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Off the cuff
War and Humanitarianism

How can aid workers help war victims without falling prey to, or becoming complicit with, their persecutors?

Humanitarian organisations have an ambiguous relationship with the violence of war. Seeking to relieve its severity, they contribute to its continuation to varying degrees while subjecting themselves to becoming targets. This collection of studies explores the way aid workers attempt to “humanise” war and face the risk of becoming victims of or complicit in the war.

Food distribution in Borno state
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Borno, Nigeria : a critical look at our operations

In 2016, the Operations Department commissioned a critical review of the operations carried out between 2015 and 2016 in Borno State by MSF France in the north east of Nigeria. In response, and with the help of Epicentre, Judith Soussan and Fabrice Weissman from CRASH produced a detailed historical account of the analyses made of the situation by the teams, capital and headquarters at the time, as well as the objectives they set themselves, the actions they undertook, the obstacles they encountered and the results they achieved.  As part of this project, some of the directors and operations managers who had been involved in these operations took a retrospective look at their own practices: were they late in responding to the catastrophic situation in the IDP camps in rural areas and on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in 2016 and, if so, why?  What conclusions can be drawn a posteriori about the operational choices made and the effectiveness of MSF intervention strategies? And, to take things a step further, what does this experience teach us about how MSF functions and how our teams work? Interview with Isabelle Defourny, Operations Director at MSF-OCP. By Elba Rahmouni. 

Yemen, Hodeidah, 1 May 2019 - on the road to Sanaa
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Yemen: questions about an aid system

The situation in Yemen is often presented as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, long ignored by the media, and requiring assistance vital to the survival of almost the entire country. Cholera outbreaks, famine, and destruction are invoked to support that argument. In reality, however, the situation of the country’s 25 to 30 million inhabitants is impossible to know with any accuracy. Nor do we know exactly what is happening in Yemen in terms of aid, although the amount of funding is very large. Noting these diagnoses and its field teams’ perspective on certain points, Médecins Sans Frontières has launched an effort to better understand this field of action using a quantitative and qualitative approach. A review of aid organisation documents and a series of interviews with aid actors in Yemen – in Houthi areas, in particular – has yielded a number of different conclusions.

Rony Brauman
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Rony Brauman: « French military interventions create “safe billets” in Africa »

Rony Brauman takes a critical look at "humanitarian wars" and argues for political solutions that could include Islamists. He recently published "Humanitarian Wars? Lies and intox "(Textuel, 2018). This interview was published on July 03, 2018 in l'Opinion.

Devastation in Aden - July 2015
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Tomorrow’s war ? With Bertrand Badie

Tomorrow’s war?  Bertrand Badie is pessimistic given the extremely high tension in the Middle East. Modern conflicts in the region are defined by their uncertain, composite and heterogeneous nature, as well as by their permanence, as there are no winners and no losers. The situation can be interpreted vertically as a “superposition of logics of conflict” and horizontally as an “aggregate of logics of coalition”. Bertrand Badie explained that a conflict situation is really dangerous when it combines several logics of conflict and several logics of alliance, making it virtually impossible to reach a compromise. Today, we can distinguish fives layers of conflict in the Middle East, a level of superposition never previously attained, according to this specialist in international relations.

13 avril 1994. Réfugiés rwandais à la frontière entre le Burundi et le Rwanda
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Genocide from an historical, legal and political standpoint

The publication of the journalist Judi Rever’s book, In Praise of Blood, on the crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s armed rebellion has rekindled discussion over the existence of a “double genocide”, one committed against the Tutsis under the orders of Rwanda’s interim government which took power in April 1994 following the assassination of President Habyarimana, and the other against the Hutus by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which seized power in July 1994. There is little or no controversy about the reality of the genocide of the Tutsis in the world of Rwandan studies, but the claim that the Hutus were in turn victims of genocide sparks reactions as violent as they are confused. The cause of this confusion can be found in the different definitions of a term used in at least three fields: history, law and politics.

Vue de l'intérieur de l'hôpital MSF à Kunduz, après son bombardement, octobre 2015
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Humanitarian Wars ? - Interview with Rony Brauman

Rony Brauman has just published “Guerres humanitaires ? Mensonges et intox”. This book, a collection of interviews co-authored with Régis Meyran, explores a number of recent armed interventions that have all shared the goal of saving lives. Reviewing conflicts in Somalia, Libya, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Brauman discusses the reasons advanced for justifying these wars and the accompanying lies.

The United Nations Security Council votes
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Humanitarian diplomacy, a fig leaf for extreme violence

Interview with Michaël Neuman and Fabrice Weissman, research directors at Crash. On Wednesday 28 September, MSF is invited to attend a UN Security Council briefing on resolution 2286, adopted in May 2016, which strongly condemns attacks against medical personnel and establishments in conflict situations.