Médecins Sans Frontières has apologised for publishing photographs of a teenage rape survivor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo on its website, following criticism that the images were unethical and racist.
Dr. Christos Christou, MSF international president, also announced that the medical charity had tightened its guidelines on photographing vulnerable minors, such as survivors of sexual abuse, requiring that they should not be identified visually or by name.
He said the new rules also clarified that anyone aged under 18 could not, on their own, give informed consent to be photographed.
The measures come in response to concerns raised about the orphaned 16-year-old girl from DRC, who the aid organisation said had given consent to the publication of photos that showed her face and mentioned her real first name.
“We acknowledge that the publication of these images was a mistake, and we are sorry. 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,” Dr. Christou wrote in a statement published on MSF’s website.
“The revised [guidelines]requires that we change the name and obscure the visual identity of minors who are victims of abuse, exploitation or who are suffering from a highly stigmatised condition.”
He acknowledged that in the case of the girl from DRC, who had been gang-raped by armed men two months before the photoshoot, MSF should have done more to protect her.
“As an orphan, she had no parent or guardian to support her,” Christou wrote. “We recognise that we should have taken additional steps to protect this survivor’s identity, considering her status as a minor.”
He also said that MSF would review its contacts with photographers and photo agencies to address concerns raised in an open letter signed by doctors, photographers and human rights activists that the medical charity commissioned, published and allowed the sale of photographs that endangered and exploited vulnerable black people, including children.
Christou’s announcement was welcomed by the organiser of the letter, Ben Chesterton, director of the UK film production company Duckrabbit. (Source: The Guardian)