New Report Says Health Facilities Attacked in 19 Countries

Manila Bulletin, May 24, 2016 | Go to article overview

New Report Says Health Facilities Attacked in 19 Countries


UNITED NATIONS -- Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks have decimated health facilities, killed medical workers and patients, and deprived countless civilians of care in 19 countries during 2015 and the first three months of 2016, a coalition of more than 30 health and humanitarian organizations said in a new report released Monday (May 23, 2016).

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition said the attacks took place from Colombia across Africa and the Middle East to Asia, including Pakistan, Myanmar and Thailand.

"The report shows both the pervasiveness and variety of attacks on health facilities, staff and patients globally," coalition co-chair Leonard Rubenstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in a statement. "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 longstanding obligations under international law."

The U.N. Security Council earlier this month adopted a resolution condemning attacks on health facilities and health workers and reiterating that under the laws of war hospitals and staff must be protected from attack. It called on all countries to prevent attacks, investigate them and bring the perpetrators to justice.

"Turning hospitals into battlefields is a grave breach of humanitarian law and an affront to humanity," said Susannah Sirkin of Physicians for Human Rights, a coalition member.

Laura Hoemeke of IntraHealth International, another member, said "the international community's failure to halt such attacks has sparked a chain reaction of impunity."

Among its recommendations, the coalition called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the World Health Organization to document attacks on health facilities and workers, and urged the Security Council to refer such crimes to the International Criminal Court or other tribunals if countries don't take action.

Recent attention has focused mainly on the bombing and shelling of hospitals in five countries -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. In Syria, the report said, 122 attacks on hospitals were documented in 2015, while in Yemen health facilities were attacked over 100 times.

The coalition's report also cited extensive damage to medical facilities and deaths to health workers elsewhere in the world.

In six African countries -- Central African Republic, Congo, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan -- health facilities were burned or looted, medical vehicles attacked and staff abducted, the report said. Central African Republic saw more than 200 attacks on humanitarian compounds and vehicles in 2015, many providing desperately needed health care, it said. …

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