United Nations

Security Council demands protection
for hospitals and health workers in conflict zones

With increasing wartime assaults on and patterns of systematic destruction of health facilities in countries affected by confl ict, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on 3 May 2016 to strengthen protection for healthcare workers, the sick and wounded, hospitals and clinics, in war zones.

Speaking to the 15-member body, Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon reiterated that denying people access to essential health care is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

"All too often, attacks on health facilities and medical workers are not just isolated or incidental battlefi eld fallout, but rather the intended objective of the combatants. This is shameful and inexcusable," Ban told Council members.

In Syria and elsewhere, he noted that Governments impose gcumbersome proceduresh that restrict access to healthcare:

"This is strangulation by red tape. It is violence by bureaucratic means rather than force of arms, but it is just as devastating," he said.

The UN chief urged all Member States, parties to confl ict and other relevant actors to heed the Councilfs demands by:

  • Facilitating humanitarian access
  • Developing domestic legal frameworks that protect health facilities and medical workers
  • Training armed forces so they understand their obligations
  • Prosecuting those responsible for such attacks and other violations

Also in attendance were Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Dr Joanne Liu, the International President of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Aleppo was recently hit by an air strike, which Ban said was gby all accounts by the Government of Syriah. It destroyed a hospital and killed at least 20 people, including three children and the areafs one and only paediatrician, Dr Mohammad Wassim Maaz.

"Yet this appalling act was only the latest wartime assault on health care in Syria," the UN chief warned. "Since the beginning of the confl ict, Physicians for Human Rights has documented more than 360 attacks on some 250 medical facilities. More than 730 medical personnel have been killed."

He added that a similar pattern of systematic destruction of health facilities is evident in Yemen, with more than 600 medical facilities having closed because of damage sustained in the confl ict and shortages of supplies and medical workers.

"Last year, the United Nations verifi ed 59 attacks against 34 hospitals. In January this year, Coalition air strikes hit the Shiara Hospital, which serves around 120,000 people in Safada Governorate," he said. "And last October in Kunduz, Afghanistan, a bombing by United States military destroyed another MSF hospital and killed dozens, as patients were burned alive in their beds."

The ICRCfs Peter Maurer said: "Attacking a hospital, threatening a doctor, coercing a nurse to give preferential treatment to armed fi ghters, hijacking ambulances, using patients as human shields . these are not collateral damage. These are not sad realities we have to get used to. They are abominations to fi ght and trends to roll back," he said.

"This resolution marks a momentous step in the international communityfs efforts to draw attention to a problem that we otherwise risk getting used to through the sheer frequency of its occurrence," he added.

MSFf's Joanne Liu told Council members that while the nature of warfare may have changed, the rules of war have not. "You are charged with protecting peace and security. Yet 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. These include the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the Russiabacked, Syrian-led coalition. You therefore must live up to your extraordinary responsibilities, and set an example for all States," she stated.

"This resolution must lead to all states and non-state actors stopping the carnage. You must also pressure your allies to end attacks on healthcare and populations in confl ict areas. We will not leave patients behind. And we will not be silent. Seeking or providing healthcare must not be a death sentence. You will be judged not on your words today, but on your actions. Your work has only begun. Make this resolution save lives," she concluded.


Date of upload: 13th July 2016

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