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Humanitarian Action at Any Price?



Médecins Sans Frontières and 40 Years of Negotiating Access

Hosted by the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Melbourne launch of Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (Columbia University Press) edited by Claire Magone, Michaël Neuman and Fabrice Weissman.  The contributors to this book seek to analyse the political transactions and balances of power and interests that allow aid activities to move forward by focussing on one key question: what is an acceptable compromise for MSF?

In this lecture editor Fabrice Weissman will argue that the use of aid as a political instrument is no aberration; it’s the principal condition for deploying aid in crises situations. One of the main ethical and practical challenges faced by aid organisations is, therefore, negotiating the best possible compromise between their own interests and those of the political forces with whom they inevitably have to come to an understanding. Indeed, their ability to be effective often depends less on the genuineness of their humanitarian intentions than on their capacity to argue for an aid policy that is both coherent and compatible with the interests of the powers that be.

Which immediately raises the question of what constitutes a good compromise with those who have power? What does a humanitarian organisation see as an acceptable deal?

Fabrice Weissman is a director of the Centre de Réflexions sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) hosted by the Médecins Sans Frontières Foundation in Paris. As a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris he joined Médecins Sans Frontières in 1995. He spent several years as a logistician and then head of mission (country director) in the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia) and West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea). Since 2000, he has been alternating between working in the field and carrying out research on humanitarian action. He has published several articles and books, including In the Shadow of Just Wars. Violence, Politics and Humanitarian Action (ed., London, Hurst & Co., 2004) and Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed:.The MSF Experience (ed., Columbia University Press, 2011).

Michiel Hofman worked for Médecins Sans Frontières between 1993 - 1998 as Logistics Coordinator, Emergency Co-ordinator and Head of Mission in Liberia DRC, Bosnia, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Brazil, South Sudan and Kosovo, returning to his former career as freelance journalist in between missions.
Between 1999-2001, Michiel co-founded The Antares Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organisation which supports local NGOs in providing psycho-social support for staff working in high-stress environments. Michiel returned to MSF in 2001 as Head of Mission for Chechnya, and Director of Operations based in Amsterdam till 2007. Between January 2009 and January 2011, Michiel was Country representative for MSF in Afghanistan. Currently Michiel works as an advisor on operational strategy for MSF in Brussels.

Thursday, 29 March 2012 | 6.30pm - 7.30pm

Public Lecture Theatre
Old Arts Building
The University of Melbourne

Location map

Contact Tamsin Courtney in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at or 8344 8985.

Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience will be available for purchase on the night.

Fabrice Weissman

Michiel Hofman

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