Arjun Claire 1
View More View Less
  • 1 Médecins Sans Frontières, Operational Centre Geneva
Reason, Emotion and Solidarity in Humanitarian Advocacy
in Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

Evidence-based advocacy is all the rage in humanitarian action. It is premised on rational thinking, which posits that factual evidence can limit subjective bias in humanitarians’ call for change. Data has come to be a cornerstone of this turn towards reason, aggregating human stories in numbers and percentages, which when reaching an elusive threshold is expected to persuade decision-makers to act. This article claims that the prominence of data and facts comes at the cost of understanding people’s concerns and aspirations, and reveals an increasingly emotions-scarce and morally depleted humanitarian enterprise. Examining Médecins Sans Frontières concept of témoignage, the article argues that the pull between reason and emotion crystallises a more profound tension between the need for a professional and technical humanitarianism as opposed to a political and morally charged one. It concludes that the prism of solidarity can help reinvigorate humanitarian advocacy helping reconcile reason with emotion, combining practices of advocacy with those of activism, in turn creating the foundations of a more solidarist humanitarianism.

Introduction

Humanitarian advocacy shot to prominence in the 1990s. Frustrated by treating symptoms of crises, several humanitarian organisations were turning to a rights-based approach, and advocacy provided the toolbox for a closer engagement with the politics of crises (Bridges, 2010). What was until then largely a moral act to bear witness and speak out against suffering (Redfield, 2006) was in the process subsumed within a broader advocacy framework, characterised by three strategies to guarantee people’s basic assistance and protection needs: persuasion, mobilisation and denunciation (Slim and Bonwick, 2005: 84). With its origins in the anti-slavery campaign, and later the civil rights movement in the United States and beyond, advocacy, as such, largely replaced activism1 with an emphasis on insider ‘lobbying’ strategies, leading critics to suggest that it became a cover for governments and institutions to co-opt and channel criticism (de Waal, 2015: 31–6). In humanitarian action, activism manifested in the form of the Cambodian March for Survival, in 1980, when many aid representatives organised a demonstration at the Thai-Cambodian border to allow cross-border assistance into Cambodia (Weissman, 2011: 179). While activism is a confrontational form of realising change, advocacy relies on building relationships with decision-makers and influencers to secure incremental outcomes. Advocacy also represents a professionalisation of activism, manifest in the emergence of a new broker class to represent the interests of third parties – advocacy is largely done on behalf of someone, whereas activists often tend to have a material stake in the issue (de Waal, 2015: 23).

Humanitarian advocacy can be defined as a process or a series of actions aimed at influencing decision-makers to implement policies and practices in favour of populations affected by humanitarian crises. Put simply, advocacy is about a change proposition: either directly asking someone to change policy, behaviour, practice or mobilising other actors with leverage to ask for the desired change. Above all, advocacy encourages charting change pathways grounded in a strategic approach and planning process as opposed to compulsive and fitful action. As such, advocacy has been conceived as a triumph of reason and rationality over emotions. To the extent it relies on emotions, it carefully directs them through curated narratives deployed in the realisation of predetermined advocacy objectives (Fernandes, 2017: 2). With humanitarian actors increasingly engaging in specific thematic issues and policy changes, they have privileged authoritative facts that positions them as experts, enhancing their legitimacy in the eyes of decision-makers.

Advocacy has resulted in many big and small changes. But over the years has it become a prisoner of logframes, formulaic almost, and heavily focused on policies and increasingly bereft from the real concerns of people it aims to serve? Policies, admittedly, have a deep impact on people’s lives. Influencing and shaping them to reflect people’s needs and wishes therefore would remain vital. But policy advocacy must flow from the wishes and aspirations of people and lead to meaningful changes in their lived experience. Humanitarian advocacy also tends to focus on direct operational and programmatic concerns, coalescing around issues such as access and funding. All this is a direct consequence of an increasingly technical approach to humanitarian action, which has resulted in the rise of the aid and advocacy ‘expert’ (Givoni, 2011). In this new conception, technical expertise is privileged over a more overt political engagement. Effectiveness and efficiency of aid delivery implicitly override the principle of humanity. And the search for solutions to today’s increasingly protracted crises overshadows the need for social justice.

