MSF demands independent probe of Afghan attack; Obama apologizes
NEW YORK– Medecins Sans Frontieres on Wednesday demanded an independent international commission to investigate the deadly US bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama apologized to the medical charity.
MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, which deems the attack a war crime, urged Obama to consent to a humanitarian commission established under the Geneva Conventions, even though neither the United States nor Afghanistan were signatories to the commission.
The group said that the inquiry would gather facts and evidence from the United States, NATO and Afghanistan, as well as testimony from MSF staff and patients who survived Saturday’s attack.
Only then would MSF consider whether to bring criminal charges for loss of life and partial destruction of its trauma hospital, which has left tens of thousands of Afghans without access to health care, it said.
“If we let this go, as if was a non-event, we are basically giving a blank check to any countries who are at war,” MSF International President Joanne Liu told a news briefing in Geneva. “If we don’t safeguard that medical space for us to do our activities, then it is impossible to work in other contexts like Syria, South Sudan, like Yemen.”
In New York, Jason Cone, executive director of MSF in the United States, called for the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) to be activated for the first time since its 1991 creation under the Geneva Conventions.
Cone called on Obama to consent to the commission. “Doing so will send a powerful signal of the US government’s commitment to and respect for international humanitarian law under rules of war,” Cone said at a news conference.
The White House said Obama had apologized to MSF and called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to express condolences for the loss of life at the hospital. The United States military took responsibility on Tuesday for the air strike that killed 22 people, including 12 MSF staff, calling it a mistake.
There was no evidence indicating that the air strike on the hospital was anything other than a “terrible, tragic accident,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday. He declined comment on MSF’s call to activate the IHFFC.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to reporters in Rome on Wednesday, said: “We are conducting a full and transparent investigation and will make the findings of that investigation known as they are found and will hold accountable anyone responsible for conduct that was improper.”
Liu spoke of the chaos as the bombs fell for an hour.
“Our patients burned in their beds, MSF doctors nurses, and other staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other,” she said.
The Afghan Ministry of Defence said on Sunday Taliban fighters had attacked the hospital and were using the building “as a human shield”, which the medical group denied, while pointing out it would be a war crime not to treat the wounded.
‘WAR HAS RULES’
Liu said an impartial commission, which can be set up at the request of a single state under the Geneva Conventions that establish international standards for conducting war, was needed due to “inconsistencies between the US and Afghan accounts”.
The United Nations has condemned the attack but said it would wait for the results of US, NATO and Afghan investigations before deciding whether to support an independent probe.
Asked to clarify whether MSF would seek criminal justice, MSF lead legal counsel Francoise Saulnier told Reuters: “We don’t know what will be the next step. We don’t want to eliminate any option.”
MSF’s hospital in Kunduz had treated nearly 400 people, including some Taliban, wounded in heavy fighting in the days before the attack, MSF’s Bruno Jochum said.
Its GSP coordinates had been shared with all authorities.
“We had eight ICU (intensive care unit) beds with ventilators, this was high-tech medicine. This was not the little bush hospital. You could not miss it,” Liu said.
“Today we say enough, even war has rules.” –Reuters