BARCELONA/NEW YORK, JANUARY 25, 2016 — The conflict in Yemen is being waged with total disregard for the rules of war, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) declared today, following the latest attack on one of its health facilities.
MSF’s medical activities in Yemen have been bombed four times in less than three months, with two hospitals, a clinic and an ambulance coming under fire. The organization is seeking guarantees from the warring parties that medical activities will be protected according to international humanitarian law.
“The way war is being waged in Yemen shows that the warring parties do not recognize or respect the protected status of hospitals and medical facilities,” said Raquel Ayora, MSF director of operations. “It is causing enormous suffering for people trapped in conflict zones. Public places are being bombed and shelled on a massive scale. Not even hospitals are being spared, even though medical facilities are explicitly protected by international humanitarian law.”
The first attack took place on October 26, when airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition repeatedly hit an MSF-supported hospital in Haydan District in Saada Governorate.
An MSF mobile clinic was then hit by an airstrike on December 2 in Taiz’s Al Houban District, killing one person and wounding eight people, including two MSF staff members.
On January 10, the MSF-supported Shiara Hospital in Saada Province was bombed, killing six people and injuring at least seven, most of whom were medical staff and patients.
On January 21, a series of airstrikes in Saada Governorate wounded dozens of people and killed at least six, including the driver of an ambulance from the MSF-supported Al Gomhoury Hospital.
MSF has yet to receive any official explanation for any of the incidents.
“Increasingly, we are seeing attacks on medical facilities being minimized as ‘mistakes,’” Ayora said. “Just last week the British Foreign Secretary claimed that there have been no deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This implies that mistakenly bombing a protected hospital would be tolerable. This logic is offensive and irresponsible.”
MSF has requested the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) to conduct an independent investigation into the Shiara Hospital attack. The IHFFC is the only permanent international fact-finding body with a specific mandate to investigate potential violations of international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions.
MSF first requested an IHFFC investigation after the bombing of its trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, by the U.S. military in October 2015, which killed at least 42 people, including 14 MSF staff members. MSF is still waiting for an official response from the U.S. government about whether it will consent to an investigation.
“Four of our medical facilities have been attacked in four months in Yemen and Afghanistan,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF international president. “Is the bombing of an MSF hospital every month the new normal? How many other hospitals are being attacked in Yemen and other conflict zones, run by medical staff who do not have the platform to speak out that MSF possesses? We refuse to accept that this trend continues with a total lack of accountability. We urgently need guarantees from warring parties that functioning hospitals are never a legitimate target.”
In Yemen, MSF is working in Aden, Al-Dhale’, Taiz, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb and Sana’a governorates. Since the start of the current crisis in March 2015, MSF teams have treated more than 20,000 war-wounded patients. More than 790 tons of medical supplies have been sent by MSF so far. MSF is managing 11 hospitals and health centers and supporting 18 health centers. With the health care system barely functioning, MSF is also providing non-emergency health services.