the lost american INTERVIEW WITH ROY WILLIAMS - EXCERPTS

Roy Williams is the vice president of the International Rescue Committee in New
York. In that capacity he worked closely with Fred Cuny in Sarajevo, and has
long been involved in the humanitarian relief business.

FRONTLINE Producer Sherry Jones: The military's role in humanitarian crises is still one that's not settled. It's somewhat controversial.

RW: It's controversial, I think, depending upon whom you're talking to and the nature of the controversy will also change depending upon whom you're talking to. From the point of view of assistance, the military obviously has Roy Williamslogistical lift capabilities that no one else has. There's no question about that. There are issues as to whether it's overkill. There are issues as to whether it's more expensive than it would be if provided by other sources, assuming those other sources existed.

I think, certainly, from my point of view what is happening is that, there is a recognition on the part of the military that most of the crises they're going to be involved in are going to be so-called complex emergencies. That requires a special sort of training and understanding. From the point of view of the civilian world, the NGO world, there's ambivalence as to the role of the military and that ambivalence differs whether you're in the U. S. or in England or in France or wherever. But increasingly, I think, there is an acceptance that the military has a place in these complex emergencies, because of their high level of training, because of their high level of discipline and because of their enormous logistical capabilities. From the military perspective though, for them, it's a matter of training. How do you train people to be, "war-fighters" and humanitarians at the same time. It's quite a trick.

FRONTLINE: Getting the military involved in these situations was something that Fred very much advocated?

RW: Fred very much supported. I think advocacy is a funny word to use in my mind in connection with Fred. I think he supported it because he saw the military as a tool basically and Fred was very adroit at using tools. And the military was a supreme tool. In northern Iraq, the military had enormous assets in terms of the shelter program, assets that were simply not available otherwise. And they made generous disposition of those assets and so a lot was done as a result of the military's presence out of Zakhu.

FRONTLINE: You've thought a lot about the evolving nature of humanitarian work. Did you and Fred agree or disagree on these issues?

RW: This isn't meant to be a criticism. Fred was a very functional thinker, a very linear thinker. If you wanted to get from point A to point C, Fred would find the best way to get from point A to point C. I'm a circular thinker. I would like to have both point A and point C in one big circle and everyone having a way to communicate with each other. So, if that's a useful analogy, Fred was much more directed towards things. And my way of dealing with these humanitarian issues, I think, is to try to understand how people create their own problems so that maybe the problem can become less of a problem. I think Fred took a lot of that for granted and would just look for a way to deal with a piece of it.

FRONTLINE: You attended some of Fred's briefings after his trips to Bosnia and Chechnya, and we've been told in some ways it was hard to tell if it was an military briefing or a humanitarian briefing. Is the mix of humanitarian, political, military intelligence getting more complicated or has it always been?

RW: It's infinitely more complicated, because people are seeing humanitarian agencies as taking sides and it's almost inevitable that they see it that way. If you help one side, one party, that means that you're not helping the other party even if you try to. You become an enemy automatically. The whole assumption of neutrality is rapidly disappearing; that's clear. There have been far more casualties among humanitarian workers in the last year than there were in the decade before that and the numbers are growing. I don't think it's just a matter of the proliferation of weapons. It's the view of us has changed or is changing.

FRONTLINE: And why?

RW: I think because there's a sense that we take sides; that we make determinations which have nothing to do with our humanitarian mission. I know certainly in the former Yugoslavia that was very clearly the case because much of the assistance went to the Muslims, no question about it. I can remember going through Croatian territory on the way to central Bosnia and people would be jeering at us, because they knew where we were going and at that point, the Muslims were the enemy.

So, there was very much that and it has not changed. It has gotten worse. If you look at what's happening in Zaire, the international community kept the camps in Goma going for almost two years at enormous cost, knowing full well that, within those camps were a whole lot of the people who had been very active in the genocide, no question about it and, not only active in the genocide, but who were now doing cross border raids into Rwanda. It's hard to be seen as having totally clean hands in that environment.

We're an asset. That's what it come down to. We are a resource for people who have other objectives. And when you have a humanitarian community with such enormous material resources, human resources, we become something of value. And therefore, we can be used and the fact that we make an assumption that every humanitarian situation has to be resolved in a positive way is being, I think, consistently used against us now.

FRONTLINE: Explain what you mean.

RW: Well, a calculation is made that the humanitarian agencies are going to pick up the pieces. Therefore, you can do anything you like and be as irresponsible as you like knowing full well that the human toll is going to be taken care of by someone else and you can achieve your military, political or whatever agenda very easily or you can encourage press attention to one aspect of the problem and then reap the benefits of that very, very easily, because now you're going to get a lot of attention if you do certain things.

And we as a community are simply not accustomed to making analysis in a political sense necessarily. We do it, but we don't let it interfere with our planning too much or our thinking or our behavior too much, because we have not quite learned how to factor these things together. But I think the most fundamental thing that is most troublesome is that we have come right up against the concept of limits; that you can't necessarily react to every humanitarian situation; that there are some that you're going to have to turn your back on and walk away from. This is something which is so counter to everything that we've been doing for decades, emotionally, intellectually, philosophically that it's--that's what we're wrestling with, I think.

FRONTLINE: Is Bosnia where the term humanitarian alibi grew up?

RW: If it didn't, it should have, because we were a fig leaf for a long time, no question about it. And we made it very easy. Right from the beginning, I think there was an innocence in the beginning, in '92. There was an assumption that the war was not going to last very long and that governments, if they did the right thing and, a lot of them did in terms of providing humanitarian assistance, that would be enough.

Certainly by '93, it was apparent that this was not going to be the case, but then they hadn't developed an alternative mindset and they still were hoping that these other things would palliate the situation enough and certainly so that the public would not demand more action, because I think the public was very much a part of this. And after all, Yugoslavia is long way away except for Europeans--certainly far from the U. S. and the U. S. public never really got involved in terms of pushing for a political agenda. And so, we humanitarian workers were the best that the country was offering.

FRONTLINE: And in part, did the public not get involved because we did think that we were providing this relief, we were doing good?

RW: I think the public's instincts were probably sounder in a way than the politicians' instincts, because I could sense that this was going nowhere; that it was just so complicated that you weren't going to solve it by any simple approach; that it required either something quite draconian which finally happened with the NATO air strikes or just stay away. So, there were those two choices and I think the public's instincts, I think, were probably more correct early on.



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