News / Africa

Negotiating Medical Aid in Conflict Zones

MSF staff often work in the midst of armed militias in Somalia.
MSF staff often work in the midst of armed militias in Somalia.
Joe DeCapua

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders works in many of the world’s hot spots, including Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories. However, humanitarian assistance often depends on delicate negotiations and a lot of compromise.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, has published a new book entitled Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed – The MSF Experience.

In recent years, medical and humanitarian workers have been increasingly put in harm’s way. So much so, many questioned whether “humanitarian space” – the safe zone where aid could be given – was shrinking.

Negotiation inevitable

“We got ourselves 5 workers killed in Afghanistan in 2004. We got 3 workers killed in Somalia, expulsion in Niger and in Sudan. And all those incidents were tended to be seen as consequences of the blurring of the lines between humanitarian action and political and military intervention. And there was that overwhelming feeling that it was getting more and more difficult to work,” said Michael Neuman, director of the MSF research center in Paris and co-author of the book.

He said if medical treatment is to be administered in conflict areas, for example, negotiation is inevitable.

“What we argue in the book is that there is no such thing as an abstract humanitarian space, but that there is huge responsibility from the aid actors themselves to defend and conquer their own space of work through negotiations, through compromises, through power struggle with authorities intersecting with civil society groups, international organizations, governments. And that is what we wanted to explore in this book,” said Neuman.

Negotiations center on a search for common ground.

“You shouldn’t believe in yourself as the bearer of some absolute moral virtue. We have interests, the authorities have interests. And so we have to find common interests between those different parties and groups,” he said.

Piece of the action

Everyone involved in the negotiations wants to benefit from an MSF presence.

“When trying to set up a surgical project in Mogadishu in 2007, we have to gather around this table, virtual table, the warlords, their enemies, their archenemies, the Islamic insurrection, the clan leaders, so that they can all get a piece of it,” he said.

For example, militias may realize their fighters or families can receive medical care at the MSF clinic. Clan leaders may look upon the clinic as giving prestige to their area.

Neuman co-wrote the chapter on Somalia titled Everything is Open to Negotiation.

“If you have expectations of doing anything, of conducting any work in Somalia where there is no government, virtually no health care system, you’ve got to enter into negotiations in every aspect of your work. You have to negotiate renting cars. You have to negotiate how you recruit staff. You have to negotiate the payment of taxes to the interim government or to the rebellion. You have to negotiate the type of activities you’re going to put in place,” he said.

Do no harm?

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, called the father of Western medicine, wrote “there were two special objects in view with regard to disease – to do good or to do no harm.” MSF came face to face with that in the Libyan city of Misrata.

Neuman said, “The teams faced a terrible reality when they realized that they were basically treating patients between torture sessions. Patients would be brought to them after they’d been tortured by the police and MSF would help the authorities to put them back on their feet. And after a few days they would be sent back to the detention centers to be tortured again. And of course that’s where you start to believe that your work is meaningless. And in that case the decision was to suspend the project.”

He added, “you fight for what you believe in to the maximum, but know that you may not achieve it all.”

The MSF book states, “Sometimes just holding the line for one’s values as best as one can, making the compromises that one must…is no small victory.”

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs