INDISCRIMINATE BOMBINGS AND UNRELIABLE REASSURANCES FROM SAUDI-LED COALITION FORCE WITHDRAWAL OF STAFF
BARCELONA/SANAA, YEMEN, AUGUST 18, 2016 — Following the August 15 aerial bombing of Abs Hospital in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate, which killed 19 people and injured 24, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has decided to evacuate its staff from the hospitals it supports in Saada and Hajjah governorates in northern Yemen.
MSF is withdrawing its staff members from Haydan, Razeh, Al Gamouri and Yasnim hospitals in Saada governorate and Abs and Al Gamouri hospitals in Hajjah governorate. The airstrike on Abs Hospital was the fourth and the deadliest attack on an MSF-supported medical facility during this war, while there have been numerous attacks on other health facilities all over Yemen.
Since the suspension of the peace talks between the Saudi-led coalition (SLC) and the Houthi forces in Kuwait 11 days ago, the SLC has resumed an intensified bombing campaign in northern Yemen.
Over the last eight months, MSF has met with high-ranking SLC officials on two occasions in Riyadh to ensure that humanitarian and medical assistance can reach Yeminis, as well as to seek assurances that attacks on hospitals would end.
Aerial bombings have however continued, despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals in which the organization works with the parties involved in the conflict. Coalition officials repeatedly state that they honor international humanitarian law, yet this attack shows a failure to control the use of force and to avoid attacks on hospitals full of patients. MSF is neither satisfied with nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this attack was a mistake.
Given the intensity of the current offensive and MSF’s loss of confidence in the coalition’s ability to avoid such fatal attacks, MSF considers the hospitals in Saada and Hajjah governorates to be unsafe for both patients and staff.
The decision to evacuate the staff, who include obstetricians, pediatricians, surgeons and emergency room specialists, was not taken lightly, but in the absence of credible assurances that parties to the conflict will respect the protected status of medical facilities, medical workers and patients, there may be no other option. This is the case in Hajjah and in Saada governorate based on recent events.
While an independent investigation remains necessary, previous military coalition investigations related to attacks on MSF facilities have not been shared with MSF.
“This latest incident shows that the current rules of engagement, military protocols and procedures are inadequate in avoiding attacks on hospitals and need revision and changes,” said Joan Tubau, MSF general director. “MSF asks the Saudi-led coalition and the governments supporting the coalition, particularly the U.S., U.K. and France, to ensure an immediate application of measures to substantially increase the protection of civilians.”
The hospitals that MSF supports in Saada, Haydan, Razeh, Abs, Yasnim, and Hajjah will continue to operate with staff from the Ministry of Health and local volunteers. These hospitals are already struggling to keep up with the medical needs caused by the renewed bombing campaign, which are exacerbated by the numerous supply shortages in Yemen. MSF asks all parties to ensure the safety of these hospitals and to allow them continue to provide medical care with neutrality and impartiality.
MSF deeply regrets the consequences of this evacuation for MSF’s patients and Yemeni Ministry of Health medical colleagues who will continue to work in the health facilities under unsafe conditions. MSF hope that the security situation will improve so that the population will have some respite and MSF teams will be able to return to providing much-needed medical care. MSF regrets the collective failure to protect Yemeni civilians from military action and to provide an adequate humanitarian response.
MSF condemns the way all actors involved in the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis and allies, are conducting this war and carrying out indiscriminate attacks without any respect for civilians. MSF offers its sincere condolences to the families of MSF’s staff member and patients who died during the attack. The killing of people inside a hospital speaks to the cruelty and inhumanity of this war.
Before the August 15 bombing of Abs Hospital, MSF has been working in 11 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and providing support to another 18 hospitals or health centers in eight governorates: Aden, Al-Dhale’, Taiz, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb and Sanaa, with more than 2,000 MSF staff in the country, including 90 international staff.