for example - has influenced our lives. The simple fact is that last year's attacks have reorganized the world in which we live in many ways. One year later, Afghanistan has a new government, the United States has a new cabinet-level department, and whole regions of the world have taken on a new significance through their relation to the antiterrorism campaign: Kashmir, Israel and Palestine, Central Asia, the Philippines, and Malaysia, to name a few.

A rather incongruous new language has emerged in September 11's wake, one that unifies the various discourses on humanitarian intervention, just war, mock war (like the "war on drugs"), the politics of good and evil, and the security concerns of a potent realism. In the rush to provide reasons for particular actions, policymakers and pundits seemed to choose from these discourses at will. This is, perhaps, inevitable when one's target keeps moving - is it al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iraq, any terrorist group anywhere, an "axis of evil"? - but it is unsettling. Since it seems that the leaders of the antiterrorist campaign are not starting with well-defined objectives, but rather scripting them to fit as they go along, the public should be more careful in deciding which policies it wants to support.

To an extent, of course, acting and reacting is what politics is all about. That is no reason, however, to refrain from reflection and judgment. The articles in this Roundtable demonstrate the importance of critical thinking to debate on the antiterrorist campaign. In a public domain that often seems confident in the rightness of the United States' current course of action, they offer a reminder that moral certainty is not something to be taken for granted. If rooting out terrorism is to benefit everyone, then the means employed to do so must be principled, they must not divert attention and resources from other pressing crises, and they must involve the cooperation of other peoples (and not simply their governments).

This is to say that a concern for September 11 should not lead us to an obsession with September 11. We should avoid the temptation - a strong one, given the enduring emotional impact of the attacks in the United States - of telescoping all our resources, priorities, and thinking toward one worry. We should avoid, then, the creation of a single September 11 effect, which would risk a fall into a consuming obsession, and which would forestall the processes of critique and revision necessary to democratic politics.

Challenges to Humanitarian Action
Nicolas de Torrenté

It is a commonplace to say that the world has changed since the tragic events of September 11. This also holds true for those dedicated to humanitarian action - to the prevention of death and the alleviation of suffering during crisis and conflict, irrespective of any consideration other than need. The cause of the change for us, however, is not so much the attacks themselves or their vicious character. Sadly, such great loss of life and willingness to inflict death indiscriminately upon innocent civilians is nothing new, as those of us who have worked in areas of conflict know only too well.

What has changed is that, as a result of these attacks, the leading international power, the United States, has declared a new global war on terrorism. This war, as it has been defined, pits terrorism against freedom, and those who would imperil humanity against those who stand to defend it. While the main focus, thus far, has been on Afghanistan, the repercussions have swiftly embraced the entire planet. Like the Cold War, this is an open-ended, global fight defined to uphold both interests and values. Yet unlike the Cold War, it is one in which alliances are constantly shifting, the enemy consists primarily of an ill-defined set of nonstate actors as well as their purported state sponsors, and territorial control is not necessarily an aim.

The U.S.-led war on terrorism poses a number of challenges for independent humanitarian action and the principles that underpin it. First, it seeks to subordinate humanitarianism to its broader purpose, undermining the ability of humanitarian actors to impartially reach out to all victims. Second, by questioning the applicability of international humanitarian law, the antiterrorism campaign could well threaten the fundamental restraints on the conduct of warfare, thus weakening the protection and assistance to which civilians are entitled. Third, there is a shift in attention to conflicts worldwide, and the victims they generate, making it more difficult to respond to crises at the margins of current priorities.

Subordinating Humanitarian Action to the AntiTerrorism Campaign

The war on terrorism would seem to bring to a close the post-Cold War era. During the 1990s both individual states and the United Nations made humanitarianism a central part of the international response to crisis and conflict, in part because of the demise of former geostrategic imperatives. As humanitarian concerns featured prominently on the post-Cold War international agenda, however, they were also subject to intense political calculations, yielding highly selective results for the victims, ranging from absolute nonintervention in the Rwandan genocide to a "humanitarian war" in Kosovo. The common thread, however, was that humanitarian concerns were often put at the forefront of public discourse, either as a smoke screen to mask the absence of genuine political engagement or as a justification for intervention in fact motivated by other interests.

With the advent of the global war on terrorism, the situation is much clearer. The U.S. government declared that it was going to war in defense of national security interests, with the objective of destroying the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the September 11 attacks as well as the Taliban regime that harbored them. To serve this politico-military imperative, the means employed have been diverse: since the beginning, the Bush administration has argued that the antiterrorism campaign was "being fought at home and abroad through multiple operations including diplomatic, military, financial, investigative, homeland security and humanitarian actions."1 British Prime Minister Tony Blair has gone even further in speaking of a "military-humanitarian coalition" - epitomized by his evocation of a "bombs-and-bread" campaign.2

In this view, humanitarian actions, whether conducted by military forces themselves or by civilian agencies, should be subordinated to a broader politico-military objective. Colin Powell has argued that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were a "force multiplier" and essential contributors to the United States' "combat team."3 The rationale for these claims harks back to a long military tradition of trying to win over the "hearts and minds" of civilians by conducting psychological operations, including the provision of assistance to civilians in contested areas. It also fits in nicely with the prevailing doctrine of "compassionate conservatism," in which a clenched fist toward a hostile regime may well be accompanied by an outstretched hand toward that country's population. The Bush administration's decisions to provide food aid for populations in Northern Sudan, and to continue massive assistance programs for North Koreans under Kim Jong-Il and Afghans under the Taliban are good illustrations of this policy.

In Afghanistan the U.S.-led coalition implemented this integrated approach by having the Air Force drop food destined for Afghan civilians while simultaneously bombing military targets. It also deployed a small number of special military units to engage in civil affairs, such as rebuilding bridges or digging wells. The effectiveness of these interventions is highly questionable: it was clear from the outset, and confirmed by later reports, that the unmonitored dropping of individual food rations from high-flying planes would provide little relief for those most in need, even if it were to reach them.4 The usefulness of the food drops in winning over Afghan support is also doubtful: in a number of instances, Northern Alliance commanders sealed off drop zones in order to confiscate food rations, and several children had to be treated for limb injuries in Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)-supported facilities in Taloquan and Herat after having mistaken cluster bombs for food rations. The U.S.-led coalition's selectivity in its "humanitarian" concerns exposed its own motives as essentially political: at the same time as food was being dropped, authorities in neighboring allied countries such as Pakistan essentially sealed their borders, trapping would-be refugees in the violence they were seeking to escape - in violation of international refugee standards.

The fact is that assistance provided by the military coalition in Afghanistan is not humanitarian action, which is required by the Geneva Conventions to be neutral, independent, and impartial. This is not just a matter of semantics or abstract principles. By blurring the lines between the military and humanitarian agendas, and by making aid delivery a means of attaining its politico-military objectives, the coalition's actions endangered the security of humanitarian staff and its access to populations in need. For instance, throughout Afghanistan, coalition soldiers continue to be dressed in civilian clothing and to carry concealed weapons.5 While some take part in combat operations, others engage in relief activities, and their civilian clothing is meant to facilitate contacts with the local population. In southeastern Afghanistan, where foreigners are often viewed with suspicion and where U.S. forces continue to battle against presumed Taliban fighters, this has raised tensions and contributed to preventing (unarmed) humanitarian personnel from accessing rural areas. In Kandahar MSF teams are often asked if they are U.S. soldiers, and they have been warned not to venture into outlying areas.6

In more than twenty years in Afghanistan, maintaining a clear humanitarian identity has been a crucial asset for MSF in providing assistance in a highly sensitive context. As they have done before the antiterrorism campaign made Afghanistan a hot spot, it is certain that humanitarian agencies will continue to respond to needs of the Afghan population once the coalition's priorities have shifted. And yet, the U.S. and U.K. militaries blurred the lines separating military and humanitarian approaches, thereby damaging humanitarian actors' ability to establish the trusted relationships with Afghan officials and people that are necessary for this assistance to take place.

