Médecins Sans Frontières, the medical NGO, is riddled with institutional racism and bolsters colonialism in its humanitarian work, according to an internal statement signed by 1,000 current and former members of staff.
The statement said that MSF had failed to recognise that “decades of power and paternalism” from a “privileged white minority” had perpetuated racism via policies, hiring practices, workplace culture and “dehumanising” programmes.
It called on senior management and colleagues to conduct urgent root and branch reform and for an independent investigation into racism within the organisation.
Signatories include Javid Abdelmoneim, chair of the board of MSF UK, Agnes Musonda, president of the board in southern Africa, and Florian Westphal, managing director of MSF Germany.
Among the world’s largest humanitarian organisations and awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1999, MSF provides emergency medical services to people in need in poorer countries and conflict zones.
The statement follows internal tensions over racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Some staff were angry at a recent statement released by MSF Italy, suggesting it should not use the term “racism” and that “everyone, starting with MSF”, should talk about “all lives matter”.
MSF Italy later apologised for “hurt caused to colleagues around the world”.
Among personal testimonies from signatories cited by the Guardian, one complained of an “almost suffocating” white saviour mentality.
Another staffer is cited as saying: “Trying to support a national staff [member] to apply [for a job] as an international staff [member] is the most tedious, unjust and gut-wrenchingly frustrating process I have ever endured.”
Christos Christou, MSF’s international president, welcomed the letter as a “catalyst” to act faster on a series of changes already planned at the organisation.
“I look at this as an opportunity that has come through a tragic event that triggered rage and discussion within our movement.
“Our priority is to shift the decision-making closer to where the needs are, and involving the patients and community in designing strategies of intervention. To shrink the decision-making power of Europe and redistribute it to the rest of the world.”
He said that many of the demands for change in the statement, sent on 29 June, had been agreed at a staff meeting a week before the letter went out.