Yemen: Saudi-Led Airstrike on Abs Hospital Cannot be Justified as Unintentional Error

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

On August 15, 2016, a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Yemen's Hajjah governorate was hit by an airstrike conducted by the Saudi-led coalition, killing 19 people, including one MSF staff member, and injuring 24 others. On December 6, the coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) released a statement calling the strike an "unintentional error" and making other claims which MSF disputes as follows.

MSF is extremely concerned about the recent declaration made by the official spokesperson of the JIAT on Yemen, Mansour Ahmad Al-Mansour, on the bombing of Abs Hospital, in Yemen's Hajjah governorate, on August 15, 2016.

This public declaration does not reflect the conversations MSF had in Saudi Arabia with the JIAT and military forces after the attack. MSF also conducted its own investigation into the incident, which has been shared with Saudi authorities. We do not consider this incident an “error,” but a consequence of conducting hostilities with disregard for the protected nature of hospitals and civilian structures.

Following JIAT declarations, MSF stresses the following:

  • The Abs Hospital was identified by a large MSF logo (measuring two by five meters [about six-and-a-half by 16 feet]) painted on its roof; the hospital was functional and its location well known.
  • The car which was targeted was already inside the hospital compound when it was bombed. In fact, the car—carrying at least one injured patient—had traveled through unpopulated areas for more than 10 kilometers [about six miles] before arriving at the hospital, where it was parked at the entrance of the emergency room for several minutes before being targeted. There is no possibility that the car was “shelled immediately" after the first attack as claimed in the public declaration.
  • The JIAT statement refers to seven fatalities. In fact, 19 people died in the incident—including one MSF hospital worker—while another 24 were injured.
  • The GPS coordinates of Abs Hospital had been shared with the Saudi-led coalition at least every three months since July 2015. Most recently, the GPS coordinates for all MSF operations in Yemen, including Abs Hospital, were shared on August 10, just five days before the incident.

Warring parties should verify surroundings before engaging in airstrikes on moving targets and should take all precautionary measures to avoid civilian deaths and damage to hospitals. The airstrike on Abs Hospital showed a significant and unacceptable disregard for these measures. 

The strike on Abs Hospital by Saudi Arabian aircraft is totally unjustifiable, and MSF strongly rejects the public justification of this attack by JIAT. Its declaration shows, once again, that potential violations of International Humanitarian Law should be investigated by independent investigation bodies.

Read the Report: MSF Internal Investigation of the 15 August Attack on Abs Hospital