NUCHR to take on humanitarian aid

Lauren Mogannam

Since 2003, more than two million people have been displaced and killed by the genocide in Darfur. Nicolas de Torrente said he wants to know what is being done to ensure that the basic rights of these refugees are respected and their needs are met by relief organizations.

About 250 people went to Owen L. Coon Auditorium Thursday night to gain insight on this issue as part of a Northwestern University’s Conference on Human Rights event featuring de Torrente, former executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States.

There are many obstacles humanitarian aid organizations face in delivering aid to individuals around the globe, he said, but organizations have to take into account all basic human needs that people require.

“Humanitarian aid cannot just be a Band-Aid,” de Torrente said. “It has to have a broader sustainable basis.”

Human rights issues tend to go unnoticed when those in need are without a platform to voice their problems, he said.

“Some needs are invisible,” de Torrente said. “If there is no aid that is provided, there is no visibility to the issue.”

NUCHR’s sixth annual event, which lasts through Saturday, entitled “Humanitarian Aid: Sovereignty, Accountability and Effectiveness,” will focus on humanitarian aid and on whether the way that aid is distributed violates human rights, said Shalyn Hockey, co-director for NUCHR. The conference will consist of 40 student delegates from NU and other schools such as Harvard University, Stanford University and Brown University and will feature lectures open to the NU community, she said.

“We want to look at the issue with a critical eye at what people assume is good,” the SESP senior said. “Although human rights standards and the promise of a better life are implicit in the humanitarian principle, human rights violations can nevertheless occur when aid is misapplied and mishandled.”

Doctors Without Borders brings aid to people in need around the globe, but there are still issues that compound the problem. Even though children are getting food from the program they would otherwise not have, the food distributed still does not meet proper nutritional value, de Torrente said.

“Growing kids need to be provided with what they need, yet we are still not doing this,” he said.

Although some distributed aid can infringe on human rights, it is important for people to fix the system so it can do the good it is intended to, said Hallie Ryan, co-director for NUCHR.

“I don’t want to go work for an NGO and realize that I was part of the problem all along,” said the Weinberg senior, who is planning on working for a non-governmental organization in Peru and then going to law school.

But some students think that, when dealing with volatile governments, it is important that aid simply gets delivered to help people.

“There is no reason to pull back and be cautious, because then you won’t be doing anything,” said Sameer Kapadia, a Communication senior. “Being overly cautious limits what we are doing and what we can do.”

The benefit of bringing to light such a complex subject also allows people from different fields to work together.

“Our goal is to have policy makers, academics and non-governmental members on each panel, to cover all areas of interests,” Hockey said, referring to the upcoming events between student delegates and an expert panel. “This conference will bridge a wide array of interests, such as medicine, law and economics.”

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