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Acceptance Speech

Dr. Rony Brauman
President of Medecins sans Frontieres

July 4, 1991
Independence Hall
Philadelphia, PA

First of all, let me tell you on behalf of all MSF members how happy and honored I am to be here to receive this award. And having worked and traveled extensively in Central America since 1980 - incidentally I’ll be in El Salvador next Saturday - I feel still more honored to share this prize with President Arias.

I think President Arias has been among the first ones to declare, and to prove, that democracy and human rights in the developing countries were not luxury items, or a kind of window-dressing coming once the shop is well supplied. He showed that democracy was not a wishable consequences of development, but the basis of real development.

In another, context, from a purely humanitarian point of view, we have come to the same conclusion.

I was recently in Sri-Lanka and Mozambique, where MSF has been operating for more than 5 years, and went then to Turkey and Iraq. To refer only to those causal examples, we all know what are the first causes of the sufferings in these countries: lack of fundamental liberties, forced relocation, oppression of minorities, which ruin the possibilities of the self-reliance of all these populations.

We, as doctors, are unable to say what is the good political system. It is not our duty. But having worked in most of the countries stricken by natural or man-made disasters over the past 20 years, we definitely know where evil is, where fundamental liberties are banned, where basic human rights are denied.

I would like to point out that this applies in a very practical way to the prevention and treatment of natural and man-made disasters. Since time lacks for a detailed demonstration, I’ll just say:

Firstly, that there is a very strong relation between famine and oppression in one hand, between the human consequences of a disaster and the socio-economic level of the country in the other hand. Let us consider the causes of the famines in Ethiopia and Sudan, and compare the differences between the casualties caused by earthquakes in Mexico on one side and California or Japan on the other.

Secondly, that freedom is a necessary condition for development, if not a sufficient condition. The respect of basic human rights does not trigger the process of development but the total denial of human rights means total absence of development.

The messages we launch every time an opportunity appears rely on these grounds, and this is the reason why I feel so proud that a jury composed by such prominent personalities recognized us as an organization working to increase liberty in the world.

Now, I think it is time for me to give some background information on MSF.

The organization, which is now the world’s largest independent medical relief group, was founded in 1971 in Paris.

We work primarily in the field of emergency and crisis situations, regardless of race, religious or political affiliation. We operate in natural disasters, armed conflicts, refugee camps and to a lesser extent in the field of technical assistance, which means practical training of medical personnel in the developing countries.

Sixty percent of our budget comes from private individual donations, 700,000 people contribute to our action in France, and 1.4 million in the whole of Europe. We also receive financial contributions from international institutions such as the EEC and some UN agencies, the main one being the UNHCR.

We are sometimes called the “French Doctors”, which is rather unfair for our sister organizations in Europe, created during the past ten years, who account for 1,000, out of the 2000 volunteers who have left for 62 countries since last year.

We all share a common bill of rights and duties and we all base our activities on the philosophical assumption the sufferings of human beings, wherever they appear, can be considered neither as a foreign (alien?) preoccupation, nor as a state property.

In clear, this means that we have moral duty to react to these sufferings in one way or another and that this reaction cannot/should not be stopped by national borders.

I have said, and others have said, that we are a non-political group. This is true, to a certain extent only, because we strongly believe that a minimum political program is required if one wants to respect the others’ dignity.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Mr. Meyerson recalled it, summed it up in a remarkably concise way: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Being in the birthplace of the American democracy and in the town of the first American university, I think that all the symbolic conditions are gathered to adopt this program as both as a moral commitment and as my conclusion.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, let me tell you again, once again, how happy and grateful I am today.

Thank you very much.