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MSF and protection: pending or closed?

Judith Soussan

Graduated in International relations (Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris), Logistics in humanitarian settings (Bioforce-Développement) and Anthropology (University Paris I), Judith Soussan joined MSF in 1999. After missions in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan and the Palestinian territories, she worked in Paris, in particular on protection of civilians. Following a few years break from MSF working as a radio reporter, she has come back to Crash in 2015. She contributed to the book "Saving lives and staying alive. Humanitarian Security in the Age of Risk Management" (chapter "Security Issues and Practices in an MSF Mission in the Land of Jihad" - London: Hurst and Co, 2016).

Date de publication

This document stems from the observation that the notion of 'protection' is a particularly difficult issue to broach at MSF. For some 'protection' is self-evident, others view it with suspicion - affirmations emerge, but rarely is it subject of real debate. To address protection, however, is to address the question of our responsibility and role when confronted with violence, in the context of healthcare. Has this question been settled once and for all at MSF?
In order to provide elements for a reply, the study looks at the practices and discourse, both past and present, employed by MSF (headquarters, field teams, individuals) when faced with situations of violence affecting either the population in general, or the people we assist. It analyses our discourse on responsibility - discourse which has inevitably evolved with the changes in our work environment, particularly States' international actions.
The study also tries to identify the constancies within our practices (concrete action to protect an individual or group, operational choices to secure our sphere of action, or messages to alert, denounce or activate the responsibility of other actors etc.), starting with the inexorable requirement 'do no harm'. Three case studies are presented in the appendices, presenting a closer look at these practices and how they were discussed or justified in each particular context, as well as the disagreements (when applicable) that arose and the arguments that influenced the operational decisions taken.

To cite this content :
Judith Soussan, MSF and protection: pending or closed?, 1 avril 2008, URL :

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