In some ways, this supposed tension between a strictly technical and neutral humanitarian action and a more political and morally driven one has existed for some time. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) starkly illustrates this tension. It may be built into the DNA of the organisation, which emerged from a coming together of medical and journalism professionals and is embodied in the concept of témoignage. Drawing on the wider literature on humanitarian advocacy and communications, this paper will therefore largely focus on how MSF’s evolving conception of humanitarian action has given meaning to and shaped its témoignage practices. Starting with a short overview of what témoignage represents for MSF, the article goes on to identify it as a site of struggle for reconciling reason with emotion. In charting its evolution within MSF, the article highlights how the otherwise morally infused concept of témoignage has, in response to both wider geopolitical shifts and internal contestation, been gradually rationalised and tamed. It is increasingly bounded by medical data and banalised through routine advocacy and communications practices, making témoignage emotionally scarce and morally depleted. This trend has paralleled the gradual projectisation of the organisation’s medical activities, increasingly inspired by professional management practices. This has brought témoignage squarely within the remit of operations, circumscribed in a supposedly neutral humanitarian space and cut off from the politics of life. Although the article is focused on MSF, the turn towards professionalism and evidence-based advocacy coupled with the banalising trope of giving voice to affected populations in the form of testimonies is a widespread phenomenon in the humanitarian sphere. The article concludes that the prism of solidarity can help reinvigorate the concept of témoignage, helping reconcile reason with emotion, combining practices of advocacy with those of activism, in turn creating the foundations of a more solidarist humanitarianism.

Rise of a Humanitarian témoin

Témoignage has been woven into the fabric of MSF’s identity. Or so the organisation likes to distinguish its humanitarian character, privileging not only direct medical action but acts of ‘bearing witness’ to, or ‘speaking out’ against, violations of human dignity. Témoignage, however, is more than a set of actions. It encapsulates a medley of ideas: proximity with people living through crisis; the intent to listen to them; the swelling anger at their plight; the desire to change their situation; and calling out the manipulation of humanitarian action (Redfield, 2006). It is also a value signifier, capturing notions of humanity and solidarity, fired by a freewheeling spirit that cuts across borders and is unrestrained by the trappings of state power. It has also been conceptualised as a site where science meets morality, reconciling individual narrative testimony of suffering with objective epidemiological data (Redfield, 2006). Témoignage as such is broader than advocacy; it doesn’t always attempt to achieve change. It is also an expression of empathy, solidarity, anger, outrage. It has a strong moral dimension. If advocacy is governed by the realm of reason, témoignage can be said to be driven largely by morals, emotions and politics. The next section examines the concept of témoignage and charts its evolution within MSF.

The word témoignage has strong legal underpinnings. Its subject is the témoin, or witness, and this subject performs the act of témoigner or ‘to testify’. A witness can testify about a subjective experience, something the witness experienced herself, or relate an objective experience, something the witness merely observed (Fassin, 2008). This objective interpretation of témoigner, with strong religious undertones and its implicit distance from the experience, but proximity to action, found its way in the new language of sans frontières humanitarianism of the 1970s. In the initial days, the témoin was almost invariably the humanitarian volunteer.

During the 1970s, témoignage came to be a symbol of a new form of humanitarian action – solidarist and political. Lacking direct translation in English, it proved to be adept at accommodating changing conceptions of humanitarianism within MSF. From a focus on human rights in its early years to a more medically oriented humanitarian action today, témoignage has continued to be ceaselessly invoked as a central ethos of the organisation. At its origin a purely moral act of expressing indignation at instances of inhumanity, today, at least the public face of it increasingly resembles a tired vestige of a bygone era, reduced to patient stories and staff testimonies, sprinkled with a dash of medical data. A mix of internal and external factors have led to the wearying of témoignage. Different conceptions of témoignage among the various MSF operational sections, anxieties about blurring of its medical identity as well as concerns around instrumentalisation of its voice and the risk of losing operational access have all combined to remove the moral and political edge of témoignage. With limited appetite for sweeping political statements, témoignage has been recast as a storytelling trope, where carefully spruced and curated patient testimonies combined with the technical legitimacy offered by medical data are made to fit a de-politicised humanitarian narrative. As such, the irony of steep growth in communications and advocacy positions within MSF overlapping with creeping conservatism in speaking out is not lost. Yet, it spurred the growth of public advocacy in the wider humanitarian sector: from public denunciation to combining emotions (patient testimonies) with evidence (data), to call for change, these methods are now commonplace in humanitarian advocacy booklets. Within MSF too, some sections favoured co-opting témoignage as a ‘strategic resource to motivate action’ rather than as a moral act to ‘satisfy indignation’ (Redfield, 2006). It appeared to mark a shift towards reason. Emotional images and testimony came to be viewed as a preserve of fundraising, with medical data playing an increasingly central role in the organisation’s public advocacy (Binet, 2010: 148). This soon resulted in the establishment of an epidemiology unit within MSF, Epicentre, leading to what some have called the rise of the ‘expert witness’ (Givoni, 2011).

