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OXFAM Calls on Existing and Emerging Powers to Better Protect Civilians in Conflict Zones

A new report says a new world order is emerging, and it calls on the United States and others to do a better job of protecting those threatened by conflict.

The report, "For a Safer Tomorrow," was released Monday by the humanitarian aid group Oxfam. Edmund Cairns is the senior policy advisor for OXFAM Great Britain. While visiting Washington, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about a new world order.

"So many things are happening at the moment. I mean obviously we're about to have a new president of the United States. But in the longer term, we're seeing China and India becoming major world powers. We're seeing Russia becoming a major world power again. And so it's absolutely the right time to look at the people, who I think are at the sharp end of these changes in the world. And they're the millions of civilians caught in conflict," he says.

Cairns says the issue is more than political. "There's been all this debate about what are the political implications of the changing power in the world, but there's been very little debate about what is the impact on the civilians caught at the sharp end. And so OXFAM's new report is trying to focus attention on those civilians and say that far, far more can and must be done by everybody to protect them. And that means certainly the United States, but it also means those new powers that are emerging as major influences," he says.

The OXFAM official says there are more than 30 armed conflicts going on around the world right now. Among them are Darfur and the conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"The key point is probably that people too easily give up. People too easily sort of have crisis fatigue.… For instance, we've seen Darfur on our TV screens for five years and think that nothing more can be done. But things can be done," he says.

One good example, says Cairns, is Kenya. He says the post-election violence that claimed more than a thousand lives early this year could have been much worse had not the international community intervened. "People took effective action to protect civilians and to resolve that crisis at every level of society with international pressure with the Kenyan leaders, with local Kenyan civil society. So, one of the things we're trying to say in this report is not only just focus on the civilians who matter, but also don't give up. Don't think that nothing can be done to protect civilians. Realize that with a political will a lot can be done," he says.

He acknowledges that with the current financial turmoil in the United States and elsewhere, it may be more difficult to get officials to pay attention to conflict zones. But he says it can be done.

"There is a huge variety of things that can be done between doing nothing and sending in the troops. Past experience suggests that using firm diplomacy, sometimes using sanctions, can have a major effect. The Liberia war, for instance, used to be a by-word for brutality in the 1990s. That was ended in 2003 essentially because the UN Security Council imposed effective sanctions," he says. Cairns adds, however, that it's doubtful that solutions can be found for problems in Chad and Darfur without more peacekeeping troops.

Cairns says that over the long term, these conflicts threaten the security of the United States and many other countries.