The evolution of humanitarian aid in France

2009 – 2021 : A brief history of humanitarian action by NGOs and the state in France, Assessment and perspectives.

In March 2010, we presented Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Health, with a report entitled “Analyses and proposals on humanitarian action in crisis and post-crisis situations”.

Some of our humanitarian colleagues warned us that this report was likely to join a large number already written and buried in cupboards at the Ministry. On the Quai’s side, some warned that this report was likely to be very critical of the Ministry. So how do we go about offering a useful and convincing reflection?

The report was produced on a voluntary basis and in order to broaden our field of experience and expertise, and to challenge and validate our analyses and proposals, we set up a committee of experts which included: Anne Héry (Handicap International), Kathrin Schick (VOICE), the coordination of humanitarian NGOs in Europe, Philippe Ryfman, a lawyer and academic, and François Grunewald from Groupe URD. We met with over 120 people (humanitarian, diplomats, military, politicians, international institutions, development) and carried out two evaluations in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Our contact at the Quai d’Orsay was Ambassador Régis Koetschet.

There was little room for manoeuvre, but we were convinced that this report should remedy the lack of strategy, resources and the lack of partnership. For the record, in 2009, the budget of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was 12.2 million euros, including 4 million for NGO projects! Our objective was also to make the voice of our fellow leaders of humanitarian NGOs heard. It is thanks to their support and their proposals that we were able to move forward with this report, which in many ways reflects the expectations of our humanitarian community.

In our report, we have chosen 5 main areas of recommendations with 42 proposals, the most significant of which are:

  • Creation of a framework for regular consultation between the public authorities and humanitarian NGOs.
  • Increase the State’s humanitarian budget and create a post-crisis fund, which does not exist at the time.
  • Design a humanitarian strategy for France within the framework of a multi-annual programme.
  • Participation in international humanitarian bodies (European Union, UN) on the basis of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.

At the time, this report proposed nothing less than a major evolution, one could even say a humanitarian disruption for the State whose policy on this subject had not moved for at least 20 years.

However, it should be added that at the time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was being restructured, with the creation of a well-equipped Crisis Centre and the General Directorate for Globalisation.

The challenge of implementing the proposals

Shortly after the publication of the Report, Bernard Kouchner left the Quai d’Orsay where he was briefly replaced by Michèle Alliot Marie and then by Alain Juppé. We then had to take up our pilgrim’s staff again to promote the Report and its 42 proposals. Reforming the State is not a simple matter. A diplomat will tell us that every major reform he has been involved in has taken 20 years!

We are going to tackle it with the conviction that it is indispensable and that the time has come. With the moral support of some NGO leaders, and with the constant support of the director of the Crisis Centre at the time, Ambassador Serge Mostura, we had a long meeting with Alain Juppé, Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Prime Minister.

This meeting was to be decisive for the future, as Alain Juppé decided to organise the first National Humanitarian Conference (NHC), which was held on 16 November 2011. In the concluding declaration of this conference, Alain Juppé announced the creation of a “Humanitarian Consultation Group” bringing together public authorities and humanitarian NGOs, and the regular holding of a National Humanitarian Conference (NHC). Finally, he decided that France should adopt a strategy that would be “inspired by the Boinet-Miribel report, which lays the foundations for a national humanitarian strategy”. From there, the HCG will develop this first “Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic” which will be published on 6 July 2012. This is a huge step forward, with a real change in the way humanitarian leaders’ expectations and proposals are taken into account. What a change! Putting all of this to music seems to us to be the next step.

Alain Juppé during the first National Humanitarian Conference in 2011

It is obvious that humanitarian NGOs will have to organise themselves to make this partnership work and to be a force for change, as there is still a long way to go to give life to these new structures and to tackle the delicate issue of resources, as there can be no strategy without means!

The indispensable coordination of humanitarian NGOs

This triptych, Humanitarian Consultation Group, Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic and National Humanitarian Conference, will naturally modify relations between humanitarian NGOs and the Quai d’Orsay, whose Crisis Centre is our main contact and which reports directly to the Minister. We must therefore organise ourselves accordingly.

To this end, with a few humanitarian NGO leaders, we joined the Agen Coordination created by Patrick Edel, which became the “Humanitarian and Development Coordination” (HDC), one of the founding groups of Coordination Sud. Xavier Boutin (IECD) became co-president with Alain Boinet, who was then elected to the Board of Directors of Coordination Sud and became the referent of its humanitarian commission. At the same time, Benoit Miribel took the initiative to create the “Humanitarian Space Forum” with Philippe Ryfman and Jean-François Mattéi. This forum meets every 18 months at the Fondation Mérieux in Annecy and creates synergy between humanitarian leaders and stimulates dialogue with public authorities.