The témoin Turns an Advocate

The Biafra war (1967–70) spawned modern humanitarianism, where for the first time private aid groups breached state borders to provide assistance and publically condemned the killings they witnessed (Brauman, 2006a). Témoignage thus bound medical practice with an emerging politics of compassion. It was a compassion directed from the centre towards its margins, from those with clout towards those without, in the process solidifying power imbalances and leaving the question of structural inequalities untouched. The sans frontières physician now not only provided treatment to patients in far-flung corners of the world, but also mediated between violence she encountered in the ‘field’ with compassion she sought to generate in her ‘home country’. It aimed to generate a groundswell of empathy for distant suffering. This was a radical break from a largely institutional approach to communications up until then, which mostly relied on press conferences (Lavoinne, 2005). The individualisation that témoignage fostered allowed for a more humane approach to communicating suffering.

This compassion-soaked beginning of témoignage largely relied on individual testimonies of volunteers. Témoignage remained a marginal objective, with MSF’s original 1971 charter calling for abstaining from expression of public opinion ‘regarding events, forces or leaders who accepted their assistance’ (Weissman, 2011: 178). It was the result of a compromise over two competing visions of témoignage within MSF: on one side, those with experience in Biafra called for a more pugnacious form of témoignage reliant on naming and shaming techniques; on the other, a group that formed around the medical newspaper, Tonus, preached restraint, preferring to foreground suffering over causes (Givoni, 2011). Volunteer témoignage focused on what one saw, thus helping skirt the thorny issue of ascribing blame and responsibility. Even if a volunteer expressed political views, it could not be considered as an institutional position. So, témoignage in the early years increasingly came to be associated with proximity, with presence among populations itself considered a virtuous act, shielding populations from danger. Today, this act of témoignage has been adopted by the wider humanitarian system and standardised in policies as ‘protection by presence’.

At the time, volunteer témoignage raised similar concerns to that of human rights advocacy. It overshadowed the voices of people it was speaking out for. Volunteer gatekeepers vetted and re-packaged people’s concerns into simplified narratives aimed to appeal to international journalists. Often people’s lives resembled exaggerated stories of suffering, which fitted well with the humanitarian narrative of suffering, in turn reducing people to ‘patients’ and ‘victims’ to further justify the relevance of humanitarian action. Reflecting on his experience leading the Cambodian March for Survival in 1980 to protest against famine in Cambodia, Rony Brauman says, in hindsight, he thinks it was a short-term strategy of victimisation (Brauman, 2006: 99). The meaning of témoignage has evolved within MSF over the years, not to speak of the diverse ways in which different MSF operational centres have defined it. This owes as much to wider geopolitical shifts as it does to how external actors responded to acts of témoignage. Internal factors such as growth and accompanying bureaucratisation also contributed to shaping témoignage practices. As governments started instrumentalising humanitarian action to further their own ends – like in Ethiopia in the early 1980s to promote forced resettlement – témoignage became a means for MSF to resist such manipulation. MSF denounced the government’s forced relocation policies, shedding light on the human-induced character of the famine (Weissman, 2011: 34–5). Témoignage, here, was not only an act of speaking out against state violence, but also an act of resistance against complicity with the notorious practices of the Ethiopian state.

As cold war binaries collapsed in the 1990s, long-suppressed grievances erupted in the form of civil wars, posing new challenges to the stability of nation states. States retaliated viciously: from Iraqi Kurdistan to Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya, civilians came under increasing fire. Amid such immense suffering, many in MSF came around to the view that ‘silence kills’. This led to all MSF sections agreeing, in 1992, to remove the confidentiality provisions from the charter (Weissman, 2011: 183). And the Chantilly Principles, agreed in 1995, made public denunciation a key pillar of témoignage. But with the dawn of the new century, a series of internal and external factors forced a reboot of the concept, which had rarely inspired consensus within MSF. And as new operational sections sprouted in the 1980s, divisions over what témoignage meant came to animate intersectional debates. Already, after the Ethiopian debacle, the Belgian and Dutch sections were starting to take a more pragmatic view of témoignage, adding a mix of rationality to what was earlier a purely moral act. They called for a scalable approach which would first exhaust all possible means – starting from silent diplomacy – before speaking out in public (Binet, 2005: 112–13). This was an approach that aimed at improving the plight of populations as opposed to simply expressing indignation, resisting complicity or expressing solidarity. These were the raw shoots of ‘advocacy’ within MSF.

