Red Cross: Thousands of attacks on healthcare in conflict

Red Cross: Thousands of attacks on healthcare in conflict
More than 1,200 violent incidents against hospitals and medical personnel have taken place in the past two years across the world.
3 min read
Over 1,200 attacks on healthcare centres in conflict were conducted worldwide [Getty]

Over 1,200 violent incidents against hospitals and medical personnel have taken place in 16 countries, in the the two years since the UN adopted a resolution demanding that combatants protect medical centres and staff, the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

Yves Daccord, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the UN Security Council that "the gap between words and action is rather dramatic".

Without identifying the 16 countries, he cited incidents of health workers being killed, threatened and kidnapped as well as ambulances obstructed, medical supplies destroyed or prevented from crossing front lines, and hospitals bombed or looted.

Still, Daccord said the May 2016 resolution was "a very significant first step towards better implementation of existing international humanitarian law on medical care in armed conflict".

The first-ever resolution focusing on the protection of hospitals and health workers in conflict zones urged all countries to bring those responsible for attacks to justice, something that has rarely happened.

"It is imperative that all states - not only parties to conflicts - uphold international commitments and make the protection of health care a national priority," Daccord said.

The fifth report by Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, which was released on Tuesday, said there were more than 700 attacks on hospitals, health workers, patients and ambulances in 23 countries around the globe in 2017.

According to the report, that included 252 attacks in Syria, 93 in the Palestinian territories, 66 in Afghanistan, 52 in the Central African Republic, 37 in South Sudan, 35 in Iraq, 24 in Yemen, 23 in Nigeria and 20 in Congo.

The report said the UN resolution hasn't spurred effective action and called the latest results "grim".

"In early 2014, Syrian forces bombed or shelled hospitals more than 100 times, more than had been documented in any other conflict," the coalition's chair, Len Rubenstein, said in the report.

"By the end of 2017, the number of hospitals shelled or bombed in the country approached 500, and then that grisly milestone was surpassed in early 2018."

A separate report on health care in Libya, published on Tuesday by the UN Mission in Libya and the UN human rights office, said 36 attacks on medical facilities, personnel or patients were reported from 1 May 2017 to 1 May 2018.

But, the the UN fears the real-scale of the problem could be much worse.

"The actual number of attacks is believed to be significantly higher," noting that in some cases "fear of reprisals and the security situation hampered the gathering and corroboration of evidence."

"Hospitals and other health care facilities in Libya have been bombed, shelled and hit by violence during armed violence," it said.

Armed groups have also looted medical equipment and supplies and targeted health care workers "with physical and verbal assaults, threats and intimidation".

The report said health care workers have been detained, taken hostage and denied freedom, "sometimes for providing medical care to individuals perceived as enemy fighters or other opponents".

At the beginning of May, two workers from Wehda Hospital in the city of Derna - its only functioning public hospital - "remained held incommunicado".

The report also noted that foreign doctors and nurses have fled the country, "further affecting the quality of available health care in Libya".