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Afghanistan: Attack on Hospital a War Crime

Assault on Kabul Maternity Clinic Shows Cruel Disregard for Civilians

Security forces patrol as smokes rises from a maternity hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, after gunmen attacked leading to shootout with the police and killing several people, May 12, 2020.    © 2020 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul


(New York) – The attack by unidentified assailants on a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 12, 2020 shows blatant disregard for civilian life and is an apparent war crime, Human Rights Watch said today. A suicide bombing attack and ensuing gun battles killed at least 13 civilians, including 2 infants, and wounded at least 15. More than 80 patients, including children, were evacuated from the hospital. 

No armed group claimed responsibility for the attack on the hospital, whose maternity clinic is supported by the international aid organization Médecins San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The Taliban have denied involvement. The Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood in Kabul, where the hospital is located, is predominantly Shia and has been the location of a number of attacks by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, a group affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

“An attack on a maternity clinic is simply unspeakable,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Right Watch. “This attack is the latest incident of an armed group in Afghanistan targeting patients, healthcare workers, and medical facilities.”

Deliberate attacks on health care in Afghanistan have increased sharply since 2017. Insurgents, including both affiliates of ISIS and the Taliban, have been responsible for many of these incidents, although the Afghan national security forces have also raided clinics, killing and assaulting medical workers and patients.

International humanitarian law, or the laws of war – applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan – protects patients, including wounded soldiers, and all medical personnel from attack. Hospitals and other medical facilities are also protected from attack unless they are being used for offensive military operations. Commanders and combatants who wilfully violate these protections are responsible for war crimes. Fighters who may have dressed as doctors or other medical personnel would be committing the war crime of perfidy – feigning civilian status to carry out an attack.

“Those paying the price when armed groups attack medical facilities are not just the patients and medical staff but all Afghans, including children, who are denied essential care when hospitals cannot function,” Gossman said. “In the midst of a pandemic, Afghanistan needs its medical facilities more than ever.”


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