Participants in the Humanitarian Space Forum which combine several humanitarian organisations.

From now on, CHD and Coordination Sud will participate in and contribute to both the dynamics and the content of the debates that we have within the Humanitarian Dialogue Group which meets every quarter and brings together some twenty leaders of humanitarian NGOs in France. The NGO members of the HCG are ACTED, ACF, Bioforce, CARE, Chaine de l’Espoir, Croix Rouge Française, Groupe URD, GRUPC, Fondation de France, Fondation Mérieux, MDM, MSF, OXFAM, PUI, Triangle Génération Humanitaire, Secours Catholique, Secours Islamique France, Solidarités International, Secours Populaire. Networking is therefore underway, both on the NGO side and on the part of the public authorities and international humanitarian actors (UN, EU) invited to the NHC and, on occasion, to the GCH.

Steps to confirm

There are several reasons for specifying here, in broad terms, how these changes have taken place since 2010. Firstly, to share the conditions that made this change possible and that still structure our relations with the State 10 years later. Secondly, to draw lessons and useful lessons here and elsewhere. Finally, to look ahead to the years to come and the next humanitarian challenges.

In the meantime, following the election of François Hollande and the establishment of a new government, we have a new minister, Laurent Fabius. While there seems to be no turning back, the question is what the minister’s mindset will be and whether we will continue to move forward and progress.

This will prove to be the case and confirm that the changes in the relationship between humanitarian NGOs and the state indicate a new look at the humanitarian world and a significant move towards a more contractual relationship. And the new director of the Crisis and Support Centre, Didier le Bret, will carry this vision like his predecessor.

NHC at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The second National Humanitarian Conference is taking place on 31 March 2014 in the presence of the Minister, and guests worthy of the event, with Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs with guests from Haiti, Mali and Syria.

Amongst the themes discussed, the adaptation of France’s tools for greater efficiency aims to upgrade its capacities at a time when “over the last 10 years the population in need of humanitarian aid has doubled and the amounts allocated to humanitarian aid have tripled” according to Valérie Amos, although they remain insufficient!

Laurent Fabius confirms the commitment of the President of the Republic to double in 5 years the share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) implemented by humanitarian and development NGOs, i.e. 160 million euros. We are a long way from achieving this and, in retrospect, we can see how far behind we were. Moreover, under the mandate of François Hollande, and this had already begun at the end of the Sarkozy presidency, we are witnessing a continuous decline in ODA.

But we can be pleased with the creation, and this is a first, of a Programming Law for Development and International Solidarity in which we will introduce the notion of complementarity between emergency aid, reconstruction and development. The same goes for the creation of the “National Council for Development and International Solidarity” (CNDSI) of which Alain Boinet will be a member and which will make it possible to establish a link with humanitarian aid, the CICID, the GCH and the proposals of the Report.

Between two Conferences (NHC), the Concertation Group meets every quarter to review humanitarian crises and to discuss relations with major donors, invite the heads of the main partner institutions and carry out the mid-term review of France’s humanitarian strategy. We also plan to meet at least once a year with the Minister, as we will do on Syria with Laurent Fabius or with Pascal Canfin, the Minister for Development, whom we will meet regularly during the crisis in the Central African Republic and who will encourage us to include climate change in humanitarian action.

The World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 stimulates the Quai d’Orsay

In 2012, the United Nations launched a broad debate on humanitarian issues. At the end of this debate, on 9 February 2016, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, published a report entitled “One Humanity, Shared Responsibilities” for the first multi-stakeholder World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) which will be held on 23 and 24 May 2016 in Istanbul. It should be recalled that this Summit was shortly preceded by the so-called “Grand Bargain” process which will be integrated with its 10 priorities at the Summit.

The GMS will bring together 173 countries, including 55 heads of state, but none of the five members of the Security Council, 9000 participants who will make 1500 commitments.

It is very logical that on 23 February 2016, the 3rd National Humanitarian Conference will focus on the preparation, participation and commitments for the Summit. The SMH will undoubtedly stimulate the momentum generated by the Report and once again highlight the limits of France’s humanitarian funding.

It was the newspaper Le Monde that headlined “France gives to development, less to humanitarian aid”. Indeed, France’s budget dedicated to humanitarian aid, the FUH, which was 12.2 million euros in 2021, rose to 14.5 million in 2015! To this should be added the budgets of the Interministerial Committee for Food Aid (CIAA) and the Directorate for International Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NUOI), which are also very limited.

This 3rd Conference will therefore mobilise a lot of energy with a very active director of the Crisis Centre, Patrice Paoli, and very involved guests such as Antoine Gérard, head of the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat, Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action (ECHO).

