Humanitarian Imperialism – “Caring for Haiti” by Michael Barker

Posted on February 16, 2010

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  “Caring for Haiti” by Michael Barker

 (Swans – February 8, 2010)   Humanitarian imperialism is a phenomenon that needs to be understood and unmasked by all who care to safeguard life. Yet to date, many thoughtful and often selfless individuals have failed to address the depths to which imperial forces have penetrated human rights activism. Haitian human rights activist Paul Farmer provides one such example, as while he is personally critical of elite-driven human rights activism, a good case can be made that his own work actually perpetuates such elitism. For instance, the introductory quote to this article, which is taken from the opening page of the preface to his book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (University of California Press, 2005), was penned by Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, a longtime advocate of humanitarian imperialism. Indeed, at the time of writing this vaguely critical statement Odinkalu was the senior legal officer for the London-based human rights group, Interights, a group that receives strong support from one of the world’s leading humanitarian imperialists, George Soros. (At present Odinkalu works directly for Soros as the senior legal officer for his Open Society Justice Initiative.) Given this background it should come as no surprise that Farmer’s own human rights endeavors are closely integrated with those of Soros’s public health activism. This connection helps explain why the foreword to Pathologies of Power was written by a leading board member of the Global Humanitarian Forum, Amartya Sen, a forum that is in turn headed by an influential patron of the imperialist Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Kofi Annan. This is not to say that Farmer’s work is not critical of some imperial elites, but it serves to highlight the fact that he remains uncritical (in public at least) of elites who cloak their imperial actions under the mantle of humanitarianism.

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