"The silence is embarrassing," Joanne Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation
LONDON, Nov 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Calls for global support for a full inquiry into the U.S. bombing of a charity-run hospital in Afghanistan have gone ignored, according to the head of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which is mourning the loss of 30 lives in the attack.
Joanne Liu, president of the charity also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the Oct 3. attack in Kunduz in which 13 MSF staff were among the dead could amount to a war crime with signs the hospital was deliberately bombed several times.
But Liu said appeals from MSF to about 76 governments asking for backing for an impartial investigation to clarify what went wrong and prevent any future such tragedy had failed to win support.
"The silence is embarrassing," Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Monday one month after the attack.
"We are ... the outraged victim to a certain extent. It is normal that we want to understand."
Hospitals are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law - a set of rules which aim to limit the effects of armed conflict on civilians and the wounded.
The Kunduz attack happened in the early hours of Oct. 3 during a push by Afghan security forces with U.S. air support to retake the key northern city from Taliban fighters.
Liu said there were facts to suggest it was a war crime.
"They had our co-ordinates, they knew what MSF was doing, we had been there for four years. The only structure that was lit up in the middle of the night (that week) was our hospital," Liu said, adding there was a clear MSF logo on the roof.
"All the parties had the co-ordinates ... which were reaffirmed directly after the first strike. Despite that it continued."
APOLOGY NOT ENOUGH
She dismissed any suggestion that it could have been a case of collateral damage as nothing else was targeted that night, or that the Taliban had been fighting from the compound.
The United States, which has apologised for the attack, is conducting an investigation, but MSF wants an independent humanitarian commission created under the Geneva Conventions in 1991 to be activated for the first time to handle the inquiry.
Switzerland, which provides a secretariat for the Berne-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, has initiated the process but it can only go ahead with the agreement of the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Liu said the attack had broader implications for the safeguarding of health care for civilians in conflict zones.
A week ago an MSF-run hospital in north Yemen was destroyed by a missile strike. Last year patients were shot in their beds at a hospital in South Sudan.
"We have seen an erosion over the years of international humanitarian law. Enough is enough. We cannot keep going like this," Liu said.
Liu, who visited the Kunduz centre earlier this year, said it had been wrongly portrayed as "a little clinic in the bush" but was a specialised trauma centre serving a population of at least one million.
"I always called it a jewel of northeastern Afghanistan because it was a place where everyone felt safe, everybody knew they would get high (quality) care," she added.
MSF has now closed the hospital, which had three operating theatres and treated more than 22,000 patients in 2014.
"For me the key message is about the safeguarding of the humanitarian medical space in war zones," she said. "No one expects to be bombed when they are in a hospital. Every human being can understand that."
Referring to high levels of violence in wars like Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, Liu said it was outrageous that attacks on civilian areas were now considered non-events.
"There is this numbness about violence in war zones today," she said. "We do think that, yes, even wars have rules, and we do think it's important to reaffirm some of those rules."
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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