Growing Trend of Attacks on Health Care Workers in Conflict Zones Puts Millions at Risk, Violates International Law

The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report earlier this week examining 655 incidents of violence involving medical aid in conflict zones, which the organization says is part of a wider, growing trend of attacks against medical personnel and infrastructure that is hindering the provision of emergency healthcare to communities in need and violates international humanitarian law. [AP]  The full report, Health Care in Danger examines sixteen countries (apparently, Somalia, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Iraq, among others).

The attacks most affected international NGOs, followed closely by local health care providers and Red Cross or Red Crescent operations (a combined total of 77% of attacks). Health Care in Danger, p. 6. As far as the perpetrators and means used in the attacks, ICRC reports:

State armed forces were identified as the people committing violence in 33% (216/655) of all events analysed, armed groups in 36.9% (242/655), and the police in 6.9% (45/655). […] In 22.6% (148/655) of the events, some kind of explosive weapon was used.  Firearms  were   known  to be   involved  in  34.2% (224/655) of the events. … In 9.3% (61/655) of events, weapons were not a factor (e.g. because the events involved threats delivered by mail or phone or administrative decisions with implicit threats). For 27.0% (177/655) of events, no information on the type of weapon used by the people committing violence was available.

Id. at p. 7.  The report also indicates that in the majority of events, personnel and healthcare facilities were harmed, resulting in the suspension of health care. Id.

The impact of these findings was summarized in ICRC’s press release:

According to Dr Robin Coupland, who led the research carried out in 16 countries across the globe, millions could be spared if the delivery of health care were more widely respected. “The most shocking finding is that people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting,” he said. “They die because the ambulance does not get there in time, because health-care personnel are prevented from doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective health care to be delivered.”

The ICRC’s photo gallery, Health Care in Danger: The Many Faces of A Growing Problem, features images of the destruction caused by such attacks.

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