Ethics & International Affairs Volume 13 (1999): Special Section: The Humanitarian Identity Crisis: Humanitarian Responsibility and Committed Action: Response to "Principles Politics and Humanitarian Action" [Abstract]

Dec 4, 1999

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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