A spate of civil wars was also forcing states to reassert their sovereignty,2 making it a challenge for sans frontières humanitarians to operate. With a more complex operational environment, security of staff and access to populations became important priorities, and témoignage came to be increasingly seen as jeopardising MSF’s operational presence (Binet, 2010: 43). Around the same time, the International Criminal Court was established to promote accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Although MSF collectively decided not to cooperate with the Court, it could do little to prevent its public statements from being used as evidence to prosecute war criminals. In Sudan, for instance, the French and the Dutch sections were expelled in 2009 for cooperating with the International Criminal Court. The two sections had earlier published reports documenting mass killings and sexual violence, which were used as evidence by the Court to indict the then Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, for war crimes and crimes against humanity (Weissman, 2011: 195). At the same time, governments were now using NGO public statements to justify ‘humanitarian interventions’.3

And then came the war on terror, and with it the militarisation of humanitarian action. With the military desperate to win the hearts and minds of local populations, it became imperative for humanitarians to distinguish themselves from western governments and other humanitarian actors. Increasing local visibility and gaining acceptance now entered the MSF lexicon, and the organisation made a big push to reinforce local communications. MSF had also become wary of issuing political statements,4 instead choosing to put forward its medical identity. Many felt that MSF had neither the expertise nor the credibility to stake out political positions and called on leveraging its core medical expertise to express itself publicly. MSF statements would now be based on medical data. Morbidity and mortality trends became the new tools of témoignage. This was formalised in the La Mancha Agreement, which called for anchoring speaking out on eye witness accounts, medical data and experience.5

Témoignage as the ‘Golden Mean’ of Advocacy

In many ways, témoignage foreshadowed many of the trends we see today. At the outset, it resembled what we now commonly refer to as protection by presence, foregrounding medical action, before shedding this clinical approach for a more political call for military intervention in the 1990s, most notably in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, eventually settling for an evidence-driven témoignage, which sought to promote change through reasoned arguments shored by medical data. Despite its limitations, témoignage managed to combine reason and emotion at different stages of its evolutions, although it rarely managed to achieve a balance between the two. It was partly so because it got caught between emotion-driven fundraising and communications and reason-oriented advocacy, before being largely abandoned by advocacy altogether. But efforts to bring meaningful change require striking a balance between efficiency and humanity; reason and emotion, or as Aristotle would have put it, striving for ‘the virtue of golden mean’ between two extremes.

Reason

The shift to a more evidence-based témoignage in MSF coincided with a gradual favouring of advocacy practices over témoignage. Established as part of a broader effort to improve MSF’s technical capacity, Epicentre also provided a boost to advocacy by providing an ‘independent knowledge base’ shoring the organisation’s expert credential (Redfield, 2006). It was assumed that medical data would reinforce MSF’s legitimacy as a professional and medical organisation, thus making its public claims more credible. This recourse to medical data also resulted in a retreat from political advocacy to focus on narrower short-term objectives, directly linked to immediate operational concerns. In the wider humanitarian sector too, data would come to play a central role in protection advocacy. Systematic monitoring and reporting of rights violations was considered to insulate advocacy from political agendas at odds with principled humanitarian action (Niland, 2011). Implicit in this move was that data is always apolitical, and that falling back on medical data would shield the organisation’s public statements from being instrumentalised by political actors. But today, in places like Syria and Nigeria, simply treating 34 war-wounded patients in the wrong part of the country is considered akin to treating 34 terrorists and sending them back to the front line. In other words, data is increasingly interpreted in partisan ways. Data also arguably recasts humanitarians as engaged in an enterprise of governance as opposed to an action of solidarity, involved in cataloguing pathologies of ‘humanitarian bodies’ to fill the data vacuum in fragile settings. These criticisms notwithstanding, data remains essential in revealing patterns in play in our everyday world. It provides a snapshot of the present, and combined with analysis produces vital knowledge about how various categories of people experience crises (MacPhail, 2015). However, data presented as a neutral entity devoid of the political context and human subjectivity remains a malleable commodity open to manipulation in a post-factual world.

