MSF on the politics of humanitarian action

As research director at MSF's CRASH, Paris-based Michael Neuman recently co-edited Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed. In this honest and important book, various MSF contributors analyse the realities of humanitarian action and the kind of compromises their organization has accepted to assist countless victims of armed conflict during its 40-year history.

While MSF and the ICRC share the same goal and operate in similar environments, the two organizations sometimes differ in their respective approaches to humanitarianism. We maintain that a principled, neutral, independent and impartial stance is the only way for us to operate; MSF says that deviating from these principles is both inevitable and necessary.

Despite these differences, the two organizations share an independent and pragmatic approach based on dialogue with parties to a conflict. The ICRC believes that this dialogue must be confidential to bring results, MSF doesn't, but engagement with political actors of all stripes has enabled both to remain close to victims and sustain meaningful operations, even in polarized contexts where few other aid groups tread.

Mr. Neuman explains why an honest debate about the realities of humanitarian action is today necessary and healthy, not only for MSF but for all humanitarian actors.