More than ever, NGOs will be mobilized and 14 of them will publish a document of commitment with Coordination Sud for the HMS. In the following months, France will join the “Grand Bargain” with its 15 humanitarian financial institutions, its 15 international agencies and its NGO coordination. There is no doubt that this first SMS will contribute to accelerating the implementation of a French strategy with all the necessary attributes.

The CICID turning point on 8 February 2017

The Inter-ministerial Committee on International Cooperation and Development (CICID) is the body that, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, defines the main orientations of France’s development aid policy. Created in 1998, it meets on average every 3 years. The CICID of 30 November 2016 devoted three lines to humanitarian aid and the Crisis and Support Centre, a distressing lack of interest and lucidity on the international humanitarian situation! Moreover, as Coordination Sud notes, ODA in France has gone from 0.45 of GNI in 2012 to 0.38% in 2016!

Fortunately, the CICID of 8 February 2017, under the presidency of Edouard Philippe, will finally bring the expected decisions that are needed. Finally, France declares that it wants to address crises and fragility on a humanitarian level. We must believe that the devastating effects of poverty and conflicts, such as the one that is devastating the Middle East, as well as the tireless advocacy of NGOs, Coordination Sud and Humanitarian and Developpement Coordination, have finally produced the expected effects.

To get to the heart of the matter, the new government, following the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the Republic, has decided to increase ODA to 0.55% of GNI by 2022 – on an upward curve. Within this framework, France will devote 500 million euros to humanitarian action (FUH, NUOI, CIAA) in a progressive manner, instead of 150 million euros. Finally, the French Development Agency will have an annual budget of 200 million euros to address vulnerabilities in fragile and post-crisis states.

This is truly a disruption, a major change in France’s humanitarian response. We remember the people who have been telling us for 30 years that this was not possible! What has happened to make it change so much? It is a change of era and mentality made possible by a long maturation within the State apparatus in contact with the realities and humanitarian actors. It is above all a political decision.

The 4th National Humanitarian Conference held a few weeks later, on 22 March 2018, was chaired by the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who played a decisive role in obtaining this humanitarian budget of 500 million euros, which was not a foregone conclusion with the Ministry of Finance! For this NHC, and for the first time, a meeting is organised between a dozen parliamentarians and NGO leaders.

Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the podium of the 4th NHC on 22 May 2018.

A new Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic for the period 2018-2022 has been elaborated in the framework of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group (HDG). Let us be precise. It is not the strategy of the NGOs, each of which has its own, but that of France, to which humanitarians have been invited to contribute and validate. Based on the previous strategy (2012-2017), this one is more comprehensive and is updated in line with the dynamics of the SHM and the CICID.

Since the submission of our report to the Minister in March 2010, our commitment has had only one meaning: that France should play its full part in meeting the humanitarian needs of populations at risk in conflict and disaster situations. And this is highly topical. Let us judge. The number of refugees and displaced persons rose from 39.5 million in 2006 to 65.6 million in 2016. Disasters affected 124 million people in 2012 and 204 million in 2016. According to the United Nations (OCHA), the number of people in need of relief increased from 61.7 million in 2012 to 135.7 million in 2018. But, as we shall see, there are other challenges ahead!

On the way to the 5th National Humanitarian Conference

In the meantime, the Humanitarian Dialogue Group continues to meet every quarter at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of its current director, Eric Chevallier. Humanitarian crises are discussed, whether in Syria, Yemen, the Rohyngias in Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Sahel, the CAR, as well as relations with the European Commission and ECHO or the United Nations Agencies, which are major partners.

The HCG also deals with all the administrative issues that humanitarian actors are confronted with and sometimes hindered in their action. This is increasingly the case with the difficulties encountered by humanitarian NGOs in transferring funds for their relief programmes due to anti-terrorism laws which force banks to take draconian measures.

On the initiative of Thierry Mauricet, co-president of the CHD and director general of PUI, a working group was set up to address this issue directly with the public authorities and the banks in order to find satisfactory solutions for the implementation of relief efforts.

It was then that the Coronavirus came from China and spread throughout the world, becoming a global pandemic with catastrophic consequences, both in terms of health and the victims of the virus, as well as the economic and social consequences. From March 2020 onwards and for many months to come, humanitarian actors will be faced with the interruption of air transport, which will paralyse the sending of humanitarian experts and freight to many countries in difficulty.

In addition to the system put in place by the World Food Programme (WFP), 9 French NGOs members of the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN), in partnership with Bioport and with the support of the CDCS and ECHO, are going to set up an airlift which will transport 1208 passengers and 785 tons of products and materials using 42 direct flights to the most urgent countries to be served. More than 108 organisations representing 22 nationalities will benefit from this humanitarian airlift. Once again, the humanitarian sector is innovating and reinventing itself in an emergency. The lesson of the added value of pooling capacities to increase efficiency will be one of the topics on the agenda of the 5th NHC. In this respect, it should be noted that Bioport was a forerunner in the pooling of humanitarian logistics with the creation of its dedicated platform in 1994 at Lyon airport.

