Bioethics News

Redefining the rules of war

Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital after air strike on October 3 (AFP: MSF)   

Medecins San Frontieres has accused the US special forces of “war crimes” after an American AC-130 gunship attacked a field hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in early October.

According to MSF, the incident left at least 30 staff and patients dead. During the one hour attack, “patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building”.

MSF staff frantically try to contact NATO during the attack, but the response was slow. The US government later apologised, but MSF are not satisfied and is demanding a full investigation.

MSF believes that the attack may have been deliberate, and have called on the nations of the world to declare “if the rules of war still apply”: “We need a clear commitment that the act of providing medical care will never make us a target.”

In an opinion piece in Newsweek, MSF UK executive director Vickie Hawkins further emphasised the seriousness of the situation. Discussing a litany of attacks in the past two years, she asked,

“What are medical workers from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen and beyond to do if their protection is stripped from them? What does it mean for patients if their ability to access medical care is destroyed?” 

This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.