Imagine you are a doctor. You have been working for years to become licensed to practice medicine. Endless hours spent reading textbooks on body parts and human anatomy, the days seemed to blur together as through struggle and triumph, to become one of the most prestigious and well-respected positions in the world. Doctors, they save lives and preserve human dignity. You take your passion for saving people across the world and decide to put your life at risk by joining Doctors Without Borders. It shouldn’t be too scary or dangerous, right? After all, hospitals are protected under international humanitarian law because they are a civilian area. In fact, on the front of the hospital you work at, it is written in bold, “We treat all victims of violence.” Thus, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to helping everyone in need, placing humanity above conflict lines. The hospital you work in is located in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Unprovoked, an aerial raid devastates your hospital. Your colleagues, who once worked alongside you side by side, you now see fall to the ground. Fear and shock paint their once alert faces, suffering the same fate as the fallen people they had tried to save previously.
WAIT, THAT’S A WAR CRIME?
Take into consideration the two following articles of the 1949 Geneva Conventions I:
Article 19: Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict. Should they fall into the hands of the adverse Party, their personnel shall be free to pursue their duties, as long as the capturing Power has not itself ensured the necessary care of the wounded and sick found in such establishments and units.
The responsible authorities shall ensure that the said medical establishments and units are, as far as possible, situated in such a manner that attacks against military objectives cannot imperil their safety.
Article 21: The protection to which fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy. Protection may, however, cease only after a due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded.
WHAT WAS THE KUNDUZ HOSPITAL AIRSTRIKE?
In 2015, the United States was already a dominant presence in Afghanistan. With the United States Military being no stranger to so-called accusations of war crimes in the Middle East and West Asia, and much of the developing world for that matter, those familiar with the US and Afghanistan will feel shock waves sent across their beings when they hear Kunduz mentioned. Kunduz is an Afghani city in the North of the country, next to Tajikistan. Kunduz would become the site of a disputed (mainly by U.S. forces and allies) war crime. In 2011, Kunduz city opened a hospital, where all victims of violence in the area would be treated without bias, as per international humanitarian law. Kunduz Hospital was run by Medicins Sans Frontiers, the French version of Doctors without borders. Medicins Sans Frontiers repeatedly gave Afghani and American forces its coordinates to avoid becoming another one of the many “casualties of war” in Afghanistan.
With thousands of innocent people caught in the crossfires between the Taliban and Afghani and U.S. forces, northern Afghanistan’s largest city is an important place strategically to have dominance over. There was a severe lack of critical resources being transported into Kunduz, without food, water and electricity. A humanitarian crisis at hand, with Kunduz Hospital serving as a key piece keeping Kunduz from descending into pure chaos. Then, with upwards of 200 patients in the hospital, it being fully functional, no armed combatants or fighting in the compound, and continuous military bombardment for thirty minutes after the U.S. was informed by Medicins Sans Frontiers that they were being attacked again.
What was the result?
30 people dead
14 Medicins Sans Frontiers staff members
7 unidentified bodies
37 people injured
1 destroyed hospital
20+ years of foreign forces in Afghanistan
Doctors and other innocent people dying in horrific ways. Lack of human dignity. Power over people. Years upon years of suffering. Is this freedom?