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Our charter and principles

The charter

Médecins Sans Frontières is a private, international association. The association is made up mainly of doctors and health sector workers and is also open to all other professions which might help in achieving its aims.

All of its members agree to honour the following principles:

Médecins Sans Frontières provides assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions.

Médecins Sans Frontières observes neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions.

Members undertake to respect their professional code of ethics and maintain complete independence from all political, economic or religious powers.

As volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.

Our principles 

At the core of our identity is a commitment to independence, impartiality and neutrality.

These principles have guided all aspects of our work – from medical care, to finance, logistics and communications - since we were formed more than 45 years ago. Our commitment to these ideals, and the impact of the organisation that has been built on them was recognised in 1999 when MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

We're independent

We rarely take funds from governments, businesses or institutions for our work, but rely mainly on the generosity of more than five million people around the world. More than 95 percent of our income comes from private donors giving regular, small amounts to support our work. 

This means that when there is an emergency, we don’t need to wait for funds to be released or for the media to generate interest; we can act fast to save people’s lives where we see there are medical humanitarian needs. Our financial independence also means the aid we provide cannot be used to further any government’s political or military goals.

We’re impartial

We provide free medical care to people who need it. It doesn’t matter which country they are from, which religion they belong to, or what their political affiliations are. All that matters is that they are human beings in need of the assistance we exist to provide.

We’re neutral 

In a conflict situation, we don’t take sides, but go where people’s medical needs are greatest. In the ward of one MSF hospital, you might find wounded civilians alongside injured soldiers from opposing sides. Every MSF medical facility has a no guns sign on the door; hostilities and weapons have to be left at the gate, creating a neutral space where anyone in need of medical care can receive it. Explaining that we’re neutral in any environment that we are working in is a crucial part of why we are allowed to provide medical care in some of the world’s most challenging environments.

We use our voice for our patients

As well as saving lives by providing medical assistance, MSF speaks out on behalf of our patients, helping to raise awareness of the suffering that we witness in the course of our work. Upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, MSF’s former president, Dr James Orbinski, said: ‘We are not sure that words can always save lives, but we know that silence can certainly kill’. We may speak out in public, or in private, with the aim of alleviating suffering and save lives.

We're transparent and accountable 

We take responsibility of accounting for our actions to our patients and donors, and being transparent on the choices we make. Evaluations, critical reviews and debate on our field practices, our public positioning and on wider humanitarian issues, are necessary to improve what we do.