Report: Health Workers Attacked In 23 Countries Last Year
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There are rules in war - at least they're supposed to be. And one of those rules, according to the Geneva Conventions, is that hospitals should be safe from any kind of attack. It still happens though. A new report documents hundreds of attacks on health care facilities and health care workers in 2016. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: By far the most dangerous place to be a doctor last year was Syria. According to the new report called Impunity Must End, more than a hundred hospitals and clinics were attacked in Syria in 2016.
LEONARD RUBENSTEIN: It's the worst case in modern history that we could find on attacks on health care.
BEAUBIEN: Leonard Rubenstein from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins is the editor of the report. Some of the most destructive assaults came from airstrikes by Syrian government and Russian fighter jets.
RUBENSTEIN: And if you think about the siege of Aleppo back in the summer of 2016, there was a hospital in Aleppo called M10, which was the largest and most important hospital, which was bombed four times in the course of two weeks.
BEAUBIEN: Not only were people killed in the bombings at the hospital but other people who were injured elsewhere died because they couldn't get medical care, Rubenstein adds. He says due to a lack of documentation of hospital attacks in the past, it's impossible to say definitively whether such incidents are increasing or not. But the authors do call the sheer number of attacks they documented in 2016 staggering.
The report found attacks on health care settings and workers in 23 countries around the world. In August, a suicide bomber killed 74 people and wounded 112 others at a hospital in Pakistan. In Yemen, Saudi airstrikes struck clearly marked medical facilities. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, polio vaccinators were kidnapped. Some of them were even killed. In Iraq, ISIS militants seized control of health care facilities at gunpoint, demand treatment of their own colleagues. The Geneva Conventions state explicitly that in a time of war, hospitals must be respected and protected. But as war has changed, that respect for the sanctity of hospitals has crumbled. A year ago, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution denouncing attacks on medical facilities, and it drew up a new plan to try to combat them.
RUBENSTEIN: But there's been no action on that plan despite a lot of recommendations from the secretary general. So that makes impunity even worse.
BEAUBIEN: Rubenstein says a big part of the problem is that no one is being held accountable for what clearly could be prosecuted as war crimes.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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