International Humanitarian Law and the War on Terrorism

The second major challenge to humanitarian action posed by the new global war on terrorism concerns the role of international humanitarian law as a system of restraint on the conduct of warfare itself. Humanitarianism is based on a key distinction between combatants, who are considered legitimate targets of violence, and noncombatants (such as civilians and prisoners of war), who should be spared, and this cardinal principle is enshrined in international humanitarian law. In every conflict, whatever the aims of the belligerents, humanitarian actors seek out the victims of violent actions. They try to ensure their protection by reporting the abuses they witness and by pressing the warring parties to uphold international humanitarian law, and they offer them assistance in the forms of food, shelter, and medicine.

When planes are hijacked and plunged into buildings in New York, and when Osama bin Laden declares that he considers all Americans to be military targets, the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law as codified in the Geneva Conventions are badly shaken. The terrorist actions of September 11 raise disturbing questions about how to combat an (ill-defined) enemy that has placed itself outside the prevailing normative framework governing warfare.

Yet, to deal with this challenge, the United States has chosen to give unmistakable signs that it is considering jettisoning international humanitarian law. The predominant rhetoric has been of policemen hunting down outlaws, and therefore enforcing criminal law, rather than of two enemies locked in battle and therefore mutually bound by the laws of warfare. The prevailing description of the conflict relates not only to the type of military operations and forces being employed (special forces, intelligence services, and so on), but also reflects claims to unambiguous moral supremacy. By defining its cause as just and vitally important, the United States believes it should fight this war unfettered by cumbersome international rules. The decision that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants captured in Afghanistan was a clear indication of this reasoning.7

This line of thought contains serious dangers. It is based on the false premise that forces acting in the name of the greater good cannot commit abuses. There is a precedent for this kind of thinking: in the Somalia intervention, forces operating under the UN banner refused to be bound by international humanitarian law, under the assumption that, because they were carrying out a peacekeeping mission in the name of the international community, they could by definition do no wrong. After UN forces bombed hospitals, humanitarian compounds, and civilians, much legal wrangling later reversed this stance, and peacekeeping forces henceforth agreed to be held to international standards. The same logic applies to the war in Afghanistan: instances like the U.S. bombing of International Committee of the Red Cross warehouses in Kabul and the dropping of cluster bombs in populated areas (leaving behind a legacy of unexploded bomblets that indiscriminately hurt civilians) are violations of international humanitarian law and must be opposed, irrespective of the cause that is being pursued. In fact, compliance with international humanitarian law in no manner constitutes an obstacle to the struggle against terrorism and crime. For instance, international humanitarian law grants the detaining power the right to legally prosecute prisoners of war suspected of having committed war crimes or any other criminal offence prior to or during the hostilities. International humanitarian law does not prevent effective military action, but rather regulates it so as to minimize noncombatant suffering in a manner consistent with military necessity.

The questions about applying international humanitarian law to the war on terrorism also fit into a broader dynamic, which is the redefinition and classification of conflicts. Around the world, conflicts and their victims have been cast in a different light since September 11, with the loosely defined concept of terrorism as the dominant mode of interpretation. The result is that, in the name of fighting "terrorism," violations of international humanitarian law are increasingly being condoned. The brutal war in Chechnya is a good example of this trend. Although political interests have long allowed the Russian government to escape meaningful sanction for its conduct in the war in Chechnya, the absence of public, international scrutiny and concern since September 11 is particularly striking. Yet labeling this conflict a war of "national liberation," as the Chechens have done, or an "antiterrorist operation," as the Russian army does, does not change the fundamental reality, which is the widespread suffering of Chechen civilians, who continue to be victimized by abusive military operations conducted by Russian forces.8

This shifting categorization of conflicts and their victims as worthy of attention and concern is an additional fundamental reason for independent humanitarian agencies to resist subordination to the antiterrorism campaign. For its part, humanitarian action does not categorize: civilian victims continue to be just that, irrespective of the label that is affixed to the violence that causes their suffering.

Shifting Attention to Crisis Situations Worldwide

The antiterrorism campaign has led to a shift in attention to crisis situations worldwide, bestowing international relevance on certain local situations while relegating others to oblivion. This has not changed the priorities for independent humanitarian agencies committed to assisting victims on the basis of need alone, but it has changed the environment in which we operate. In particular, it has been very difficult to attract attention to the human cost of conflicts in regions peripheral to the antiterrorism campaign.

In Angola, for instance, the conflict between the government of Angola and UNITA thankfully appears to be coming to a close, following the death of Jonas Savimbi in February 2002. In the aftermath of a cease-fire agreement in April, hitherto inaccessible "gray zones" opened up to humanitarian agencies, revealing thousands of famished people who had endured years of isolation, abuse, and neglect. The government of Angola was, however, far from alarmed at the massive crisis affecting its citizens. Meanwhile, the international community, which has for years backed the Angolan government in its ruthless battle against UNITA, was very slow in responding to this major emergency. As MSF mounted one of its largest nutritional interventions in years, we struggled to highlight the plight of the Angolan people and to mobilize a broader response. Not one U.S.-based television network sent a team to cover the story, while radio and press coverage was minimal. Recent UN appeals for aid programs in Angola, as well as in other crises such as those in Sudan or West Africa, have been woefully neglected. Clearly, the resources and focus are elsewhere.

There has been much hopeful talk of a surge of public interest in international issues, particularly in the United States. Even in Washington, commentators have noted that engagement, even if it is in a self-interested and starkly unilateralist mode, has apparently been rekindled, as pledges to increase development-aid spending would seem to indicate. However, despite proclamations of increased attention and funding, the level of commitment to social and economic problems remains crassly insufficient and pales in comparison with the push toward heightened military engagement and spending. Moreover, whatever momentum exists seems to be predicated upon the tenuous and unproven link between poverty, disease, and terrorism. This reveals a worrisome absence of critical reflection on political responsibility and underlines yet again the subordination of "humanitarian" concerns to the broader politico-military agenda.

Conclusion

In defining the war on terrorism, President Bush drew the line clearly: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." "This is civilization's fight," he declared, "the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance, and freedom."9 Humanitarian organizations unambiguously reject terrorist attacks, condemning them as an illegitimate means of waging war and an all-out assault on the fundamental values and principles we hold so dear. Yet in the interest of victims of all violence, whatever the cause of that violence may be, humanitarian agencies must strongly resist attempts to be caught up in this "terrorism vs. antiterrorism" view of the world.

Humanitarian agencies have much to beware in the new environment the antiterrorism campaign has created. Above all, the selectivity that politicization engenders is a poor guide to the effective alleviation of suffering. As battle lines mutate in unforeseen ways, the imperative to reach out impartially to protect and assist victims of crisis and conflict is more critical than ever. This can only be accomplished by making a commitment to fundamental rules of warfare central to the antiterrorism campaign, by not allowing the campaign to determine who and where the only "real" victims are, and by respecting the necessary independence of humanitarian action.

