MSF international president promises action after rape survivor picture controversy

The international president of Médecins Sans Frontières has apologised and promised to take action after the charity was criticised for using pictures of a teenage rape survivor on its website.

Earlier this week, the humanitarian charity removed images of a 16-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who had been raped by three armed men, after the pictures were condemned on social media for being racist.

Dr Christos Christou, who has been international president of MSF since 2019, said in a statement that the charity was sorry for the mistakes it had made.

“MSF has been rightly challenged on social media and in the media about the use of sensitive photographs in our public communications,” he said.

“Among the issues highlighted was our decision to publish identifiable photographs of a 16-year-old girl who was the victim of rape in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We acknowledge that the publication of these images was a mistake, and we are sorry. We have removed these images and other sensitive photographs from the online article and are taking a series of actions to put better safeguards in place.”

Christou said the incident had “revealed inadequacies in our guidelines on the gathering and use of images and inconsistencies in how those are implemented across MSF”, and said the charity was working to fix the problem.

He said the charity had taken steps including adding clearer language to its production guidelines to protect anyone aged under 18 years old.

“In the case of the victim in Ituri, she provided consent to the photographer and came forward to share her story, with the support of medical and psychological staff,” Christou said.

“As an orphan, she had no parent or guardian to support her. We recognise that we should have taken additional steps to protect this survivor's identity, considering her status as a minor.”

Christou said that, as a doctor, he was “very aware of the responsibility we have when it comes to the protection of people in our care”.

He added: “We often see people at the toughest time of their lives. We must always avoid exposing, exploiting or endangering victims of violence and abuse. And we must ensure that our vital work of bearing witness to suffering and abuse does not cause further harm.”

Other action being taken by the charity included a full review of its audiovisual archive and it was also reviewing its content production guidelines to bring them in line with new MSF-wide guidance on equity, diversity and inclusion for communications and fundraising content, said Christou.

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