The US Air Force has bombed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. This town fell to Taliban forces last week and heavy fighting continues in its vicinity. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have condemned the US action, reporting that 12 of its staff and seven patients were killed by US bombs: three of the dead were children. A further 19 MSF staff and 18 other people have been seriously injured
The co-ordinates of the hospital, operated by MSF, were made known to all combatants in the country, including US forces. The hospital which continued to operate during the hostilities, was subjected to an hour of bombing, despite messages being sent to US and NATO officials early in the attack.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross’ website, present international humanitarian law of war (IHL) are codified in the Geneva Conventions; they can be traced to the 1864. Various changes and additions have been made subsequently and after the second world war regulations on the protection of civilians were adopted. Some changes were made in 1977 and 2005; these discussed chemical, laser and cluster weapons and land mines, as well as the protection of children.
This body of international law includes legal obligations and humanitarian principles. Some of its key points are that:
captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity, and must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisal;
the wounded and sick must be cared for and medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment must be protected;
parties to the conflict must spare civilian population and property, and civilians are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, and rights.
These laws of wars must be followed by governments, who must make sure they are carried out and ensure that “grave breaches”, which constitute war crimes, do not go unpunished.
We know that the USA tortures captured combatants or allows them to be so, either in their prison camp at Guantanamo or by client states around the world. We now have a clear cut grave breach of international law in this murderous attack on a hospital. The war-criminal culprits must be brought to justice and tried at the Hague.