1 White House, "Frequently Asked Questions about the War on Terrorism at Home and Abroad," available at www.whitehouse.gov/response/faq-what.html [Back]

2 See Ralph Atikins, Guy Dinmore, Stephen Fidler, and Brian Groom, "Campaign of 'Bombs and Bread': Blair Pledges War on the Taliban but Food for Afghans," Financial Times, September 26, 2001, p. 1. [Back]

3Colin L. Powell, "Remarks to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations," (speech given at the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., October 26, 2001); available at www.state.gov/secretary/rm/5762.htm. [Back]

4Elizabeth A. Neuffer, "Food Drops Found To Do Little Good," Boston Globe, March 26, 2002, p. A1. [Back]

5Matt Kelly, "Pentagon Defends Work Out of Uniform," Associated Press Online, April 4, 2002. [Back]

6Morten Rostrup and Michelle Kelly, "Identify Yourselves: Coalition Soldiers in Afghanistan are Endangering Aid Workers," Guardian, February 1, 2002, p. 19. [Back]

7The decision was later reversed for Taliban combatants. [Back]

8Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, Chechnya/Ingushetia: A Deliberate Strategy of Non-Assistance to People in Crisis (Special Report, Febrary 2002); available at www.doctorswithoutbborders.org/publications/2002/chechyna_02-2002.shtml. [Back]

9George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress, September 21, 2001. See "Transcript of President Bush's Address," Washington Post, September 21, 2001, p. A24. [Back]

Crafting a New Alliance with the Muslim World
Omar Noman

Most Muslims now live in democracies - a fact that is rarely acknowledged. The Muslim world has also elected five women heads of state in the past decade.1 These two indicators are symbolic of the diversity within the Muslim world, and also of the direction in which that world is headed.

Few Muslims wish to be classified in a category that would prevent them from participating in the benefits of modernity. The pull of mass education, commerce, trade, and engagement with the world is strong. But these possibilities are openings that radical Islam is attempting to close off, which has led to an ideological civil war within Islam. In country after country, the middle class, the elite, and most of the poor are frightened by an austere version of theocratic Islam that has managed to gain political leverage. In order to sustain modern governments and access to the world in which they want to be active contributors, Muslims need an alliance with the West - not a confrontation.

The most visible aspect of the post-September 11 world, however, has been a confrontation: the United States' military response to the attacks. It has been far more extensive than anyone might have expected. It has involved a war against Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime and, more significant, a global effort to fight armed, militant Islamic groups. Launching a war against Afghanistan was, politically, the relatively easy part. The Taliban were despised in most of the Muslim world, and their form of religious fascism produced widespread revulsion among Muslims. The two supporters of the Taliban regime- the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia- ultimately did not face popular opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan. Though there were a few "sympathizers" (motivated either by strategic interests or ideology), their resistance was not a significant constraint on foreign policy.

The global fight against militant Islamic groups, however, will be much more demanding. In the Philippines, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere, any armed group is now under the joint assault of the domestic government and U.S. intelligence forces. In some cases, this is leading to tension with allies, as in Pakistan, where the government has had a rather complex relationship with some of these groups - many of whom have been part of clandestine operations in Kashmir. Forces in Pakistan sympathetic to the Kashmir cause view any actions the Musharraf government takes against these groups as a betrayal.

Similarly, in countries such as Uzbekistan there are fears that governments will use the war on terrorism to repress legitimate political opposition and to further control religious political parties - something that might, in a worst-case scenario, create the foundations for the violent removal of secular governments by religious forces. In countries such as these, the United States is now confronted with the complex dilemma of trying to advance security interests while sustaining support for political liberalization and democracy. Over the long run, the absence of political freedoms in "client" states, such as prerevolutionary Iran, led to the growth of anti-U.S. religious forces. Not repeating the same error in the current context is important. In the war on terrorism the United States is inevitably involved in the domestic political evolution of countries. Continuing to support the people of these countries in their struggle for more open political systems while working with existing governments against armed militant groups is a delicate balancing act.

An exclusively military response, which ignores support for reform, could add fuel to a very dangerous fire. It is noticeable that both Palestine and Kashmir have acquired renewed salience after September 11. The continuing spotlight on the Middle East and South Asia is a reminder of the dangers such disputes pose to global security: they provide a fertile breeding ground for the emergence of desperate militant groups that have very little to lose. Thus, even the purely military part of the response involves considerable investments in diplomacy and engagement. To varying degrees the war on terrorism needs to be accompanied by intense political and diplomatic engagement. We urgently need to craft a policy agenda- one that carves out new foundations for trust and exchange between the Muslim world and the West.

This process has already begun over the past year, but it needs to be significantly strengthened and broadened if it is not to fail. One of the most problematic political obstacles to a coalition of reform remains the question of how to create both a Palestinian state and a secure Israel. Indeed, the politics of the Middle East continue to be a powerful emotional tool for terrorist groups. It was no coincidence that all of the hijackers were from the Middle East, home to a minority (20 percent) of the Muslim world. And it was no surprise that the subsequent video statements of leaders such as Osama bin Laden evoked the plight of Palestinians as well as appeals against the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia. The statements were an open call for overthrowing existing regimes in the Arab world and for their replacement by anti-American puritanical theocracies.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Bush administration recognized that it must take on the issue of the Palestinian state. The recent deterioration of prospects for peace in the Middle East only heightens the need for all parties to reinvest in a negotiated settlement. Not only is this the only viable long-term solution, doing so will rob militant groups of one of the key strategies they use to gain support- the exploitation of the Palestinian cause. Moreover, the United States should not be distracted from its investment in the diplomacy required to address the Palestinian state by pursuing military action against Iraq. An attack on even as unpopular a figure as Saddam Hussein carries the risks of alienating key allies and intensifying a sense of Arab humiliation. This reaction could be severe- especially if the attack takes places despite the warnings and pleas from moderate Arab leaders such as the King of Jordan.

Above and beyond the Palestinian question, the alliance between the Muslim world and the West should rest on a broad, long-term coalition that combines a mix of political, socioeconomic, and military responses to the current crisis. Some of these measures are specific, while others are generic. Getting this combination right in various circumstances will determine how the relationship with the Muslim world evolves. The approach has to be one that recognizes the interest of Muslim societies in consolidating their relationship with the West in general, and the U.S. in particular. The goals of this alliance should be to build modern, open, democratic societies in the Muslim world. For this objective to succeed there is a need to integrate- not isolate - Muslim countries.

First, the U.S needs to pay particular attention to supporting Muslim countries that have become democratic. Due to a variety of strategic and economic interests, the United States has frequently been perceived as an ambivalent supporter of freedom in the Muslim world. Even now, active U.S. support for a regime change that would replace an existing ally with a democratic system is unlikely to be forthcoming - though even in these circumstances major external powers should not be viewed as obstacles to change. Further, and perhaps more important, the new wave of democracies in the Muslim world needs especially strong support. Their success is critical for the spread of civil and political freedoms. Many of the large democracies are, however, currently in trouble. Countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh face a range of problems: in some, the political parties are undemocratic; in others, the judiciary and a free media are under pressure. The challenges of democratic decentralization are intense, and addressing these democratic deficits is critical.2 By providing visible and targeted support to new Muslim democracies, the United States signals its commitment to the struggle for freedom in Islamic countries.

Second, the United States has to support progressive socioeconomic change. One of the most critical areas is female education, as women have typically borne the brunt of the puritanical assault of fundamentalist groups. Accompanying investments in basic health, population planning, and other social services can help advance women's status in Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike. These progressive democratic changes can come even at low incomes, as the case of Bangladesh shows. Similarly, Malaysia and Indonesia have used social policy investments to reduce their rates of population growth. Open, tolerant, modern Muslim societies are an important part of the battle against fundamentalism. Aid programs should support Muslim countries that invest in their people - particularly women - if they wish to play a strategic role in supporting human development.

