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A war crime in Kunduz hospital? Médecins Sans Frontières calls for an independent and transparent investigation into the deadly shelling

06 Oct 2015

‘It was absolutely terrifying’. This is how our Médecins Sans Frontières colleague and nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs described his experience in Kunduz trauma hospital when the facility was struck by a series of aerial bombing raids in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The hospital was full at the time of the attack and ten patients, including three children, and 12 Médecins Sans Frontières staff members were killed. ‘These are people who had been working non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people... and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable’, Lajos says.

We will never be able to find words sufficient enough to express our shock, sympathy and solidarity with all who have been so tragically impacted by this horrific event. Such unwarranted loss of life is simply unforgivable. In the middle of the night, for over an hour our hospital was repeatedly hit by air strikes, this despite all parties to the conflict being fully and regularly informed of the GPS coordinates of all our medical facility locations. Médecins Sans Frontières takes great care to ensure its medical facilities are in no way militarised, as it is only through ensuring fully independent and impartial action to assist those in times of conflict that we can call for the neutrality of our medical facilities to be respected by all. We cannot accept medical aid to be under fire in so many conflicts around the world.

"There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack, or the direct targeting of any medical facility, its staff and patients."

And yet today we are shocked to hear official statements have emerged justifying the attack on our hospital in Kunduz as a necessary and legitimate use of force. Any statement implying that Afghan and US forces knowingly targeted a fully functioning hospital – with more than 180 staff and patients inside – razing it to the ground, would be tantamount to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial statements of the US government minimising the attack as 'collateral damage', and must be investigated by a fully independent body, and not only those whom are party to the conflict and as such responsible for this meaningless act of violence.

There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack, or the direct targeting of any medical facility, its staff and patients. Médecins Sans Frontières reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation to provide answers and accountability to those impacted by this tragic event, and the general public at large. In addition to the wellbeing of our patients, staff and their families, Médecins Sans Frontières is deeply concerned for the people of Kunduz. The Médecins Sans Frontières team of International and Afghan staff was operating the only hospital capable to carry war trauma surgery in a region devastated by violent combat. Today the population has no other facility capable of providing this kind of life saving care constituting a second catastrophe in terms of access to health care for thousands of people.

Everyone among our association and office in Médecins Sans Frontières Australia and New Zealand join together with all in the Médecins Sans Frontières movement to mourn the loss of our friends and colleagues in Afghanistan, and stand up to call for answers from those responsible for such outrageous actions against our medical mission.

Paul McPhun, Executive Director
Dr Stewart Condon, President Médecins Sans Frontières Australia