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Appointment Of Former British MP To Head IRC Will Affect Autonomy Of Humanitarian Agencies

The appointment of David Miliband — who on Wednesday resigned his seat as Member of Parliament for South Shields — as president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) “is another nail in the coffin to claims of humanitarian independence,” Michiel Hofman, senior humanitarian specialist for the Humanitarian Innovation Team of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), writes in The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” blog. “MSF is not naive and is fully aware of the cozy relationship between humanitarian organizations and donor governments, with many mid-level staff from the non-governmental sector (including a number of former MSF staff) eventually moving on to positions in the Department for International Development in the U.K. or the European Community Humanitarian Office (Echo),” he states.

Hofman recounts the story of MSF founder Bernard Kouchner, who “moved on to a political career and was appointed as minister for foreign affairs of France,” noting, “His tenure coincided with French military involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan. Our efforts to convince the warring parties, including the Taliban, that MSF was independent from foreign political agendas became less credible as a result.” However, “these are individual career decisions over which aid agencies have no control,” he continues. “But the independent aid sector does control whom we appoint as our most visible representatives,” Hofman writes, adding, “I do not doubt that Miliband is an admirable candidate … But with each of these appointments, it becomes harder for all humanitarian organizations to negotiate with armed groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia or Aqim in the Sahel, to allow medical treatment for people under their control” (3/28).