Medical facilities and personnel under attack in conflict zones in 19 countries

June 14, 2016

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In conflict zones around the world, health care workers and facilities are under relentless attack, according to the May 2016 report ‘No Protection, No Respect’ from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition. This Coalition of more than 30 nongovernmental organizations found that during 2015 and the first three months of 2016, deliberate or indiscriminate strikes on health care have killed medical workers and patients, decimated medical infrastructure, and robbed countless civilians of vital medical care in 19 countries around the world.

The Coalition also found that, in many instances, parties to conflicts failed to take required steps to avoid harm to medical facilities, staff, and patients and obstructed access to health care.

‘The report shows both the pervasiveness and variety of attacks on health facilities, staff, and patients globally,’ said Leonard Rubenstein, chair of the Coalition. ‘Sometimes the attacks are deliberate, sometimes they’re a product of indifference to the harms caused, and sometimes they represent gross failures to take steps needed to prevent death and injury – but all violate long-standing obligations under international law.’

In the report, the burning and looting of hospitals and clinics is described, as well as brutal attacks on medical staff and patients in facilities in several countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. In other countries, the passage of ambulances, medical supplies, or patients seeking care were routinely restricted.

Call for monitoring and prosecution

The Coalition calls on the United Nations Secretary-General and the World Health Organization to carefully document and report attacks on health care workers and facilities. It also recommends that the UN Security Council refer such crimes to the International Criminal Court or other tribunals if states fail to fulfill their obligation to halt strikes on health care personnel and infrastructure.

On May 3, the Security Council condemned attacks on health facilities and health workers, reiterating the fundamental principle of the laws of war – that health facilities and medical workers must be protected from attack in armed conflict. It called on countries to take steps to prevent such attacks, investigate them when they happen, and prosecute perpetrators. ‘The Security Council resolution was a welcome first step,’ said Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch, a Coalition member. ‘But the true test comes with its implementation.’

Source: Press release Physicians for Human Rights

Report ‘No Protection, No Respect’. Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, 2016

Article UN Security Council calls for end to attacks on doctors and hospitals. Physicians for Human Rights