Dr. Bernard Kouchner and MSF: A Clarification

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Paris, May 22, 2007 — A few days after Doctor Bernard Kouchner's appointment as France's minister of foreign affairs, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) notes a potential confusion between his new responsibilities and the role he has played in humanitarian organizations such as MSF. The mixing of politics and humanitarian action is fundamentally prejudicial to our activities and to the deployment of impartial and independent assistance on the field. In such contexts as conflicts, it may be particularly dangerous.

This is why we consider it fundamental to clarify the relations between Dr. Kouchner and MSF, and to reassert our independence towards the French authorities and any other political power. Here some useful historical facts:

  • Dr. Kouchner was one of twelve people–including doctors and journalists–who founded MSF on December 22, 1971;
  • Several years later, MSF, which was still a small organization, faced a choice: to grow, or to remain a small committee working to raise awareness of the problems in the Third World. Dr Kouchner did not support the organization's professionalization and growth, which placed him in the minority at MSF's 1979 General Assembly. He left the organization soon after;
  • Dr. Kouchner has not been involved in the organization since then and has had no responsibilities related to MSF;
  • For nearly 30 years, MSF and Dr. Kouchner have had public disagreements on such issues as the right to intervene and the use of armed force for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, Dr. Kouchner is in favor of the latter, whereas MSF stands up for an impartial humanitarian action, independent from all political, economic and religious powers;
  • MSF is not a French organization, but rather an international one, with 19 sections worldwide, including the French one. Nearly 99 percent of the French section's activities are financed by private resources. MSF France does not receive any public funds.

Improperly perceived as being involved in the foreign policy of the French government, MSF activities might be seriously endangered, namely in conflicts where the French Army is currently involved, for example in the Central African Republic and Chad. It is everyone's responsibility today–especially Dr. Kouchner's–not to liken MSF activities to those undertaken by any government or any government representatives. MSF's action has only one goal: to help people in danger, without discrimination.

For more information, please see the interview with MSF France President, Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol: "Humanitarian action and political action: don't confuse the two."