Volunteers and responsibility for risk-taking: Changing interpretations of the Charter of Médecins Sans Frontières

The Charter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the guiding document for all of the organization's members, states in the final paragraph that volunteers "understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out". Through a review of the different periods in the history of MSF, this article analyzes the changing interpretations that the organization's successive leaders have given to this reference to the acceptance of risk by individuals. The professionalization and expansion of MSF, coupled with its diversifying volunteer base and the changing international environment, have required constant renegotiation of the balance between institutional and individual responsibility for the dangers faced in the field. No doubt this process is far from over.

About the author

Dr Caroline Abu Sa’Da and Xavier Crombé

Dr Caroline Abu Sa’Da holds a doctorate in political science and heads the Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices (UREPH) of MSF Switzerland. Xavier Crombé́ is a former Director of Studies at the Centre de Re ́flexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) of MSF France and is currently involved in the Medical Care Under Fire project run by MSF’s International Office. He is also a lecturer in humanitarian studies at Sciences Po in Paris.

Subscribe to the ICRC newsletter