However, a new tragedy will plunge the humanitarian community into mourning and raise the question of the safety of humanitarians and their access to populations in danger. On 8 August 2020, 7 members of the NGO ACTED, including one Nigerien and 6 French, were assassinated less than an hour from Niamey in Niger by an Islamic State commando in the Sahel.

The President of the Republic then decided to raise the issue of the security of humanitarians and the impunity of the aggressors and meetings were held at the Elysée with humanitarian NGOs. In September, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Emmanuel Macron declared: “This is why, with French NGOs and our international partners, we are building an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity.”

Meeting of the President of the Republic at the Elysée Palace with Coordination Sud and NGOs.

The Coronavirus pandemic and its multiple and long-lasting consequences, the issue of access to emergency relief and bank transfers for populations at risk, the security of humanitarians who are facing an upsurge in attacks in 2019, all contribute to reinforce the collective will within the HCG to organise a new conference that will have to be held at a distance.

The 5th National Humanitarian Conference, 17 December 2020

This conference has taken on a new dimension due to the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, which is a first, and by the number of commitments he has made for the humanitarian sector.

We must emphasise the dynamic partnership between the NGO-CDCS steering committee and the HCG, which prepared the programme of round tables and the guests, and the involvement of many parliamentarians, including Hervé Berville, Fabien Gouttefarde and Bérengère Poletti. All the humanitarian NGOs were present at the round tables and Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, took part in the concluding session with the President of the Republic, the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs and other guests including Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize 2018 and Runa Khan of Friendship.

In conclusion, the President of the Republic made 17 commitments, notably on bank transfers, the criminal risks for humanitarians as a result of anti-terrorism laws, the fight against impunity, and respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), in the presence of Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC, James Lowcock, Deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the United Nations, David Beasley, Executive Director of the WFP, and the Director of the CDCS, Eric Chevallier. Throughout his presidency of Coordination Sud, Philippe Jahshan has played an active, positive and unifying role with the active support of Rachid Lalhou, Vice President and President of Secours Islamique France.

The President of the Republic during the 5th NHC on 17 December 2020.

With this conference, a new stage of commitment and partnership has undeniably been reached. After the setting up of structures (HCG, HNC, SHRF), after the budgetary means, here are 17 commitments made at the highest level which are already being followed up at the interministerial level and within the framework of the HCG and joint State-NGO working groups.

This article is mainly devoted to the relationship between the State and humanitarian NGOs in France since 2010. However, NGOs also have their own strategies and resources and are members of NGO coordinations. They also cooperate with various institutions, at national, European and international level, to fund aid projects, launch advocacy campaigns and join collective initiatives. For a long time, France was not a major partner in international humanitarian aid compared to its international responsibilities within the European Union and the United Nations Security Council. This is now the case and the humanitarian community can congratulate itself after more than 10 years of uninterrupted efforts.

What happens now?

Will we stop here, what remains to be done, what will be the impact of the next Development Programming Law, what are the prospects for the next version of the Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic 2023-2027?

In the immediate future, the priority is to fulfil the commitments that have been made. On the one hand, there is the objective of 500 million euros for humanitarian aid each year from 2022 onwards, compared to 150 million euros in 2018, and on the other hand, there are the various projects listed above (bank transfers, IHL and counter-terrorism, climate and environment, etc.). To avoid any confusion, let us recall that this 500 ME budget is divided between the FUH, NUOI and the CIAA in the proportion of one third for each programme. We will come back to this later.

Since 2017, the budget of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund, which is the financial instrument of the CDCS, has continued to increase as the table below shows. For 2020 and 2021, the figures communicated by the CDCS correspond to a total executed budget of 126 million euros for the HEF, compared to 92 million in 2019. For 2021, the director of the Crisis and Support Centre announces an envelope of 110 million euros in the initial finance law, whereas it was 72.3 million euros the previous year, to which 53.7 million euros of additional credits for Syria and the Middle East were added during the year.

The Director of the CDCS wanted the Humanitarian Emergency Fund to be subject to an inter-ministerial evaluation, with the active participation of the humanitarian community. Benoit Miribel has been invited to chair this Evaluation Committee for the period 2012-2018. This can be seen as a nod to our Report which was very critical of the lack of resources for the GUF at the time. Of course, much remains to be done and the means are still lacking given the humanitarian needs today. However, we note that every time humanitarian actors raise their level of reflection and proposals, their interlocutors within the public authorities respond. We must pay tribute to the commitment of all the directors of the Crisis Centre who have succeeded each other since Serge Mostura, then Didier Le Bret, Patrice Paoli and now Eric Chevallier, who was present alongside the Minister Bernard Kouchner when our mission was decided in 2009.

The objective is therefore to reach 500 ME next year, of which at least a third for the CDCS, i.e. about 170 ME. At this stage, we have to ask ourselves about the distribution in 3 thirds between CDCS, NUOI and CIAA. In 2017, the CDCS budget was 49 ME and the CIAA budget was 7.586 ME. If we are convinced of the usefulness of the food aid delivered by the CIAA, particularly at the present time, is it necessary to increase the budget from 7.586 ME to 170 ME? It seems to us that the distribution of this 500 ME could at least give rise to a strategic reflection.

Concerning the trajectory of the entire 500M, the director of the CDCS, Eric Chevallier, indicates in his interview with Défis Humanitaires that the initial finance law increased from 150M in 2018 to 287M in 2020, then to 330M in 2021, with the objective of increasing to 500M euros in 2022.

Naturally, the increase in the State’s humanitarian budget over this period implies a reinforcement of the implementation capacities of the CDCS, which we know how much it is solicited and often even overwhelmed, knowing that it is also in charge of the security of French people abroad. The challenge of this reinforcement is both to maintain the same level of reactivity, flexibility and adaptability in the face of successive emergencies, and to reinforce the capacities for monitoring, processing, controlling and consulting with partners and foreign representation.

Beyond the budget, there are 16 other projects that are just as essential in various ways. On 4 March, at an exceptional meeting of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group, a full presentation was made of the inter-ministerial action plan for the implementation of the commitments made by the President of the Republic at the 5th NHC in the high-level presence of all the ministries concerned. Without claiming to be exhaustive, let us note in particular :

  • The creation of a joint working group on the humanitarian-climate and environment link.
  • The study of case-by-case derogations for humanitarian reasons in the face of the risks posed by anti-terrorist laws.
  • The organisation of an international humanitarian conference at the end of 2021 in a joint format between UN member states and NGOs.
  • The possible creation of a tripartite steering committee between the State, NGOs and banks.
  • The forthcoming distribution of a circular from the Minister of Justice to public prosecutors’ offices to make them aware of the specific nature of humanitarian organisations facing anti-terrorist laws in conflict zones.

The role of the Humanitarian Dialogue Group will therefore be to monitor all the work relating to the 17 commitments with the aim of achieving them by 2022, while at the same time opening the way for the next version of the French Republic’s Humanitarian Strategy, 2023-2027.

Conclusion

The very objective of our Report is identical to that of humanitarian action, which is to save lives and to mobilise the resources and capacities to achieve this. Budgets, structures and strategies are dedicated to this ultimate goal.

The Covid 19 pandemic causes millions of victims worldwide, and its economic and social consequences are often disastrous for the poorest countries and the most vulnerable populations, particularly in conflict and disaster situations.

The figures are clear. In 2020, the United Nations has launched a humanitarian appeal for $29 billion to help 168 million people at risk around the world with its partners. In 2021, the UN’s appeal is for 235 million people for an aid appeal worth 35 billion dollars.

This is a 40% year-on-year increase “almost entirely related to the coronavirus” according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Assistance. “The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to trigger another pandemic, that of hunger,” confirms David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FENAGRI (National Federation of Food Processing), the price of wheat has risen by 45% since April 2020, that of corn by 77% and that of sugar by 89%! According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), 45 countries will need food aid.

Other trends should alert us and lead us to act accordingly. Although the number of victims of wars has been steadily decreasing since 1946, there is now an increase in conflicts. In 2016, the number of countries in violent conflict was the highest it has been in almost 30 years. The number of refugees and displaced people has risen from around 40 million in the 2000s to 80 million by the end of 2019.

This is what we have to deal with now. Of course, the progress made since our March 2010 Report is considerable and we must welcome these changes and the spirit of consultation. But, as the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, quite rightly said in his speech at the conclusion of the 5th NHC about his decision to increase France’s humanitarian contribution to 500 million euros, “It’s a catch-up”.

We are convinced of the need to go further in the future. And there is room for manoeuvre. France is the world’s 5th largest contributor of Official Development Assistance (ODA), which it can be proud of. In 2019, it contributed 10.877 billion euros. But of this amount, it devoted only 2% of its bilateral aid to humanitarian aid, whereas the average for OECD countries is 14%! Germany spent 10% of its ODA, Great Britain 13%, the European Union 12% and the United States 15%.

It also seems to us that France should modernise its international aid and devote 10 to 15% of its ODA to humanitarian aid, which responds to urgent needs in the most fragile countries, from emergency to development and reconstruction/stabilisation phases. Of course, this also concerns development NGOs. Complementary to this is the question of the percentage of ODA implemented by NGOs. In a recent note by Coordination Sud, now chaired by Olivier Bruyeron, it is indicated that the share transiting through NGOs is 3.7%, compared to an average of 19% among 23 European Union countries. Here again, it would be relevant for NGOs to be responsible for implementing one billion euros of French ODA. There is an opportunity for synergy with what NGOs bring in terms of private funds, proximity to populations, innovation, commitment and capacity to raise public awareness.

