Top Picks: Boko Haram, civil discord, and 'dirty war'

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Five to read:

Boko Haram’s forsaken survivors

While Nigeria and the rest of the world celebrates the rescue of two Chibok school girls this week, essential reading is Refugees International’s blistering report into the inadequacy of GBV-services and psychosocial support for women that have survived Boko Haram violence. There is in fact no formal mechanism between the Nigerian authorities and humanitarian agencies to reach the women and girls brought to Maiduguri on a near-daily basis by the military. Rather than helped, there is just as much chance that they will be detained. There is not even enough food in the IDP camps, deepening the women’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation.

Where is the humanitarian community? The report acknowledges the difficulty of working with the Nigerian authorities, for whom security is paramount, and with local institutions, who are out of their depth given the scale of this crisis. But it also slams the lack of necessary skills among the UN agencies, their unwillingness to pursue a protection agenda, the fragmentation, finger-pointing and total inadequacy of the response. Simply put, the Humanitarian Country Team has failed to “exercise its role as custodian of principled humanitarian action in Nigeria”. They are instead putting at risk a community that has already suffered so much.

Which country is most welcoming to refugees?

Evidence that politicians may be seriously out of step with their voters on refugee policy has emerged from survey findings released by Amnesty International this week. The Refugees Welcome Index surveyed 27,000 people spread across 27 countries and found the most welcoming attitudes in some unexpected places. China, not known for its generosity towards refugees, scored higher than any other country on the index, with an astounding 46 percent of respondents there saying they would accept refugees into their homes and 86 percent agreeing that their government should be doing more to help. Doubters suggested that the result could be put down to dodgy translation of the phone-administered questionnaire, but it was not the only finding likely to have taken some politicians by surprise. Twenty-nine percent of British respondents (second only to China) said they would shelter a refugee in their homes and 84 percent of Jordanians (a country of 6.5 million with a refugee population of 780,000) agreed that their government should be doing more to help refugees. Only in Turkey, India, Thailand and Russia did a majority of respondents think their governments should not be doing more.

Reconciliation on the rocks in Sri Lanka?

When it was elected just over a year ago, Sri Lanka’s government brought hope for reconciliation in a country torn apart by decades of ethnic and sectarian war. After years of domination by a duo of hawkish brothers who held the posts of president and defence minister, President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration took power on promises to heal the rifts between Sinhalese and Tamils, clean up corruption, and restore rule of law. But time is running out, warns the International Crisis Group. The government is increasingly beset by economic problems, as well as deepening political rifts. Supporters are also losing faith. Tamils are “increasingly doubtful he will fulfil his reconciliation and justice promises”, while Sinhalese “activists criticise the failure to follow through on rule-of-law measures”, among other problems. To save itself and its pledges, the report argues, “the government must make a concerted push to jump-start the flagging reform process”.

Civil society split

Gaza’s population has urgent humanitarian needs. But there are civil society organisations in the Palestinian strip working on other important issues – mental health, women’s rights and development to name a few – that are often overlooked because the deprivation is so great. And, as this report by Israeli NGO Gisha illuminates, their work is being hampered by Israel’s restrictions on travel in and out of the territory. Staff members can’t get permits to attend trainings, they can’t meet partners in the West Bank, and they often can’t see donors face-to-face – a major obstacle for both the funders and the Gaza groups, who say this means a decline in funding or the imposition of projects. Specific examples include a music school that couldn’t get permission for teachers to enter, and had to stop classes. While this report focuses on Israeli restrictions, Egypt’s closure of its border has a role to play too, as does the Palestinian political rift. Without opportunities for advancement or training, there’s stagnation in civil society groups, and young people are less likely to enter the sector. That’s yet another loss Gaza can’t afford.

Was the strike on the MSF clinic in Kunduz deliberate after all?

