Doctors Without Borders ramps up pressure for independent investigation of Afghan hospital attack

(Credit: Doctors Without Borders)

Doctors Without Borders wants the U.S. to be held accountable for bombing an Afghan hospital, as more information emerges about how much was known about the site prior to the attack. The Associated Press broke the news yesterday that U.S. special operations analysts gathered information about an Afghan hospital in the days preceding the attack. Earlier in the day, Doctors Without Borders launched a petition asking President Obama to consent to an independent investigation of the bombing.

“Respect for the laws of war is what protects our staff and patients in conflict zones throughout the world,” said Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the U.S., in a release. “There must be an independent and impartial investigation to establish the facts of this horrific attack on our hospital.”

An intelligence report collected by special operations analysts indicated that the hospital in Kunduz was being used as a Taliban command and control center. There were also suggestions that a Pakistani operative was using the hospital – his reported killing has been used to justify the strike, AP reports.

Doctors Without Borders said the U.S. and military groups operating in the area knew the precise GPS coordinates of its hospital. The AP report does not necessarily prove that the commanders who called in the attack on the hospital, which killed 10 hospital staff and 12 patients, knew details about the hospital nor allegations that it housed Taliban activity. Five separate strikes by AC-130 gunships on the hospital were carried out over an hour. Doctors Without Borders called it a “grave violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions.”

Foreign Policy published a story earlier this week depicting the aftermath of the attack. Photojournalist Andrew Quilty described the situation and shared photographs of the hospital. He found a hospital charred by fire and sections blown apart. Only the skeletons remain of some of the bodies burned as a result of the attack.

The aid group argues that the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission should take charge – a never-used body created in 1991. The commission is in contact with Doctors Without Borders, but requires international consent to investigate – hence the petition.

A joint U.S.-NATO-Afghan delegation entered the site on Thursday without notifying Doctors Without Borders. The aid group drew attention to the site visit, saying it was concerned that evidence may have been destroyed.

“We call on President Obama to consent to the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission investigation without delay. Consenting to the inquiry is a critical step for President Obama to demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to the Geneva Conventions, and that U.S. forces recognize and respect medical facilities as protected spaces under international humanitarian law,” Cone said.

The call has the backing of a coalition of NGOs that form the Start Network. A statement from the group raises the concern that such an attack can pose a threat to aid workers everywhere.

“Since this attack, airborne attacks have killed many civilians in Yemen and other bombs have hit hospitals in Syria,” said Mike Noyes, ActionAid head of humanitarian response, on behalf of the Start Network. “The growing lack of respect for the Geneva Conventions must be challenged. People have a right to protection and safety under international law and the world must do more to see this respected.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.