In view of these developments and all the challenges that need to be addressed, we call on young humanitarian leaders to get involved in continuing this demanding but constructive dialogue with our partners at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Crisis and Support Centre. As we have seen, the more we raise our level of reflection and involvement, the stronger the partnership becomes for the benefit of a common interest, while respecting the distinctions specific to the nature of each. How will the debate between public authorities and humanitarian leaders be built and animated in the coming years? We will now be informed observers, always available for the new generation that will carry out this mission.


Who are Benoit Miribel and Alain Boinet ?

Biography of Benoit Miribel (in French)

 

 

 

 

Biography of Alain Boinet

To the rescue of Armenians

Information mission led by Bernard Kouchner, former minister and co-founder of MSF and MDM, Patrice Franceschi, writer and former president of the Society of French Explorers and Alain Boinet, president of Défis Humanitaires and founder of Solidarités International on invitation of the Aurora Foundation.

Logbook. I took part in this information mission on a personal basis and my comments are my personal opinion. I hope that they will be useful to humanitarians and other stakeholders involved in the humanitarian field.

Alain Boinet.

Russian soldier at one of the roadblocks in the Latchin corridor ©P.Franceschi

Russian soldiers stop us and ask for our visas. These are essential to take the Latchine corridor to reach Artsack, also called Haut Karabagh, 7 hours away from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

We are here with Bernard Kouchner, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Health, Patrice Franceschi, writer and former president of the Society of French Explorers, and myself, invited by the Aurora Foundation with Nicola, Yanna and Narine, who are leading this information mission on the various aspects of the situation following the 44-day war that began on September 27, 2020 in Artsack or Nagorno Karabagh, between Armenians and Azeris. This ended on 9 November 2020 with an agreement concluded by Russia which put an end to the war.

At the roadblocks along the road, the Russians are well equipped with armored vehicles and entrenched in their fortified bases along this corridor that is now the only entrance and exit because the Azerbaijani army surrounds Artsack.

Halo-Trust deminers in action around Stephanakert and demining plan to clear cluster bombs ©A.Boinet

In the surroundings of Stepanakert, capital of the Artsack, which the Azeris have shelled with cluster bombs [1], explosive devices scattered here and there pollute large areas and localities.

We are joining a team from the NGO Halo-Trust, specialized in mine clearance and which has to clear an 800 m2 area. Other teams are operating elsewhere and one of their cars recently exploded on an anti-tank mine, killing its four occupants instantly. About ten men are raking a garden, side by side, with their sound detection device. They advance cautiously, signaling with colored stakes explosive devices in the grass, which are then disarmed and destroyed. This is vital, as these devices can kill or maim at any time over many years and paralyses the resumption of activities.

At the end of the day, during a dinner with Ashot Ghulyan and Davit Babayan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of this small, unrecognized and self-proclaimed territory, behind the words we feel the weight of defeat, encirclement, isolation, uncertainty in the future, but also a fierce determination to stay alive in their ancestral land. A little provoking, it calls out to us. Those who say they are with us must support us. And we feel that this message is also addressed to Armenia.

Rehabilitation of the war-disabled at the Lady Cox Reabilitation Center supported by the Aurora Foundation. On the right, Bernard Kouchner and the director of the Rehabilitation Center ©A.Boinet

The next day, in the buildings of The Lady Cox rehabilitation centrer, we discover young people injured during the conflict and disabled. They cannot stand, walk or sit down, they cannot urinate neither. More or less paralyzed for life, physiotherapists help them to rehabilitate vital functions allowing them to regain autonomy, motor skills, flexibility and strength. The faces are severe and concentrated on effort and pain. Bernard Kouchner and the director of the Centre take stock on the needs of the center that the Aurora Foundation [2] supports and for its extension projects.

Will these disabled people be able to regain their motor skills so that they can, one day, return to work and support a family? There are also children, civilians, autistics who have been monitored for a long time. More than a thousand of them benefit from the care of this center, the only one existing in Artsack while the need for care exploded.

College n°10 bombed and closed in Artsack ©Nelly

Here, as in Yerevan, we are talking about 5000 people killed on the Armenian side. An official of the European Union representation in Armenia evokes in front of us the figures of 3500 Armenian deaths, 99% of which are soldiers and 500 to 700 bodies not identified yet. The majority of them were volunteers, students in particular.  The number of injured seems difficult to estimate at this time. There are also missing persons and prisoners that the ICRC [3] is actively looking in conformity with its mandate. On the Azeri side, there might be 2800 dead and 50 missing, not to mention the Syrian jihadists who came to fight with the support of the Turkish authorities.