Emotion

Témoignage allowed the personification of an issue or a crisis to increase awareness of rights violations through the figure of the témoin, who was able to humanise distant suffering. The témoin, upon returning from field assignment, would often testify to the media about rights violations she was witness to in a language the audience understood. This form of awareness raising was less institutional, coloured by the subjective experience of the témoin. But absent from these testimonies were the voices of the ‘victims’. And to be sure, témoignage was never a morally and ethically unblemished concept. It was always riddled with patronising undertones. And it never represented a solidarity among equals, marked as it was by deep power imbalances between those who could cross boundaries to witness misfortune and those who could merely lend their voice, but had no control over how it was relayed; put more crudely, between the purveyors of misery and the subjects of suffering. In recent years, humanitarian advocates have been able to address this flaw by putting forth lived experiences of violence to mobilise international attention. They have sought to burnish individual voices, giving them a platform to amplify their own stories in a way that is able to draw attention to a cause while simultaneously also humanising it. It has given rise to global icons such as Malala Yousafzai who have been able to galvanise support for girls’ right to education, especially in conflict-affected areas. However, critics say this phenomenon of iconisation has its flaws. It encourages a narrative of empowered victim, and is often viewed with suspicion by the community of the ‘icon’ itself who see in this process of iconisation a subtle attempt to co-opt its voice to advance their own agenda (Olesen, 2016). Yet others claim that such iconisation is part of a broader storytelling trend, where personal stories of ordinary and marginal individuals are ‘reconfigured on the model of the market to produce entrepreneurial, upwardly mobile subjects, leveraged toward strategic and measurable goals’, in the process shifting the focus away from structural oppression and ‘defus[ing] confrontational politics of social movements’ (Fernandes, 2017: 3).

The speaking out dimension of témoignage also aims to express anger and outrage over civilian suffering in order to mobilise shame. Research in the field of human rights shows that shaming can result in positive protection outcomes, but it also carries risks when rights violators develop counter frames to de-legitimise criticism (Kinzelbach and Lehmann, 2014). This is particularly true in the age of social media where facts can be twisted to promote a counter-narrative. Beyond considerations of impact, speaking out for MSF has also carried moral significance, where remaining silent in front of grave human rights violations was seen as an act of complicity. However, over the years, as the nature of humanitarian intervention has changed, considerations of access have outweighed the impulse to speak out: post-1989, humanitarians no longer work at the margins of conflicts, but directly inside conflict zones, which pits public critiques directly against the host government’s position. Not surprisingly, MSF’s most visible example of témoignage recently has come from the extraterritorial realm – the Mediterranean. In MSF, speaking out in recent years has also tended to be highly emotive, focused on immediate rights violations while overlooking the systemic challenges.

Today, moreover, contexts where humanitarians can speak out with panache have remarkably shrunk. National sovereignties have tightened their hold on territories and, if not entirely on narratives, they clearly have honed their ability to sow doubt and misinformation. More so, today’s conflicts are extremely fragmented and are largely conducted via proxies, which often results in multiple narratives about a single incident. And in most places today, humanitarians are rarely the only witness present. Transnational human rights networks are playing a crucial role in spotlighting attention on human rights abuses. And above all, people themselves have access to technologies that enable them to tell their own stories.

Solidarity

Humanitarian advocacy and communications in recent years have increasingly tended to lean on reason, emphasising the importance of facts, data and professional ethics in humanitarian discourse even as emotion and morality have gradually drained away from a post-humanitarian language (Chouliaraki, 2010). Reason provides a logical and credible basis for dialogue to influence and shape policies and practices that govern people’s lives. And emotion offers the moral stimulus to ensure these remain grounded in people’s wishes and aspirations. In other words, emotion helps us remain empathetic towards people, prompting us to listen to and understand their concerns. As such, emotion here is not only how humanitarians mediate distant suffering, but also how they cultivate virtues that gives meaning and morality to humanitarianism.

