NEW YORK/BARCELONA/AMMAN, October 30, 2019—The Saudi and Emirati-led Coalition has belatedly acknowledged its responsibility for a deadly 2016 strike on a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in northern Yemen, blaming it on a "projectile malfunction" while continuing to avoid true accountability for this and other violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
The coalition announced its findings in a press conference in Riyadh on October 23, but has not provided a written report.
"The coalition's belated admission of responsibility for this strike, while making only a vague pledge to provide 'voluntary assistance' to victims, follows a pattern of avoiding meaningful accountability for its violations of the laws of war, including strikes on hospitals and other civilian targets," said Ahmed Fadel, MSF operations manager.
The coalition struck the MSF-supported Shiara Hospital in Razeh, northern Yemen, with a projectile on January 10, 2016, killing six people and injuring eight. MSF’s own investigation into the incident concluded that there was no justifiable or legitimate reason for the attack, as the hospital remained protected according to international humanitarian law, including in cases of error and negligence.
Since March 2015, coalition airstrikes have hit four other health facilities run or supported by MSF and one ambulance from an MSF-supported hospital. Such attacks, which are a violation of international humanitarian law, threaten medical services that are crucial for the civilian population, as only about half of the health facilities in Yemen are fully functional, more than 11 million people are in acute need of aid, and outbreaks of cholera and other easily preventable diseases occur regularly across the country.
However, the coalition's recent findings continue its practice of minimizing its culpability for strikes on medical facilities, attributing them to equipment malfunctions or blaming the victims themselves. The coalition has announced its findings through its Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), an investigative body that is supported by the United States and the United Kingdom.
In another press conference held in January 2019, the JIAT attempted to shift responsibility for a June 2018 strike onto MSF, falsely accusing the organization of failing to take the appropriate steps to avoid being targeted. The strike resulted in the near-total destruction of a newly established cholera treatment center in Abs, which would have served an area with more than 1 million people.
Despite repeated calls by humanitarian actors for credible investigations into such events, the JIAT has consistently failed to report promptly and transparently on its findings, leaving both humanitarian agencies and individual victims of coalition attacks with no recourse to justice or accountability. Its October 23 recommendation of "voluntary assistance for casualties and material damage" related to the Shiara Hospital strike is a vague, inadequate pledge that comes three years too late.
Attacks that violate international humanitarian law—such as those that target protected medical facilities and civilian sites (for example, a school bus in 2018 and a prison earlier this year)—are routinely perpetrated with impunity by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, and result in injury, death and displacement for the civilian population. Attacks also prevent critical humanitarian aid from reaching people in need.
MSF reiterates the urgent need for truly independent investigations, conducted in a transparent and timely manner and resulting in shared, written reports that enable real accountability for violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to urgently take the necessary steps to respect the neutrality and protected nature of medical humanitarian work and avoid damaging and destroying medical facilities and other civilian targets.