Iraq: Neutrality and Impartiality

Anna is working for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Iraq. Today she blogs about the challenges of ensuring that our principles of neutrality and impartiality are understood in a country that has been torn apart by war...

We have just started a clinic for people with chronic diseases in an area where people haven’t had access to health care for several years due to ongoing conflict.

It was not easy to find a space for the clinic. The former clinic in the town was destroyed by an air strike and is under a pile of rubble, possibly still contaminated with explosives and booby traps.

We looked at a lot of houses that could be converted into our clinic, but finally we decided to put up some caravans at an open area instead. With two of our main principles being neutrality and impartiality, it's important for us to not have our clinic too close to the police or armed organisations. In addition, police and armed organisations can be targets for attacks, and we would never want to put our patients in danger.

An MSF doctor consults with a patient at the new clinic in Iraq

Consultations taking place at the new clinic. Photo: MSF

We want to make the clinic as accessible as possible for the patients, so putting the caravans in an open area means the roads can’t be blocked by check points.

After all our careful consideration, after we had set up our caravans, one of the armed groups controlling the area decided to set up their head quarters on the opposite side of the street of our clinic.

I’m a nurse at the clinic, but part of my job is to educate people about MSF’s principles of neutrality and impartiality, ensure armed organisations do not get too close to our clinic and to make sure people leave their guns outside if they want to enter our clinic.

It is actually impressive how well people understand how important maintaining this distance is to us. One community leader, who always has four bodyguards with him, now agrees to enter our clinic without bodyguards or guns when he comes to us as a patient.