By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, May 4 – Medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres on Tuesday slammed four of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for ties to attacks on hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan as the council demanded an end to such strikes.
The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution reminding states that under international law they must protect medical and aid workers, but the text does not impose any new obligations and does not single out any conflicts.
Joanne Liu, president of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), appealed to the council to lead by example, particularly the permanent veto-wielding powers—the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China.
“Four of the five permanent members of this council have, to varying degrees, been associated with coalitions responsible for attacks on health structures over the last year,” she said. “These include the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the Russia-backed, Syrian-led coalition.”
More than 50 people were killed last week in an attack on a hospital in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “by all accounts” was carried out by the Syrian government. Russia backs the government.
In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition strike hit an MSF hospital in October, leaving 200,000 people without healthcare. The United States, Britain and France supply arms to Saudi Arabia.
In Afghanistan, the United States carried out a deadly Oct. 3 air strike that destroyed an MSF hospital. Washington said last week it had taken disciplinary action against 16 service members over the strike.
“Such attacks must end. When so-called surgical strikes end up hitting surgical wards, something is deeply wrong,” Ban told the council. “Explanations ring hollow to parents burying their children and communities pushed closer to collapse.”
“All too often, attacks on health facilities and medical workers are not just isolated or incidental battlefield fallout, but rather the intended objective of the combatants,” he said. “This is shameful and inexcusable.”
The U.N. resolution “strongly condemns the prevailing impunity for violations and abuses committed against medical personnel and humanitarian personnel … as well as hospitals and other medical facilities in armed conflict.”
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, described the U.N. resolution as “a momentous step in the international community’s effort to draw attention to a problem that we otherwise risked getting used to through the sheer frequency of its occurrence.”