A month after a U.S. AC130 aircraft raked a Doctors Without Borders trauma hospital in Afghanistan with canon fire, killing 30 including a dozen staff members, there is still no official U.S. report on what the United States believed led to the assault.
But in the time since the attack, other medical facilities have been targeted in a range of conflicts around the world, heightening growing concerns among humanitarian workers that the long tradition of sanctity for hospitals, clinics and medical workers in combat zones has vanished in an era of scorched-earth combat.
Last week, Doctors Without Borders denounced what it said was an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition on a hospital in northern Yemen, where Saudi Arabia, with American logistical support, has been waging war against rebels backed by Iran.
And on Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after meeting with the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, issued a denunciation of what he called “the brazen and brutal erosion of respect for international humanitarian law.”
“These violations have become so routine there is a risk people will think that the deliberate bombing of civilians, the targeting of humanitarian and health care workers, and attacks on schools, hospitals and places of worship are an inevitable result of conflict,” he said.
He called for action to be taken against those responsible, providing a lengthy list of countries where such violations, citing a laundry list of troubled nations — “Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.” “International humanitarian law is being flouted on a global scale,” Ban said. “The international community is failing to hold perpetrators to account.”
According to Doctors Without Borders, no one was killed in the strike last week, which occurred over a two-hour period starting at about 10:30 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Haydan district of Saada province, the home of the Houthi rebellion that last year swept across Yemen and captured the capital, Saana. The hospital, which Doctors Without Borders said served a local population of 200,000, was destroyed, however.
Just as with the Oct. 3 American strike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the international aid group said that it had shared the Yemen hospital’s GPS coordinates with the Saudi-led coalition and that the group’s logo was clearly displayed on the hospital’s roof. Ban said the Oct. 27 attack was the 39th health center attacked in Yemen since Saudi Arabia began its campaign there in March.
The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs last week said that Russian or Syrian government aircraft had attacked at least five hospitals in Syria’s Aleppo, Hama and Idlib provinces in recent days, and that attacks on health facilities and health workers “remain relentless.”
At least 603 health care workers were killed and 958 injured in 32 countries in 2014, according to Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s top official for emergency risk management and humanitarian response. “We have entered a new era, and it is not a peaceful one,” Ban said. “It is an era of protracted armed conflicts, which add up to a world at war. A spate of reports by human rights and health advocacy groups document an alarming trend of attacks by warring sides ranging from government forces to armed rebel groups.
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