Pentagon announces no charges for Kunduz hospital bombers, another MSF facility targeted in Aleppo

Rubble left over from the Oct. 3, 2015 airstrikes on the MSF hospital in Kunduz. (Photo credit: Andrew Quilty/Oculi via msf.org)

A shaky cease fire agreement in Syria has all but collapsed as airstrikes resumed this week. In Aleppo, Friday prayers were cancelled after morning attacks, following an uptick in violence earlier in the week. Wednesday night, missiles struck the city’s al-Quds hospital, killing dozens of people, including young patients and doctors.

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Thursday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien briefed the Security Council: “International humanitarian law is very clear on medical treatment. The sick and wounded must be given the medical care required by their condition. Medical personnel must be protected in all circumstances. And attacks against medical facilities are prohibited. Despite this, the withholding of medical treatment continues to be used as a weapon of war in Syria. We continue to receive reports of parties to the conflict ignoring these basic tenets of international humanitarian law.”

The hospital, supported by Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as  Doctors Without Borders, provided obstetric and pediatric services to civilians stranded in the intensely contested city. According to the humanitarian organization, several other medical facilities were also destroyed this week, and five Syrian Civil Defence medics were killed.

Such attacks have become increasingly common in war torn regions. In October of last year, US forces struck a  Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan — 42 people died in that attack including medical staff who were dismembered by the blasts and ICU patients who burned to death in their beds.

MSF officials called for an independent probe of the attack, but neither US nor Afghan officials heeded the call. Friday, six-months later, the Pentagon released results of an internal investigation of the incident. General Joseph Votel said 16 service members were disciplined, but no criminal charges will be filed.

“The investigation concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. However, the investigation did not conclude that these failures amounted to a war crime,” said Gen. Votel at a Friday Pentagon briefing. “The label ‘war crimes’ is typically reserved for intentional acts, intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations. Again, the investigation found that the incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors, process errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew they were striking a hospital.”

Monday the UN Security Council is set to vote on a resolution that would reaffirm long-standing international laws that prohibit strikes on medical workers and hospitals and call for perpetrators to be held accountable.

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