Volunteers and responsibility for risk-taking: Changing interpretations of the Charter of Médecins Sans Frontières

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Type of article: 
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International Review of the Red Cross
Others authors: 
Xavier Crombé
Date of publication: 
Vol. 97, No. 897/898, pp. 133–155.

The Charter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the guiding document for all of the organization's members, states in the final paragraph that volunteers "understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out". Through a review of the different periods in the history of MSF, this article analyzes the changing interpretations that the organization's successive leaders have given to this reference to the acceptance of risk by individuals. The professionalization and expansion of MSF, coupled with its diversifying volunteer base and the changing international environment, have required constant renegotiation of the balance between institutional and individual responsibility for the dangers faced in the field. No doubt this process is far from over.