Solidarity provides a sound moral framework to bridge reason and emotion. It also addresses the flaws of témoignage, which has fostered a humanitarian-centric vision of change and a de-politicised humanity, foregrounding the physical needs of human beings, and casting social, economic, emotional and spiritual needs as matters outside the humanitarian realm. The humanitarian enterprise is still widely seen as a patronising undertaking, mirroring deep power imbalances in our world. As humanitarians face an important trust deficit, humanitarian advocacy needs to be re-cast as more solidarist. This is more so at a time when risk and insecurity is personalised and resilience humanitarianism is ascendant (Duffield, 2019). To put this solidarist advocacy into practice, the anti-colonial solidarity model, outlined by Alex de Waal, offers important insights, although it will have to be adapted to our times. This model was based on national movements defining the advocacy issue, namely decolonisation; where international advocates assisted with tactics, but left the goal and objective setting to national activists (de Waal, 2015: 25–6).

Placing this model in the humanitarian context means taking the concerns of affected populations as a starting point for advocacy. A re-booted témoignage, combining aspects of bearing witness and proximity, which is motivated by solidarity towards affected populations provides the building blocks for a more solidarist vision of advocacy. But it needs to be accompanied with deep listening and strategic amplification. Deep listening will balance the direct experience of the humanitarian worker with insights, expectations and aspirations of affected populations. Deep listening needs to go beyond retrofitting patient testimonies in predetermined advocacy asks, and systematically aim to understand people’s needs and aspirations. This would mean rejecting simple and single narratives and giving space to diverse views. Humanitarians must remain careful in how they exercise moral and material power and always strive to do things ‘with’ people (Slim, 2020).

As a complement to deep listening, strategic amplification can help evaluate when humanitarians should cede space to more authentic and powerful voices and when they can leverage their voice to spotlight a crisis or mobilize change. It could also mean adding their voice to a coalition of voices. Strategic amplification should be the coming together of people’s agency with that of the humanitarian agency (Slim, 2020). People have often bounded rationality limited by geography, so organisations working globally still have a role in putting those rationalities in perspective.

More practically, this would also demand humanitarians to review their ways of working. It will require moving away from a Fordist model of humanitarianism, where the drive for professionalism has resulted in the bunkerisation of specialisations. The concept of témoignage offers a holistic example of how humanitarian actors can strive for solidarity with people while working towards bringing meaningful change in their lives. It helps bridge divisions between advocacy, communications and analysis, offering a blueprint for a new way of thinking and working, in turn, fusing our capacity to reason and empathise. It can also help strike a balance between insider and outsider change strategies, by compelling humanitarians to better understand the structural causes of injustices they are witness to, by listening to people they work for and bringing forward their concerns and needs. Unlike the témoignage of the past, where speaking out against abuse was arguably more to do with absolving oneself from accusations of complicity, a new act of public speaking must take as its guide the benefit doing so might bring to people on whose behalf humanitarians purport to speak out for.

Conclusion

This narrative has argued that humanitarian advocacy’s exclusive emphasis on reason, manifested by the turn towards data and facts, comes at the cost of understanding people’s concerns and aspirations, and reveals an increasingly emotions-scarce humanitarian enterprise. Data is good in providing aggregates, and helps craft evidence-based policies that may well provide utilitarian benefits. It is above all a tool of governance. But it fails to consider all those individual, human dimensions that are not easily quantifiable. More broadly, it also reflects a tension between a more professional and technical humanitarian action grounded in the principles of neutrality and impartiality and a more rights-focused humanitarian action driven by humanity and solidarity. Through MSF’s concept of témoignage, this article shows that this tension has always existed, although over the years, the political dimensions of the organisation’s work have been largely undertaken through a medical prism, with medical data becoming the centrepiece of its advocacy work. Where emotions have been deployed, it has been in the form of patient testimonies. This paper instead argues for re-centering humanitarian advocacy between the extremes of reason and emotion, underpinned by a strong drive for solidarity with affected populations. It claims that the concept of témoignage offers an opening for a more solidarist advocacy once we strip it of its paternalist, humanitarian worker-centric dimensions, and re-pivot it around affected populations’ needs and aspirations.

Acknowledgements

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and in no way represent the organisation to which he belongs. The author extends his appreciation to Imad Aoun, Duncan McLean, Klaudia Bamhorová and Françoise Duroch for their support and valuable comments.

Notes

1

This article understands activism as direct action to resist or change social or political wrong through either ‘contained or transgressive tactics, excluding political violence’ (Global Activism, Ruth Reitan, 2007).

