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Deadly hospital attack could be war crime: MSF

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Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres says the United States bombing of a hospital in strife-torn Afghanistan could be a war crime, and has insisted it be investigated by an independent commission despite assurances from President Barack Obama that his Government would conduct a “transparent, thorough and objective” inquiry into the tragedy.

As horrific accounts continued to emerge of the devastation wrought by the US bombing of the MSF-operated hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, MSF International President Dr Joanne Liu said her organisation was determined to uncover how the attack had occurred, and to hold those responsible to account.

“If we let this go, as if it was a non-event, we are basically giving a blank cheque to any countries who are at war,” Dr Liu said. “If we don’t safeguard that medical space for us to do our activities, then it is impossible to work in other contexts like Syria, South Sudan, like Yemen.

Twenty-two people, including 12 MSF staff, were killed in the hour-long US airstrike, which was called in as Afghan Army units fought to regain control of the city from Taliban insurgents.

MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs survived the attack and described scenes of carnage at the hospital, which was filled with patients at the time.

“I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds,” Mr Jecs said.

He described how surviving medical staff worked frantically to save patients as well as their own colleagues.

“We did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough,” he said. “We saw our colleagues dying. Our pharmacist – I was just talking to him last night and planning the stocks – and then he died there in our office.”

President Obama called Dr Liu to apologise for the attack after the US military admitted responsibility.

According to Fairfax Media, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US leader told Dr Liu that a US investigation would “provide a transparent, thorough and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident. And that, if necessary, the President would implement changes to make tragedies like this one less likely to occur in the future.”

But charity has insisted the attack be subject to an independent investigation, and has called for the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, which has been dormant since its creation under the Geneva Conventions in 1991, to be activated.

The attack occurred despite the fact that MSF had given all warring parties the GPS coordinates of the hospital.

Outrage over the attack was heightened when the US initially appeared to claim it was a necessary and legitimate use of force, before later characterising it as a mistake.

MSF has said the attack could amount to a war crime, and must be fully and independently investigated.

“Any statement implying that Afghan and US forces knowingly targeted a fully functioning hospital – with more than 180 staff and patients inside – razing it to the ground, would be tantamount to an admission of a war crime,” MSF Australia President Dr Stewart Condon and Executive Director Paul McPhun said. “There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack.”

“Medecins Sans Frontieres reiterates its demand for a full, transparent and independent international investigation to provide answers and accountability to those impacted by this tragic event.”

Adrian Rollins