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"Humanitarian Action and the Necessity of Compromise"

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 Princeton  See map

Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the United States, will deliver a public talk at the Woodrow Wilson School on Tuesday, December 4, 2012, at 4:30 p.m., Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall.


Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971, providing independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF also brings attention to neglected crises, challenges inadequacies or abuses of the aid system, and advocates for improved medical treatments and protocols.  In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize.


Her talk, “Humanitarian Action and the Necessity of Compromise,” will look at the notion of humanitarian space as a “negotiating space” where compromise is not only inevitable but necessary. To understand the difficulties of humanitarian organizations’ contemporary working situations, we need to look at how their ambitions have developed, and an important question that needs to be addressed is whether it is getting more difficult to reach acceptable compromises – and who decides what is an acceptable compromise – in some of today’s humanitarian contexts. Based on a research work done by an MSF team, the presentation will include critical reflections following MSF’s recent medical humanitarian responses in Sri Lanka, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere, exploring the purposes of negotiations, the levels of justification MSF uses for its political choices, as well as how the landscape has changed from the Cold War to the global war on terror.


Delaunay first became involved with the organization in 1993 in administrative and finance roles and then worked extensively in program management both in the field and at its headquarters. Delaunay has worked on MSF projects in Thailand, Rwanda, China, and Korea, as well as in the French and U.S. offices. She has also conducted in-depth evaluations of MSF programs in Liberia, Darfur, Central African Republic, and China. Besides her MSF work, Delaunay worked for three years as program director in ESTHER, a French government AIDS agency, where she supervised the organization's programs in 18 countries. She holds a master's degree in international business from Le Havre University in France and a master’s degree in political science from Yonsei University in Korea. She has contributed to multiple publications, including a book about North Korean asylum seekers.

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