The international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders says at least 58 people have been killed on hospital grounds in South Sudan since a conflict broke out late last year. The aid agency, better known by its French initials MSF, released a report Tuesday documenting repeated attacks on its facilities across the country.
MSF has released details of attacks on hospitals and health care workers since December, when a political dispute in South Sudan first spiraled into inter-ethnic violence.
According to the report, MSF facilities have been ransacked, patients and health care staff killed, and vehicles, including ambulances, have been destroyed or stolen.
Speaking to reporters in Nairobi, MSF Program Manager for South Sudan William Robertson said the violence represented an “inversion” of the role of health care facilities as places of safety.
“Indeed the violence carried out against the wounded and sick and those seeking shelter are not only violations of international law, but they are an affront to human dignity. The damage has far-reaching consequences beyond the act of violence itself as hundreds of thousands of people become cut off from health care at a time when they need it the most,” he said.
The attacks documented by MSF took place in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states - areas at the center of the conflict between government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, and rebel factions aligned with former vice president Riek Machar.
In one incident in February, MSF said armed groups entered the 280-bed Malakal Teaching Hospital, killing 11 patients and three other unidentified people. According to the report, patients said the assailants demanded money or mobile phones and shot those who could not pay up.
Robertson said all sides in the conflict have been involved in attacks on health facilities.
“It is clear, both parties have committed atrocities and these acts. This is evident for us. We are not in a position to identify main perpetrators, because at times we have not been present at the worst periods. There are others who are able to do it. But clearly all parties have committed these events,” he said.
Robertson also said others, who survived hospital attacks, have suffered psychological trauma, after some laid for days next to the bodies of those who were shot in their beds.
Warring sides in South Sudan have signed three ceasefire agreements since January to end the violence and allow for humanitarian access, but the deals were all quickly violated.
The United Nations says 1.5 million people have been displaced by violence, and reports alarming rates of hunger across the country.