Excerpted Remarks: Andrew Natsios Keynote Address

Final Report 2007 Humanitarian Health Conference presented by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Darmouth Medical School Sept. 6–8, 2007 Harvard University Cambridge, MA, pp 33-35. 

“I am told there’s going to be a Hollywood movie about Fred Cuny’s life, and that Harrison Ford is going to play Fred Cuny — this is a rumor, I don’t know if it’s true; I mean certainly it’s probably completely untrue but it’s a wonderful story. I asked the person who said it, ‘Who is going to play me in the movie?’ I’m not sure I’m in the movie at all. I sent Fred out to Somalia in the mid part of 1992 when the chaos was beginning and a lot of people were dying. I said, ‘Number one: what’s happening?’ He said, ‘Your food aid, Andrew, is causing the chaos.’ I wrote a whole article of this on this subject for a book that also is published in ‘The Journal of International Peacekeeping.’ I think it’s called, ‘Economics of Chaos.’ He said, ‘The one person who’s getting stuff done, the person that understands the economics of this and has actually got his agency ICRC to function is Geoff Loane. So when you go, you need to sit down and talk to him and you need to understand when he tells you something it’s true.’

The problem with Fred was that Fred was brilliant at evaluation, analysis and telling you what you needed to do, and he could get stuff done, but there’d be broken crockery all over the place. He was not a systems person, he didn’t know how to manage a lot of people, he was not a team person at all. But Fred was a genius when it came to intellectually understanding the forces that work in emergency. He was a great man and my mentor and my friend, and his loss in Chechnya was, I think, a terrible tragedy for the international humanitarian response community.

In any case, those kinds of skills are what we need to replicate formally and professionally through a system of education and maybe certification. I don’t know how to do it, but we need to think about it because that’s the big void now: executive leadership in emergencies. It needs to cross all of the institutional lines, we need to be able to take people from an NGO community and move them into government or from the head of the DART team or from AID or from one NGO to another NGO or to a UN agency and make these people available. We have a group of technical people who are available now, but you should not assume technical work is brilliance in executive management because it’s not. It’s not the same thing, believe me.

My second point is the issues of human rights and of protecting people against violence in emergencies. Now, for those of you from UNHCR and even ICRC, don’t get offended at what I’m going to say here, because what they do is absolutely essential, but they do not have adequate skills and adequate tools to prevent atrocities against people in chaotic situations. ICRC, actually in my view, is the best at it. UNHCR has developed a number of very effective tools but they’re not effective enough. I brought Fred with me when I was on military duty for the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and we had all these plans, I’ll never forget it. I was the executive officer of a unit that Jim Baker and Dick Cheney, who was Secretary of Defense at the time, set up to reconstruct Kuwait. I was with all these officers, and I was a Civil Affairs officer, which is sort of the unit in the US military that deals with this stuff, and we had done a traditional response plan.

Fred said, ‘This is not what’s going to happen, Andrew. You wasted all your time. The Kuwaities will take care of this stuff. There are going to be atrocities against the Palestinians.’ I said, ‘The Palestinians? We’re not in Palestine.’ He said, ‘There are a half a million Palestinians here. The Palestinian leadership sided with Saddam Hussein who promised them that the new Palestinian state was going to be Kuwait, which was a lie. He had no intention of doing that. But the Palestinians actually were seen by the Kuwaities as traitors because they sided with Saddam in support of the invasion.’ Fred had a place in his heart for the Palestinians. He said, ‘These people are going to be the object of atrocities the minute the war is over,’ and they were. He had a whole plan that we put in place and carried out. It never got recorded, unfortunately. I did a lecture at the Fletcher School once on it. He told me that we needed to put a book out on this but I never wrote the book and Fred died. I’ve got the records. He kept a very interesting diary on it. I read it after he died, it’s the archives of what happened day by day, because he kept voluminous records, he was a voracious writer. Every night, every single day of that emergency, he sat there and wrote exactly what happened all day long….

It’s actually a wonderful story. It got in some of the civil affairs literature, but it was never recorded in terms of what we could do in a human rights setting. I think what we need to do is break out of the traditional ICRC, UNHCR — not to ignore their disciplines or their processes or system, but to expand on them. Because they know a lot, they’ve learned a lot, but we need to take the lessons they’ve learned and the lessons we’ve learned from these other emergencies and put them in place to operationalize the protection of human rights particularly during conflicts during chaotic situations, because that’s where we’re failing.”

Andrew Natsios, 2007