Third, to a far greater degree than before, aid programs have to pay attention to the promotion of an education system that teaches skills necessary for a modern economy. The poor quality and irrelevance of education systems in many Muslim countries have led to the growth of religious political education in the extreme, in the form of anti-Western madrassas. In countries such as Pakistan, aid agencies need to support the revitalization of the education system, particularly the public education system, which is in complete disarray. Even without the danger of radical threats represented by the madrassas, external support for modern, better-quality education is a vital investment in support of progressive change in Muslim societies. Unfortunately, many countries are not in a position to borrow money to finance educational reform. The U.S should alleviate this problem by supporting the provision of grants to countries interested in making the changes toward a modern educational system. Many prominent figures in the current administration favor the use of grant facilities for investments in human development, and providing an expanded grant facility in support of education reform programs in Muslim countries would be an important incentive for change. A number of significant educational initiatives are already underway in countries such as Costa Rica, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea, and enough experience has been gained by international organizations to adapt and help countries tailor these experiences to their circumstances.

Finally, operations against militants need to be based on alliances with the people and the government of a country, and fought in terms of a common struggle. This may not be easy under all circumstances, but rooting out militant groups is as much in the security interest of Muslim countries as it is in the interest of the United States. Already, U.S. Special Forces are engaged in a variety of joint operations and training programs for government military units engaged in antiterrorist operations. The key political challenge in the military aspect of the alliance is to create national support - and not necessarily consensus - by emphasizing the benefits of these actions for the country itself. This can be achieved partially by conferring with the government in order to create a list of groups considered terrorist, and then by making it public.

This point is important, for it concerns the very legitimacy of the alliance. Allegations of terrorism should be backed up publicly with evidence, and the proposed measures against terrorist groups should be a matter of public debate. Taking weapons out of the hands of militant political groups and criminal organizations has obvious benefits for civil peace and, potentially, for economic development. Citizens of beleaguered cities such as Karachi do not need to be convinced of the merits of disarming violent groups, and they are likely to welcome external support for national efforts. But the process of designating organizations as militant terrorist/sectarian/criminal - and of providing evidence against them - has to be made more open if it is to win public support. Excessive secrecy does a common cause a disservice and gives the impression that the national government is undertaking actions that are against its will. In some cases, this open process will create friction, not least when groups have been supported by governments in the past and are involved in "proxy wars," as in Kashmir. In no country, however, has there been any significant public show of support for groups such as al-Qaeda, and as long as actions remain confined to well-defined groups there is little danger of public reaction against them. On the contrary, most citizens will welcome the opportunity to reduce the proliferation of light weapons.

One year after the attacks on the United States, we are at a critical juncture. The radical puritans did not succeed on the scale that many feared; indeed, radical Islam has shot itself in the foot by giving governments in the Muslim world all the more reason to shut it down. It is likely that al-Qaeda expected a wave of popular sympathy and admiration for its tactical brilliance in pulling off a most improbable mission. The applause it received was, however, scant. Suddenly, because of crimes willed and carried out by a tiny minority, the whole world of Islam was put on the defensive. In contrast with the terrorists' desires, Muslim countries thrive on trade and commerce, they seek more - not less - integration with global markets, and they crave opportunities to revive faltering economies. It is in the interest of the West to engage Muslims around the world in a far-reaching military, political, and socioeconomic alliance in order to help them realize these ambitions.

1 For an analysis of the spread of democracy in the world, see United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report: Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2002). [Back]

2 For an excellent review of the dilemmas involved in addressing these problems, see Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999). [Back]

Afghan Women: Recovering, Rebuilding
Sima Wali

The United States' foreign policy in Afghanistan has a long history of misguided plans and misplaced trust - a fact that has contributed to the destruction of the social and physical infrastructure of Afghan society. Afghans contend that after having fought as U.S. allies against the Soviet Union - with the price of more than two million dead - the United States swiftly walked away at the end of that bloody, twenty-three-year conflict. The toll of the war on Afghan society reflected in current statistics is so staggering as to be practically unimaginable: 12 million women living in abject poverty, 1 million people handicapped from land mine explosions, an average life expectancy of forty years (lower for women), a mortality rate of 25.7 percent for children under five years old, and an illiteracy rate of 64 percent.1 These horrific indicators place Afghanistan among the most destitute countries in the world in terms of human development.

In 1996 the Taliban walked into this breach, immediately issuing edicts banning Afghan women from the public domain. The harshness of the terms of segregation evoked comparisons with South Africa's apartheid regime - leading human rights organizations in the West to call it "gender apartheid." Women were prohibited from working outside their homes, attending school, or appearing in public without a close male relative. They were forced to ride on "women only" public buses, were forbidden to wear brightly colored clothes, and had to have the windows in their houses painted so that they could not be seen from outside. Initially, they could only be treated by female doctors; later, they could be examined - but not seen or touché - by male doctors, in the presence of a male relative. The standard punishment for theft and adultery was public stoning, or even execution; yet a woman had no right to petition a court directly.

These ultraconservative policies and the hardships they imposed are by now quite well known - thanks in part to work done before the war in Afghanistan by women's groups in the United States. In 1998, for example, an alliance of women's rights groups protested the U.S. oil company Unocal's collaboration with the Taliban regime in a project to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. This grassroots campaign, much like the 1980s anti-apartheid movement for South Africa, publicized the plight of Afghan women and provided a new set of interlocutors in U.S. foreign policy. In essence, the message of this movement was that the conditions of life for Afghan women symbolized the total devastation of Afghan society.

The Status of Women

From the beginning of the war, the status of women denied even the most basic human rights under the Taliban regime was a significant part of the moral justification for the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. The Taliban's introduction of draconian measures against Afghan women left them exceedingly poor, unhealthy, and uneducated. In Afghan society, women constitute the most underprivileged group: the vast majority of the 22 million Afghans who rely on international assistance for survival have been women.2 Globally, they represent the most extreme example of what is known as the "feminization of poverty": for years their health care and nutritional needs have been ignored; their labor has gone unrecognized and unpaid; they have lacked access to education; they have been denied land ownership or inheritance rights; and they have had no decision-making power in the community. That is, they have had none of the resources they would need to escape the cycle of poverty.3

Contributing to this near-total lack of capabilities women in particular have to adequately take care of themselves and their families is the fact that the Afghan crisis is currently the most serious and complex human emergency in the world. There are 1.1 million internally displaced people in Afghanistan4 and almost 3.6 million living in neighboring countries.5 The majority of them are women. Because of the disproportionate death toll in men during the war against the Soviet Union, it is women who are now charged with taking care of the approximately one million orphaned children, the elderly, and the handicapped - though they are, themselves, traumatized, malnourished, and undersupported.

How can the status of women in Afghanistan improve given these daunting challenges? The first thing to realize is that despite these appalling statistics, Afghan women are resources for development, not just victims. I can testify to their resilience and courage and to the contributions they have made in the past two decades of war. While men took up arms, Afghan women and their male supporters were busy rebuilding their communities by providing critically needed human services. Thus the success of rapid development schemes hinges on the formal rehabilitation and active protection of women's equal status in Afghan society.

The implications of gender inequality for the future of Afghanistan are significant given that women represent more than half of the population. Without their participation in political and economic life, it will be impossible for the country to develop and integrate successfully into a global society. What is needed to start the process is an up-to-date, accurate analysis of gender inequality. Reliable basic data-such as the percentage of women in the total population, family size, the number of households headed by women - and human development indicators for health, education, and income were last published in 1996.

