Bombing Afghan hospital a war crime: MSF chief

Geneva, Oct 6 (IANS) The bombing of the MSF hospital in Afghanistan’s Kunduz city by a US plane is “a war crime”, said its chief who demanded answers “not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict”.

Joanne Liu, president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) recalled the horror in a statement and said that on the night of the bombing, MSF staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a US plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass.

The bombing took place on October 3. Twelve MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured, including 19 members of the MSF team.

“The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched,” Liu said.

Calling the attack “unacceptable”, Liu said that despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the airstrike continued for at least another 30 minutes.

The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, as recently as September 29, the statement said.

Liu said that this attack “cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war”.

“Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime,” she said.

She added that this attack does not just touch MSF “but it affects humanitarian work everywhere, and fundamentally undermines the core principles of humanitarian action. We need answers, not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict, anywhere in the world”.

The statement said that for four years, the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care.

It went on to say that the whole MSF Movement is in shock.

“Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities. Under International Humanitarian Law hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.”

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