In this new war [4], the Armenians would have lost at least 70% of the 11,400 km of Artsack territory, driving out the population and losing the corresponding economic resources. Originally inhabited by 150,000 people, 40,000 are still displaced today, mainly in Armenia. During a lunch with him, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Armenia, Shombi Sharp, discuss the official figure of 22,500, admitting that it may be around 30,000. Many houses and schools have also been destroyed, such as this college No. 10 in Stepanakert, which now remains closed.

Many Artsack Armenians have gone into exile, fleeing their villages and cities like Shusi, the cultural capital, losing about 1500 monuments of their historical heritage out of 4000 in total. One of the most urgent priorities is the construction of houses and housing to accommodate the forcibly displaced families, and then to provide them with employment. The consequences of the war are numerous and weaken the population in many areas: health services, jobs, agriculture, security, electricity. There is no doubt that after this war, the population of Artsack is weakened and that it will not be able to cope on its own without external aid in the long term.

At the northern exit of Stepanakert, on the road to Asteran, we discover on the top of a hill the symbol of this self-proclaimed republic. It is a huge ochre statue representing the faces of a man and a woman who, according to tradition, declare “We are our mountains”. Mountains are everywhere here in this part of the South Caucasus.

In front of the monument symbolising Artsack “We are our mountains”. ©A.Boinet

A visit to the cultural center Charles Aznavour and the Centre francophone Paul Eluard is essential. It is an exceptional place of cultural expression in this climate of anxiety. A choir of women and men sings marvelously in Armenian as if their voices were rising from this land. Young dancers are busy rehearsing together the best of what they have learned. A breathtaking jazz orchestra transports us into the musical atmosphere of Ray Charles and Duke Ellington.

Young girls, learning French with Nelly, their teacher, sing a song as vibrant as it is moving: “Your beautiful days will be reborn again, after winter, after hell, the tree of life will grow for you Armenia”. Nelly, their young teacher, tells us. My mother worked here a long time ago with MSF. She encouraged me to learn French and I am now a teacher of this language, which makes us close to you. Even though Russian is a compulsory language in the school curriculum because Russia is close by and Armenia was a Republic of the USSR for more than 70 years (1920-1991).

Official dinner with the young Minister of Health, former military doctor, Michael Hayriyan who informs us that an official website will be created to list all the needs of the population in order to facilitate aid and its coordination. As is customary in this region of the Caucasus, he raises his glass for a toast. “The war is cruel, but we are optimistic,” he says. We toast, the French say “health” and the Armenians “kenas”, meaning “life”! Bernard Kouchner raises his glass and answers “That’s what we are here for, kenas”.

Nurses in formation at the Stephanakert Medical College ©A.Boinet

Before leaving for Yerevan at 7 hours drive, we visit the Medical College where we train nurses  in 3 years, including displaced students coming from the territories taken over by the Azerbaijan army. On the way back, again the 6 or 7 Russian check points where the controls are as attentive as on the outward journey.

Basically, we were lucky, because to pass through we need a visa delivered by the representation of the “Republic of Artsack” in Yerevan with the agreement of the Russians and, it is said, of the Azeris in the case of foreigners. It is not the same at this time for MSF-France whose Armenian staff can still pass, but no longer expatriates. Obviously, this ban on access is contrary to the rules of International Humanitarian Law, which requires the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian aid to pass through. Similarly, the Azeri authorities have refused to allow two sections of MSF to come and treat people in Azerbaijan!

As we drive towards Yerevan in the middle of the snowy mountains, we learn from the media that the Prime Minister, Nikol Pachinian, is denouncing an attempted coup d’état by the army. The effects of the military defeat are repercussing on the Armenian political scene!

On the return to Yerevan, meetings and visits follow one another at a strong rhythm. Meeting at the Faculty of Medicine with the rector and 120 students on the theme “Crisis management at the global and regional level”. Bernard Kouchner is named doctor Honoris Causa and pleads for solidarity between Armenians. Patrice Franceschi draws a parallel between the situation in Artsack and the struggle of the Kurds in Syria. For my part, I present the international humanitarian action, its principles, its action and the needs identified in Artsack.

UFAR students killed in Artsack and minute of silence of our delegation with the French Ambassador and the Rector ©A.Boinet

A meeting at the French University in Armenia (UFAR) is particularly interesting and moving. The UFAR [5] presented by its rector, Bertrand Venard, has 1400 students between bachelor’s and doctorate levels. In partnership with the French Universities of Lyon III and Toulouse III, it delivers Armenian and French degrees. It now has a major development project for 2000 students on a new 12,000 m2 campus. The Ambassador of France, Jonathan Lacôte, warmly introduced Bernard Kouchner by reminding the importance, at the time, of the United Nations resolutions (43-131 and 45-100) that the Minister carried for the access to victims with the lawyer Mario Bettati. Bernard Kouchner then emphasizes that the purpose of these resolutions was precisely to make the victim a subject of international law.

