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David Miliband’s new role will only hinder our aid work

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Senior Humanitarian Specialist for the Humanitarian Innovation Team of Médecins Sans Frontières - Operational Centre Brussels (OCB)

Michiel joined MSF in 1993 and has worked as MSF Head of Mission in DRC, Bosnia, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Brazil, South Sudan, Kosovo, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

The appointment of David Miliband as president and CEO by a major relief agency is another nail in the coffin to claims of humanitarian independence. As a native European who has spent decades negotiating with warring parties around the world, I know all too well the dangers of being perceived as a foreign policy tool of nations involved militarily in conflict zones.

Bernard Kouchner, one of the founders of my organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, moved on to a political career and was appointed as minister for foreign affairs of France. His tenure coincided with French military involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. Our efforts to convince the warring parties, including the Taliban, that MSF was independent from foreign political agendas became less credible as a result. Belligerent language by Kouchner on behalf of the French government was often accompanied by the line "Mr Kouchner, French foreign minister and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières". Many times the statements went even further, with Kouchner claiming that the French troops and aid organisations were working towards "a common objective".

This muddying of the waters often took weeks or months to repair, during which time essential hospital and other life-saving medical services were unavailable for people caught on the "wrong" side of the frontline. But at least we could argue that Kouchner had left MSF 20 years before, and we were not responsible for his decision to become a politician and later foreign minister.

However this can no longer be argued when International Rescue Committee decides to appoint a former foreign minister as its president and CEO, or when Save the Children appoints the wife of a sitting prime minister as its ambassador, photographed wearing its T-shirt and visiting Syrian refugee children. Assertions by humanitarian organisations that they are fully independent and have no hidden political agenda slowly wither away...


To cite this content :
Michiel Hofman, David Miliband’s new role will only hinder our aid work, 3 April 2013, URL : https://msf-crash.org/en/blog/david-milibands-new-role-will-only-hinder-our-aid-work

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