2

Re-assertion of state sovereignty was also linked to the fact that pre-1989 MSF often worked on the margins of conflicts/refugees, as opposed to directly inside, thus bringing our public critiques and denunciations directly against what was often the host government position (who was often an active belligerent).

3

MSF’s public statement was, for instance, used as a pretext to call for military intervention in Sudan.

4

‘We have learned to be cautious in our actions in such circumstances without precluding MSF from denouncing grave and ignored crimes such as the bombing of civilians, attacks on hospitals or diversion of humanitarian aid’ (La Mancha Agreement).

5

Point 1.9 of the La Mancha Agreement notes that ‘in the case of massive and neglected acts of violence against individuals and groups, we should speak out publicly, based on our eyewitness accounts, medical data and experience. However, through these actions we do not profess to ensure the physical protection of people that we assist’.

Works Cited

  • Binet, L. (2005), Famine and Forced Relocations in Ethiopia 1984–1986, MSF Speaking Out Case Studies. MSF.

  • Binet, L. (2010), War Crimes and Politics of Terror in Chechnya 1994–2004, MSF Speaking Out Case Studies. MSF.

  • Brauman, R. (2006a), Dangerous Liaisons: Bearing Witness and Political Propaganda, Biafra and Cambodia – The Founding Myths of Médecins Sans Frontières (Paris: CRASH Papers), www.msf-crash.org/en/publications/humanitarian-actors-and-practice/dangerous-liaisons-bearing-witness-and-political (accessed 30 November 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brauman, R. (2006b), ‘Penser dans l’urgence : parcours critique d’un humanitaire, entretiens avec Catherine Portevin’ (Paris: Editions du Seuil).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bridges, K. M. (2010), ‘Between Aid and Politics: Diagnosing the Challenge of Humanitarian Advocacy in Politically Complex Environments – the Case of Darfur, Sudan’, Third World Quarterly, 31:8, 125169, doi: 10.1080/01436597.2010.541084.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chouliaraki, L. (2010), ‘Post-Humanitarianism: Humanitarian Communication beyond a Politics of Pity’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13:2, 10726, doi: 10.1177/1367877909356720.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Waal, A. (2015), ‘Genealogies of transnational activism’, de Waal, A. (ed.), Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism (London: Zed Books).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Duffield, M. (2019), ‘Post-Humanitarianism’, Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 1:1, 1527, doi: 10.7227/JHA.003 (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fassin, D. (2008), ‘The Humanitarian Politics of Testimony: Subjectification through Trauma in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict’, Cultural Anthropology, 23:3, 53158, doi: 10.1111/j.1548–1360.2008.00017.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fernandes, S. (2017), Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling (New York: Oxford University Press).

  • Givoni, M. (2011), ‘Humanitarian Governance and Ethical Cultivation: Médecins Sans Frontières and the Advent of the Expert-Witness’, Millennium, 40:1, 4363, doi: 10.1177/0305829811406037.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kinzelbach, K. and Lehmann, J. (2014), Can Shaming Promote Human Rights? Publicity in Human Rights Foreign Policy, A Review and Discussion Paper, European Liberal Forum, Brussels.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lavoinne, Y. (2005), ‘Médecins en guerre : du témoignage au « tapage médiatique » (1968–1970)’, Le Temps des médias, 1:4, 11426, doi: 10.3917/tdm.004.0114.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MacPhail, T. (2015), ‘Data, Data Everywhere’, Public Culture, 27:2(76), 21319, doi: 10.1215/08992363–2841820.

  • Niland, N. (2011), ‘Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: Evidence-Based Advocacy and Enhanced Protection’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 49, Overseas Development Institute, https://odihpn.org/magazine/civilian-casualties-in-afghanistan-evidence-based-advocacy-and-enhanced-protection/ (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Olesen, T. (2016), ‘Malala and the Politics of Global Iconicity’, The British Journal of Sociology, 67:2, 30727, doi: 10.1111/1468–4446.12195.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Redfield, P. (2006), ‘A Less Modest Witness: Collective Advocacy and Motivated Truth in a Medical Humanitarian Movement’, American Ethnologist, 33:1, 326, www.jstor.org/stable/3805313.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reitan, R. (2007), Global Activism (Abingdon and New York: Routledge).

  • Slim, H. (2020), ‘People Power in Humanitarian Action’, Humanitarian Law and Policy, ICRC, https://blogs.icrc.org/law-and-policy/2020/02/20/people-power-humanitarian-action/ (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Slim, H. and Bonwick, A. (2005), Protection: An ALNAP Guide for Humanitarian Agencies (Oxford: Oxfam House).

