MSF in New Delhi marked one year of Kunduz hospital attack in Afghanistan
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Humanitarian organisations as new targets
Marking one year of attack on medical facilities in Afghanistan last year, Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) trauma centre in Kunduz, Afghanistan, MSF India organised an event titled “Saving Lives, Staying Alive”on October 3, 2016 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi to emphasize on the International Humanitarian Law. The event commemorated the 42 lives lost in the Kunduz attack and threw light on the trend of attacks on medical facilities across the globe.
The event was attended by various dignitaries including Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Coordinator, India, Dr Urvashi Aneja, Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Peter Paul de Groote, General Director, MSF India. Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor, The Wire moderated the discussion and the panel discussed the relevance of International Humanitarian Law in the backdrop of unrelenting attacks on medical facilities in conflict zones like that in Yemen and Syria.
Founded in 1971 in Paris, France, MSF is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare in more than 65 countries. It has been working in India since 1999, providing free-of-charge essential healthcare in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Maharashtra, Telangana and West Bengal.
Peter Paul, the General Director of the organisation, explained that the impact of the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz went far deeper than the death toll. With its destruction, an entire region that depended on the facility was now left with no access to medical care.
While appreciating the report of its investigation into the attack by the U.S, Peter Paul asked for an independent investigation and said that MSF’s demands for such an investigation had not yet been fulfilled. However, MSF continues to engage with the highest levels of the U.S. and Afghanistan governments to gain assurances that such an attack will not happen again.
The other important issues discussed were the broader trend of attacks on health facilities and civilian infrastructure across the world. Marking a point Yuri Afanasiev, from the UN, observed that it pointed to a breakdown of norms of behavior wherein everything – schools, markets, hospitals, peacekeepers, humanitarian convoys – are considered fair game. While agreeing with Afanasiev, Urvashi Aneja, from ORF, noted that humanitarianism had become progressively more scrutinized by various players on the field, making it more of a target.
Opinions differed on what could be done to arrest the trend of those attacks on the medical facilities. While Urvashi Aneja observed that building domestic public opinion against such attacks was vital in the absence of international accountability mechanisms with teeth, Yuri remarked we needed a reaffirmation of the mechanisms already in place. India’s engagement with International Humanitarian Law was also discussed.
Closing the discussion, Peter Paul called for the immediate operationalisation of the UN Security Council Resolution mandating the protection of medical facilities in conflict zones, for a war without limits leads to a battlefield without doctors.