Only after the appropriate data is collected can the government create responsible policies for gender mainstreaming - that is, for alleviating the segregation of women and their effective social, economic, and political marginalization. Women must be integrated into all sectors of Afghan society, including public life as paid government employees. For gender inequality to be addressed seriously, women need to participate more proportionately in government (currently, they hold only 11 percent of seats in the loya jirga council). They should also hold posts in all ministries, not just in the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

The War on Terrorism and Its Aftermath

Following a long lapse in U.S. interest in Afghanistan, this war-ravaged nation stood at the epicenter of world attention almost immediately after the September 11 attacks on U.S. soil. Afghanistan, which had been denied the credit it was due for having helped free the world of communism, now grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly made famous as the homeland of the Taliban and host to Osama bin Laden and his mercenaries, Afghanistan was excoriated as a country that waged war against its women. The Western world did not need any more justifications than these to launch its offensive. For the first time in world history, a major war was being linked - however tenuously - to the freedom of women.

Initially, the people of Afghanistan - and women in particular - welcomed U.S. and international forces, publicly rejoicing in the streets of Kabul. As the euphoria wore off, however, the burqa-clad women were increasingly unwilling to emerge from their shroud-like coverings, alleging a lack of security, rampant rape, ethnic witch-hunting campaigns against the Pashtun tribe, generalized violence, and widespread abuse by various factions of the Northern Alliance forces.6 Women in refugee camps spoke of becoming the targets of recently disarmed men-whose new weapons were harassment and rape.7 Without the protection of security forces, refugee and internally displaced women from neighboring countries who had fled the war fear returning to their home areas in Afghanistan, while others fear leaving their homes to participate in public life as teachers, health workers, entrepreneurs, and government officials.

Given these dangers, women demonstrated remarkable courage during the recent loya jirga - the council that met in Kabul June 10-16 to elect a transitional government - by articulating their long-held grievances against warlords and their armed supporters. Giving testimony was not without its risks, particularly for those who came from outside Kabul and whose safe return to their provinces and respectful treatment by local warlords could not be assured. As the campaign to bring down al-Qaeda progressed, both Afghan women and men had to be wary of the increased power of these warlords, whom the U.S.-led forces hoped to win over to the war on terrorism through gifts of weapons and money. Indeed, Afghan women cite this empowerment of warlords as one of the gravest threats to the establishment and the maintenance of a secure environment. For these reasons, multinational peacekeeping forces must be expanded beyond Kabul to provide security for women and all Afghans, and to train Afghan security forces - which should themselves accept women recruits.

In addition to serious questions about basic security for women, there are deep socioeconomic issues for all Afghans such as the lack of adequate employment, education, income, and housing - coupled with a new nepotism among certain forces in power. Under these circumstances, the needs of Afghan women have once again been deferred. However, as the cases of intimidation against Sima Samar, the former minister of women's affairs, and other female loya jirga delegates indicate, women's issues concern everyone - not just women. Samar was alleged to have said that she did not believe in sharia (Islamic law), and was charged in court with blasphemy. Warlords invoked the allegation to threaten her repeatedly, and it became the basis for the Supreme Court chief justice's claim that she was not fit to hold a government office.8 It took the intervention of then-Chairman Karzai to abolish all charges against her and subsequently reassign her to head the Human Rights Commission. By undermining the legitimate representation of all Afghan people, gender-inspired threats to current or former government officials directly imperil the prospects for Afghanistan's success in building a state governed by the rule of law and the respect for human rights.

It is thus important that international nongovernmental organizations and other interlocutors pressure national governments to place conditionalities on reconstruction aid that are predicated on gender sensitivity. As soon as the transitional government gains access to the funds promised - but as yet unreleased - at the International Conference for Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in Tokyo last January, the international community will give its first attention to rebuilding political institutions and physical infrastructure, and to making provisions for security forces. Only a fraction of the funds may be used to address the social and civil institutions ravaged by the war. It is here, then, that the international community should reorient some of its priorities toward these latter institutions, and thereby show its commitment to helping build a peaceful, tolerant, and democratic Afghan society.

Looking Ahead

The era when states might commit grave human rights abuses against their own citizens with impunity is past. The U.S. public has, as a result of September 11, broad access to images of and news stories about human beings who are experiencing inordinate suffering. Will they reach out to help? That depends. First, Americans should reconsider the origins of the war in Afghanistan, and come to terms with the United States' own role in it. Second - and consequentially - they should understand that events in Afghanistan directly affect their lives in the United States.

As tragic as the attacks on September 11 were, one of their unintended outcomes was to produce renewed thinking about the need to address the inhumane conditions to which the Afghan people have long been subject. The most striking aspect of this effect is that rhetoric decrying the indecency and criminality of Taliban treatment of Afghan women actually passed from rhetoric to action. This may have simply been a by-product of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, but it should not distract us from accepting and building on these opportunities for the Afghan people and, especially, for Afghan women.

1 United Nations Development Programme, "Focus on Afghanistan: UNDP's Human Development Report Office Presents New Analysis of Socio-economic Indicators for Afghanistan," available at www.undp.org/dpa/pressrelease/releases/2001/october/8october01.html.[Back]

2 Human Rights Watch, "Humanity Denied: Systemic Violations of Women's Rights in Afghanistan," p. 8; available at www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghan3/afgwrd1001.pdf. [Back]

3 See United Nations, "Fact Sheet No. 1: The Feminization of Poverty," available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/followup/session/presskit/fs1.htm. [Back]

4 See World Bank, "Afghanistan: Facts and Figures at a Glance," April 2002, p. 1., available at lnweb18.worldbank.org/SAR/sa.nsf/Attachements/dat/$File/AtgData.pdf. [Back]

5 See United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "2001 UNHCR Population Statistics (Provisional)," p. 11, available at www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2002/unhcr-stat-07jun.pdf. [Back]

6See, for example, Human Rights Watch, "Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan," May 2002, available at www.hrw.org/backgrounder/wrd/afghan-women-2k2.pdf. [Back]

7See Human Rights Watch, "On the Precipice: Insecurity in Northern Afghanistan," June 2002, available at www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan/afghan-bck.pdf. [Back]

8See Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: Former Women's Minister Intimidated," available at www.hrw.org/press/2002/06/afghan0626.htm. [Back]

New Priorities for Philanthropy
Robert L. Bach

The events of September 11 have forced institutions to reexamine their priorities and practices. Yet the first world war of the twenty-first century has left many wondering if there truly is a war, and what, if anything, different is demanded of them. The philanthropic sector in particular has not changed significantly, and it continues to struggle with fundamental concerns about its directions. If September 11 and its aftermath are to mean anything to philanthropy other than emergency relief, it must be a recognition that now is the time to tackle the problems and tensions that were ignored before the attacks. For nearly a year, philanthropy as a sector has not rallied behind this call for longer-term reform. Philanthropy should take up these tasks, no matter how daunting they may be, for if foundations do not lead the effort, it may be left to the governments and the militaries of the world to respond on their own.

That is not to say, of course, that foundations were unresponsive to the massive tragedies in New York City. Propelled forward by the immense generosity of the American people and its own best traditions, the philanthropic sector responded immediately, raising well over $1 billion, and, despite public criticism, it did so with a minimum of confusion. Many organizations agreed to pool their funds, and when administrative difficulties arose, senior members of the community quickly stepped in to help out.

Still, the philanthropic community did not, and largely has not, answered the implicit questions raised as a result of September 11. How could the events have so completely surprised everyone? Surely if the attacks were more than random acts, their root causes and systemic antecedents should have provided some warning. How and why had foundation staff and, especially, the civil-society organizations they finance, missed these emerging trends and tensions?

