Hospitals No Longer Safe Havens in War Zones

Holistic Primary Care honors the memories of the 13 physicians & medical personnel, as well as the patients killed in the Oct. 3 US bombing of the Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

We salute MSF and the volunteer medical practitioners who serve with the organization all over the globe, and who continue to provide care to victims of war, poverty, epidemic & disaster despite the increasing threat to their own wellbeing.

MSF153641The tragic Kunduz airstrike on Oct 3 was carried out by a US Air Force gunship as part of a joint operation with the Afghan army to re-take the city from Taliban forces. While the precise details and motives of the attack remain cloudy, it is clear that the hospital was deliberately and precisely targeted. A total of 33 people were killed, several of them still unidentified.

Several days after the strike, MSF announced that it is pulling out of the Kunduz province completely, leaving an entire region without access to acute medical care.

After an initial US statement that the bombing was accidental, General John Campbell, the top-ranking US commander in Afghanistan stated that the attack was requested by the Afghan military claiming that Taliban fighters were seeking cover at the facility—a claim that MSF has resolutely dismissed, stating that there were no Taliban personnel at the hospital.

Earlier this week, an MSF hospital in Yemen, was destroyed by a Saudi Arabian coalition airstrike. Though all personnel and patients were evacuated safely, the facility itself was decimated, leaving an area of roughly 200,000 people without access to any modern medical care. According to UNICEF, 39 hospitals in Yemen have been destroyed since last March when civil war escalated.

Disturbing Trend

The targeting of medical facilities is a disturbing trend, one that runs counter to long-established humanitarian principles. MSF says that 12 hospitals in Syria, including three run by the organization, have been bombed since September.

Regarding the Kunduz attack, MSF general director Christopher Stokes saidMSFKunduz1 his organization, “disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital – with more than 180 staff and patients inside – because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.”

“This amounts to admission of a war crime,” Stokes continued. “If there was a major military operation going on there, our staff would have noticed. And that wasn’t the case when the strikes occurred.”

International Humanitarian Law forbids deliberate attacks on medical facilities unless they are being used for non-medical and clearly combative purposes.

Even if enemy combatants are inappropriately using a medical facility for shelter, the “rule of proportionality” usually forbids attacks because of the high potential for civilian casualties. In cases where combatants are using medical facilities for shelter, the laws of war require the attacking force to issue warning statements and provide ample response time before attacking a medical installation.

Several days after the Kunduz hospital bombing, President Obama formally apologized for the attack, which is now under investigation by three different panels convened by NATO, the US Department of Defense, and a joint US-Afghan coalition.

MSF, joined by many other groups, have called for a fully independent investigation, and have called the attack nothing short of a deliberate war crime.

Now, more than ever, MSF/Doctors Without Borders needs support. Founded in 1968 by a small group of young French physicians, he non-partisan, independent international organization provides critical medical care in more than 70 countries, including Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Haiti, and many other strife-torn regions.

In some places, MSF facilities are the only sources of modern medicine for tens of thousands of people.

Please consider a generous donation to this worthy organization.

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