October 17 2016From Afghanistan to Syria, via Yemen and the occupied Palestinian territories, attacks by the armed forces of imperialist States and their regional followers against hospitals, medical workers and patients have become almost routine in recent years.
Although international humanitarian law officially protects medical facilities and schools, those provisions, like others, are constantly trampled across the globe. On May 3, 2016, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution reaffirming the obligation to protect hospitals and medical staff in war zones. This of course remained a dead letter. The impunity of the major international and regional powers is total. Present during the adoption of the resolution, Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), actually denounced that “four of the five permanent members of the Council, to varying degrees, participated in coalitions responsible of attacks against health facilities over the last year: in the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan to that conducted by Saudi Arabia in Yemen or to that conducted by the Syrian authorities with the support of Russia.” For MSF, these systematic attacks against civilians constitute a deliberate strategy of states engaged in the so-called “war against terror.” Hypocrisy is complete at all levels.
Indeed, let’s start with the bombing of the MSF trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2015, by the U.S. Air Force for more than an hour, even though the NGO had provided contact information of its location to warring parties. During the attack, 105 patients and 80 medical workers were on site. Result: 42 dead, including 24 patients, 14 members of MSF staff and four civilian guides. And thousands of people deprived of urgent medical care when they desperately needed it. An internal U.S. investigation concluded that a series of errors led to the bombing of the hospital, thus excluding a deliberate attack, which constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law.
More recently, on Oct. 8, 2016, the Arab coalition, which is composed of nine countries, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States, killed more than 140 people in the bombing of a funeral ceremonial in the city of Sanaa, Yemen. Saudi Arabia declared a week after its air strikes that this was the result of “erroneous information.” Since the military intervention of the Arab coalition led by the Saudi kingdom in March 2015, the consequences have been terrible in human lives: over 6,700 deaths, including 3,800 civilians, 30,000 wounded, more than 3 million people displaced and some 80% of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.
Many bombings have targeted schools, hospitals, markets, factories, et cetera. Two MSF hospitals were targeted in Saudi air strikes in the city of Taiz, on Dec. 2, 2015, and in the city of Abs on August 15, 2016. After the attack on the hospital of Abs in August 2016, MSF suspended its activities in six hospitals in northern Yemen, noting that the Saudis could not provide any guarantees that the NGO’s hospitals would not be targeted again, while MSF consistently communicated to the warring parties the GPS coordinates of its hospitals where its teams work. All these destructions of the Arab coalition occurred with the political and logistical support of the United States, which included re-fuelling planes bombing Yemen, and also providing information to the coalition.
Militarily, the major concern of Washington in Yemen is to prevent the chaos caused by the civil war from aiding the expansion of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The United States has actually regularly used drones to strikes al-Qaida fighters, often also targeting civilians as collateral damages.
U.S. Special Forces in April also came to the help of Yemeni forces backed by Arab coalition to recapture the City of Moukalla in the southeast of the country, which was occupied by jihadist forces. On Oct. 13, 2016, the U.S. also bombed for the first time the Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, accusing them of having targeted U.S. warships in the Red Sea with cruise missiles. Authorized by President Barack Obama, the American bombings were conducted with Tomahawk cruise missiles fired by the destroyer USS Nitze and targeted three radar stations on the coast of the Red Sea.
In Syria, the air forces of the Assad regime and then Russia have also made a specialty since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011 to target and destroy medical facilities. There have actually been 382 attacks on medical facilities in Syria between March 2011 and June 2016, according to data collected by Physicians for Human Rights. Of those strikes, at least 344 — or 90 percent — were conducted by Syrian government forces or Russian forces fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These forces have also killed over 700 medical personnel in Syria. This is without forgetting the multiple bombings of civilian institutions, such as civil defense bases, known as the “White Helmets,” bakeries, schools, factories, and more.
The systematic bombardment for over three years of eastern Aleppo, controlled by various non-jihadist Syrian opposition forces since the end of summer 2012, first by the forces of the Assad regime, and then accompanied by the Russian air force in October 2015, is symptomatic of this barbarism used to end all forms of popular resistance in the country. The population of the liberated areas of the city of Aleppo went from about 1.3 million inhabitants in early summer 2013 – with a rich civil society of popular organizations – to 250,000 today, lacking everything.
In recent weeks, between Sept. 22 and Oct. 17, 2016, more than 448 people died, including more than 80 children, in bombings of the Assad regime and Russian air forces on East Aleppo. As a reminder, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since the outbreak of the uprising in March 2011 until Sept. 12, 2016, at least 301,781, including 86,692 civilians, have died – a low estimate compared to other sources. The Assad regime is responsible for the vast majority of these crimes, while more than 3,800 civilians were killed and 20,000 injured by the Russian air force in Syria since the start of its military campaign on Sept. 30, 2015.
The brutality of all imperialist states and regional accomplices must be condemned, as that of terrorist groups like Daesh, since, in absolute terms, state terrorism causes more dead and injured. Furthermore, indiscriminate bombings often feed the development and propaganda of the most reactionary jihadist groups.
Just as it is important to denounce the selective indignation of certain left-wing political currents opposed to the “bad bombs” and the “bad repression” of the U.S. but not the “good bombs” and “good repression” of the Russians, so must we also denounce the bombings against civilians by the Syrian and Saudi regimes.
Our political compass should not be magnetized continuously by international capitals like Washington or Moscow, or in the case of the Middle East by the regional capitals of Damascus, Riyadh, Ankara, Tehran and Doha, but guided by the indignation and the resistance of the peoples in struggle. As Che Guevara said, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”