August 15, 2016, New York Times
A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit Abs Hospital in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate in northern Yemen this past Monday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 19. (Here is a video of the aftermath). The hospital is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which treats wounded combatants on both sides of the conflict. The hospital’s GPS coordinates were shared with coalition members, including the U.S. and the UK. The wounded could not be immediately evacuated because the jets reportedly circled the kill zone.
The coalition is fighting the Houthi rebels, who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam. They control the capital Sana’a and the western part of Yemen. The Houthi fighters are allied with Yemen’s former president, Abdullah Saleh. The coalition seeks to reinstate Yemen’s president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is living in exile.
The U.S. expressed this rare rebuke following the bombing:
“Of course we condemn the attack,” said Elizabeth Trudeau, a spokesman for the State Department. The State Department has previously deflected questions about coalition attacks by referring reporters to the Saudi government—even though the U.S. has supplied the coalition with billions of dollars of weapons, and has refueled Saudi planes.
Amnesty International called the bombing on Twitter “an atrocious attack that could amount to a war crime.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the coalition airstrike, saying, “Hospitals and medical personnel are explicitly protected under international humanitarian law and any attack directed against them, or against any civilian persons or infrastructure, is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
NPQ has reported on MSF hospitals being attacked; this is the fourth attack against an MSF facility in less than 12 months. A total of 100 staff members, patients and caretakers have been killed, and another 130 were wounded over this past year. This MSF statement reports that MSF is currently active in 11 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and provides support to another 18 hospitals or health centers in eight governorates. More than 2,000 MSF staffers are currently working in Yemen, including 90 international staff.
According to the New York Times, the attack on the MSF-supported hospital on Monday is just one instance of the coalition’s bombing campaign killing civilians:
On Saturday, an airstrike on a school killed at least 10 children and wounded dozens more, Yemeni officials and aid workers said. The Saudis denied hitting a school, saying the target was a Houthi training camp and accusing the rebels of recruiting children. Earlier this month, the coalition acknowledged that it had committed “unintended bombings” that caused civilian casualties during its nearly 18-month air campaign, blaming U.N. agencies for not coordinating with it.
In the words of an MSF spokesperson, “Once again, today we witness the tragic consequences of the bombing of a hospital. Once again, a fully functional hospital full of patients and MSF national and international staff members was bombed in a war that has shown no respect for medical facilities or patients.”
In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for MSF in 1999, James Orbinski said this in his lecture:
Our action is to help people in situations of crisis. And ours is not a contented action. Bringing medical aid to people in distress is an attempt to defend them against what is aggressive to them as human beings. Humanitarian action is more than simple generosity, simple charity. It aims to build spaces of normalcy in the midst of what is abnormal. More than offering material assistance, we aim to enable individuals to regain their rights and dignity as human beings. As an independent volunteer association, we are committed to bringing direct medical aid to people in need. But we act not in a vacuum, and we speak not into the wind, but with a clear intent to assist, to provoke change, or to reveal injustice. Our action and our voice is an act of indignation, a refusal to accept an active or passive assault on the other.
MSF’s mission is to support people whose dignity and human rights are violated every day. They do this with no fanfare and at great personal risk around the world. MSF staff and volunteers use their expertise and liberty to “build spaces of normalcy in the midst of what is abnormal.” The Geneva Conventions of 1949 confirm immunity from violence for civilians, hospitals, and medical staff. Increasingly, however, MSF hospitals are targeted. All sense of soundness is being obliterated. MSF’s safe spaces have become battlefields. What was once considered to be abnormal is the new normal for MSF staff and volunteers. Still, MSF remains committed to its mission despite the feckless pronouncements by those responsible for the deliberate maiming and killing of civilians and humanitarian aid workers.—James Schaffer