MSF awaits single sponsor from Geneva Convention signatory states to initiate UN inquiry

MSF staff perform surgery in one of the remaining parts of the Kunduz hospital in the aftermath of the bombings on the 3rd October 2015. (Photo credit: MSF)

The international humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, is doubling down on its calls for an independent investigation into how and why U.S. forces repeatedly bombed its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

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The airstrikes killed 10 hospital patients and 12 of the medical charity’s staffers. Thirty-three people remain unaccounted for.

U.S. and Afghan officials have given contradicting accounts of what led to the bombing.

General John Campbell, the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan, gave the most recent version of events to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday: “On Saturday morning our forces provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fires was a U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck.”

But MSF Director General Bruno Jochum said this isn’t a case of a random bullet or bomb striking a facility, but rather the methodical destruction of the main building of the trauma hospital.

“The hospital was bombed precisely, the same building precisely, several times in row  by an airplane,” noted Jochum, describing the attack. “So there is no doubt that this building was targeted. What we don’t want to speculate on is the rationale or the intention because this is out of our reach and this is the object of an independent fact-finding mission.”

When asked point-blank in Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing if he would oppose an independent investigation into the hospital bombing, Gen. Campbell did not give a direct yes or no answer, but rather affirmed his trust in the internal investigation process currently underway.

President of MSF-International, Dr. Joanne Liu says an investigation conducted by parties independent of the conflict is crucial because the implications of the hospital bombing go far beyond a single incident in an Afghan province.

“For me, what is at stake about what happened in Kunduz is about the space for humanitarians to work,” she told reporters at a press conference in Geneva. “If we don’t safeguard that medical space for us to do medical activities, then it’s impossible to work in different contexts like Syria, like South Sudan, like Yemen. So, it is really, really important. If we let this go, as if it was a non-event, we’re basically giving a blank check to any countries who are at war and conflict.”

Doctors without Borders wants the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to conduct the probe. The body was established by the Geneva Conventions to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. The commission has existed on paper since the 1990s but has never been used. For ad-hoc cases, like the Kunduz hospital bombing, just one member of the 76 Geneva Convention signatory states can initiate the independent inquiry process.

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