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UN Chief: Health Care Attacked in Over 20 Conflict Countries

  • Associated Press

FILE - Victims of suicide bombing targeting a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan lie on stretchers, August 8, 2016. (Photo: H. Samsor for VOA)

Attacks on hospitals, doctors, ambulances, the wounded and sick took place in at least 20 countries affected by conflict last year, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday.

Guterres told a U.N. Security Council meeting on health care in conflict that in most of the countries "fragile medical systems were already at the breaking point" — and in most cases no one was held accountable.

"These attacks are evidence of a broader trend: parties to conflict are treating hospitals and health clinics as targets, rather than respecting them as sanctuaries," he said. "This goes against the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law, and our basic humanity."

In Syria, Guterres said, Physicians for Human Rights documented over 400 attacks since the conflict began in 2013, and more than 800 medical staff killed. In Afghanistan, he said, reported attacks on health facilities and personnel almost doubled in 2016, compared with 2015.

The secretary-general lamented that little has changed on the ground since the Security Council adopted a resolution a year ago demanding that all parties to conflicts protect staff and facilities treating the wounded and sick.

Among the attacks in at least 20 countries documented by the U.N. World Health Organization, Guterres said that just a few months after the resolution was adopted, a hospital in Yemen whose roof was clearly marked and coordinates known was hit in an airstrike, killing 15 people including three medical staff.

He said the resolution and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recommendations must be turned into reality. Switzerland and Canada have gathered an informal group of U.N. member states to support implementation of the resolution, which also urges all countries to bring those responsible for attacks on health facilities and personnel to justice, he said.

Guterres urged parties to conflict to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and urged arms suppliers to consider the potential consequences of any sales. He also called for stepped up protection of humanitarian and medical missions and greater investments to tackle the roots of conflicts.

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