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Sexual abuse perpetrated by humanitarian workers: from moral relativism to competitive victimhood

Drawing on the example of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Françoise Duroch and Emmanuel Noyer review the measures taken by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) to combat sexual violence. The authors show the moral relativism that runs through humanitarian organisations concerned with preserving their public image. Admittedly, the latter are increasingly aware of their obligation to monitor the behaviour of their employees, but the systems need to tackle inequalities, especially gender-based ones.

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Should we discriminate in order to act? Profiling: a necessary but debated practice

In October 2020, MSF organised a workshop in Dakar on staff profiling in operations in the Sahel. Profiling involves the selection of staff based on non-professional criteria, including nationality, skin colour, gender and religion. As such, it raises a number of ethical and practical concerns. As a result of profiling, US nationals have not been deployed in MSF operations in Colombia because of the risk of kidnapping, and Chadians and Rwandans have been excluded in the Central African Republic and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, because of regional conflicts.

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Tough choices: moral challenges experienced by aid workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

The truly unprecedented nature of the pandemic has mobilised and confused humanitarian NGOs and their staff as much. Forced inaction mixed with setting up programmes within a context of high uncertainty has resulted in strong, sometimes painful, moral experiences. The research project initiated within Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland has already made it possible to collect useful data both for the present crisis and for others to come.

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International aid in the Covid era: the need for transparency

The scale and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the large number of deaths it has caused, have created a toxic mix of rumour and innuendo – further complicating aid operations that already face significant obstacles in delivering vital humanitarian assistance. At a time when medical personnel have been both applauded and subjected to hostility as potential vectors of the virus, aid staff face real security risks – risks that their organisations are obliged to take seriously.

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Medical care in armed conflict: Perpetrator discourse in historical perspective

Although the Geneva Conventions have been successively revised since 1864, norms regarding the protection of medical care have been frequently disregarded. Despite current claims of international humanitarian law in crisis, comparing historic levels of violations with contemporary incidents is quantitatively challenging. Reviewing past reactions and justifications used by perpetrators of attacks on medical care can, however, be revealing.

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Plagues of Prejudice

In December 1899 Honolulu-based physicians attributed two deaths to bubonic plague, and a local paper duly announced that the ‘scourge of the Orient’ had arrived. Within months a first plague fatality was reported in continental U.S. as Chinese-American Chick Gin (Wing Chung Ging or Wong Chut King depending on the transliteration) succumbed to the disease in San Francisco. The cause of death was based on a classic plague symptom of swelling around the groin, but was disputed even after rudimentary bacterial analysis.

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