Then we have a minute of silence for the UFAR students, whose photos adorn the entrance wall. All volunteers, some of whom, about a quarter, were doing their military service. They died in combat this autumn in Artsack. There were 22 volunteers, 10 died and 3 were wounded. It is as many fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, families and friends who have been hurt.

It is with this moving memory that we have an audience with the President of the Republic, Armen Sarkissian, despite the pro or anti-Prime Minister Street demonstrations and the ordeal awaited by the army, because forty senior officers have demanded the departure of Nikol Pachinian after the defeat for which they all blame each other.

The dinner that will take place next with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ara Aivazian, in the presence of the French Ambassador, will be more geopolitical and the occasion to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Armenia and the French Republic signed on behalf of our country by Bernard Kouchner on February 24, 1992.

Conclusion.

At the end of this mission of information and solidarity, we cannot say that Artsack is dealing with a humanitarian emergency in the sense of what we know in Yemen, Syria or the Central African Republic. The comparison would rather be with Romania, after the revolution of December 1989, or with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the time we have had, it appears that there are real needs in the field of health, medical equipment and particularly the rehabilitation of the war-disabled. On the other hand, there is a lot to do in the field of construction, mainly of houses and dwelling to accommodate displaced families, as we did in the past in Sarajevo, knowing that there are competent companies on site. Another area is the very lively French-speaking world and culture in general, books and audio-visual equipment. There are certainly Foundations, as the Aurora Foundation does well, NGOs, hospitals, cultural institutions, professional organizations, companies that can help to meet these needs now.

I would like to share here a reflection on humanitarian aid whose principles include neutrality, impartiality and independence which rightly stipulates that aid must be delivered solely on the basis of the vital needs of populations without any other selection criteria and this is true for the Armenian and Azeri populations.

However, the most threatened populations who are in a minority because of their ethnic or religious affiliation in a hostile environment are a criterion to consider. We can then think of the Tutsis, the Yezidis, the Rohingyas, the Uigurs, the Kurds, the Armenians of Artsack and others. Humanitarians must also take into account this objective risk factor and long-term vulnerability in order to help these populations with appropriate attention. How to forget that the Armenians were victims of the first genocide at the beginning of the century perpetrated by the Turkish authorities responsible at the time for the death of more than a million human beings.

I am not an expert of this region of the Caucasus and Armenia, but I have had some experience of crises for 40 years. If we wanted to stabilize the Artsack, perhaps we would have to start negotiations to delimit the territories of both sides. This was done well during the Dayton Accords signed in Paris to settle the territorial question between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An attachment to Armenia, already requested in the past, could be a solution if the populations agree. Why not for Artsack, whose recognition the National Assembly and the Senate in France have recently called for.

In Artsack, what one feels at first is the feeling of insecurity for the present as well as for the future. Faced with this insecurity, the best response is always solidarity, ours.

Alain Boinet.

We are pleased to send you the 50th edition of Défis Humanitaires published for the past 3 years. This year, we have several projects to develop the website and we need your support to continue our mission of information and reflection at the service of humanitarian action. You can participate personally by making a donation on the HelloAsso platform. Thank you in advance for your support for this project, which is intended for you.

To find out more about the humanitarian situation in Armenia:

Consult the United Nations Inter-Agency Response Plan for Armenia

Testimony of Olivier Faure on the return of the Artsack. We are publishing this document just and loudly as we would for any other politician witnessing the situation in Artsack.

Video of our visit in Artsack published by the Aurora foundation

Video of our visit in Armenia published by the Aurora foundation


[1] The cluster bomb (cluster munition) is a container carrying many projectiles that strike a large area. Some of the projectiles do not explode and remain dangerous. Humanitarian organizations such as Handicap International/Humanity and Inclusion and the Red Cross have long been denouncing this type of weapon. A treaty has been adopted by more than a hundred countries, including France, to prohibit and destroy them

[2] Aurora Foundation – auroraprize.com

[3] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) based in Geneva is in charge, in particular, of visiting prisoners with the agreement of those holding them and of searching for the missing.

[4] New war. A first war took place between Armenians and Azeris between 1992 and 1994, during which the Armenians took control of predominantly Azeri territories forcing the Azeris into exile. This new war allowed the Azeris to regain control of 7 districts. To better understand this situation, please refer to the specialized sites on this subject.

[5] UFAR: http://www.ufar.am