Every Nation Backing This War—Including US—Must Answer for Clinic Bombing: MSF

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by Sarah Lazare
December 04, 2015
Common Dreams

From the United States to the United Arab Emirates, every country backing the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign against Yemen "bears responsibility" for Wednesday's bombing of a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in southern Yemen, a spokesperson for the medical charity told Common Dreams.

"We feel it is their responsibility to ensure that their fighter jets avoid medical facilities," Karline Kleijer, MSF operational manager for Yemen, said over Skype from Amsterdam.

Kleijer confirmed that the MSF-operated medical center, located in the southern city of Taiz, was hit despite the fact that MSF had repeatedly communicated its precise GPS coordinates to the Saudi-led coalition. What's more, Kleijer revealed that the charity had called the coalition earlier on the day of the bombing to express concern about "two air strikes a few hours earlier that were also close to our [clinic]."

Yet hours later, the clinic was bombed, wounding nine people, at least two of them MSF staff and a four-year-old child. As of Friday, at least one of those people had died, but Kleijer did not know the identity of this person. "We are still collecting the facts and trying to understand the context a bit more around the air strikes," she said.

Meanwhile, the Saudi coalition released a statement on Friday, published in the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which claimed that the alliance will launch an investigation to "verify whether the news is true." The statement added that aid groups need to have "beforehand coordination" and "remain away from the places where the Houthi militias are present."

While Kleijer welcomed the coalition's investigation, she rejected many of its claims, emphasizing that the charity helps all in need of care, regardless of affiliation. "Of course we need to work in Houthi-controlled areas, as we are working in Saudi-controlled areas," she said, adding: "We have no indication there was any military activity or presence near our clinic area.

"What we would like to know is what went wrong and why our GPS coordinates were not followed up and respected," she continued. "Our general concern is that our clinic is in a civilian area. There is no reason to believe there was any military activity to justify that air strike. We are confused and upset."

Kleijer said it is too soon to say whether the bombing was intentional or accidental. "What we are concerned with is the fact that medical facilities are being targeted, or these coalitions and their armies are—with all of their high-technology equipment—are attacking the wrong areas. I don't know which one is worse."

The day after of the bombing, Jerome Alin, head of mission for MSF in Yemen, declared in a press statement: "There is no way that the Saudi-led coalition could have been unaware of the presence of MSF activities in this location."

The airstrike marks the third U.S.-backed attack on an MSF facility in recent weeks. The Saudi-led coalition struck an MSF-supported hospital in Haydan District in Sa'ada, Yemen in October. Also in October, a direct U.S. bombing on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan killed 13 staff members, 10 patients, and 7 people whose bodies were unrecognizable. The Syrian government also bombed an MSF-supported hospital in Homs earlier this week.

MSF has repeatedly demanded an independent international investigation of the Kunduz bombing under the Geneva conventions, but the U.S. has so far refused to consent.

According to Kleijer, it is important for the U.S., as a powerful country actively involved in wars around the world, to take responsibility. "If they don't respect these laws, it will become even more difficult to to press other countries to do the right thing. The reason we cry out about this is that medical facilities and hospitals seem to be at least not actively avoided and, in the worst case, actively targeted."

While perhaps higher profile, MSF is not the only organization impacted by hospital bombings in Yemen. In fact, the International Committee of the Red Cross said last month that nearly 100 hospitals throughout the country were attacked since March 2015. This includes the shelling of the Al Thawra hospital, one of the major facilities in Taiz, in November.

But the bombing of civilian infrastructure extends beyond clinics. Since the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed military campaign began nearly nine months ago, the coalition has bombed medical facilities, markets, schools, power plants, refugee camps, factories, and warehouses storing humanitarian supplies. In addition, the Saudi-led naval blockade has left 80 percent of Yemen's population in dire need of food, water, and medical assistance, according to aid agencies.

A recent report (pdf) by Action On Armed Violence and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs finds that, in 2015, 93 percent of people killed or wounded in populated areas as a result of "air-launched explosive weapons" were civilians.

According to the latest figures from the UN, more than 5,600 people have been killed and 32,000 wounded in the ongoing war, averaging 153 people per day since the Saudi-led bombings against a domestic rebel group known as the Houthis began March 26.

The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the vast majority of these killings. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in September that "almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths had allegedly been caused by coalition airstrikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings."

Despite mounting evidence of atrocities, the Gulf state has enjoyed relative impunity for its ongoing attacks. Bending to stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia, Western countries in October abandoned their proposal for a UN inquiry into human rights violations committed on all sides of the ongoing war.

The probe was ditched amid mounting evidence—from Yemeni peopleAmnesty International, and some U.S. lawmakers—that Saudi Arabia and their powerful backers are committing war crimes.

"Laws are there to keep some stability to war. If we steer away from them, we lose our humanity," said Kleijer. "If we are not able to protect civilians in war, if we are not able to give hospitals in war zones some calmness and peace, I wonder how we should can continue as a community in the world."



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