Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, provides medical care in some of the most desperate places on Earth. This often means sending workers into warzones where they can easily become ‘collateral damage’ or come face to face with homicidal militants, yet the organization does take steps to protect its workers. This is why the organization was compelled to issue blistering condemnation against the United States for its wrongful bombing of the Kunduz, Afghanistan hospital in 2015. It is also why the organization had to end operations in Northern Yemen under Saudi-Coalition bombardments, which have provoked harsh criticism of the US and its regional allies.
That said, the parents of humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, who was tortured, raped, and killed while held captive by the Islamic State, have revealed that the leadership of Doctors Without Borders believes the organization had no “moral responsibility” to negotiate their daughter’s release, even as they secured the release of their own staff members. Mueller was not a MSF employee or contractor while she was not authorized to travel with her co-captives. Mueller made the decision to tag along with her boyfriend, who was contracted by Doctors Without Borders, so the organization probably should not be held legally responsibility for its failure to prevent unauthorized travelers from utilizing their vehicles in warzones.
Like all governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and individuals, a humanitarian aid organization does, however, have a moral responsibility to help rescue those imprisoned with their employees, if it can reasonably do so. This is especially true when a co-captive is captured at the same time as the organization’s staff and the negligence of the organization likely allowed the captive to be in a position that resulted in her capture. As the leadership of Doctors Without Borders understood Mueller faced torture, rape, and murder, there is no doubt the organization had a moral responsibility to save Mueller.
Given that Doctors Without Borders is a humanitarian organization, this incident raises serious concerns about the commitment and reasoning of those who came to this conclusion, including MSF US executive director Jason Cone. After all, humanitarian organizations exist solely, because their founders and their contributors believe they have a moral responsibility to help those in need. This, of course, brings to mind the critical question: when do non-governmental organizations, governments,businesses, and individuals have a moral responsibility to defend and rescue others.
Contrasting the Saudi-led Coalition’s campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Syrian Civil War, one undeniable thing in common is the suffering inflicted upon the civilian populations. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its allies are interceding against one sectarian faction to bolster the established government that it favors. In Syria, Russia is targeting rebels that threaten the existing government that it favors. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is actively playing all sides to pursue his political interests in Syria, which makes him a wildcard. Certainly, there are terrorists in both Yemen and Syria that are blossoming into global threats, but the advancement of political agendas appears to be the top priority in these conflicts.
On the other hand, it might be argued that the Saudis are attempting to secure Yemen from further instability and insecurity, which will save future lives. While this writer has argued Russian intervention is purely counterproductive to securing Syria and fulfilling Russian national security interests, it might also be argued that Russia is trying to save lives by forcing this war to a conclusion. This certainly has been the professed objective of military intervention conducted by the US and its allies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It is easier to either condemn or ignore the “collateral damage’ militaries cause. The question is whether moral responsibility lies in sparing the victims of war or defending the victims of terrorism and tyrannical governments.
With all that in mind, modern governments exist to provide for the common defense and general welfare of their Peoples. More traditional governments simply exist to protect government interests. International governing institutions exist to support governments in their mission to serve their Peoples and to protect the Peoples of the world from tyrannical governments. Because international governance relies on the volunteer cooperation of nations to foster an international environment that offers all the Peoples of the world basic human rights while seeking peace and stability across the globe, moral responsibility plays an essential role.
Both the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and Russia’s indifference to that fact reflect a focus on nationalistic interests over international aspirations. If countries like Saudi Arabia, the US, and Russia are just nations pursuing their national security interests, they have little motivation to address the collateral damage they cause. Recognizing collateral damage tends to create enemies and threats, however, countries like Saudi Arab, the US, and Russia are wise to consider their moral responsibility. Similarly, organizations like Doctors Without Borders may only feel obliged to protect their own workers from the brutality of the Islamic State, but they do have a moral responsibility to safeguard more than just their workers, even if they are allegedly ‘unauthorized’ stowaways.
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