During the 1990s, the world bore witness to a startling number of
atrocities, from the much-publicized massacres in Bosnia and the genocide
in Rwanda, to the lesser known civil wars in the Democratic Republic of
Congo and the Sudan, which themselves claimed millions. To David Rieff,
author of books such as Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West and
an experienced journalist who extensively covered Bosnia and Rwanda, the
world is a place where literally billions suffer with little reason for hope.
"Human rights" and "international community" are ideas with good
intentions, but with little substance or weight behind them. For Rieff, the
aid worker is one of the last remaining noble forces amidst this brutality.
The aid worker brings food, care, and hope to both innocent and guilty
alike in the worst of circumstances. Quoting one aid worker, Rieff defines
traditional humanitarianism as "an effort to bring a measure of humanity,
always insufficient, into situations that should not exist."'
Because he holds the principles and acts of humanitarianism in such
high regard, Rieff is deeply disturbed by the increased politicization of
humanitarianism and the military interventions undertaken in its name in
the 1990s. David Rieff's A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis is an
emotionally raw and deeply personal argument that humanitarian
organizations must be free from the constraints of the demands of donor
governments and the broader ideological concerns of the human rights or
"good governance" movements. Humanitarianism must be free to simply
aid those in need. In making this argument, the book provides a view into
the politics and subculture of humanitarian aid organizations, from the
International Red Cross (IRC) to Doctors Without Borders (MSF); it takes as
its examples the humanitarian crises of the 1990s, from Bosnia to
A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis,
Yale Hum. Rts. & Dev. L.J.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yhrdlj/vol7/iss1/6