Despite the Pentagon’s report of more than 3,000 pages documenting its investigation into the US airstrike on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, many questions remain. In this New York Times Magazine piece, Matthieu Aikins poses an important one: “Did Afghan forces, out of longstanding mistrust of MSF, draw the United States into a terrible tragedy?” The Pentagon largely exonerated its own forces, finding that the attack was unintentional and the result of human errors, combined with process and equipment failures. But investigators appear not to have probed the question of whether Afghan forces – motivated by “longstanding animosity for MSF”, because it treats Taliban combatants – pushed the US into attacking the hospital. Another recent investigation lends weight to that theory. Among the sources interviewed by May Jeong for her article in The Intercept, were more than 20 Afghan members of government and security forces. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, they all insisted that the Taliban had used the MSF hospital as a base to attack Afghan forces during the battle for Kunduz City.

And a related one to listen to:

“War is a very dirty thing”

Earlier this month, Doctor Joanne Liu, international president of MSF, went before the UN Security Council and issued damning testimony about the chillingly routine attacks on clinics, schools and places of worship. But Michaël Neuman, director of studies at MSF-Crash, the medical charity’s debating and analysis organ, takes issue with the direction of travel. He believes that overly simplistic campaigns that try to prevent such actions can fail to take into account the more complex context that often accompanies such incidents. “What were the organisations doing at the time they were there? What was the state of their relationship with the different stakeholders?” he asks. For Neuman, who has spent many years in the field for MSF in the Balkans, the Caucusus and West Africa, there is a deeper responsibility to look beyond wholesale denunciation and examine the particular circumstances of each incident. Condemnation must not divert attention from analysis. In this thought-provoking podcast from the Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action (ATHA), Neuman is brutally realistic about the theatre in which his organisation operates and challenges the easier, conventional response. “War is a very dirty thing,” he says. “The idea that IHL (international humanitarian law) could be respected to a point where war becemes clean is absurd. It’s delusional and it interferes with the political work that needs to be done on the field to negotiate and really protect some kind of space in our operations.”

One from IRIN:

Eye spy: biometric aid system trials in Jordan

What if food vouchers could be consigned to the past? What if instead of the logistical effort of distributing vouchers to millions of vulnerable and displaced people, and the associated risks of waste and corruption, a refugee could just walk into a shop and buy groceries with a simple eye scan? Well, actually, it’s already happening in a camp of 30,000 Syrians in the Jordanian desert. Unfortunately, as this probing analysis from IRIN contributor Bethan Staton underscores, groundbreaking as the use of this technology in aid delivery is, it is also not without its problems. Sabha, for example, says it makes her life more not less difficult. She used to be able to get her kids to run errands on her behalf. Not anymore. Sitting wearily on her shopping, the pregnant mother of six despairs at the chaos around her in the packed supermarket and wishes she wasn’t the only member of the household entitled to spend the allowance, under the UNHCR/WFP trial. There are security concerns too. One expert calls the biometric data a “Pandora’s box” that could fall into the wrong hands. The jury may still be out, but expect to see more iris scanners used in aid delivery in the future.

Coming up:

WHS, of course

After two years of consultations, a yet-to-be-admitted sum (in the tens of millions of dollars), and a healthy dose of drama (from MSF to Vladimir Putin), the World Humanitarian Summit finally kicks off on Monday, amid unusually high levels of scepticism, even from the mainstream press. There are 6,000 participants; a convoluted programme of plenaries, roundtables, special sessions, exhibitions; and close to 150 side events, hosted by everyone from the Gates Foundation to Sesame Street. Everyone has their own idea of what should be prioritised – except perhaps the WHS Secretariat itself – but here’s our take on what you should look out for. Get our live updates throughout the summit and find all of our in-depth coverage here.  If you find yourself feeling jaded, our Humanitarian Buzzword Bingo may come in handy. And stay tuned for our soon-to-be-launched woolly-o-meter, to help you track which commitments are… well… a little bit woolly.

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