The attack on a military hospital in Kabul is a war crime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement late Wednesday.
HRW was among a growing number of international human rights organization who have condemned the latest incident targeting patients, healthcare personnel, and medical facilities in Afghanistan.
“An armed group affiliated with the Islamic State [Daesh] reportedly claimed responsibility for the day-long attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital, the main treatment center for wounded Afghan soldiers. Following a suicide attack on the building, gun battles continued for several hours, and hospital staff trapped in the building reported that patients who could not escape remained in their beds. Some of the gunmen were dressed as doctors, according to reports. At least 30 people were killed and dozens wounded, the HRW statement said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul denounced the attack as a “heinous crime” with “no justification possible”.
Attacks directly targeting health care facilities in Afghanistan have increased sharply since 2014.
A recent report by the organization Watchlist details some 240 attacks in 2015 and 2016 that killed or injured medical personnel and closed, damaged, or destroyed medical facilities, eroding the healthcare system in Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 119 incidents where healthcare facilities were targeted in 2016.
The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for the vast majority of these incidents, though Afghan security forces have been responsible for raids on clinics, or have used medical facilities for military purposes.
The HRW report said international humanitarian law and the laws of war, applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, protects patients, including wounded soldiers, and all medical personnel from attack. Hospitals and other medical facilities are also protected from attack unless they are being abused for offensive military operations. Commanders and combatants who willfully violate these protected facilities are responsible for war crimes. Fighters who may have dressed as doctors would be committing the war crime of perfidy – feigning civilian status to carry out an attack.
“Those paying the price when warring parties reject the neutrality of medical facilities are not just the patients, doctors, nurses, and medical staff, but Afghan civilians, including alarming numbers of children, who are denied essential care when clinics and hospitals are forced to close,” it said.
The death toll in the attack on Sardar Daud Khan Hospital, a health facility for wounded army soldiers, has gone up to 30 while at least 70 others were wounded, sources in the Ministry of Defense said.
The incident occurred when three attackers entered the hospital on Wednesday morning after their co-fighters detonated explosives at an entrance gate of the facility.
The Crisis Response Unit (CRU) arrived at the scene of the attack shortly after and started a clearance operation, officials said.
Officials from the Ministry of Public Health said the majority of the wounded were hospital staff members.
After the attack, President Ashraf Ghani visited the hospital and the victims and praised the security forces for their efforts.
“These doctors and security forces are showing their commitment to Afghanistan and humanity,” Ghani told the doctors and security forces who tried to save the patients at the hospital.
He promised that the security forces and the doctors who were acted “bravely and saved the people” will be honored.
He also asked hospital officials for an urgent report about the situation at the hospital.
CEO Abdullah Abdullah, while visiting the hospital, praised the CRU’s repose to the attack and thanked them for their efforts.
Pernille Kardel, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and acting head of UNAMA has also condemned Wednesday’s attack in a statement and said that “This egregious and morally reprehensible attack targeted people at their most vulnerable, while they were receiving treatment in the hospital, and also targeted the medical staff caring for them.”
“This cowardly attack reflects a fundamental rejection of the most basic principles of humanity,” the statement. “Without question, it amounts to an atrocity, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”
“UNAMA stresses that attacks on hospitals and the murder or intentional injury of persons taking no active part in hostilities – including sick and wounded members of the armed forces and its medical staff – are violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes,” it said.
UNAMA urges all parties to the conflict to respect and protect all medical workers, clinics and hospitals in compliance with international humanitarian law.
“This atrocity shows how Afghan people’s desire and hope for a peaceful future is interrupted by unspeakable violence, over and over again,” said Ms Kardel. “The UN family in Afghanistan stands in support of all Afghans, who continue to demonstrate resilience and determination in their efforts to bring about a peaceful future for the country.”
UNAMA expresses its condolences to the families and colleagues of those killed in the attack and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.