Questions such as these provoked defensiveness in the philanthropic community. Some argued that a quick shift in priorities after September 11 would devalue existing projects and call into question foundation strategies developed over many years. How would trustees' boards receive proposals for swift changes, and how would established funding constituencies react politically to new priorities? The result was that most foundations resisted anxious reflections about their own work. They stayed the course, defended established grant programs, and held on to entrenched financial priorities.

The public sector, in contrast, responded quickly and profoundly, charting a new course financially, militarily, and politically. Across the globe, governments forged ahead with an urgent sense of new priority setting. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. In the United States, certainly, the Bush administration's isolationist foreign policy was so out of touch with what was needed to respond to these attacks that an outburst of new strategic planning was to be expected. In contrast, the nonprofit community seems to persist in underestimating the implications of September 11 and its aftermath and, as a result, it has given insufficient attention to rethinking some of its core strategies.

Reorienting Priorities for Justice

In many ways, the nonprofit sector was aligned before September 11 to fight a different global battle. Its strategies in the 1990s exuded the confidence and ambition of political and economic victory over communism. A triumphant ideology proclaimed that private enterprise would unleash the wealth-creating magic of the marketplace. With foundation reserves expanding along with the stock market's exuberance, many believed that civil-society organizations could take charge in those places where public authorities were weak and that, where necessary, private philanthropy could "correct" the market where it failed to spread as widely and rapidly as anticipated.

However, even before September 11, critics began to question whether these strategies identified the most useful targets, and the extent to which favored tactics and programs were truly effective. Some observers suggested that these efforts were not only ineffective but that some of the initiatives and approaches had gone too far. In particular, critics wondered if efforts to "build" civil society and work closely with private market development had fueled opposition to institutionalized forms of public authority and governance necessary for social development, political stability, and human security.

After September 11 a variety of critics turned these concerns into core ethical and politico-economic questions about the philanthropic mission itself. One foundation president called for reaffirmation of the core principle of philanthropy: the fundamental faith that "wealth can transcend its own parochial interests, and directly be used for the common good."1 The events of September 11 might have reawakened awareness and interest in promoting a global common good, but that would have required several significant changes in philanthropic approaches. The events certainly demanded an engagement in the world and an end to implied and explicit isolationism. They called for a clear and critical reassessment of strategies to promote civil-society networks, especially in light of growing dissatisfaction with their lack of concrete accomplishments. They also challenged foundation leadership to reform program priorities to move beyond constituency-based philanthropy that further fragmented societies rather than promoting unifying, shared objectives.

The attacks also should have underscored the urgency of the reform task. They served notice that there were real dangers in a world in which states had too little authority and power, and in which nonstate groups might generate sufficient private wealth to capture from states weapons of mass destruction. In this context, the evolution of conditions in Afghanistan leading up to September 11 offered at least two lessons to guide nonprofit sector reform: First, a disregard for and opposition to institutional forms of public order and government will undermine the pursuit of both justice and economic well-being. George Soros had warned as early as 1998 that "a weak state may be as much a threat to open society as an authoritarian state."2 September 11 underscored the potential impact of ignoring failed states, and of abandoning the very states that the international community had previously boycotted and punished. Second, no society can be peaceful if the logic of the global system systematically violates a sense of "fairness." Unnecessary human suffering at a time when the world enjoys an abundance of knowledge, technology, and resources compromises the "moral sustainability" of all societies.3

Of course, philanthropy did not have to focus on programs solely in Afghanistan to be responsive to new global trends. Unfortunately, the nonprofit community still resists involvement in places, such as Haiti, where the lessons of Afghanistan might be applied. Embracing the apparent lack of interest of both public and for-profit sectors, foundations have largely withdrawn from Haiti and virtually abandoned the Caribbean as a whole. Yet Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its people are suffering from HIV/AIDS at rates comparable to and even surpassing many areas of the world receiving both UN and philanthropic attention. It also sits on the doorstep of the United States, and is thus intertwined with U.S. domestic concerns. Still, Haiti has been left to become another failed state. Echoing the steps of demise seen in Afghanistan, political violence has increased, human suffering has reached dramatic proportions, and drug cartels are seizing and corrupting civil society.

Philanthropists should also be interested in Haiti as a political and moral gauge of the "fairness" and sustainability of efforts to create a Western hemispheric economy rooted in free trade and private enterprise. Philanthropic efforts should be targeted to ensure that the design and construction of the regional order contains a promise of improvement for the poorest and weakest. If such concerns are not central to formal negotiations among governments throughout the region, later efforts to provide assistance to Haiti will be marginally effective and much too late to help resolve its fundamental economic and political problems.

Haiti offers only one example of the misdirection of philanthropic strategies and its selective lack of engagement. Of course, Haiti is not Afghanistan, and even a political and social implosion will not generate the types of conditions that fueled the rise of the Taliban. In the midst of the American region, however, Haiti and other countries are descending into unbelievable and unacceptable misery. Their collapse will have direct and dramatic effects on the United States.

The post-September 11 strategic challenges for philanthropy, of course, go much further than the problem of failed states. Many foundations, however, have found that they simply could not shift directions swiftly enough. The networks of civil-society advocates constructed and funded during the 1990s were simply unprepared to respond to the new challenges. Facing inevitable political battles over funding, many foundations searched for ways to rationalize continued financial support for favored constituency groups by twisting previous work and objectives to somehow fit the new demands. These institutional problems, of course, were not new to foundation leaders and many had been working on ways to increase funding flexibility by placing time limits on institutional support.4 Still, institutional constraints severely limited the capacity of the philanthropic sector to respond to the events of September 11 at a time when the common good justified impatience.

The Search for Security

After September 11 the U.S. government's reaction, domestically and overseas, clearly launched a process of redefining world political priorities and of crafting a new model of world leadership. The process will continue to take shape for some time and involve, as it does now, conflicting priorities. These changes are so fundamental that it is not surprising that the process begins with a confrontation over fundamental principles - security, war, justice. The philanthropic community needs to be a part of this process, beginning with support for the debate to ensure it is truly global in character, inclusive of a broad array of perspectives, and practically oriented.

For example, the revival after September 11 of long dormant intellectual and political debates about "just wars" reflects this rekindling of concern about core principles and strategies. The first principle of a "just war" - self-defense - is a reasonable starting point in the context of the September 11 attacks: it is both conceptually fundamental and practically oriented. The United States has a need to establish its moral legitimacy to carry a coalition of the world's strongest militaries into lethal action halfway around the world.

Yet, as a concept and as a tactic to mobilize coalition partners, it is much too narrow and limited. Self-defense arguments only begin to construct a rationale for U.S. policy re-engagement. Equally important are the second and third principles of a just war: issues related to the conduct of war, and the character, the justice, of whatever settlements are to come from these wars. A focus on these principles and issues is one way in which philanthropy could make a practical contribution. In a time of war, philanthropy should set its goals on crafting the peace - putting together the elements of a future economic, social, and political order that updates and surpasses the tricky notions of "nation-building." The philanthropic sector could lead both the public and the for-profit sectors in focusing on cooperative regional security, stability, and improvement in well-being.

For the philanthropic community to rise to this global challenge, however, it must move quickly past its legacy in the 1990s of disregard for public authority and state power, and an excessive focus on civil-society organizations. A necessary first step is to examine self-critically the shortcomings of existing strategies. The World Resources Institute (WRI) offers a good example of the value of this initial assessment. In its annual review, WRI reports on the sharp disjuncture between the growth of civil-society networks working on global environmental issues since the 1992 Rio Conference and their minimal concrete impacts. In the ten years following the Rio Conference, the role of NGOs and civil society in general in international discussions has expanded dramatically. Financed primarily by private foundations' civil-society initiatives, this engagement led to convention after convention, declaration after declaration, and resolution upon resolution. All the while, however, conditions on the ground, in the very areas that this increased participation targeted, continued their decline.

