The U.N. Security Council responded to an upsurge in deadly attacks on hospitals and medical personnel, unanimously adopting a resolution Tuesday demanding that all parties to conflicts protect staff and facilities treating the wounded and sick.
The resolution urges all countries to bring those responsible for such attacks to justice, something that has rarely happened.
The U.N.'s most powerful body expressed deep concern that the number of attacks is increasing despite obligations under international law that combatants protect medical staff and facilities as well as the sick or wounded. It reminded all governments and fighters that under international law any intentional attack against hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected is a war crime.
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The resolution follows last Wednesday's bombing of an important hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo that killed more than 50 people including patients and the only pediatrician in the area. In Aleppo Tuesday, a maternity hospital was struck by rocket fire killing at least 4 people.
But, as speaker after speaker lamented, hospitals and medical staff have also been attacked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic and other conflict areas.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said an ICRC study found that within three years, 2,400 attacks against patients, health personnel, medical facilities, ambulances and other transport took place in 11 conflict-affected countries.
"That's more than two attacks per day, every day, for three years," he told the council after the vote, adding that far too often these attacks constitute "outright violations of international humanitarian law."
Joanna Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, called it "an epidemic of attacks," declaring that "hospitals and patients have been dragged onto the battlefield."
Looking directly at the 15 Security Council members, she said the council is charged with protecting international peace and security yet four of the five veto-wielding permanent members — the United States, Russia, Britain and France — "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 Russia-backed Syrian-led coalition," Liu said.
She demanded that the resolution must not become "empty rhetoric" and urged the four powers, especially, to live up to their responsibilities, set an example for all countries, and "stop these attacks."
"Medicine must not be a deadly occupation," Liu stressed. "Patients must not be slaughtered in their beds."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said every country must do more than just condemn attacks, and act to protect hospitals and staff and punish those responsible for such violence.
The resolution was drafted by five elected council members — New Zealand, Spain, Egypt, Japan and Uruguay.
It condemns "the prevailing impunity" for attacks and abuses against medical staff and facilities and strongly urges governments to conduct independent investigations of all violations. Liu stressed that "perpetrators cannot be investigators, judges and juries."
The resolution asks the secretary-general to promptly provide the Security Council with recommendations on measures to prevent attacks on medical staff, vehicles and facilities.