It has been a bad year for humanitarian aid organizations. In 2018, a number of renowned groups were implicated in prostitution and “sex-for-food” scandals. The exploitation of the most vulnerable victims of devastating natural disasters and armed conflicts was compounded by the subsequent cover-ups and continued employment of sexual abusers.
Groups such as Oxfam International, Save the Children UK, and UN peacekeepers are among those named in these allegations. All this highlights a deeper underlying problem in international humanitarian aid – the serious lack of oversight.
The principles of impartiality, neutrality, humanity, and independence ought to be the hallmarks of humanitarian aid, with most international institutions, UN frameworks, and governments utilizing them as guidelines. These principles are meant to ensure that when taxpayer dollars are distributed to humanitarian disasters around the world, the people, and not the political causes, reap the benefits.
Clearly, these ideals alone are not enough. In a world dominated by self-interested actors seeking to profit from funds, food, and other forms of aid, further mechanisms are needed to ensure the principles are upheld. The sex-for-food scandals acutely demonstrate this, but their need is not limited to these heinous cases.
Since 2002, the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor has documented the importance of stringent funding guidelines to organizations operating in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Too often, NGO Monitor research has shown, groups with massive budgets claiming agendas of “peace,” “human rights,” and economic development engage in activities that promote particularistic positions that favor politics over humanity.
Such guidelines, which alone are simply written statements,provide taxpayers and politicians alike with a platform for calling out their government when money is misdirected or wasted.
Thankfully, there is a growing global realization of this urgent need, and some substantive responses.