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Humanitarian Responsibility and Committed Action

  • Joelle Tanguy and Fiona Terry


Far from rejecting the classicist approach, as Thomas Weiss claims, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) follows the fundamental principle of providing aid in proportion to need and without discrimination. Actions that on Weiss's political continuum would be termed solidarist are less an expression of political preference than a determination to claim and operate within humanitarian space as well as to maintain accountability to international civil society through testimony (témoignage) regarding mass violations of human rights. Although providing aid in conflict is implicitly political, involving humanitarian actors and aid in conflict resolution initiatives, as Weiss advocates, risks diluting the primary responsibility of humanitarian aid to alleviate suffering. It also further shifts the responsibility for conflict resolution and the respect of international legal conventions from accountable political institutions to the private sphere. Is this where we want to lead humanitarianism?



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1 Shawcross, William, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984).

2 Rufin, Jean-Christophe, Le Piège humanitaire (Paris: Édition Jean-Claude Lattès, 1986).

3 Becker, Jasper, Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine (New York: Free Press, 1997).

4 See Jean, François, “De l'interétatique au translational: les acteurs non-étatiques clans les conflits,” Recherches & Documents, no. 5 (June 1998).

5 Brauman, Rony, “Refugee Camps, Population Transfers and NGOs,” in Moore, Jonathan, ed., Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).

6 Destexhe, Alain, “Humanitarian Neutrality: Myth or Reality?” in Cahill, K., ed., Preventive Diplomacy (New York: Basic Books, 1996).

7 See Jean, François and Rufin, Jean-Christophe, Économies des guerrses civiles (Paris: Hachette Pluriel, 1996).

8 Brauman, Rony, Humanitaire: le dilemme (Paris: Les Éditions Textuel, 1996).

9 Terry, Fiona, “The Humanitarian Impulse: Imperatives versus Consequences” (paper presented at the annual convention of the International Studies Association, Washington, D. C., February 17, 1999).

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Humanitarian Responsibility and Committed Action

  • Joelle Tanguy and Fiona Terry


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