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Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the FARC-EP's continuing attacks on medical workers and health facilities, including ambulances. The laws of war clearly prohibit attacks on medical personnel or the wounded in their care, including combatants, or on medical facilities, including ambulances, hospitals and clinics.53 Indeed, the prohibition extends not only to such formal facilities, but to any structure or vehicle that is marked with the red cross symbol and is being used exclusively at the time to convey or treat the wounded.

In a much publicized incident, paramilitaries killed a seventeen-year-old FARC-EP combatant who was being transported by an ICRC medical team near Apartadó, Antioquia, on October 2, 2000. Ten days later, the FARC-EP committed a similar grave violation when its forces killed a wounded paramilitary who was then under ICRC protection. In both cases, the killings were reportedly sanctioned by the commanders of the units concerned. The ICRC condemned both killings as "grave breach[es] of international humanitarian law" and suspended its medical rescue operations for three months.54

FARC-EP guerrillas reportedly conducted a further attack on an ambulance on January 8, 2001 near Anorí, Antioquia. In this case, the ambulance was carrying a pregnant woman in urgent need of medical care. Nevertheless, it was stopped by FARC-EP guerrillas who forced the pregnant woman and her nurse to get out, and then burnt the vehicle. In doing so, they put at risk the lives of both the pregnant woman and her child. Authorities at Anorí's San Juan de Dios Hospital also reported that the FARC-EP had threatened to bomb the hospital, supposedly to protest the fact that medical professionals there treat individuals who may be paramilitaries.55

53 Articles 9, 10 and 11, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II).

54 ICRC press release, October 3, 2000; "Red Cross suspends combat work in Colombia," Reuters, October 3, 2000. Human Rights Watch condemns both killings equally.

55 "Parto en retén guerrillero en Antioquia," El Tiempo, January 11, 2001.

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