Philanthropy has also supported efforts to devise a framework and practical guidelines for when and under what circumstances international military force should be used to intervene in "local" affairs. In one case, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty struggled with the dilemma of deep antagonism and opposition between civil-society opponents and state authorities. Its proposed resolution would transform the question of protection from a rights-based framework, used primarily to monitor and criticize governments, to an engaged approach that focuses on the "responsibility to protect" - a political duty deeply rooted in governance and public legitimacy.5 The example highlights the need for foundations to take even their past successes (their support for human rights globally during the last half of the twentieth century) and transform them to help meet new challenges.

For philanthropy, however, perhaps the most challenging consequence of September 11 involves the pervasive new security consciousness. If the sector hopes to contribute, it must overcome a reluctance to engage in issues related to national security, the military, and effective law enforcement, especially in terms of fostering cooperation rather than opposition between public authorities and civil-society organizations. Unfortunately, past neglect and outright antagonism make this a difficult domestic and international task. Civil-society organizations financed primarily to protect liberties and rights are ill prepared to keep pace with the growing acceptance of the centrality of civilian law enforcement as the new mechanism of international cooperation and governance.

Foundations have a crucial role to play in constructing this new framework. That framework will require innovations in all areas, including security, law enforcement, and protection of individual rights. As difficult as the process may be, without innovations in the way that security doctrines and civil liberties work together, neither approach will establish the common ground of concern that will create a framework for democratic governance in an age of terror. To be effective, however, foundations must be able and willing to shift course and seek a synthesis of approaches.

Philanthropy's historical promise grows out of its ability to take risks, to pursue issues and problems, and to serve people in circumstances that either government or profit-making institutions cannot. Once again, it is called upon to fulfill that promise. The demands of a post-September 11 United States, let alone of the world, call for recrafting principles and approaches to very tough issues - ones that are not well served by established programs and other sectors. To take a few examples, this may well be a historical moment in which the United States recalibrates the relationship between government authority and individual liberties. It may well be the moment in which the limits of civil society in effecting change are defined. And it may well be an era in which a series of failed states spawns public disorders that threaten, at various levels of risk, communities that are stable and at peace. To meet these new challenges, foundations will certainly need to struggle with realignments of established funding constituencies and disrupt entrenched programs that will cause difficult and unpleasant institutional reforms. No single foundation initiative would or should be adequate to this task, for it is not a new project that is needed, but a re-dedication of philanthropy to identifying core problems and searching for innovative solutions.

1 Lance E. Lindblom, "Common Vision - Common Goals?" (speech given at the Independent Sector Annual Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, November 4, 2001). [Back]

2 George Soros, The Crisis of Global Capitalism (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), p. 70. [Back]

3Lincoln C. Chen, "Partnerships for Social Development in a Globalizing World" (speech given at the Geneva 2000 Forum International Conference Centre, Geneva, July 27, 2000), p. 3. [Back]

4See, e.g., statements made by Theda Skocpol in Thomas J. Billitteri, "'The American Prospect': Civic Disengagement," Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 17, 1999. [Back]

5International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottowa: International Development Research Centre, 2002). [Back]

Promoting Human Rights
James D. Ross

All wars - and the current war on terrorism is no exception - provide serious tests for the rule of law. The demands of armed conflict, with its instantaneous decisions of life and death, do not lend themselves easily to legal constraint. It is thus not surprising that the United States, which has been outspoken historically on matters of human rights, would become less attentive to those concerns after coming under deadly attack. For Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other human rights organizations, the primary concern since September 11 has been to demonstrate that upholding fundamental rights, whether on the battlefields of Afghanistan or in the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay, is not only consistent with fighting international terrorism, but is, in essence, what the war is all about. The unwillingness of the Bush administration to embrace this idea bodes ill for the protection of rights as the war on terrorism reaches across the globe.

In many respects HRW's approach to September 11 and its aftermath merely draws on previous work. The civil war in Afghanistan and rights abuses by the Taliban had long been a focus. After September 11, however, new urgency was given to investigating violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) by the various armed forces in Afghanistan and the treatment of refugees in Pakistan and Iran. HRW's examination of the U.S.-led air campaign in Afghanistan built on previous studies done following the Gulf War and Kosovo. The post-September 11 climate has also given new prominence to human rights issues in the United States, such as hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims and the arbitrary detention of noncivilians under immigration laws.

Despite the continuity with past human rights monitoring, HRW has nevertheless had to do major rethinking, redeploying, and re-prioritizing of its work. As a result, HRW has come face to face with a number of issues-some new, others long dormant in the nooks and crannies of international law - that are likely to define the human rights debate for governments and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, for some time to come. One thing is certain: as the war on terrorism expands globally, the boundaries of rights protection will be tested and retested.

Addressing Terrorism

Terrorism is not easily defined; Walter Laqueur collected more than a hundred definitions of the term.1 The international human rights movement has long condemned terrorism in the context of civil wars, where such acts are violations of humanitarian law, but it has not addressed terrorism more generally. Because they do not entail violations of international law, terrorist acts by criminal gangs or solitary individuals are considered to be a matter for local law enforcement.

Many human rights organizations, including HRW, condemned the September 11 attacks as violations of international law - as a crime against humanity, or as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions (that is, as a war crime). The longer-term question for the human rights community is whether it should try to address a broader range of issues commonly thought of as terrorism. This would include terrorist acts conducted outside the context of armed conflict, such as the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, and attacks that do not have an international legal dimension, such as the Oklahoma City bombing. Doing so would address criticism leveled by governments that human rights groups are only concerned about certain serious acts of terrorism and not others.

Such an approach would not be cost-free. Any rights organization attempting to enter the emotional politics of labeling particular groups or acts as "terrorist" would risk its neutrality. Unless routine condemnations of terrorist attacks were presented in a way that provided new information or insight, little would be gained other than getting the organization "on the record," one way or the other.

The War in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch is not a pacifist organization. As it did during other armed conflicts, HRW adopted a position of neutrality with respect to the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan. The organization's primary contribution during armed conflicts has been not to determine whether a particular war is lawful or just (jus ad bellum), but to monitor whether the fighting is being conducted in conformity with the rules of war (jus in bello). An organization risks its credibility in analyzing the conduct of a war once it has taken sides in the conflict. HRW has advocated military intervention only in exceptional cases: if it is the last plausible way to stop genocide or comparable mass slaughter, if intervention is likely to do more good than harm, and if it is conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The issue of neutrality resurfaced after a number of nongovernmental organizations and others called for a "humanitarian pause" in the U.S. bombing campaign. A pause was said to be needed so that humanitarian agencies in Afghanistan would have the opportunity to reach the hundreds of thousands of Afghans cut off from relief assistance by the war. Human Rights Watch (as well as some major humanitarian agencies) chose not to support (or oppose) the humanitarian pause, taking the view that calling for an end to the fighting was philosophically no different from taking a position as to whether a state should go to war in the first place.

Should the war on terrorism spread across the globe, groups like HRW will be under increasing pressure to abandon their policy of neutrality. That is, it is not difficult to present a plausible legal justification for the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan on the basis of self-defense under the UN Charter. But such might not be the case with respect to future battlefields, particularly if scant evidence is presented linking the attacked state to international terrorism. Should a government's justifications for going to war be clearly inconsistent with the UN Charter, human rights organizations will need to articulate stronger arguments for neutrality-or their technical arguments on the laws of war will run the risk of irrelevancy.

