MSF Weighs in on Drawing the Line in Humanitarian Operations

In a new book to be released this November, international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres tackles a big question faced by most aid organizations: When should and shouldn’t humanitarian groups compromise when pursuing aid work in difficult situations?

The book, dubbed “Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience,” tackles a wide range of dilemmas faced by the organization in its years of work in some of the world’s most dangerous locations. It aims to analyze “political transactions and balances of power and interests that allow aid activities to move forward, but that are usually masked by the lofty rhetoric of ‘humanitarian principles’,” said Fabrice Weissman, one of the authors of the book, according to IRIN.

Topics tackled in the book include dealing with fighters or combatants, which Weismman said is an unavoidable part of humanitarian work. 

“That fighting forces seek to take advantage of aid groups is unavoidable,” Weissman said, according to IRIN. “The fact is that unless we provide them with benefits they have no reason to allow us to operate in the areas they seek to control.”

Corruption is also sometimes unavoidable, according to Weissman, who explained that while MSF’s imperative is to always save lives, the group has concluded that “the means by which lives are saved cannot be a moral or ethical issue.”

IRIN notes that in the end, MSF uses a simple criteria to determine whether or not to continue a particular operation.

“We ask ourselves who benefits most from our presence: the fighting forces or the civilians?” the news agency quotes Weissman.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.