Doctors without Borders: 40 Years of Independent Humanitarian Assistance

When we had the presentation on the work of Médécins Sans Frontières, I thought I knew what I was expecting.

Having an International Relations background with a focus on humanitarian aid, I am familiar with the history of this organization who was created after the dissatisfaction that some workers had while serving the Red Cross, because it hindered their work of saving lives in conflict situations, because the Red Cross has many rules concerning the preservation of its principles for pursuing its work.

I consider myself familiar with the work of the institution and the presentation itself in fact did not offer many new insights as it was a general overview of the 40 years of the institution and the personal working experience of the presenters. But in this video we can have an idea of how big the action of MSF is:

Living in Emergency Trailer from LivinginEmergency on Vimeo.

Yet, during the presentation of such a familiar story, something came to my mind:

First, the very fact that, despite controversies, both the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders take pride in being neutral organizations who do not take sides. However, as one learns about Jean Paul Lederach’s work on elicitive conflict transformation, the assumption of neutrality just disappears, because in fact, a conflict mediator and a conflict worker is no less than a third part in the conflict. Having said that they are a third PART, it implies that, as a part of the conflict, those individuals and/or institutions play a role in the development and outcome of the conflict, making it more complex. Moreover, an external view on the matter does not solve the conflict since the best tools for conflict transformation would reside in the very elements within that conflict and not coming outside of it.

However, having said all that, one wonders: Is this reason enough for they to stop working? Or, like a question made, shouldn’t the Doctors Without Borders address rather the reasons of conflicts instead of the very bloody consequences of it?

To me the answer is no. Although it would go along the stream of thought I developed in the previous lines, I would like to say that they have an important work that does save the lives of thousands of people all over the world, and it matters for them that they are there. Moreover, there already are many initiatives who work on the political issues in regard to avoiding conflicts through diplomacy, mediation, transformation and so on.

So yes, there always is room for a critique that aims at improving the work developed by some institutions, and i believe that Doctors Without Borders could learn a lot from Lederach’s elicitive conflict transformation Model. Plus, it goes without saying that along with that it is fundamental to address not only those who suffer from/because of conflicts but also to address those who generate conflict. This is a fundamental and comprehensive approach that seems so necessary in light of nowadays complex world.

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