7685th Meeting (AM)
Security Council Meetings Coverage
Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières Heads, Secretary-General Brief Members
Strongly condemning attacks on medical personnel in conflict situations today, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding an end to impunity for those responsible and respect for international law on the part of all warring parties.
Adopting resolution 2286 (2016), which was co-sponsored by more than 80 Member States, the 15-member Council strongly condemned attacks and threats against the wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities. It deplored the long-term consequences of such attacks for the civilian populations and health-care systems of the countries concerned.
Also by the text, the Council demanded that all parties to armed conflict comply fully with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, as applicable, and international humanitarian law, in particular their obligations under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005. It demanded also that all parties to armed conflict facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical and humanitarian personnel.
“When so-called surgical strikes are hitting surgical wards, something is deeply wrong,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the text’s adoption, adding: “Even wars have rules.” Urging all parties to conflict and other relevant actors to heed the Council’s demands, he said “the Council and all Member States must do more than condemn such attacks. They must use every ounce of influence to press parties to respect their obligations.”
Joining the Secretary-General in addressing the Council were the heads of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), entities that he described as reliable partners in providing much-needed care for conflict-affected people in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan and other countries.
ICRC President Peter Maurer said 2,400 targeted attacks had been carried out in the last three years against patients and health-care workers, transport and centres in 11 countries. The targeting of medical centres resulted in deep effects in both the immediate and long terms, he said. Bombing hospitals meant hundreds of thousands of people losing access to health care and the erasure in seconds of decades-long efforts to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and fight disease. “Humanity in war is what we demand,” he emphasized. “Today, with this resolution, you reaffirmed the relevance of the laws of war, the basic humanitarian consensus enshrined in the Geneva Conventions,” he added. “To demand they are respected through practical measures is the most decisive next step this Council can take to ensure humanity in war is a reality and not just an ideal.”
Similarly, MSF President Joanne Liu described the situation in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, citing 300 air strikes on Aleppo, Syria, in the last 10 days. In Afghanistan, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, hospitals were routinely bombed, raided, looted or burned to the ground, and medical personnel were threatened and patients were shot in their beds. “We will speak out loudly and with force about what we witness in the field,” she declared. Such attacks were described as mistakes, but they amounted to a massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate targeting of civilians in urban settings. While the Security Council was responsible for maintaining peace and security, four of its five permanent members had been associated with coalitions responsible for attacks on health structures over the last year, she noted.
In the ensuing discussion, some Council members described such attacks as war crimes, and others asked for independent investigations into specific incidents.
Malaysia’s representative recalled that hospitals in Gaza had been hit by Israeli strikes in which thousands of civilians had been killed, and that an MSF hospital in Afghanistan had been attacked by the United States military. Such attacks were simply unacceptable, and in violation of the basic principles of international law, she said, noting that the unanimous adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) reflected the Council’s collective response to deteriorating conditions on the ground.
The representative of the United States expressed regret over that country’s air strikes on the MSF hospital, and offered condolences, noting that more than a dozen military personnel had been disciplined for the errors that had led to the bombing. She also voiced regret over last week’s horrific attack in Aleppo, which had killed at least 27 people, saying it was clear that the Syrian regime was deliberately targeting medical workers and facilities.
Venezuela’s representative said it was incomprehensible that such violations of humanitarian law could be considered mere “errors” when they were, in fact, war crimes. They must be investigated impartially, with the perpetrators held accountable. He also expressed grave concern over the use of remote weapons and drones, given the obvious deadly risk of errors that could result in the bombing of hospitals.
The Russian Federation’s representative noted that the Council had, more than once, called upon all concerned parties to take the necessary measures to ensure their safety. However, the Council must be guided by reliable information, he emphasized, adding that reports of the secretary-General were critical in that regard. While there was no doubt that medical personnel worked within their mandate, it was also essential to respect the sovereignty of States.
Also speaking today were representatives of Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Uruguay, United Kingdom, Angola, Ukraine, France, Senegal, China and Egypt.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:33 p.m.