  • Weissman, F. (2011), ‘Silence kills’, in C. Magone, M. Neuman and F. Weissman (eds), Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (Médecins Sans Frontières; Hurst & Company, London).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Binet, L. (2005), Famine and Forced Relocations in Ethiopia 1984–1986, MSF Speaking Out Case Studies. MSF.

  • Binet, L. (2010), War Crimes and Politics of Terror in Chechnya 1994–2004, MSF Speaking Out Case Studies. MSF.

  • Brauman, R. (2006a), Dangerous Liaisons: Bearing Witness and Political Propaganda, Biafra and Cambodia – The Founding Myths of Médecins Sans Frontières (Paris: CRASH Papers), www.msf-crash.org/en/publications/humanitarian-actors-and-practice/dangerous-liaisons-bearing-witness-and-political (accessed 30 November 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brauman, R. (2006b), ‘Penser dans l’urgence : parcours critique d’un humanitaire, entretiens avec Catherine Portevin’ (Paris: Editions du Seuil).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bridges, K. M. (2010), ‘Between Aid and Politics: Diagnosing the Challenge of Humanitarian Advocacy in Politically Complex Environments – the Case of Darfur, Sudan’, Third World Quarterly, 31:8, 125169, doi: 10.1080/01436597.2010.541084.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chouliaraki, L. (2010), ‘Post-Humanitarianism: Humanitarian Communication beyond a Politics of Pity’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13:2, 10726, doi: 10.1177/1367877909356720.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Waal, A. (2015), ‘Genealogies of transnational activism’, de Waal, A. (ed.), Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism (London: Zed Books).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Duffield, M. (2019), ‘Post-Humanitarianism’, Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 1:1, 1527, doi: 10.7227/JHA.003 (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fassin, D. (2008), ‘The Humanitarian Politics of Testimony: Subjectification through Trauma in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict’, Cultural Anthropology, 23:3, 53158, doi: 10.1111/j.1548–1360.2008.00017.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fernandes, S. (2017), Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling (New York: Oxford University Press).

  • Givoni, M. (2011), ‘Humanitarian Governance and Ethical Cultivation: Médecins Sans Frontières and the Advent of the Expert-Witness’, Millennium, 40:1, 4363, doi: 10.1177/0305829811406037.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kinzelbach, K. and Lehmann, J. (2014), Can Shaming Promote Human Rights? Publicity in Human Rights Foreign Policy, A Review and Discussion Paper, European Liberal Forum, Brussels.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lavoinne, Y. (2005), ‘Médecins en guerre : du témoignage au « tapage médiatique » (1968–1970)’, Le Temps des médias, 1:4, 11426, doi: 10.3917/tdm.004.0114.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MacPhail, T. (2015), ‘Data, Data Everywhere’, Public Culture, 27:2(76), 21319, doi: 10.1215/08992363–2841820.

  • Niland, N. (2011), ‘Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: Evidence-Based Advocacy and Enhanced Protection’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, Issue 49, Overseas Development Institute, https://odihpn.org/magazine/civilian-casualties-in-afghanistan-evidence-based-advocacy-and-enhanced-protection/ (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Olesen, T. (2016), ‘Malala and the Politics of Global Iconicity’, The British Journal of Sociology, 67:2, 30727, doi: 10.1111/1468–4446.12195.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Redfield, P. (2006), ‘A Less Modest Witness: Collective Advocacy and Motivated Truth in a Medical Humanitarian Movement’, American Ethnologist, 33:1, 326, www.jstor.org/stable/3805313.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reitan, R. (2007), Global Activism (Abingdon and New York: Routledge).

  • Slim, H. (2020), ‘People Power in Humanitarian Action’, Humanitarian Law and Policy, ICRC, https://blogs.icrc.org/law-and-policy/2020/02/20/people-power-humanitarian-action/ (accessed 17 June 2020).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Slim, H. and Bonwick, A. (2005), Protection: An ALNAP Guide for Humanitarian Agencies (Oxford: Oxfam House).

  • Weissman, F. (2011), ‘Silence kills’, in C. Magone, M. Neuman and F. Weissman (eds), Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (Médecins Sans Frontières; Hurst & Company, London).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 204 204 204
PDF Downloads 292 292 292