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Taking A Stand

Taking A StandOxfam recently announced it will not accept funds from nations who participate in a war on Iraq – and according to two experts from Tufts, more organizations need to do the same. London.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.07.03] Founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in World War II, one of the original missions of Oxfam International was to relieve suffering arising as a result of war. More than fifty years later, the NGO - now a major international aid organization - is taking their ideology a step further by refusing to accept funding from countries if they wage war on Iraq. Though it may be a risky financial move, two experts from Tufts say that it is the type of stand more relief organizations need to take.

"The 12 member agencies of Oxfam International have decided that they will not accept funding for their relief work from any government that takes part in an attack on Iraq, including the United States, Britain and Australia," reported Reuters.

The decision, announced last week, is a major one. Historically, most Oxfam affiliates have long accepted state funds for a variety of development programs and emergency operations.

But in the wake of a possible war in Iraq, however, many NGO's - especially those who aid war refugees and other humanitarian crises - are looking at the situation in new light.

"[Aid agencies do not want] their preparations to provide an [official approval] on the likelihood, much less the necessity, of war with Iraq," Larry Minear - director of the Humanitarianism and War Project at the Alan Shawn Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts' Gerald J. & Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - wrote in a recent article for Reuters.

Minear pointed out that many humanitarian efforts are co-opted by those using military force.

"Despite financial incentives to join the fray, humanitarian organizations have ample reason to fear that an aid effort which is simply an extension of a political-military agenda will cut them off from reaching many of those in urgent need," wrote Tufts' Minear. "Humanitarian agencies that resist being taken for granted should stipulate conditions under which they are prepared to become involved in aid activities during or after an eventual war."

Organizations that want to maintain a consistent position, according to Minear, should refuse funding from nations which may be helping to cause the crisis the NGO's are trying to alleviate.

"Rather than politicizing humanitarian action," wrote Minear, "their initiative would underscore the importance of maintaining their neutrality and independence."

Others agree. Nicolas de Torrente - a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and the executive director of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), an international organization that provides medical care to people in need - told Reuters that his organization refuses donations from warring nations.

"At MSF we very strongly value our operational independence, which is in large part based on our financial independence," de Torrente told Reuters. "We have always had a consistent policy of not taking funding from belligerents, so we did not take money from NATO member governments during the Kosovo crisis, and we won't take money from the U.S. or U.K. governments for work in post-war Iraq. It was the same in Afghanistan."

De Torrente said MSF's decision was important, but a difficult one. Many NGO's simply cannot run without heavy governmental funding, he said.

"We don't want aid associated with any political or military objectives so we generally don't rely on government funding," said the Tufts graduate. "In the U.S., we find that most aid organizations rely heavily on U.S. government funding."


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