Air strike on Medecins San Frontières
Heartbreaking was the news about the air strike on the Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 12 MSF staff and 10 patients (including three children) and injured 37 (including 19 members of the MSF team). This happened on Oct. 3 in Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan.
The air strike came from the coalition forces (the United States among them) fighting the extremist Taliban. I immediately wanted to know if there were Filipinos there. Not that I wish the dead and injured were all non-Filipinos, but because I knew there are Filipinos in MSF, and what a heroic death they had if they were there. If I were a doctor, I would work with MSF.
“The attack was unacceptable,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of MSF International who described it as a breach of international humanitarian law. In her Oct. 6 statement, Liu said that for four years, the MSF trauma center in Kunduz was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care. “On Saturday 3 October this came to an end when the hospital was deliberately bombed.”
Here, verbatim, is the rest of her statement crying for the innocents and those who dedicate their lives to ease the pain and contribute to the healing of humanity:
“The whole MSF Movement is in shock, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected. Nothing can excuse violence against patients, medical workers and health facilities. Under International Humanitarian Law, hospitals in conflict zones are protected spaces. Until proven otherwise, the events of last Saturday amount to an inexcusable violation of this law. We are working on the presumption of a war crime.
“In the last week, as fighting swept through the city, 400 patients were treated at the hospital. Since its opening in 2011, tens of thousands of wounded civilians and combatants from all sides of the conflict have been triaged and treated by MSF. On the night of the bombing, MSF staff working in the hospital heard what was later confirmed to be a US army plane circle around multiple times, releasing its bombs on the same building within the hospital compound at each pass. The building targeted was the one housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward. Surrounding buildings in the compound were left largely untouched.
“Despite MSF alerting both the Afghan and Coalition military leadership, the air strike continued for at least another 30 minutes. The hospital was well-known and the GPS coordinates had been regularly shared with Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials, as recently as Tuesday 29 September.
“This attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war. Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on Coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime.
“This attack does not just touch MSF but it affects humanitarian work everywhere, and fundamentally undermines the core principles of humanitarian action. We need answers, not just for us but for all medical and humanitarian staff assisting victims of conflict, anywhere in the world. The preserve of health facilities as neutral, protected spaces depends on the outcome of a transparent, independent investigation.”
What can one say? The words “collateral damage” or “friendly fire” often used to describe such tragedies just compound the enormity of the pain and the senselessness of it all.
MSF, its website says, is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. MSF’s actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality.
Founded in France in 1971, MSF is a nonprofit, self-governed worldwide movement of 24 associations bound together as MSF International with headquarters in Switzerland. MSF also operates in the Philippines.
MSF has programs in 70 countries run by health professionals and staff, many of whom are hired locally. It is committed to providing medical care to those caught in crisis, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. Most of its funding comes from private sources, not governments. MSF does not take sides in armed conflicts.
Because MSF teams see violence and neglect outside of the media’s coverage, they speak up to call attention to the situation on the ground. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, MSF used prize money for raising awareness and combating neglected diseases.
MSF general director Christopher Stokes blames the United States for the air strike: “Today the US government has admitted that it was their air strike that hit our hospital in Kunduz… Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government…
“There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full, transparent, independent investigation is ever more critical.”
One MSF nurse tried to save patients who were burning in their beds.
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On Page 1 is my tribute to human rights lawyer and former senator Joker Arroyo, my defense counsel during the martial law years. Joker passed on to the Great Courtroom in the Sky on Oct. 6.
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