MSF seeks independent probe via Geneva Conventions of U.S. airstrikes on Kunduz hospital

MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu during a visit to the Kunduz Trauma Center in February 2015. (Photo credit: Kim Clausen/MSF)

Top representatives of Doctors without Borders were in Switzerland today where they called for an independent investigation into the bombing of their hospital in Kunduz. The medical aid agency also known by its French acronym, MSF, is seeking the probe under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Shannon Young reports.

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Doctors without Borders is not letting up in its demand for an independent investigation into a series of U.S. airstrikes on its hospital in Kunduz. The attacks killed 10 hospital patients and 12 MSF staffers.

“This was not just an attack on our hospital – it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions,” Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MSF International, said during a press conference at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland. “The facts and circumstances of this attack must be investigated independently and impartially, particularly given the inconsistencies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days. We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.”

MSF’s statements come just one day after the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify about operations in Afghanistan.

“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,” Gen. Campbell told lawmakers. “A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility. I must allow the investigation to take its course and therefore I am not at liberty to discuss further specifics at this time. However, I assure you that the investigation will be through, objective and transparent.”

When asked point-blank if he would oppose an independent UN 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.

According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama called Dr. Liu to apologize, extend condolences and pledge a full probe.

But that’s not enough for Doctors without Borders. The organization wants an independent investigation into the Kunduz hospital attack by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, a body established by the Geneva Conventions to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. MSF President Dr. Liu points out that the Commission has existed since 1991 — but has never been used.

“Governments up to now have been too polite or afraid to set a precedent,” Dr. Liu said. “The tool exists and it is time it is activated. It is unacceptable that States hide behind ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ and in doing so create a free-for-all and an environment of impunity. It is unacceptable that the bombing of a hospital and the killing of staff and patients can be dismissed as collateral damage or brushed aside as a mistake.”

Any single member of the 76 Geneva Convention signatory states can initiate the independent inquiry process.

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