HRW and other human rights groups sent investigative teams to examine the major aspects of the armed conflict in Afghanistan, including violations of the laws of war by the Taliban and opposition Afghan forces, the treatment of refugees and displaced persons, the U.S.-led bombing campaign, and violations of human rights by warlords and their armies in the aftermath of the fighting. While fact-finding in the sprawling war-ravaged country was difficult, the legal issues were largely straightforward.

Several issues nonetheless arose that will need to be better addressed in the future, mostly concerning the international legal obligations of armed forces under what has been termed "a new kind of war."2 For instance, there is a need for greater clarity as to the legal responsibilities of an armed force when its proxy commits atrocities-exemplified by the relationship between the U.S. coalition forces and the warlord armies of the Northern Alliance that grossly mistreated captured soldiers. The same holds true for the extent to which new military technologies, such as highly accurate bombs and improved intelligence-gathering capabilities, place greater responsibilities on commanders to reduce dangers to civilians and civilian objects. As evidenced by the recent fighting in Mindanao in the Philippines, these are issues likely to resurface as the war on terrorism expands around the globe.

Misappropriating the War on Terrorism

A number of governments have used the war on terrorism to justify internal crackdowns on minority populations or groups deemed to be a threat to national security. In India, a discredited law that allows for long-term detention without trial has been resurrected-it was invoked in July to detain more than a thousand ethnic Tamils in Tamil Nadu state. Russia has taken advantage of lessened international scrutiny to ratchet up its military campaign in Chechnya. In China, a government crackdown against ethnic Uighurs in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang has resulted in numerous human rights violations.

More difficult to monitor has been the treatment, primarily in closed countries, of those apprehended for alleged involvement in terrorism and deported home. Captured Uzbeks in Afghanistan, for instance, were reportedly returned to Uzbekistan, where torture of suspected Islamic fundamentalists is pervasive. International law prohibits a country from returning individuals to any state where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured. The Convention against Torture specifically prohibits complicity by officials in such practices, but what constitutes complicity in these circumstances is not always clear. For example, early this year the United States reportedly provided an airplane to send a group of Egyptians from Indonesia back to an uncertain fate in Egypt.3 As the war on terrorism expands, either through armed conflict or criminal law enforcement, greater scrutiny of state action will be required to ensure that deportation and torture do not replace criminal prosecution.

Guantánamo and Military Commissions

The capture of Taliban and al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and their transfer to the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay resulted in a deluge of media coverage, mostly about the conditions of their detention. Human Rights Watch focused its attention on the legal status of the detainees-whether they were properly determined to be "prisoners of war" (POWs), "protected persons," or something else-an issue of considerable consequence both for those held now and for future detainees in the war on terrorism.

For countries such as the United States, whose armed forces take the Geneva Conventions very seriously, the status of captured combatants has not historically been a point of contention. In past conflicts, such as in Korea where Chinese troops were technically unprotected by the Geneva Conventions, POW status was applied forthrightly. During the Gulf War, more than a thousand tribunals, as mandated by the Geneva Conventions, were convened to determine cases of unclear POW status. For reasons more political than legal, however, the Bush administration has denied POW status to Taliban prisoners and the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to captured al-Qaeda members. As a result, questions directly answered by the Geneva Conventions, such as the applicable court for prosecution of war criminals or the role for defense counsel, have been unnecessarily (and improperly) pushed into murkier territory.

HRW has repeatedly pressed the Bush administration to abide by its international law commitments both as a matter of legal obligation and as a pragmatic course of action. Applying the Geneva Conventions in full would neither undercut the legitimate aim of the United States to detain those persons posing a continuing threat to the nation nor prevent prisoners from being properly interrogated. The pick-and-choose approach adopted by the Bush administration-applying only those Geneva provisions it currently approves of-ultimately places captured American service members and civilians at risk in this or a future war when they find themselves denied the protections due.

The administration's efforts to evade existing law, rather than apply it, have been evident in the proposed creation of military commissions to try suspected foreign terrorists. The original military order announced by President Bush on November 13, 2001, was based on a World War II order and provided few legal safeguards; under the order a military tribunal could have tried, convicted, and executed persons all in complete secrecy. The resulting public uproar, by dissenters within the armed forces as well as civil libertarians, compelled the Department of Defense to revise substantially the powers of such tribunals in its implementing regulations of March 2002. The proposed commissions are still fatally flawed-they discriminate against noncitizens and permit no genuine right of appeal-and one can expect extended controversy should the administration decide to convene them.

Increasingly, however, it is becoming clear that the Bush administration has little desire to bring to trial those apprehended in connection with the war on terrorism if it can avoid doing so. Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "twentieth hijacker" who was arrested before September 11, and so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid are being prosecuted, appropriately, before federal courts. But in other cases the administration is creating problems for itself-and for the rights of Americans to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention. Detaining without trial captured combatants until the conclusion of active hostilities is perfectly consistent with the rules of war. But the administration has denied that the rules of war even apply to the al-Qaeda detainees.

Going a step further, the administration has labeled as an "enemy combatant" and placed in military custody an American citizen, Jose Padilla, who was apprehended not on the battlefields of Afghanistan but at O'Hare airport in Chicago. To date, Padilla has had no access to legal counsel. In this and other cases the administration has indicated it will hold detainees indefinitely without trial, creating a legal limbo where neither the Geneva Conventions nor U.S. constitutional law applies. It is an issue, part of the broader context of human rights protection and the war on terrorism, that will remain high on the agenda of HRW and other human rights organizations.

The Challenge for the Human Rights Community

As the war on terrorism reaches new parts of the globe, it increasingly resembles traditional law enforcement instead of armed conflict. As a matter of international law this is crucial, since the laws of war that regulate armed conflict do not, and cannot, inform law enforcement. That is, the law that permits al-Qaeda members captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan to be held without criminal charge or a lawyer does not apply to suspects arrested in Sarajevo, Chicago, and unknown locations elsewhere. That this is occurring suggests that the war on terrorism is taking on a rhetorical quality, a generalized call to action rather than an endeavor with a clearly defined aim.

The war against al-Qaeda is real. In a real war, even against an enemy without international standing, a democratic state must justify its actions and act in accordance with the rules of war. Despite the obvious horrors of September 11 and the need for an immediate response, the U.S. government nonetheless carefully articulated reasons for going to war and garnered international support. But a rhetorical war has few limits. Should the war on terrorism become the "war on terrorism," it will be as vague and open-ended as the "war on drugs." Actions adopted in a rhetorical campaign seldom require reasons or rules-the rhetoric provides its own justification. Such a war can have no ending. "Enemy combatants" detained until the end of the conflict will effectively receive a life sentence. And deeply rooted constitutional protections such as the rights to counsel and to a fair trial will remain under threat by a single branch of the U.S. government without serious explanation or public debate. An important role for the human rights community in the coming years will be to ensure that state actions remain grounded in reality, not rhetoric, and thus subject to challenge.

1 Walter Laqueur, "Reflections on Terrorism," Foreign Affairs 65, no. 1 (1986), pp. 86-100 [Back]

2See the articles in the Roundtable, "The New War: What Rules Apply?" Ethics & International Affairs 16, no. 1 (2002, pp. 1-26. . [Back]

3See, e.g., Leslie Lopez, "U.S. Detains Suspect in Singapore Plot," Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2002, p. A6. [Back]

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